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Techniques for River Corridor Camping
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Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Techniques for River Corridor Camping on 10/08/2013 17:08:15 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Techniques for River Corridor Camping

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Techniques for River Corridor Camping on 10/08/2013 17:23:08 MDT Print View

Good info

Great Montana pictures

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
What about... on 10/08/2013 17:30:17 MDT Print View

Two questions

1. I'd always heard it was best to stay away from river campsites in Alaska since bears travel up and down the river corridors. Is this not a concern in the northern rockies.

2. I'd love to see a similar article on high altitude camping. I enjoy it but I'd love to know how to do it more safely (I don't like getting struck by lighting for example.

Nice article, I had not seen the deadman bag idea before. I may have to share that with some friends of mine who do a lot of canoeing and camping on sandy beaches.

Edited by Cameron on 10/08/2013 17:32:18 MDT.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Techniques for River Corridor Camping on 10/08/2013 18:22:22 MDT Print View

For even more on staking technique, with groovy illustrations..

Ditch Those Stakes by Mike C!

Ditch Those Stakes

Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Beaches too on 10/09/2013 06:51:44 MDT Print View

A lot of this applies to sea or lake beaches too.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
river camping and bears on 10/09/2013 08:25:47 MDT Print View

Luke, that's probably less a concern in the Northern Rockies because bears are more likely to use the faster nearby trails to go up or down river. It does bear (!) paying attention to side drainages, and evaluating whether your potential campsite is likely to be a popular ford for critters moving perpendicular to the river in question.

That said, sometimes there's only one practical place to pitch your shelter.


peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Techniques for River Corridor Camping on 10/09/2013 08:56:14 MDT Print View

bears use rivers quite a bit, and if you look for it, one can normally see the tracks form this use. IF you are so lame (done it...) to set up directly on the track, they will wander right thru your camp (is scary ! ).
on those nice little bars inthe pics, with the brush breaking up the main paths, it's all good. is when you have a beautiful grassy bench above the water, possibly gently sloping and nice and soft, well THAT's where animals like to walk. and they walk quite a bit at night too. bears, muskox, caribou, you name it, they wander right on thru.

sometimes i hang dirty underwear and socks, all the stenchy stuff, at either ends of the camp to sort of warn them something is coming up.
that said ... woke up one morning in central alaska to find a nice steamer right behind the tent. i had filthy distributed all over, still, he pooped pretty much on top of me. oh well, at least i slept good.

all considered, gravel bars remain the sweetest spots to rest.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
bears on 10/09/2013 10:27:34 MDT Print View

go salmon fishing all the time in the rivers ...

something to keep in mind in BC


Thomas Brucia
Flash floods on 10/09/2013 11:53:03 MDT Print View

I wouldn't pitch a tent EVER in a limestone area (e.g. Texas Hill Country) or in desert areas in arroyos (dry creek beds). A wall of water hitting you while you're asleep is a death sentence. Do others remember what happened in the Albert Pike campground in Arkansas a few years back? A wall of water with tons of floating debris (limbs, tree trunks, litter, etc) can stand several feet high..... and hit in a second. If the water doesn't drown you, the impact of the debris may.

Mark Hurd
(markhurd) - M

Locale: South Texas
Flash Floods on 10/09/2013 13:04:57 MDT Print View

Totally agree. Camped up out of the shallow canyon above the low flowing Pecos River in west Texas on a river trip several years ago and woke to watch the river rise about 10 feet in less than ten minutes due to thunderstorms 30 miles to the north. We didn't get a drop of rain in our spot. The river bar we had eyed originally would have been death had we opted for it.

Edited by markhurd on 10/09/2013 13:07:00 MDT.

Derrick White
(miku) - MLife

Locale: Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada
Newfound Fondess for Woods Camping on 10/10/2013 11:58:16 MDT Print View

This is an interesting piece for me as someone who until a recent trip was an avid (almost exclusive) river corridor camper. Virtually all of my trips are solo and are river and\or lake based. Camping directly on a river or lake, as opposed to being set back in the woods, especially in a dense bear country, always felt more comfortable psychologically, even if irrationally. And so for years I have clung to the shoreline for security and peace of mind.

I just did a 12 day trip with a friend on an 80Km lake then up a 50Km river in Labrador. The first night out 50Km SW winds were forecast overnight and the next morning, so we set the tent up on the shoreline with the door to the NE, using large rocks for tieouts. 5:30 AM we awoke to 70Km easterly winds with the tie-outs slipping. 7:30 AM the tent came down in the pouring rain. This was also my first night in a mid (HMG Ultamid 2)!!

Being more woods friendly than me, my companion suggested we move into the alders where the baffling effect reduced the wind considerably. Fighting the gravity of the shoreline, I went one step further and moved us even deeper into the woods where there was almost no wind despite a storm raging in the open areas near the lake.

