Max Neale, Review Editor for Outdoor Gear Lab, shares some tips on how to choose the best campsites and where to set up your tent for the next time you hike into the backcountry. Max regularly contributes reviews and tales from the road on our blog.
A good campsite can make or break your wilderness experience. When traveling long distances or through remote areas, I break the campsite selection process into two steps.
At the macro level, I look at maps an hour or two before bedtime and identify — based on my average speed and the desired time I want to bed down for the night — a general area to sleep. At the macro level, I look for an area that is:
- Off trail, so you don’t interfere with other people’s wilderness experience
- Flat, where you’re most likely to find a level place to lay down
- Near resources such as water and firewood
- If the bugs are bad, in a breezy area away from breeding grounds such as swamps and slow moving water
- Not in the bottom of a valley where the air will be colder and dew and frost will be greater
- Not near animal paths or ideal habitat, which might lead to an unwelcome nighttime guest
- Finally, away from natural hazards such as flash floods, potential rock fall, and avalanche
Once I’ve identified a site at the macro level I zoom in and focus on micro level details. Specifically, I look for a campsite that’s:
- Dry, because wet ground is more thermally conductive and can promote condensation in your shelter
- On a surface that’s not prone to being flooded by rising groundwater during rain
- Covered in soft materials like leaves, pine needles, sand, or moss, which will be more comfortable and warmer than compact ground (Note that it’s also important to camp and travel on durable surfaces. Weigh your comfort with your potential environmental impact. Camp in established sites while in a high use areas.)
- Next to or under something that will act as a windbreak and reflect heat back to your shelter. Trees, bushes, and rocks can work well.
Finally, once I identify a potential campsite, I lie down and mark the location of my head and feet with a rock.
Happy camping! And may you find some of the best campsites out there.
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