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How to choose a good tent site

For a great night’s sleep, take a minute to scope out your surroundings before you select a campsite and start to pitch your tent. You might want to set it up where you’ll catch an evening breeze to drive away bugs, or somewhere that warms with the morning sun so you’ll be up and ready to go early.

Here are some general guidelines to choose a good campsite – and of course, take the Leave No Trace principles into account when you scope out sites, too. Ideally you want to put your tent somewhere that’s an established tent site or use tent pads if they’re available. If you’re wild camping, select somewhere that will look completely untouched once you pack up your tent and move on.

Things to look for:

  • Level and smooth (Lie down on your spot to see how flat it is. Feel around on the surface for sharp edges and protrusions.)
  • Above the high tide mark or flood zone of a river.
  • Close to a clean water source.
  • At least 100 metres from the kitchen and 100 metres from the food cache.
  • Ground cover, such as sand or snow, that can be restored when you leave.
  • Behind a good windblock.

Things to avoid:

  • The middle of a game trail.
  • Standing water that breeds bugs.
  • Fragile ground such as tundra, or delicate plants like alpine flowers.
  • Berry patches or spawning fish that might be a food source for bears.
  • Trees that might drip pitch or drop branches.
  • Low areas that don’t drain, or that fill with cold air.
  • Seracs that might fall or slopes that might avalanche.

Anchoring and pegging out the tent

It might be calm when you arrive, but if the wind picks up, you want to make sure your tent doesn’t collapse or get blown away. Once you have the poles in and your tent up, ensure that it’s well anchored using pegs and the guylines. To keep it stable in gusty conditions, make sure the lines are evenly tensioned. Use tent pegs on ground that will hold them securely. Tap them in gently with a rock or use your foot to press them into softer ground.

If you choose an exposed surfaces like bare rock, loose sand, or hard-packed snow, you can improvise by using rocks, poles, skis in place of tent pegs. Or try filling a stuff sack with sand or snow and burying it to make a super-sturdy tent anchor (also useful if you happen to forget the tent pegs).

Campsites and tent fabrics

Keep in mind that exposure to UV rays combined with hot weather and high elevations will damage tent fabrics. Colours fade and fabrics can become frail and brittle. Part of caring for your tent means keeping your tent out of intense sun by taking it down, setting it in the shade, or covering it with an inexpensive tarp. At the very least, protect the vulnerable canopy fabric by keeping it covered with the fly. A new fly is less expensive than buying an entire tent.