Choosing a campsite

July 29, 2015

Camping is a great way to connect with nature and experience the great outdoors, but where you choose to set up camp can make or break the experience. The following guidelines will help you choose the best place to pitch your tent.

Choosing a campsite

The cardinal rule of camping is to leave your campsite in at least as good a condition as you found it. Use existing sites wherever possible. Many parks and reserves have designated camping areas to limit the damage inflicted on fragile terrain by the establishment of random, casual campsites.

1. Scoping out a site

If there are no established sites, select your tem­porary real estate with care.

  • Look for well-drained, level ground that is at least 100 metres (330 feet) from any natural water source to avoid polluting the water or disturbing wildlife which may also rely on the supply.
  • Try to pitch tents on resilient surfaces such as beds of leaf litter and thick grass. Alternatively, with well-padded sleeping mats and pegless tents, consider camping on flat rock slabs.Shelter is the most important feature of a campsite.
  • Take advantage of natural windbreaks such as trees and rock outcrops; when it rains, the sanctuary of a rock overhang or small cave is invaluable, especially at mealtimes. In summer, look for shady nooks.
  • At other times of the year, find an east-facing tent site to catch the morning sun.
  • It is always desirable to have a water supply close by, but exercise caution because even the cleanest-looking creeks and waterholes may be contaminated by harmful bacteria or other micro-organisms. Un­less you can be completely confident about water quality, purify it by boiling the water for at least 20 minutes. (Water boils at lower temperatures the higher the altitude: once the it boils, keep it bubbling for an additional minute for every 300 metres or 980 feet above sea level.)
  • Alternatively, treat suspect water with iodine. Add a couple of crystals to 50 millilitres (two cups) of water in an airtight glass container.
  • Two or three drops of this saturated solution will treat one litre (four cups) of water.
  • Another option is to use a compact water filter which not only removes virtually all harmful organisms but also extracts sediment.

Campfire etiquette

  1. In the search for a campsite, there is no more dispiriting sight than a clearing dotted with stone rings overflowing with ash and rubbish and nearby trees stripped of their lower branches.
  2. Camping does not confer on the camper the right to a fire. In some national parks fires are banned outright in an attempt to halt degradation of the landscape caused by insensitive camping. Yet for all this, there is no disputing the primeval, comforting appeal of a campfire. If you are lucky enough to find a place with abundant fallen kindling where a fire is not out of the question, keep the blaze compact and build it so no lasting scar is left on the landscape.
  3. Dig a small pit for the fire, preferably in sand or fine gravel, to minimize its effects on plants.
  4. Alternatively, build the fire on a flat rock slab protected by a layer of sand. By using stoves for most of your cooking, a fire need only be large enough to provide a measure of good cheer.
  5. To light a fire, build a small teepee of dry, light twigs around a bundle of dried leaves and grass.
  6. Light the bundle, gradually adding thicker sticks until the fire is established; avoid the temptation to keep increasing its size.
  7. Burn slender, fallen branches rather than hefty logs: your aim is to finish with ash rather than charred lumps of timber.
  8. When cool, the ash can be scattered. If you made a pit, return the removed turf or topsoil, damp it down and scatter leaf litter over the top.
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