Choosing Your Campsite                 - making the right choice

choosing your campsite

When choosing your campsite out in a national forest, rocky mountain pass, or on a beach near a waterfall, there is a right and a wrong way to select the right spot.  Take a long hard look at the site to make sure it is level for your tent and doesn't have any "hidden" surprises.  There is nothing worse than setting up and finding out when you go to bed that you have a rock pushing up in the middle of your back or a soaked sleeping bag.

Forest/Organic floor Camp Sites

Looks can be deceiving and when choosing your campsite the forest is no exception.  Generally, the most common mistake made by campers would be to select a spot without looking at the slope of the ground and imagine where the rain would collect and flow as it heads to a stream or bottom of a valley.

Look for a higher than normal bluff or raised ground around a drain area to ensure there are no surprises when it rains.  Waking up in the middle of the night with water soak sleeping bags or clothes is no picnic.

If there are no raised areas to choose from, then select a spot that is further up in elevation, not down.

Just as important is whether the site can be raked off to reach solid ground.  Raking is important to expose any rocks, twigs and any hidden surprises. In some cases, especially near swamps or wetlands, the chosen site may not be suitable at all.  Besides the creatures that may be under the brush, the site would be unstable since your tent stakes would have no holding power.

Rocky ledges/Mountain pass Campsites

Choosing the right spot

These types of campsites are the most dangerous since you are making your decision with no rain in sight.  Without warning, what had seemed a nice protective ledge may be the target of a waterfall from above.  Rock that is worn smooth may be an indication of a natural drain path. Take your time to look for worn areas around the area you are deciding on before setting up.

Under no circumstances should you choose your campsite within a gully.  Although you might be protected by wind and/or sun, these gullies can channel just a small amount of rainfall into a raging torrent that can devastate a campsite.  There are far too many stories out there where hikers were caught unaware of this and lost their lives because of it.

Beach Camping

Camping along a beachfront or within sand dunes is somewhat different than the above-mentioned rock and forest floor locations. 

The obvious thing to watch for is the high water mark of where the tide can come up to and then make sure you are above that.  Setting up camp between a couple of dunes however may not be the best answer either.  What happens is that the constant winds will funnel the blown sand through these channels and right into your tent.  Try to always pick a high spot when camping on sandy soil.

Since you will not be able to stake the tent because of the sand, your best bet unless you carried 25 pound weights with you, is to pile up sand along the perimeter of your tent.  The wind may blow some of this away, but this is the surest method of keeping your tent stay put.

Choosing your campsite can be as important as the camping trip itself. If you have any questions, email us using our Contact Us page.

Leave Choosing Your Campsite, go to Camping Guide

Outdoor Camping Guide Home Page