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Selecting a Campsite

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Placing your tent or camper in a bad location can ruin the whole vacation.  What rules do you use for finding the right spots?

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semi flat, and not directly under a tree.  Thats the begining of mine, now it differs if it is a tent or a camper.  A camper all i worry about is that there is some shade. and not directly under a tree (wouldnt want a branch falling on me), in a tent i look for the most level spot that will fit my tent, i then rake under where i want to place the tent.  to remove the sticks and rocks or things that i do not want to lay on.  I started this for comfort but have found that i usually find that it gives me a good amount of tinder as well.

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I am with OOD. I make sure it it flat and there is no stuff in the way.  Also that I am not at the bottom of a hill or in a gully. 

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I have a tendency to look at tree roots for stability and dead overhanging branches.  Last thing I need is a tree to fall due to saturated ground or the wind to drop a limb.  I also prefer the edge of the woods, just slightly inside the tree line, with the southeastern exposure of the morning sun.  It helps to warm my site earliest and dry out the site for the longest period of the day.  Also, in my area it aids to block cold north and western winter winds if I have a southerly exposure to the front of my site.  I will try to stay above the lowest lying areas as these pull cold air at night as well as moisture.  I examine the ground for insect and snake activity too.

 

I too look for any downhill water flows, mudslides, and rockfalls.  I spot check the surrounding area to be sure I have not placed camp in the middle of a animal trail.  As said before I clean the ground and if fortunate enough to have an abundance of leaves or pine needles around I will fill the area of the ground under the footprint of my tent to add as insulation and comfort.

 

Quiet is the most important thing.  When I go out there, I go to get away and that's what I look for, solitude.

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i'm with Machine and OOD on this one ... and as LOST has mentioned in her post i always try to select the most secluded sites i can ... if anything is going to ruin my trip it will most likely be other people in the nearby area that don't know how to behave themselves.

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I tend to look for a good flat spot, like everyone else, but I also move the leaves (etc) to see what is under them. Around this area you find a lot of sites that look dry, but you move the stuff on top and find dark damp muck. I also try to find a spot that in open in the middle, to let sun light in.

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Things I look for:

 

1) new, medium and old growth on the ground. Indicates that you are less likely in a flood area.

2) clear the campsite of leaves and twigs (snakes, scorpions, rodents and spiders usually avoid crawling on uncovered ground)

3) up above dangers (tree branches, falling debris from slopes)

4) examine tall vegetation for prevelant wind pattern, place fires downwind so smoke doesn't blow into shelter

5) hang food cache/garabage downwind (animals will follow scent and not have to walk through your camp to get to it)

6) and most important, a nice view.

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Well... I like the sound of running water - so if there is something like that nearby I would place my tent over there

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Guest HazeyWolf

It all depends on the environment (tropical, desert, alpine, ect.) and weather (prospects of rain, snow, wind, etc.), but in the Northern hemisphere - here on the West Coast of North America - I generally look for a South or Southeast facing slope, as LOST has suggested.  The Southern solar exposure provides a dry, warm site, and some protection from the wind, which is most often blowing from the west.  Also, during the day the warm air in a hilly area will rise up along warm slopes and canyons, and in the evening cold air will pool at the bottom - the effect can sometimes create a strong breeze.  Some valleys and mountain gaps also create natural wind-streams that one should take into account. To avoid those extremes, I stay 40-50 feet above a valley floor. Also, as has been mentioned, I stay out of dry river gullies that might flood or areas with trails frequented by game or which lead to watering holes.  I always stay clear of any steep inclines that could produce rock falls or other hazards.  If its really hot outside, I'll stay in the shade and cool of the valley floor.  If there are a lot of flying bugs and no rain on the way, a breezy ridge with a clear view of the sky can be desirable.

 

I always strive   to leave no trace, and sometimes open fires aren't allowed in the areas I backpack in.  If I'm tent camping (I most often use a hammock tent), I look for a flat, barren patch of elevated, well drained terrain with few or no ants!  Its nice to have a healthy tree or two to suspend supplies and/or my hammock from - they provide shade and can act as a thermal barrier, wind break, and shelter from the elements - but its unwise to park beneath a particularly tall tree due to lightening and falling debris dangers.  I was once walking through the forest alone and a tree fell right in front of me -- and I didn't hear it.  Budumpbum.

