Where to Pitch a Tent

Pitching a tent can be an extremely challenging and exhausting task for inexperienced campers. It can be even more taxing to have to repeat the task after a failed attempt. Setting up a tent is all about location, location, location—where you pitch your tent will have a significant impact on the comfort and safety of your campsite. Make your camping trip a smooth one and avoid any disastrous set-up issues by following these tips for finding the ideal camping spot.

Choose Flat Ground

The most important thing to look for when searching for an optimal campsite is flat ground because it could mean the difference between a good night’s rest and waking up to nightmarish surroundings. You are more likely to achieve a comfortable night’s sleep in areas strewn with pine needles, sand, grass or dirt, rather than littered with rocks and roots. Established campgrounds will typically maintain level and safe sites to pitch your tent, often times with streams or meadows as a scenic backdrop. When you find a large and comfortable area, large enough for your tent, use a small rake or similar tool to brush away any sticks, stones or tree branches that might poke you while you sleep. If you do not have a rake, you can use your foot to clean your site of debris. Prior to setting up your tent, assess the condition of the ground by laying your sleeping bag or mattress over the area and testing the comfort.

Avoid Hills

Avoid setting up camp anywhere on a hill, if possible. Whether you’re on the top, bottom or middle of a hill, all of these locations pose a threat to your safety. Rookie campers might mistakenly believe that it’s a good idea to camp in a valley at the bottom of a hill because of the excellent protection from the wind and sun. However, if it rains you may wake up in a puddle of water or worse in a deadly flash flood. Sometimes there is no level ground and you may have to settle for slightly sloping ground. Be sure to position your head on the uphill slope with your feet pointed downhill. If you lie sideways along the slope, you will inevitably roll to one side of the tent, pressing your body into the tent wall material, creating the potential for getting wet from condensation.

Consider Sun Exposure

Always look for an area within close proximity to a shady spot. A tent positioned in direct sun will become sauna-like. Some tents can be damaged or suffer premature aging by the sun’s harmful rays, so always check for tent care instructions before venturing out into the wilderness.

Consider Wind Exposure

Look for a campsite with a natural windbreak. No matter where you’re camping, try to position your tent so the door is facing away from the wind for proper protection from strong gusts. It will be very difficult to get a good night’s rest if your tent is flapping in the wind all night long. Plus, if you’re positioned facing into the wind, your tent will feel drastically colder because of the poor insulation.

Be Close to Water

Some campers feel it is safer to camp near a water source in case they drain their supply of water. However, this may not be the safest choice. There are a couple of reasons for this.
1. Camping too close to a water course can be dangerous if there is rain and a flash flood washes your site away.
2. Camping too close to water can contaminate water supplies. Many established campsites are sited 100 feet or more from a water source.
With this in mind, keep your campsite close, but not too close, to a water source.

Camping in the Forest

Forested areas are popular sites for camping. Many developed tent sites will be flat and designed for tents. Backcountry sites will need a little more consideration. Most developed sites will have harder packed soils and will need sturdy stakes to keep the tent grounded. Forests have a diversity of soil types. Some soils are hard to penetrate with stakes and other soils are loamy and will not hold stakes well. These soil issues show up more in backcountry settings. Do a little research on forest soil types to be assured you have the appropriate stake.

Camping in the Snow

When camping in the snow, if there is fresh deep snow, avoid choosing a campsite near trees laden with heavy snow loads which may drop off in wind or during warmer daytime temperatures. Additionally, in mountainous terrain, avoid bowls and slopes that are prone to avalanche. Stay well back in the trees and up slope from the bowl’s base. Once you find a suitable spot, use your snowshoes or skis to tamp down the ground to create a solid, firm surface. Winter weather conditions may vary from place to place, but it’s always safest to purchase a 4-season or winter tent for proper protection against snow and high winds in exposed tent sites. If you will be camping in deep snow, a snow stake can be a good accessory.

Don’t Leave Your Mark on the Land

In order for everyone to be able to appreciate Mother Nature’s gifts for many years to come, remember your environmental responsibilities. Dispose of your waste properly and do not leave any trace of your visit, on your campsite when you leave. As a general rule of thumb, don’t leave your “footprint” on the earth.

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  • 1945207

    Great information!!

  • Abc123

    Don’t forget to LOOK UP. Always check for dead branches and trees that can fall on your tent and injure/kill you. We call them widowmakers.

  • The tent experts are right on concerning tent location and features. I would like to see some more information on tents with respect to survival in the event of a disaster or emergency. I believe that other considerations may have to be considered. For example, tent weight, protection in extreme weather conditions, unavailability of the ideal spot, etc. If your experts feel this is worth pursuing a little, I would be greatly interested in what they come up with. Thanks for the valuable information you have presented in the article.

  • pluck npick

    Every year there are tenters swept away in flooding because they failed to recognize the “flood plain” of a river. Just because a little stream looks innocent enough, there is a geological feature of every stream leaves behind at the limit of its flood stage. Look for the ‘other’ banks up higher from the stream (of river) which will guide you where to place tents above the flood stage.

  • Paul

    As to sun exposure I try to locate where I have strong morning sun for a couple of reasons. 1) drys the dew off quicker so that I can pack dry sooner (it can take an hour or more to dry out), and 2) gets me up and out of the heat so I don’t get lazy.