How To Choose A Suitable Campsite


Selecting a comfortable and suitable tent or shelter campsite is a useful skill, regardless of whether you set up camp in a designated camping area or if you stealth camp in a natural, unprepared site.

I know it’s off-season as of this post date, but it’s good to discuss.
Here is a list of suggestions how to pick a good campsite…

In no particular order…

The easiest and often most suitable way to choose a campsite is to look for a site that already exists.

A good campsite should be close, but not too close, to water. By camping close to a water source, you get the convenience of a lighter pack (you don’t have to carry all that water).

Avoid camping beneath the tallest trees. Weather can change quickly (depending on your area), and camping beneath tall trees during a storm is, well, not smart.

If traveling with a group, sometimes large sites are tough to find, so you may want to break up your group into two or more sites.

Look for trees with suitable branches for hanging your food, because if there are bears around… and if you have food, they want food.

If you find yourself in a situation where no campsite currently exists, you will need to find the best available.

Spots between evergreen trees are usually good, as they typically drop a ton of needles that are nice to sleep on.

You want to stay high and dry. Avoid valleys and paths where water may flow toward you (flash floods get their name for a reason—they can deluge a low-lying area in minutes).

Choose a campsite free from natural dangers like insect nests and dead branches that may crash down in the middle of the night, as well as falling rocks.

Ideally, you want to be close to resources like running water (but not too close), dry wood (from which you can assemble a shelter and build a fire) and rocky walls or formations that can shield you from the elements.

Choose a site with its surface free of stones, broken branches, and roots. This is for your comfort, more than anything else.

You’ll be more comfortable if you can find a level site to sleep on.

Pick a campsite that is set off from hiking trails and game trails. You don’t want to camp too close to a human trail for privacy sake, or a game trail, where animals will disturb you at night. Animals often use human trails this way, so it’s just best to avoid both.

If you camp at least 200-feet away from a water source, it can help reduce the internal condensation you experience in your shelter. It will also reduce the possibility of contact with nuisance animals.

Check how hard the wind is blowing. A certain amount of wind is good to help eliminate shelter condensation, but you want to avoid high winds that could blow your shelter away or cause it to collapse. Camping in a very windy spot can also be colder. Pitching camp in a breezy exposed area reduces flying insects significantly.

During the colder months choose a slightly higher elevation than the water source to avoid (reduce the effects of) the cold. Colder air pools at lower elevations.

Look for signs of prior flooding, washouts, or debris. Try to pitch your tent (or make shelter) above the level of any streams/rivers that has flooded before.

Look up. Limbs from time to time will come crashing down (especially in winter). This is a very serious thing. Not only should you look down, but look up.

Schedule your day so you arrive at, or have chosen your campsite at least 2 hours before sunset.


  1. A couple of add on’s to explain to folks who might be new. The reason you stay away from the tallest trees is due to lighting hitting the highest thing in the area if it comes down. Also remember flash floods don’t have to come from where you are,it can be raining miles away up a mountain from you and not where you are and the water can still fill the gully’s and ravines where you are walking or camping.

    1. You are so right. Once I took my family on a camping trip. It was Sunday, and since we were far from church, and to give my children an interesting experience, I placed several candles in a backpack, along with a Bible, and too them to a small rock shelter in the region of many high cliffs. It was a protected area that I used to visit as a boy, a sort of secret place that I thought no one else knew about (which of course was an illusion).

      Anyway, it started to rain, but we were fine and dry. We lit the candles and we prayed and I read a passage from the Gospels. It was a beautiful moment, but then it began to drip into the cavern.

      Water began spilling into the passage, first in rivulets and then a steady stream, and then a torrent. We laughed and laughed that we thought we were protected from the rain, and being not far from the tent, headed back to wait out the several hour storm.

      When flashflooding comes, it is very unexpected. In most places in a city or suburb, you barely notice it because of excellent engineering to control the momentary and massive increase in water from the rainfall. Inevitably it overwhelms what it was designed for, and debris clogs the sewers and it backs up, often in a spectacular fashion.

      Sometime when you wish to see the natural effects of flashflooding, intentionally go into the forest when rain is supposed to cause flash flooding. Torrents of water can come down the sides of ravines, and suddenly mudslides can form.

      Imagine how your tribe would handle that if living in the wilderness. Big difference then.

