How to Select the Perfect Spot for a Tent Campsite

If you have never found yourself waking 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 wake up 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 the 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 Hipcamp Hosts alike, to help our community make informed decisions when choosing the best campsite location, so you can give your guests (or get!) the gift waking up outside – the good way.

Illustration by Katie Orcutt

First, choose a safe location for tent camping:

  • Away from danger zones and hazards such as rock-slides, avalanches and flash floods.
  • Off-trail and away from other campers. Campers love privacy!
  • 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.
  • Close to firewood and water, such as a river or stream.

Then, choose the right terrain for tent camping:

  • On flat, level ground that is big enough for your tent(s).
  • 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.

To make it easy, reference the Five W’s:

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! Every scrap of garbage should be placed in the trash, either at the campground or packed up and taken back home. 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 are to swallow your toothpaste, use an all-natural product (like “Uncle Harry’s All-Natural Alkalizing Toothpaste”) or just use water! 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.

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. Encourage guests to 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 (12-15ft 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 that a camper would love to pitch a tent on. 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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