Considerations for selecting a campite for backpackers
1) Water - Water is the source of all life, and all life needs water to exist. Thus, you want to be within a reasonable distance from a source of water. Probably a reasonable distance is less that a quarter mile from water. You don't want to be in an arroyo (otherwise known as a drainage path), because if a storm comes in the night 20 miles upstream and outside the range of your hearing from where you're camping, you could be washed away in your sleep. Another consideration related to proximity to water is some people like the sound of a babbling brook splashing on rocks as a white noise generator to put them to sleep. Some other people don't like that.
2) Level spot big enough to pitch a tent - You may not realize that nylon fabric on nylong fabric has an extremely low static coefficient of friction. Translation: If you pitch your tent where there is some significant slope what can happen is when you put your nylon coated air cushion on the floor of the tent you are putting slippery nylon against slippery nylon. Then when you put your nylon sleeping bag against your nylon air cushion you are again putting a slippery surface against another slippery surface. It's all on a slope if you pitched the tent on a slope, so what you have created is a pretty good slide. Bottom line: Don't pitch your tent on a slope. Or if you do get some of those tool chest rubber anti slide liners to separate nylon surface from nylon surface. Sometimes it's not easy to find a level place in the mountains to pitch your tent.
3) wind exposure - If you are on a ridge, there is a chance that if a big storm blows in , that you'll get the brunt of it. It might be useful to find a sheltered spot where the wind won't blow as much, either behind a large rock or some large rocks, or in between bushes, etc. Lightning risk could also be a consideration if you are on a trail with ridge exposure which might cause you to pick a different site.
4) Material on which the campsite is located - If your level site is located on a solid rock surface, you certainly could pitch your free standing tent on that rock, but if you have any wind at all, you're going to have some difficulty driving tent stakes down into that solid rock. Sometimes the surface is sand, sandy soil, or pea gravel, all of which are suitable as a surface onto which you could pitch a tent. But sometimes just below the surface there is a solid rock platform on which the loose material is sitting, say down an inch or two. You won't have much luck driving tent stakes down into that little amount of aggregate. Food for thought. pine needles are a nice surface on which to pitch a tent.
5) fire ring nearby - I prefer NOT to camp where somebody else has camped in the past, because they may have left food, or trash, or broken glass, or some other potential source of smells which could attract wild animals seeking food, depending on which season in which you are camping.
6) Full moon out - if a full moon is out, then you might consider placing your tent under a tree, or trees, to shade the intense light of a full moon. The moonlight when it hits your tent will glow, and unless you have something to cover your eyes, the light may interfere with your sleep.
7) If it's the first day out at high altitude, you might want to find a site that is not too far down the trail. By doing so, you won't overdo it the first day before your body has had enough time to manufacture enough red blood cells. Otherwise, your body won't be able to readily convey enough oxygen throughout your body to heal the torn muscle tissues you have from hefting that heavy backpack down the trail. By the end of 24 hours at altitude you will have produced a lot of red blood cells that will help you on day 2 and beyond.
8) Proximity to trees that can be used to hoist food up - There should be some trees about 100 yards away so you can hoist food and perfumed toiletries and toothpaste to keep the critters out of that stuff, and so they won't chew or rip their way through your tent walls.
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Last Update: April 28, 2015
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