Camping Skills

Selecting a Tent Site

Selecting a tent site is an important but often overlooked part of a good camping experience. If you don’t have a good tent site it’s hard to end up with a comfortable night’s sleep. Just like with selecting a good campsite there are things to keep in mind as you select your tent site.

What makes a good tent site?

  • At a minimum, you want a site that is level and relatively flat. Try to avoid a site that is slanted in any direction. If you must erect your tent on a slope, make sure you can set up the tent with your head uphill.
  • Try to avoid sites that have tree roots, rocks, or other hard objects protruding from the ground. These hard objects make for a bad night’s sleep.
  • Avoid tent sites in areas where water collects. Don’t set your tent in the bottom of a low or hollow spot.
  • Make sure that your tent is not under a dead or damaged tree. While it is rare, every year there are accounts of people being seriously injured by falling trees.
  • Make sure the tent site is not in a pathway for humans or wildlife. This is something that a lot of new campers don’t recognize as often trail areas are flat and level and look like good tent sites.
  • Think about where the sun will be as you set up your tent. If you are an early riser it’s nice to have the morning sun get your tent early. However, if you hope to sleep late it is best to have morning shade on the tent. Of course, sunlight is also heat so keep this in mind as well.

Preparing Your Tent Site

Once you’ve selected the exact location for your tent, its a good idea to spend a few minutes preparing the site. Your goal is to make the ground as comfortable as possible while disturbing the soil as little as possible. In developed campgrounds, the established tent sites will be obvious. However, if you are setting up in an undeveloped location make your imp[act as small as possible.

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Look for any easily movable hard objects that will interfere with a good night’s sleep. Things like sticks, pine cones, and small rocks are easily moved and make a big difference. Sometimes a tree root or large rock sticks up and cannot be moved or worked around. The only options you have in this situation are to align the tent so that the problem spot is in a place where you will not be sleeping directly on it. The other option is to find something to level the ground around the protruding obstacle.

If you want to try to level the ground look for leaves or loose soil. By covering the area around the protrusion with leaves or dirt you can help to smooth the spot so that it lessens the discomfort caused by lumps under the tent. Remember, the flatter and more level you can make the ground under your tent the better you will sleep at night.

A sandy location smoothed out for a good tent site
Taking a few minutes to prepare a good tent site can make a big difference. Here the sandy soils have been smoothed out to eliminate any slope and to provide a flat surface with no rocks, sticks, or bumps. Normally I would never condone modifying the landscape this way but in this case, the river channel will soon flood and rearrange the entire area. However, this does seem to be overkill!

Selecting a great tent site is something that you will learn to do as you gain experience camping. I often spend time looking at tent site possibilities before I select a campsite. In developed campgrounds, there is a lot of variation in tent site quality between different sites. Make sure that you have a good tent site before you claim a campsite. There’s not much you can do to have nighttime comfort if your tent site is not a good one.

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