How to Break Down a Campsite

Just as setting up a campsite involves a certain strategic plan, breaking down a campsite is best done in a certain order. The most important thing to remember about breaking down a campsite is to leave the area just as it was when you got there. Here are some steps to follow in breaking down a campsite like a pro.

The first thing you need to consider is the weather. Breaking camp on a sunny day gives you a lot more liberty to pack your gear than a rainy day, when keeping your gear dry as you pack can become a challenge.

Clean Up

Bear BagGenerally, breaking camp happens after a meal. Clean up your dishes and your camp cooking equipment. In backcountry areas, there is often a dishwashing area separate from your site. You will want to wash your dishes here to keep animals from following food odors into the sleeping area. If you are in a backcountry setting using a bear bag, you have taken your bear bag down to prepare your meal. Now, pack up the refuse of the meal and stow it in a garbage bag that you carry in either the food bag or separately in your pack, boat or car.

Put Out fires

If you used a fire for your meal, extinguish the fire with water. Use enough water to drench the fire ring and turn the ashes into muddy ash slurry. This also goes for grills and barbecues.

Pack Up Furniture

If you have tables and chairs, pack these up and stow them in your car or boat. Generally, these are flatter items that other gear, which need to be unloaded first when setting up camp, can sit on top of. The furniture would come out after the tent and sleeping bags.

Pack Sleeping Gear

Stuff your sleeping bag into its stuff sack and stow your sleeping pad in its storage sack.

You may have noticed that your tent is still standing; this is because it may be the only shelter you have to pack if it is raining outside. Additionally, a tent or shelter, like a fly, is packed last because it is the first item to be unpacked when you make a new camp. Another way to think about breaking down a camp site is packing up with a mind to setting up the next camp quickly.

Breaking Down The Tent

Once all your gear is packed, now it is time to pack up your shelter. Packing the tent last gives it an opportunity to dry off from overnight dew or rain. Make sure you donโ€™t fold up your tent when it is wet, because it can get moldy. The first step in breaking down the tent is to remove as much of tracked-in debris as you can. For family camping, bringing a tent whisk is a good accessory for this job. Always try to pack a clean, dry tent. Next, unclip the fly if it secures to the corners of the tent and remove the fly from the tent. Pull the stakes from the ground and put them into the stake bag. Remove the pole from the tent body and fold the poles up and put them in the tent pole bag.

Bear Bag

Fold the tent into a rectangle that is close to the length of the tent storage bag. Lay the fly over the tent body. Set the poles and stakes at one end and roll the tent around them. Once all rolled up, put the tent into the storage bag and your tent is ready to carry to the next camping site or home. Again, if you are going home, make sure to air your tent out before you store it. Never store a slightly damp tent.

Leave No Trace

The last thing to do before leaving a campsite is to make sure you are leaving it as clean or even cleaner than how you found it. For established sites, walk the site in a grid pattern, cleaning up any garbage you find, even if it was not something from your camping trip. A little public service goes a long way.

Let us know of additional steps you take in breaking down a campsite within the comments below.


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  • Bill G.

    A better answer is to leave a campsite better then you found it! At least that is what we have been trained to do and practice in the Royal Ranger Ministry. Bill G. Chaplain

  • Louise

    I think your lead in statement should be: When leaving a campsite, leave it cleaner than it was when you found it.

  • Wil Layton

    Completely agree with breaking the tent last, early on that would be my first to pack up, but because of the dew from the overnight, it was wet and never dried out. I would recommend those unpack and repack your tent before you head out, makes it faster once you have that folded up right!

  • Elizabeth Rockett

    I have to say, I normally stow everything I won’t need in the morning before sleeping. Then in the morning, I pack up the inside of my tent before I ever head out for breakfast. It doesn’t take that much longer to put the few extra things away that way and I am ready to go.

  • Tom Holbrook

    Leaving your campsite as you found it also requires “disappearing” you fire site in backcountry areas. Easiest done by building fire in a small trench or pit. After extinguishing fire, cover it with soil, then leaves or sod. After the first rain, you will have to look pretty hard to find it.

  • Thomas Haines

    My question is this, if everyone (and anyone with half a brain) is under the belief that you clean your site during and after your stay, how can you make it better than you found it?????