      Under drought conditions, mud can dry to a sheen and then when suddenly water comes, the drought is so dry that the water pools and runs off. This is why in the West one can encounter serious flashflooding, that produces massive water that WON’T be absorbed. The power of all that shifting weight is immense.

  2. Yep, but not all of us camp in the designated campsites and the backpacking area is quite far from the regular camper traffic, so things are more loosey-goosey.

    There are some piles of wood placed in some parks, because if the rangers don’t do that, the campers naturallt walk the woods in search of downed trees i.e. deadwood. I have been incredulous when camping and seen ignorant campers attempt to burn wood from trees that is still green. I kid you not.

    In my area it’s not allowed to bring wood from outside to the park area, for that’s one vector for wood boring beetles. However that’s a problem for campers because it’s easier to bring in wood sometimes as lots of campers enter and there’s no longer any wood at the campsites.

    Camp in the backpacking area if you can.

    If the SHTF, then there are a lot of national forest regions to go to, but don’t think for a moment that a million other folks won’t have the same idea. There isn’t enough wild game to sustain everyone, and I can just see the fights breaking out from fleeing urban folks to these areas. The campfires would be dismal. There would be issues around knowing watering holes. All-in-all a wretched mess.

    Thank God for rural life.

  3. I live in a place that boarders on a little national forest area called the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I can tell you that all the people that think they are going to bug out to the mountains and survive, you are going to die. Not to be rude but first off these small mountain community’s will consider the area THEIR resources. Second 99.9% of the people planing on coming have no idea what they are heading into. We live here and know the area and at times we come back from fishing and hunting empty so why would you think you will find enough to live on. We had rain and wind the other night and lost power and as always ( after 25 years) I was amazed at how dark it becomes. Walking outside I couldn’t see more than 10 ft without a flashlight. Of course if a collapse comes in the winter it will be no problem as most of the problems in the city’s will stay there ( hard to come up a mountain in 3 ft of snow ) I guess this doesn’t relate that much to camping but I hate the thought that people will think they are going to make it if they try to do that for life.

    1. I mostly agree.

      I used to walk in such an area on night hikes and without using a flashlight. I enjoyed being there when no one was around. You can feel the harder soil of the trail, though a foolish person might stumble into a ravine if not knowing the terrain intimately. Having walked it for decades, is far different than walking it ten times. In general it’s very dangerous to walk at night with no illumination and not recommended. For those who intimately know that terrain, I’d encourage you to experience it, for it’s almost magical and awakens you to how strong our other senses are besides our eyesight.

      Yes, a lot of folks will attempt to go to the National Parks, National Forest, State Parks, etc and think they can survive. Without supplies and tools, then the chances would be remote of really surviving for just about everyone.

      Many years ago, I was impressed when Tom Brown Jr. did such a thing, but one would have to be older to recall that happening.

      The pioneers were a tough breed and some possess an astute knowledge of ancestral skills and had backbone, and they struggled in the wilderness. We think of expeditions like Lewis and Clark, but they had several men and supplies and skills to undertake it.

      Most folks will die trying something like that for a sustained period.

      But…don’t sell yourself short. On occasion, with determination and luck, several individuals have survived for many days in the wilderness. They almost always were severely harmed by exposure and malnutrition though. There is not an abudance of wild game to be consumed, nor an abundance of wild edibles that folks suppose is there.

      Perhaps ages ago such things happened, but from all of my reading of the Native Americans, they struck the camp and moved and rotated areas so they could feed the tribe. Only those with agricultural of some kinds could make it for the Buffalo herds move, the deer die off in Winter, etc.

  4. You’ve got some great tips there for picking out a good campsite. Interesting observation about increased internal condensation when camping too close to water. Humidity can be a killer for a good night’s rest!

    An interesting tip I learned for camping in cold weather (specifically snowy) conditions is how to decipher wind patterns. Obviously, well insulated equipment is a must, but you can also look at the surface of the snow in the area where you’re thinking about pitching the tent. If some areas of snow are soft while other areas have that brittle, crusty texture, then wind patterns for that area are generally pretty harsh.

  5. It amazes me how often I hear people talk about going camping in some of the most popular parks in the province just a few days before they plan to arrive, and they haven’t booked a site. And I’ve been a witness to far too many people who have driven hours to go camping, only to be turned away from a park office registration desk because the campground was full and they didn’t have a per-registration.

  6. I expect it will be ok during the day and pretty cold at night during that time. Just keep an eye on the weather…I think this will be most accurate. And makes sure to bring a lot of layers. Have fun out there!

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