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Whether you’re camping for fun and leisure, or out of necessity in a survival scenario: you need to know how to correctly set up your campsite.
Ready to spend the night out in nature? Not so fast - there are common mistakes that inexperienced campers make which lead to an uncomfortable night at best… or at worst, a seriously dangerous situation. By taking the time to digest some tips about basic campsite logistics and safety, you can ensure a more pleasant night out -- whether you intended to go camping, or you found yourself in a survival scenario.
Every good campsite starts with a well-chosen location. If you just toss your tent on the nearest patch of dirt and call it a day, you could be in for some nasty surprises. For starters, you’ll want to look for a level clearing that gives you a reasonably flat surface to sleep on. Sleeping on a hill can cause back, sinus, and even bloodflow problems, conditions made worse if the weather is also not cooperating. If you have no choice and must camp on a hill, do yourself the favor of sleeping with your head elevated and the rest of your body pointing down the slope.
Second, you need to make sure that your campsite is in a safe area. If you’re trying to stay away from human or animal danger, it’s best to camp behind rocks or in a densely wooded spot where you don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Camping in cover also has the benefit of wind protection to help guard against the elements.
Finally, never camp underneath a dead or dying tree. You need to learn to spot the signs of a dead tree, because if a strong wind comes and snaps a branch, it could fall right on top of you. And we assure you, that’s not the recipe for sweet dreams.
Most campsites of any decent quality include an area for a fire. Whether it’s to cook your food or simply stay warm on a cold night, a fire is a pretty essential element of a campsite. That means, besides making sure you have the correct tools on hand to build the fire in the first place, you need to know good fire etiquette so that you don’t burn down your surroundings or cause a serious problem.
Any fire you make in the backcountry needs to be well clear of dense or dry brush, lest the flames reach out and ignite your surroundings. That means you need to clear a large area and create a ring of fist-sized rocks (or larger) to help contain your fire pit. This will keep the fire from wandering away from you, and helps to contain hot coals once the fire has been going for a while.
Finally, remember that when you’re going to sleep at the end of the night, you need to make absolutely certain you’ve put the fire all the way out. This means dumping plenty of water on the fire, shoveling dirt on top, and making sure that there are no stray coals, embers, or lit twigs that can potentially kick up with wind in the middle of the night. Remember, the ground in the fire pit will stay extremely hot a few inches down, even if you’ve poured water on the area -- so stay vigilant.
Yes, ideally you’ve got a nice tent to sleep in at night when you’re camping. But what about situations where you didn’t originally intend to spend the night outdoors? You still need to be able to fashion a basic shelter to help protect you from the elements as well as animal life in the area (much of which will be nocturnal).
If you don’t have an emergency tent, you can fashion one by using sticks and a large piece of fabric (or a tarp, or multiple items of clothing fastened together). You can also build a lean-to with nearby branches and rocks to create a mini-cave that you can sleep in if necessary. It might not be the Four Seasons, but even a little bit of insulation goes a long way when it’s cold and raining outside and you need to get a few hours of shut-eye.
Any camping experience, planned or otherwise, is simply made more pleasant if you’ve got the right items on hand to make your life easier. We’ve already touched on a few, such as firestarters and shelter, but there are others that are nearly as important.
Having access to a high-quality flashlight is of paramount importance, especially if you’re trying to cook, set up camp, or flag down help when it’s dark outside. Hydration packs can make it easy to store and consume enough water to stay healthy and hydrated throughout your camping adventure.
And in a real pinch, pocket cutting tools can be the difference between life and death as you seek to build your shelter, create firewood, or even prepare an animal that you’ve caught.
By having access to these and other important items, you can turn a nearly unsurvivable scenario into one where you thrive and live to tell the tale of your adventure!