Categories: CampingGuides & hacks

How to Select the Perfect Spot for a Tent Campsite

If you’ve never woken up in a tent, have you ever really woken up at all? Some of us know about the special kind of magic in those mornings outside, where our wakeup is slow, maybe to the soft pitter-patter of rain, where the fresh smells of pine or eucalyptus hit us before we even open our eyes, and rays of sun fill our tent with a kind of lazy warmth that asks us to get up, out, and on with our day. Hipcamp Hosts often open up their property to campers because they want to share that special magic with others.

On the flip-side, campers pitching a tent in the wrong spot may find themselves waking up every hour with high winds knocking them around, a soggy sleeping bag, and a rock under their back.

That’s why we put this guide together; a guide for campers and campground hosts alike, to help you make informed decisions when choosing the best campsite location.

Photo by Brie Watson at Sagewinds Farm High Desert Camp, CA

First, choose a safe location for tent camping

  • Away from danger zones and hazards such as rockslides, avalanches, and flash floods.
  • Where possible, get off the beaten path and camp in areas with ample space where you won’t be disturbed by your neighbors and vice versa. Campers love privacy—and you won’t want to spoil the view for others.
  • Avoid camping near lone trees, mountaintops, high ridges, and other likely lightning targets.
  • Away from animal trails, nests, or habitats.
  • Not at the bottom of a canyon or valley, where the air is coldest and humid.
  • Far from insect breeding grounds like stagnant water, ponds, or swamps. Also stay away from tall grassy meadows where ticks, chiggers, and other annoying insects may live.
  • Close to firewood and water, such as a river or stream—but not too close as to contaminate any water sources.

Then, choose the right terrain for tent camping

  • Choose a flat, level patch of ground big enough for your tent(s). A mostly rock-free pitching plot will ensure you don’t roll off your sleeping pad or wake up with pain.
  • Next to something to trap radiant heat and block wind, such as trees or bushes.
  • A comfy spot has natural ground cover like pine needles, moss, leaves, or sand.
  • Try laying down on the ground and see how the site feels for sleeping!
  • Make sure your site has natural drainage.
Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Nikki Neumann at Paradise Shores Camp, CA

To make it easy, reference the Five Ws:

1. Water

Picking a site that is close to water is always a good idea, not only for cannonballs and skinny dipping, but because having to haul water back and forth to camp is only fun once. Make sure you choose a spot that won’t be affected if it overflows or floods, and that waste won’t run back into the water source.

2. Waste

Leave no trace! Mother nature is not your actual mother and will not clean up after you as if you were a small child. Pack up your trash, leave what you find, and generally be a respectable adult human being.

What about the products used in the wilderness? Spitting toothpaste on the ground is polluting, too. It can be toxic to animals and plant life. Alternative solutions include an all-natural product (like “Uncle Harry’s All-Natural Alkalizing Toothpaste”). Same goes for soaps and lotions (you know what is a great natural deodorant? Tea tree oil!). Placing friendly signs around the campsite, reminding guests of the 7 Leave No Trace Principles, is a good way to encourage campers to keep it clean. Placing trash cans and recycling bins (even one) will discourage littering.

Photo by Lindsay McCoy at Grandma’s Meridi Inn, TX

3. Weather

Surprising no one, weather plays a big role in selecting a campsite. If it’s hot and humid, choose a space with plenty of shade and water. If it’s cold and windy, pick a spot near something that will block the wind and offer some protection. Bring appropriate rain gear, cold-weather clothes, and a stove for heating up water for tea, oatmeal, and hot chocolate—treats make the world go ’round.

4. Wildlife

Be mindful of the critters in the wilderness. Look out for ant hills, termite mounds, wasp nests, and worn paths leading to a den of newborn cubs. Speaking of bear country, food should be hung from trees in sealed bags at least 6 ft from the base of a tree (12 to 15 feet high), or in a bear-proof canister far from everyone’s campsite. Remind them to never sleep with food in the tent, and that includes any scented products (lotion, soaps, toothpaste, medicine, etc). And definitely do not leave an empty package of smoked salmon in your car.

5. Widow-makers

Be aware of trees with rotted branches on their last limbs—dry, bent and about to fall over—and then don’t camp underneath them. Better yet, don’t build campsites by any dead things at all. Instead, go gather up all those dead sticks and build a community bonfire!

Knowledge is power! Have land? You probably have a spot where campers would love to pitch a tent. Sign up to host campers now.

Katie is an artist, animator and storyteller. After quitting the corporate world in 2014, leaving for the actual Amazon rainforest, she started wearing turquoise and stopped wearing pants. Since then, Katie has been traveling all over the globe, once working as a Hipcamp Host at Chanslor Ranch, and can often be seen driving 10 mph under the speed limit in a muddy camper truck full of dogs. In her free time, she writes scripts for Alexa Storytime, runs a freelance animation company, and posts occasional comics and drawings under the moniker, @Orcapod.

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