Each night thereafter we took pleasure in finding a comfortable wooded area to make camp. Never more than 2 or 3 minutes from the river, but always sheltered and protected regardless of which way the wind blew.

A lesson was learned: when hiking in river corridors, to the extent it is available, always avail of the shelter of woods or even small alders as Ryan suggested.

Of course this is not always possible.


Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Newfound Fondess for Woods Camping on 10/10/2013 12:40:09 MDT Print View

It's cold down there by the river also. Then there is the LNT issue with camping as close to a water source as close as the photos show. tsk,tsk.

Life's good in the trees. Better for hammock too.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Great article + more tips on 10/10/2013 15:29:28 MDT Print View

Great article. I learned some new tricks, and have a few more. I've slept hundreds of nights in river corridors on whitewater raft trips.

- I liked Table 1 Tent Stake Holding Power. Nice to see hard numbers attached to my "can I pull it out by hand" guesstimates.

- Another wind worth knowing about comes from the passage of high pressure systems. On the USA West Coast, high pressure moving inland often creates strong offshore winds, strongest near the coast and in passes leading to the coast. In Southern California, these "Santa Ana" winds in the fall and winter often push small fires into major wildfires, with 75 mph gusts. Check forecasts for high pressure moving onshore in B.C., Washington, Oregon, or Northern California. Probably similar patterns in other regions.

- Evening downstream winds sometimes are quite predictable. These winds start about the time you want to setup camp or cook dinner, an hour before sunset. Setup or cook before or after to avoid problems. Seems obvious, but some people never figure this out!

- Many rafters are superstitious about speaking the "W" word, so we have fun coming up with twisted euphemisms, e.g. "air moving not so gently up the stream".

- Sometimes you must sleep on the sand in a wind storm because you have no other options (e.g. Grand Canyon). Anchors will fail, poles will break, tents and tarps will shred, small objects will tumble. Best to take tents and tarps down; build short windbreak walls with gear, stones, and/or driftwood; and hunker down. Wrapping a bandana or towel over your face reduces the sand eating. Cots can raise you above the sand blasting (and rocks). LuxuryLite UltraLite might be the lightest cot (2.75 pounds) on the market. These nights are usually miserable regardless.

- You might be tempted to camp next to cliffs for shelter. Danger! Besides rock fall, we nearly had someone killed by a rotting cactus that fell off the cliff top into camp.

- Some riverside bushes are stronger than others. On one trip, we tied a raft to a sturdy looking bush, and went up river for lunch. Wind storm came up quickly, and we returned to see the raft towing the bush around the next bend. Luckily, we caught up to that raft with another before anything bad happened. Test critical tent and boat tie offs by pulling hard from multiple directions, wrapping the line around your butt and leaning with your body weight if possible.

- Many rivers have a mix of mud, sand, gravel, and cobbles, so you might be able to choose your surface by moving a few yards. Looks can be deceptive - you might have a thin layer of one over another, with no apparent pattern. Before you decide "this is the spot", dig a little.

- You need longer guy lines, or extra line to extend guy lines, compared to normal camping. You need longer lines for tying off to Big Rocks, trees, deadman anchors, etc.

- Tying off to Big Rocks is an art form. Don't assume your knot will hold - test! Pull hard from multiple directions.

- You can tie off to piles of rocks. Tie off to a stick or a rock, then pile more rocks on top of that. Not as bomber as Big Rocks, deadman anchors, etc., but sometimes the best you can do.

- Snow stakes are almost worthless when used as stakes in a river corridor, but they can work OK as deadman anchors. Larger found objects like rocks and branches work even better. We carry a large MYOG aluminum stake for tying off rafts on sandy beaches with no alternatives, and a small hammer for insertion and removal.

- I like Ryan's snow-and-sand anchors and cobblesacks, new to me!

- +1 on stouter digging instruments. Paddles dig OK in sand, not for anything bigger. Most of my river trips include a geologist hammer with pick, which works well for digging into gravel, but not practical for lightweight backpacking.

- Don't tie big loops around bushes! More convenient than tying close to the base of a bush, but much more likely to slip up and off when the winds get festive.

- For trees and bushes with trunk 2 inches or larger in diameter, it's worth knowing how to tie a "no knot", with an overhand knot finish for security. A "no knot" is just wrapping your line around the trunk several times without overlaps, openly spiraling around the trunk. Friction does all the work. Surprisingly strong, easy to tie and untie.

- +1 on logs + rocks as anchors. Test!

- +1 on big fat pads for riverside camping. For whitewater rafting, we use Paco Pads. Heavy, but very tough and comfortable. Mine is about 25 years old and still going strong.

- Avoid camping on mud. If it's not hard as a rock, it's holding moisture that will make life unpleasant.

