What is a perfect campsite? This is a difficult question to answer since you can’t always just find a flat piece of ground and take that as your space. Use area restrictions, terrain, water sources, and crowds, just to name a few, play a big part in selecting THE spot. But to make that selection just a tad easier, here are some tips.
One of my most memorable campsites was one I picked out Chasim Lake on the trial to Long's Peak in Estes Park Colorado. Having backpacked up the trail late in the day, I arrived well after dark, finding the perfect site overlooking the lake. Well, what seemed like the perfect site turned out to be more of a 10% incline than a flat surface on dirt that was a bit too hard to get the tent stakes all the way into the ground. Luckily, I had brought along my Neolite Double Hammock. From that trek I wanted to share a few things I learned.
1) Avoid arriving at camp after dark!
2) Try to camp where others have before you. This is a Leave Not Trace principle to leave as little impact in the backcountry as possible. Instead of forging new ground, so to speak, select a space that someone else already cleared for camp before you. This keeps the area looking less used and trampled.
3) However, when camping in a “used” space, avoid a space that looks hollow – like where a puddle could form if you get rain. When camping in the desert, this is tough to avoid as the ground does not absorb water and even less so on ground that is well-trodden. Find something with a slight slope – contrary to the slope that will have you rolling down hill in the middle of the night.
4) Find a campsite near water – as apposed to in water like in tip 3. Of course this is easier said than done and when you research your backpacking route, do more than just look at a map. Maps will show water sources, but they do not tell you about source reliability. Hiking in the desert Southwest is a perfect example as springs are usually seasonal and most are charged in the spring. And even places where water is ample, like Lake Tahoe, drought can have a huge impact on the normal abundance of water in surrounding streams and rivers. Conversely, be certain you are researching if there is too much water over a season as that can result in washed out trails, campsites and swollen, impassible waterways. And finally, be sure you know what you need to use to filter your water. Some water sources are very clean and easy to filter. Others, like the Colorado or Paria Rivers, are extremely silty and will clog your filter after the first liter.
5) Set up where you have shade in the afternoon and sun in the morning. This will provide you a cool space from the afternoon sun, but get you warmed up in the chilly mornings – this is especially handy when you are hiking in dry climates like in Arizona where you can be hiking during the day in 80 degrees but the nights drop to 40.
6) Before picking a campsite make sure it has ample space for your tent our hammock with trees that are the right distance apart.
7) If you are expecting wind, set up your tent with the narrowest side of the tent into the wind and near something that can help break the wind like a cliff face, large, strong trees or large boulders. You will have a quieter night and lessen your change of causing some major damage to your tent.
8) For your own sanity, try to stay away from all the crowds. This is not always possible, expecially when camping in places like Grand Canyon National Park where campsites are designated in the more popular places like Bright Angel campground and can hild up to 90 people. When you opt to hike off the beaten path, you are granted more freedom of choice for camp spots and fewer folks.