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The Laws of Nature in Picking a Campsite at Cabela's

The Laws of Nature in Picking a Campsite

Author: Mark Mazour

Camping in the backcountry is one of my favorite activities. I have learned that if you take an extra five minutes in selecting your site, you can add to the enjoyment for the whole trip.

Pick a good place to set up camp.
Camping in the backcountry is one of my favorite activities. I have learned that if you take an extra five minutes in selecting your site, you can add to the enjoyment for the whole trip.

You're most of the way there. You got the weekend off, got the car loaded with everything but the kitchen sink, and headed to the great outdoors for some serious camping. Now, upon arriving at your campground or area that you wish to stop for the night comes the decision - where do I pitch this tent?

Through many years of camping experiences, I have put together a list of some laws of nature that definitely play a role in your campsite selection.

Flat is better. - Since you will be sleeping on the ground, you want as flat of a spot as you can find. It is a lot easier to sleep when you are not at an awkward angle. If the area in which you choose to camp (such as mountainous backcountry) does not have a flat spot, be sure to sleep with your head higher than your feet. I learned this trick the hard way. I once slept with my head at the lower end and awoke with a pounding headache from all the blood rushing to my head.

Rocks are hard. - Try to pick a spot with the least amount of rocks you can find. An air mattress or sleeping pad can take out some of the bumps when you first settle in, but in the middle of the night you will notice them all. Also, rocks have a way of decreasing the life of your tent in a hurry. A ground sheet or tarp will help, but rocks will still cause excessive wear in the tent floor. If they are small, you can move some of the rocks to place your tent, and just return them to their original location when you leave.

Rain runs downhill. - Make sure when you pick your spot that you are not in a primary drainage area. While some of these areas provide excellent tree cover and protection from the wind, if it rains, you will be in deep water. Two of my friends learned this lesson on a canoe trip in Canada. After paddling all day, they had set up their tent in what they had thought was a picturesque locale and went to sleep immediately. During the night it started to rain and proceeded to become a torrential downpour. The unlucky campers were so exhausted that they didn't wake up until they had a river running through their tent with numerous items of gear bobbing around in three inches of water. As they wrung their clothes out, they realized they had set up in a drainage gulch between two high banks.
A good place to set up camp.
The sun is hot. - If possible, pick a shady spot for your tent. A tent can turn into a sauna in a hurry if it is in full sun. Even in cool weather, a tent can heat up in a hurry when the sun shines on it, and make it uncomfortable. Besides the heat, the sun's UV rays can do damage to your tent and deteriorate the tent fabric over time.

The wind can blow hard. - While keeping in mind the above point of not camping in a drainage area, a wide open area makes you very susceptible to the wind. The most annoying thing about the wind is the sound of your tent flapping all night long. While guy lines can sturdy it up, a windstorm can make even the best tent flap around excessively, resulting in a sleepless night. In cold weather camping, the wind is more than annoying, since it removes all the heat you have accumulated in your tent. Two people can effectively warm a small tent with body heat overnight. However, with the wind blowing, all your heat is taken away. Try to select a site that will have protection from prevailing winds (usually north or west), and place the rear of your tent closer to the windbreak.

Rushing water can be loud. - To reduce your impact on the forests and streams, it is always a good idea to camp away from running streams. However, some established campsites are very near the water. Earlier this year, I learned this lesson on a camping trip to Wyoming. We arrived late and spotted an open spot only fifteen feet from the Laramie river. Since it was almost fully dark, I decided it was good enough and the sound of the water would be soothing. After we got camp setup and settled in for the night, we soon realized that while rushing water may be soothing from 100 yards away, it was awfully loud in our tent. We had to talk fairly loud to be heard, and we decided that a little farther from the river would've been a better choice.

Bugs aren't a lot of fun. - Although insects will be around camp, you can minimize your exposure by looking around first. On the ground, look for anthills. Setting up on top of one will no doubt result in the critters inside your tent in a short time. In the air, look for clouds of bugs you can see. Bugs always seem to prefer one spot over another, and a little planning can save a lot of hassle later. Try to stay away from backwater sloughs or marshes, which tend to be mosquito breeding havens. Also, lush, moist, green areas will always have more insects than a dry rocky site.

Camping in the backcountry is one of my favorite activities. I have learned that if you take an extra five minutes in selecting your site, you can add to the enjoyment for the whole trip.

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