How to Select and Organize a Campsite while Backpacking

Once you arrive at the place where you plan to spend the night, look around for a good area to pitch your tent. You’ll want to avoid obvious drainages (low points that funnel water). These might flood in case of rain, and the soil can be unstable in these areas. Look for a relatively flat areaˇŞsleeping on a slope is uncomfortable.

Make sure you pick a spot at least 100 yards away from the trail and any water sources. Avoid meadows and bogs, since tents and footprints leave permanent marks in their soft, wet soil. Find a place with enough open space to accommodate your dropcloth, tent, cooking area, and any supplies or equipment you will have nearby. If you’re in a group, you may want enough space for a “community area” where everyone can sit around, cook and eat together.

When you leave your campsite, take a final look around to ensure there are no obvious signs of you having been there.

campsite backpacking How to Select and Organize a Campsite while Backpacking

Look overheadˇŞmake sure there are no dead branches or dangerous looking pine cones above the place where you plan to sleep, cook, eat, and sit.

Once you have found a good spot for sleeping, lay out your dropcloth in the place you plan to pitch your tent or set up a tarp. If there’s enough room, leave space between tent sites to ensure a little more privacy, (after all no one wants to hear you snore).

Check to make sure there’s nothing sharp or hard underneath the drop cloth that could puncture the floor of the tent or keep you awake at night. Move aside any pine cones, rocks, branches, etc., that will be in the way, and set them nearby – you should scatter them back over the area before you leave. Try to leave the site in the same shape as you found. You should leave no sign of your brief visit to the wilderness.

Some people like to dig a small trench around their tent or tarp to keep running water from entering or pooling underneath the dropcloth. If you expect heavy rain, you might want to do this, but in general avoid making permanent disruptions or alterations to the campsite.

After setting up your tent, unroll your sleeping pad and take your sleeping bag out of its stuff sack. If the pad is the inflatable type it’s good to give it several minutes to expand and fill with air. (Back home, be sure to store it in a flat and unrolled position so the foam doesn’t become permanently flattened.) Do the same for down bagsˇŞtake them out of their stuff sacks so the down can regain its loft before you climb inside for the night.

If you plan to use your inflatable pad for lounging on around the campsite, make sure it’s protected with a durable cover. The company that manufactures these padsˇŞCascade DesignsˇŞnow produces a cover that converts the pad into a comfortable camp chair. If you are using an ensolite or neoprene pad you do not have to worry about punctures, but watch for sharp sticks poking through the pad or causing tears, or heat from the stove which can melt both types of pads.

Once everyone has selected a sleeping area (with or without a tent), look for a good “kitchen.” Chances are you will not have a table, but look around for boulders or logs of convenient heights for cooking on. If none are available, be ready to do a lot of sitting as you cook and eat on the ground. Avoid moving large things to accommodate your desire for “furniture.” Rearranging small rocks and logs is OK as long you do not damage anything, and return everything to their original place.

If you use rocks near the cooking area do not allow them to become blackened from stoves or campfires. Make sure trash bags are kept near the kitchen to hold all wrappers, peelings, leftovers, and garbage that will be packed back out. Do not let trash blow away from the campsite, and make sure trash bags are secured for the night so small animals can’t chew through the bags and scatter it around.

When you leave your campsite, take a final look around to ensure there are no obvious signs of you having been there. Use a leafy branch to sweep away tent imprints, and pick up any last pieces of trash you may have overlooked.

“Leave the place better than you found it, and encourage others to do the same…”


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