Selecting a Good Camping Site
Note— this is part of a series on the Navigator Camping Badge.
Know the Rules and Use Prepared Locations
National and State Parks, third-party campgrounds, and some trails will have rules and regulations regarding camping at their sites. They may have paperwork to fill out as well. Check the rules ahead of your trip and follow the rules during your stay. This is respectful and part of being a good citizen.
Next, use sites that have been prepared, are known to be intended for use, or have clearly been used prior for camping. This supports good stewardship and low-impact camping because camping at official or previously used sites is less disruptive to the outdoors.
Flat and Clean
Once you know the rules and are ready to select a site, look for a site that is:
- Flat - covered in leaves, grass, sand, or perhaps groomed by the campground with pea gravel. Without a flat surface, you'll likely sleep uncomfortably as gravity constantly drags you off to one-side or downhill. Sometimes, however, it's impossible to find perfectly flat ground. If you must sleep inclined, sleep with your feet going downhill or too much pressure will rush to your head during the night.
Depressions should be avoided as well. Getting comfortable for the night can be challenging, but more important, depressions become a collector for water when it rains. You don't want to wake up with you and everything you brought soaked!
- Clean - Remove any possible protrusions such as pine cones, sticks, and large rocks. Not only are they painful to walk or rest on, they can damage the floor of your tent, potentially allowing insects or water in.
A VERY important item to consider and investigate when selecting your tent site is tree limbs. Falling tree limbs can kill. (They call them "widow makers" for a reason— so always look for dead limbs that are "stuck" in other branches overhead— these can and do fall down in windy conditions that often occur overnight.) Avoid thick overhead limbs and dense patches of limbs and NEVER choose to tent near a dead tree, which can easily lose a limb, or fall over!
Camping near water is helpful, because it's easier to collect, and some do enjoy the sound of a river or creek while sleeping, but camping too close to a water source can be a problem as well. Water attracts animals and it's also where rainwater may want to flow. If you tent in a low area or where the rain wants to go, the water will flow through your tent. Keep an eye out for wash zones.
This is especially important if there is a potential for rain overnight or during the camping outing— look for low spots or "troughs" where water naturally will flow downhill— avoid placing your tent over any such depression.
Ideally, don't crowd your neighbor and try to leave enough space between tents that everyone can stake their tent's support ropes. Be mindful to also avoid staking your ropes where people walk. They're difficult to see and as a result easy to trip on. Not only may you spend a lot of time re-staking your ropes, you could be surprised in the middle of the night with a massive jostling of your tent.
Shade can be an important consideration! With a hot summer evening or morning, shade can make a big difference in how comfortable you are. Don't, however, choose shade over your safety. See the item discussing tree limbs above.
The Surprise Wild Card
Last, keep an eye for ant mounds or animal holes. It goes without saying that a swarm of agitated fire ants swarming your sleeping bag will not result in a restful night!