 

Some sturdy rock outcroppings, ledges, boulders or even earth embankments or sand dunes are good thermal radiation collectors, and can make for a warmer micro-climate to sleep in as well as added protection from the elements.  A large rock or expedient lean-to shelter can be used as a fire-reflector, capturing additional heat, requiring less fuel, and reducing the visibility of a fire. Where I live, one should be on the lookout for rattlesnakes and their dens, and check for ticks often.

 

When tent camping, most people place the entrance facing to the East to capture the morning sun, or toward the south if they prefer sun during the afternoon..  Its good to prep the ground by removing debris that might contain insect pest and sometimes by digging a small drainage trench if the forcast predicts rainfall.

 

As long as it isn't stagnant, I like to have a water source nearby; I enjoy the gentle sounds of running water in the distance, and keep a bucket of covered water available in camp at all times.   I prefer a little privacy and like to camp in secluded areas, but family campers may wish to consider camping in an area with high visibility and more open areas if they have children or pets along.

 

Food storage and cooking areas should be away from your sleeping area in order to avoid any run-ins with hungry animals and pests. The most common technique of food storage is to sling a bear-proof, scent-locked canister from a high tree limb. If one is to harvest wild foods and collect fire wood, its best to gather from a wide-ranging area around your site in order to preserve easy to collect emergency provisions, and to lessen the over-all impact on the environment you're camping in.

 

If no public latrines are available, you should try to dig one downhill from your camp, well away from any water sources (100 m.),  and keep it covered with mulch/dirt to prevent pests from intruding.  More basic information about camp sanitation and safety can be viewed here: http://www.operationalmedicine.org/Videos/FieldSanitation.htm    http://www.weblife.org/humanure/default.html

 

I'm not very experienced with camping in other types of terrain or in extreme weather, and campsite selection in those cases is different.  If one was "survival-camping," then being concealed, maintaining high mobility, being located near reliable water and food sources, and maintaining multiple supply and food caches would be important considerations.  Ishi, the last "wild Indian," lived hidden for years secluded in the foothills near Lassen Peak, California.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishi 

A fun journal and guide to establishing and maintaining a survival encampment is Wilderness Survival, Living off the Land with the Clothes on Your Back and the Knife on Your Belt by Mark Elbroch and Mike Pewtherer: http://www.amazon.com/Wilderness-Survival-Mark-Elbroch/dp/0071453318

 

 

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Excellent post, Hazey.  Thank you so much for taking the time to put this together.  This helps me tremendously, being the camping newbie that I am!

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Remember that if you camp near water, you MUST expect visitors!  If it's a small water source like a spring or tank in the southwest/arid regions, you are looking at what may be the sole source of water for our little critter friends.  If you camp too close you may have them come too close for comfort OR you may be denying the more cautious ones from getting a drink.  A stream will give wildlife a chance to get a drink away from you, but you still may see visitors, especially in the morning and evening. 

 

Remember what happened to Les in the Rocky Mountains episode.  The rain in the mountains nearly flooded his campsite.  If you don't know how to read a topographic map, it's a good idea to learn (MODS:  GREAT NEW THREAD IDEA!!!!!).  Learn to map out a watershed:  if you learn a topo map, you can actually read which ridges/hillsides will drain towards your area.  If it isn't raining on you but it is on a distant ridge, you'll know if the runoff is heading toward you or in another direction.

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Kentucky Bob, that is excellent advice.  I may have to enlist Lead Dog's expert help in creating a topic for topographic map reading.  He is a whiz in cartography! :thumbsup: 

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Around here if you look carefully at tree trunks or bushes on the stream banks you should be able to see high water marks from recent floods. Sometimes just debrie piled up marks the flood line. Stay out of that area for over night camping unless you intend to move in the night when the rain starts. Been there done that.  :blush:

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Around here if you look carefully at tree trunks or bushes on the stream banks you should be able to see high water marks from recent floods. Sometimes just debrie piled up marks the flood line. Stay out of that area for over night camping unless you intend to move in the night when the rain starts. Been there done that.  :blush:

Les Stroud, Mountain episode.

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I always liked my tent under a tree catches rain. Maybe I should be more careful next time cause i dont want anything falling on me.

 

All very good tips, I like rabbits list.

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