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Tent Camping Site

Choosing A Tent Site in the Backcountry

Choosing a tent camping site is fairly easy when you are camping in a campground, but what about if you're not?

Our family loves to get off the beaten track and into less populated locations. Camping in the natural world, away from modern conveniences, is soothing. It's is a great way to relax and recharge.

Finding a quiet, private tent camping site in the wilderness is worth the trouble it takes!

tent beside lake

Sometimes we go backpacking.

backpacking family resting in the mountains

Sometimes we go canoe camping.

family and gear in canoe

No matter how you get to the backcountry, it's important to choose a tent camping site that is comfortable, but that preserves the beauty of the wilderness.

Here are some tips.

Choosing a tent camping site

Best case scenario: Use an established site

Even in the backcountry, you may find an established site with a tent pad and fire pit. If so, use it!

tent on tent pad

Next best: find a previously used spot

If there is no established site, look around for signs that someone has camped here before you. Camp on the same spot. If the previous campers built a fire ring, make your fire there.

If all else fails, choose your own spot

If you really can't find a previously used site, here's how to choose the best tent camping site.

Don't camp on especially fragile areas like alpine meadows where a pitched tent can destroy years of growth.

alpine meadow

Choose a pleasant spot, and then evaluate it:

Look down

  • Is it high and well drained?

You don't want a low spot where rain will gather and where mosquitos breed.

A site on a knoll will be breezy (good for keeping away mosquitos!)

  • Is it flat and level?

If you can't have both, level is more important than flat. If you have to sleep on rough ground, your sleeping pad will smooth out the worst of the bumps - but if you're on a slope, you'll be waking up and rolling all night long.

  • Is it firm?

Surprisingly, a firm surface is actually more comfortable than a soft one. Avoid that picturesque meadow which is probably damp and bumpy, and choose a spot with firm soil, sand or even gravel.

  • Will the soil drain well if it rains?

Avoid hardpacked dirt.

  • Are there any unfamiliar plants nearby? Could they be poison ivy or other noxious plants?

You don't want to stumble into noxious plants when you get up in the night!

Look up

  • Is there shade?

If it's the middle of summer, you'll want trees to shade your tent. If it's cool weather, you might prefer full sun.

  • Are there any dead limbs snagged in trees?
  • Are there standing dead trees that could fall over in a heavy wind?

Always keep camping safety in mind!

Look around

  • Is there a water source nearby?

You want one close enough so that you can easily carry your water to camp - but not so close that you could be flooded in a severe storm.

  • Is there a waterfall or noisy creek nearby?

If you're in bear country, avoid camping near waterfalls. They sound lovely, but their noise will mask both the sound of approaching wildlife and your own noises that would keep wildlife away!

Click here for more bear safety tips.

Congratulations! You have found the perfect spot!

Now, lie down on the ground where you plan to put the tent.

  • Is it really level?

If you can't avoid sleeping on a slope, set up your tent so that your body goes across the slope. (Don't put your head higher or lower than your feet.) You'll pad the lower part of your sleeping pad so that you don't roll.

  • Is anything digging into you?

Remove any rocks, cones or big sticks. (This is a great job for the kids.)

Now that you have found your ideal tent camping site, you are ready to begin pitching the tent!

To learn more about tents for camping, click here.

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