A good campsite can be defined in many ways depending upon your preferred level of back-country comfort, the lay of the land where you can pitch your tent and to a lesser extent, the season in which you are out enjoying Mother Nature.
Ask most anyone and they’ll tell you their preference is a flat, cushiony area upon which to set up a tent. With modern sleeping pads, a level area is probably more of a priority than a soft surface. Still, there are several other factors to take into consideration when deciding upon a safe, comfortable place to make camp at day’s end.
1) Location: Where are you? Alongside a lake or stream? Hill/Mountain country? Desert/Canyon country? – Each setting presents good and bad sites. It’s best to camp back from bodies of water for several reasons, including: to maintain the aesthetics of the landscape, protect the waters and stay away from game corridors. Still/stagnant waters are also breeding grounds for insect pests.
In uneven terrain, cold air sinks into depressions at night – you’ll want your tent above those pools of colder air. It’s also where rain water is going to collect. Go higher; stay drier – and warmer.
Deserts and canyons entice campers to seek out shady camp sites – always a major factor in hot, intense sun environments. However, don’t camp on canyon floors or flat areas within arroyos – flash flooding from downpours (local or upstream) can be forceful enough to flush your entire campsite away – with you still in it! Look for higher, sun-protected sites.
2) Air/Sun Exposure: Take advantage of wind corridors that will keep your site bug free. Camp upwind from pest-breeding areas (bugs like to fly with the breeze) and try to find breezeways during hot, humid summers. Ocean breezes flow from sea to land by day, and the reverse by night, so orient your campsite to take advantage of that shift as well.
Likewise, face your tent entrance east to catch the warming rays of morning sun; think westward for locations in the shade during hot afternoons, too.
3) Overhead dangers: Check for dead or damaged branches in trees above your tent and traffic areas of camp. Summer storms can topple large trees that appear firmly rooted so take note of any downed trees caused by weather in the past.
Camping at the base of an unstable steep slope, below rocky ledges or within the broad path of a potential avalanche chute can all be potentially fatal.
Even in designated campgrounds, consider these factors when choosing your campsite. Be safe, be smart, and have fun!