Choosing a Campsite
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Dane Burke
(Dane) - F

Locale: Western Washington
Choosing a Campsite on 03/02/2005 12:46:05 MST Print View

What are your considerations and strategies in choosing a campsite? Do you like the convenience and locations of established campsites, or the solitude of off-trail "stealth" camping? When choosing a campsite, how do you deal with possibilities such as high wind, heavy rain, snow, or hail, biting insects, habituated animals looking for food, etc...

If you prefer established campsites, how do you deal with their shortcomings (dished, hard ground, habituated animals, potentially annoying company). If you like to "stealth" camp, how do you find your spots? If you can see it from the trail it isn't really "stealth", so how do you determine when it's worth it to hike off in one direction or another to see if there's a decent place to sleep? Are there any clues to pick up on that would suggest a good spot that is out of sight?

John Taylor
(jtaylor) - F

Locale: Shenandoah
Stealth Camping Preferred on 03/04/2005 11:08:59 MST Print View

My hiking is mostly done on the east coast, with a good bit along the AT. Very, very few nights are every spent in an AT shelter.

We (my wife and I) prefer stealth sites well off the trail. This is not always possible, but preferred. A good stealth site offers privacy, protection for the elements when appropriate, and clear of dead falls.

We cook dinner earlier in the evening and move on to another site for sleeping. A cursory look around will indicate the presence of game trails, gutted animal remains, bear scrapes, dead falls, and other things you don't want.

Sometimes you can't find a stealth site far from the trail because of terrain, weather, or other factors. Terrain is the most common challenge. In that case we look for downed tree trunks that run perpendicular to the slow. Some poking with a treking pole on both sides confirms that snakes are not present. Then a comfy layer of leaves can be piled up to level the slope. The tree trunk hides you from passing view from the trail.

Air warmth and breeze are critical factors for comfort. In the winter we go by the feel of the air. Every walked thru a section of a hike and the air felt warmer? That is it. In summer, we look for some breeze to keep the flying insects at bay.

John Davis
(JNDavis) - F

Locale: Isle of Man
Choosing a Campsite on 07/24/2005 12:21:41 MDT Print View

Scrutinising a good map before the trip has several benefits. It helps build map memory and brings confidence to navigation in trackless areas because the features you encounter while walking were anticipated. Prior scrutiny also speeds sound choice of escape route when things go pear-shaped. And the activity which encourages long periods of map study, at least for me, is the search for the perfect wild pitch.

I look for a small, flat area by some scenic steep ground and with proximity to water. A corrie/cwm/cirque is ideal, particularly when there is a sheltered back-up nearby. In summer, an exposed spot is to be preferred in hope that wind will keep away the biting insects. The map tells me whether I can have a breezy pitch at the same time as being out of sight from trails.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Choosing a Campsite on 10/23/2005 18:09:52 MDT Print View

Dane,

Finding good campsites is a necessity for ultralight camping. It is one example of using your head instead of your (heavy pack carrying) back because a good campsite can extend the range of your gear. For example, it may be 28 in the valley, but above freezing up the slope.

Assuming you have choices and are not locked into camping in designated areas (or assuming you go ahead and stealth camp):

1) Identify micro-environments that are more likely to be comfortable. Half-way up a slope is warmer in the cold and cooler in the heat than either the ridge top or the valley floor. Valleys are frost pockets and ridges have wind. But in hot weather, valleys are more humid and closed (and mosquito ridden) while ridges are less likely to have cooling convective breezes. (But there are exceptions.) Be aware of the prevailing winds and the directions of storm movement in the season during which you are packing, and locate your camp accordingly. That ridge top with a cooling breeze may turn into a hell of high winds, lashing rain and lightning within a few hours.

2) The terraine in forest environments is generally highly variable. Almost every slope will have its benches, and large trees can make flat places where they fall over and turn up a root ball or just upslope of a large log. However, it may take some close looking and bushwhacking to locate a good site. Don't get disoriented or lost.

3) One advantage of hammocks is you can hang them over any ground - increasing your choice of campsites astronomically. But be careful. If a rope or a knot fails, a few inches in height can make the difference between embarrassment and serious injury. On a slope, ALWAYS put your head uphill and close to the ground. That way, if something fails, you are less likely to break your neck or to fall far or to roll. Always keep the hammock as low as possible without hitting the ground.

4) To locate a good campsite without being able to see through the woods, look at the terraine. A topo map may or may not help, but if you can read it, look for wide separation between the contour lines which indicates flatter ground. As you hike, pay attention to the general behavior of the terraine. In glatial areas, the valley's are U shaped with steep slopes near the ridge tops. In areas of water erosion, valleys are V shaped with gradually increasing slope from the ridge tops - unless there is cap rock. There may be benches like steps up the valley wall, depending on the geological history of the area. Got that? No? I didn't think so. Just pay attention. You'll start to see where the good sites are likely to be wherever you hike. Don't forget to watch for stealthy trails that head off into the woods. Unless they are just game trails, they may indicate where old hands in the area have their usual campsites.

5) One of the frustrations of the AT is that the southern half runs narrow ridges with few good off-trail sites what are out of sight - unless you go way down the ridge. That makes finding micro-sites like root balls and logs more important.

6) On the AT, many folks start off camping away from the shelters and established sites, but end up relying on them instead of taking the time to find a good stealth site at the end of the day when they are whupped. Also, the only water is usually near the established sites. That increases the pressure to use them. Again, hammocks avoid the problems of rock-hard, eroded, dished out and puddled tent sites.