Choosing a Camp

Selecting a Campsite

Quote from the BSA CAMPING Merit Badge Pamphlet; “Much of the success of a campout depends upon the campsite you choose.  A good place to camp offers plenty to see and do.  Also, by following the principles of LEAVE NO TRACE, you can be sure your camp will be easy on the land.”

Quote from Eyewitness Companions BACKPACKING AND HIKING; “The places you choose to camp will all differ in degrees of comfort and amenities, but they should all offer some protection from the weather.”

SAFETY

•    Don’t pitch under dead trees or limbs that might fall in a storm.
•    Stay away from gullies that could fill with flash floods.
•    Stay away from lone trees, mountaintops, high ridges, and other likely targets of lightning.
•    Camp some distance from game trails, especially in Bear country.
•    Protection from wind and wind-driven rain
•    Rivers can be dangerous in seasons of flooding.  Camp at least 200 ft. away from water sources, Choose a site that is at least 100 ft. away and above any evidence of a high water line.
•    Do not camp in a dry riverbed.  You could find yourself caught in a flash flood.
•    Your cooking area should be at least 100 ft. away from your tent area.  Keeps food smells away from your sleeping area, and avoids sparks from a fire from damaging your tent.
•    Open flames should not be used in any tent.

AREAS TO AVOID

•    Trees (dead branches, or lone trees, ones that lean at precarious angles).
•    Rockfall (sites littered with rocks that have clearly fallen).
•    Avalanche areas in mountainous terrain.
•    Meadows (fragile environments).
•    Dry Riverbeds (path of flash floods).
•    Flash flood areas in foothills.
•    Valley floors (cold air is heavier than warm air, pools on valley floors).
•    Mountain Ridges (vulnerable to high winds).
•    Mountain passes (wind tunnels).

CHOOSING A SITE

•    Choose a site large enough for your camping party to pitch tents, and cook meals.
•    When hanging food to keep it away from animals, find trees you need at least 200 ft. from where you will be sleeping.
•    When in a popular area, choose a well-worn site to concentrate use.
•    When in a rarely visited, pristine area, disperse impact by camping in a spot that has never been used before.
•    Never rearrange the landscape to suit your needs – don’t dig up plants and rocks to create a tent pad, or move logs and boulders to use as camp furniture.
•    In some areas, the season of the year has a strong bearing on the site you select.  Ideal sites for a shelter differ in the winter and summer.  During cold winter months you will want a site that will protect you from the cold and wind, but will have a source of fuel and water.  During the summer months in the same area you will want a source of water, but you will want the site to be almost insect free.
•    Consider an area that is free from insects, reptiles, and poisonous plants.  Check for poisonous snakes, ticks, mites, scorpions, and stinging ants.

TIMING

•    Try to arrange to end your hiking day about two hours before sunset.  This will allow time to pick a site that is both comfortable and safe, and it will give you enough time to make camp before it is dark.

TERRAIN

•    Choose ground with a gentle slope for good drainage.
•    Leaves, pine needles, and other natural cover can keep the ground from becoming muddy.
•    An area open to the East and South will catch sunlight early in the day and perhaps be drier than slopes facing North.  Facing South will give you longer days and more direct sunlight.

PITCHING YOUR TENT

•    Pitch tents on the sheltered side of large boulder, or copse of shrubs and trees.
•    Pitch tent with its back to the wind.
•    Avoid sites that have been compacted into hard depressions that could collect water when it rains.
•    Use a ground cloth between your tent floor and the ground.  Make sure edges of tarp or ground cloth are neatly tucked under your tent so that they do not collect water and direct it under your tent.
•    If you cannot avoid a slight gradient, place the head of the tent at the higher end.
•    Pitch your tent at least 15 ft. away and upwind of a campfire.
•    Pitch your tent at least 200 ft. away from streams and lakes.

PRIVACY

•    Respect the privacy of others.
•    Trees, bushes, and the shape of the terrain can screen your camp from trails and neighboring campsites.  Keep the noise down when other campers are staying nearby.

PERMISSION

•    Check well ahead of time with land managers of public parks, forests, and reserves.  They can issue any permits you will need and may suggest how you can make the most of your campouts.  Get permission from owners before camping on private property.

WATER

•    You will need water for drinking, cooking, and clean-up … Several gallons a day for each scout.  Public water supplies are safest and can often be found in frontcountry campsites. Water taken from streams, rivers, or lakes must be properly treated before use; boiling, treatment tablets, filters.  To avoid a parasitic protozoan called Giardia from wilderness water sources, you must purify your water.  The best way is to boil it for three to five minutes.
•    You must carefully plan how you will transport the water you need when camping in dry regions, or areas where water is not available.  Some campgrounds may have water supply shut off during colder months where freezing temperatures occur.  You may have to bring in your own water supply.