- +1 on consulting with local land management agency for river camping etiquette. Some want you to pee in the river, some anywhere but the river. Some want you to carry ashes out of the river, some want you to disperse ashes in the river. And the rules can be different on different stretches of the same river.

- We use dry bleach (Clorox 2) to control poop odors. Relatively cheap and easy to find. A sprinkling per use is enough.

- If you don't trust Ziplocs or similar to hold poop for long (think gas expanding in warm sun), try MYOG "torpedo tubes", used by kayakers on groover-mandatory rivers. Instructions here after the Government shutdown ends: Basically PVC pipe with removable caps on both ends. Poop on a paper towel, sprinkle some Clorox 2, carefully fold and insert into tube. Back in civilization, easy to clean and reuse the tube, especially at RV dump stations.

- +1 on knowing private property rules and boundaries. Also: "Never argue with a shotgun, just apologize and slowly back away." Been there, done that.

- +1 on the water leak alarm, new one for me. Also useful: insert stick vertical in sand at river's edge and note the time. Check occasionally to see if the river is rising or falling. For an indication of potential high water line, look for debris caught in riverside bushes or deposited on tops of rocks, and "bathtub rings" on rocks and cliffs.

- Work hard to keep sand and mud out of your equipment, and out of body crevices. Sand and mud are incredibly abrasive in a short time. Take off and shake out shoes and socks outside your "clean space". Diligently remove sand and mud from between toes and other body crevices before you crawl into bed, and several times during the day. Otherwise, in a day or two, you will have raw open sores on your body. Hands and feet can dry out, crack, and bleed from constant exposure to water, sand, and mud. I have more tips on what to do after the damage is done, but this reply is too long already.

Again, great article, thanks.

-- Rex

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
One more tip on 10/11/2013 14:35:10 MDT Print View

If no single bush is strong enough for that "can't fail" anchor -- tie off to multiple bushes.

You need lots of extra line, and knot-fu, ring, or carabiner to equalize the tension to each bush. Practice under less-than-dire conditions if possible. I've used this technique many times to tie off large rafts for the day or night.

-- Rex

Kenda Willey
Thanks for a great article! on 10/12/2013 13:14:09 MDT Print View

Very informative article! I've never done river corridor camping, but I just might try it after reading your article about the appeal of falling asleep to the sound of water.
A special thank you for the different staking alternatives: Living in the northern Chihuahuan Desert, there's hard-baked ground and few trees, and making a cobble would work here. The buried alternatives less so, but I've made a note of them for future use.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Right-sized, sturdy shovel, PIF water alarm on 10/12/2013 13:34:59 MDT Print View

Rex: "- +1 on stouter digging instruments. Paddles dig OK in sand, not for anything bigger."

+1 Here's what I use for digging in sand or gravel:

(although I can find them in any store in my town) partly because I'm often going for Razor Clams, but I don't want a wide-bladed, long-handled shovel in rock and sand. I'll be on my knees anyway and unable to scoop big shovelfuls in a rocky conditions.

Also, if you're allowed to dig cat holes, they are exactly the right width for that task and let you go deeper, more easily, displacing less dirt to do so.

Not UL at all, so those clam shovels are only for rafting.


I've got at least one extra high-water-level alarm lying around if there's a rafter who'd like to have that security blanket. They are about the volume and weight of a deck of cards.

Andrew Stow
(AndyS) - F - MLife

Locale: Midwest USA
Re: Great article + more tips on 10/12/2013 13:50:51 MDT Print View

"LuxuryLite UltraLite might be the lightest cot (2.75 pounds) on the market. These nights are usually miserable regardless."

Just watched the video on the website, as I'd been seeing this cot advertised for motorcycling by Aerostich for years. It's two pounds flat if you weigh 175 lb or less, as you can ditch several poles and feet.

Daniel Pittman
(pitsy) - M

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Right-sized, sturdy shovel, PIF water alarm on 10/13/2013 20:45:05 MDT Print View

"I've got at least one extra high-water-level alarm lying around if there's a rafter who'd like to have that security blanket. They are about the volume and weight of a deck of cards."

How loud is a deck of cards?

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
PIF water alarm on 10/13/2013 21:55:52 MDT Print View

>How loud is a deck of cards?


About the audio volume of a deck of cards going through a Cuisinart.

And about the size of a deck of cards BEFORE going through said Cuisinart.

water level alarm

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
"Techniques for River Corridor Camping" on 10/14/2013 04:27:25 MDT Print View

Great article. As always, check with local laws about river camping.

I do quite a bit of canoeing in the ADK's and surrounding areas (Vermont, New Hampshire, Main, Canada) and understanding the difference between laws can make life a whole lot easier.

Generally, I search out an above high-water campsite. Beaches and sand bars usually get flooded with many of the strong storms. Unfortunatly, finding a campsite 20 yards off a water-way is not always possible, though. At one time or another I have used all the staking techniques mentioned. All work pretty well, depending on the soil.