Finding the Perfect Backcountry Campsite

When you are at a campground, you don’t need to worry about finding a spot to set up your tent. It’s already been laid out and cleared. But what do you do when you’re in the backcountry? Finding a safe and cleared campsite large enough to fit your tent, gear, and place to cook can be challenging and a bit stressful. So, what should you be looking for?

man backpacking

Most importantly, we should be entering the wilderness with the mindset of “Leave No Trace.” We want to protect and preserve the nature around us, so it should be our mission when exploring the outdoors to clean up after ourselves and not cause damage to the trees, foliage, and animals that live there.

To make things easier, have a plan beforehand. A topographic map is an extremely useful tool that gives you an idea of the area before your trip. Write down which trails you will be taking and campsite ideas, then give them to someone at home before hitting the trail. This way park rangers will know where to look in case of an emergency.

National Geographic Trails Illustrated Zion National Park Map

Silva Guide 2.0 Compass

National Geographic Trails Illustrated Zion National Park Map

When backpacking, remember the 200-foot rule, meaning your campsite should be at least 200 feet from any trails or water sources. Being this distance from the trail gives you privacy and keeps you out of the way of other hikers, but close enough to locate the trail. Water should be at the forefront when deciding on a location. You want to be close enough to a river, lake, or other body of water to get drinking water, but this distance ensures you are not contaminating the water and not in danger in the case of a flood.

MSR MiniWorks Ex

Steripen Adventurer Opti Water Purifier

MSR MiniWorks Ex
Steripen Adventurer Opti Water Purifier

Finding a flat, wide-open campsite can make for a challenge when backpacking in a dense forest or the side of a mountain. The ground should be free from rocks, thorns, branches, and other debris that can cause abrasions and tears in your tent. Using a footprint or tarp under your tent can help prevent these damages from occurring. If possible, you want to set up your tent somewhere that won’t be exposed to the sun all day. UV rays are harmful to tent fabrics and can make your tent feel like an oven during the warmer months. If there is tall grass on your campsite, try and fluff it back up when you leave.

Always lookup. Seems obvious but is often overlooked when picking out a campsite. The last thing you want to worry about is a strong wind rolling in and knocking a branch or tree down on top of your tent! But if you see trees that look healthy, then camping near them can help protect you from high winds and rain. If you are hiking on a mountain or near rock walls, be aware of falling rock and debris.

Two tents

Finding a space large enough to set up your tent is only half the battle; you also need to think about where you will be cooking and storing your food. There is a 15-foot rule, that your fire should be at least 15 feet from your tent, clothesline, firewood, and other flammable objects. Though you want to move your fire as far as possible in case the wind takes an ember. Certain parks will not allow an open fire, be sure to check with the local park service to see if open fires are permitted. If large animals are prevalent in the area, string up your food high up in a tree 10-15 feet away from your campsite. Hanging your food helps protect it from bears and other critters and keeps them from investigating your campsite.

Bear Vault BV500

Gear Aid Taut Line Kit

Bear Vault BV500
Gear Aid Taut Line Kit

So, remember to have a plan, keep your eyes peeled, and have fun on your next outdoor adventure!

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