How to Choose a Backcountry Campsite (that follows Leave No Trace) – Bearfoot Theory

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How to Choose a Backcountry Campsite (that follows Leave No Trace) – Bearfoot Theory


After an extended day of carrying a heavy backpack on the path, I do know what it’s like to simply need to arrange your tent, make dinner, and go to sleep. When you lastly attain the purpose the place you’re going to arrange camp for the night time, you is perhaps tempted to simply take whichever spot is closest with no second thought.

If you’re new to backpacking, you may additionally marvel: Is it alright to camp subsequent to the water? What about establishing your tent in vegetated areas the place the bottom is perhaps softer? Or what occurs if it’s late and you may’t discover a campsite? Can you camp proper on the path? As somebody who bought into backpacking in my early maturity, I bear in mind questioning the identical issues throughout my first backpacking journeys.

As extra individuals are getting out and having fun with the outside, I need to share with you the small print of how to decide on a campsite that’s stunning and comfy whereas minimizing your environmental footprint. By following Leave No Trace greatest practices, the wild locations that you just and I really like could be preserved for future campers.

In this weblog publish, I share the how to decide on a campsite whereas backpacking so you’ll be able to go into your subsequent journey with confidence on the place (and the place not) to sleep at night time.

1. Research earlier than you go

Anytime you’re going backcountry tenting, you might be answerable for studying the rules as an vital step in planning a backpacking journey. There actually is not any excuse for not figuring out the rules.

On some standard trails, just like the Four Pass Loop Trail in Aspen, you might be solely allowed to camp in designated campsites that you’ve got a selected allow for. In different areas, like Kings Canyon National Park, you might be solely required to camp a minimal of 25 toes from the water, however you need to keep in designated, beforehand used websites.

Here are some issues to look out for as you might be researching the path. 

  • Know the place you’ll be able to camp. Often when tenting within the wilderness, there are campsite tips as to the place tenting is and isn’t allowed. The common rule of thumb is to camp 200 toes from a path or physique of water (extra on that later), however relying on the setting, the foundations could also be totally different.
  • Research fireplace rules. There are fairly a number of trails that not enable campfires. Take time to study fireplace rules at your campsites.
  • Follow the foundations. In no circumstances must you arrange your tent the place it isn’t allowed. This is simply a part of being a accountable out of doors fanatic. Not following the foundations encourages others additionally to interrupt the foundations. I urge you to take a stand towards this. Lead by instance.
Campsite with tent set up behind tree and tarp over picnic table with gear laid out on top of it
Before visiting Havasu Falls, I realized campers can solely camp within the designated tenting space.

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2. Choose a flat, naked, steady floor

When in search of a campsite, you need an space that’s flat and sturdy akin to rock, sand, dry grass, or compacted grime. Here are another concerns to bear in mind earlier than you pitch your tent.

  • Be conscious of crops and delicate vegetation. Avoid trampling or establishing your tent on small crops or on prime of vegetation. Choose naked grime or rock as a substitute.
  • Avoid making a brand new campsite when doable. Whenever doable, pitch your tent in an current campsite, the place it’s evident others have beforehand camped.
  • Don’t camp too near the sting of a cliff. Cliffs erode and inserting your tent too near the sting may speed up erosion. Plus tenting too near the sting is harmful once you rise up in the course of the night time half asleep to pee.
Tent pitched at sunset with mountains in background
Here my tent is pitched in a flat space on naked grime the place it’s clear that different folks had camped earlier than.

3. Don’t camp too near water sources

While it’s at all times greatest to camp the place you’ve got entry to a water supply for ingesting and cooking, you don’t need to arrange your tent proper on the water’s edge, whether or not that’s a river, lake, stream, pond, and so on.

On time whereas backpacking in Idaho’s Sawooth Mountains, I got here throughout an unlawful campsite that was instantly on the path and likewise inches from the water. This violates a number of ideas of Leave No Trace and the rules listed on the wilderness allow that every group is required to signal and carry that states that you need to camp not less than 100 toes from the water. 

Check out this 7-day itinerary for an epic Idaho road trip including hiking, camping, rafting, and more for the outdoor enthusiast.

You can after all hang around on the water’s edge, however establishing your tent like this particular person did blocks entry to the lake for wildlife and different campers who would possibly must filter water. It’s fairly egocentric if you happen to ask me.

Here are some suggestions for selecting a campsite that’s close to, however not too shut, to a water supply.

  • Follow rules. Unless current rules say in any other case, guarantee you might be not less than 200 toes away from all water sources BEFORE establishing your tent.
  • Avoid contaminating water sources. Even if there isn’t any wildlife, the rule of thumb to camp not less than 200 toes from water can be to take care of the standard and security of the water provide. When you might be tenting, what do you usually do when you need to pee in the course of the night time? You seize your headlamp, placed on sneakers, and stumble possibly 10 toes out of your tent earlier than you pee. Well in case you are camped proper on the water line, all that pee (or poop) conveniently runs proper into the lake or river the place you then go to gather your water. Gross, proper? Let’s all preserve our distance to assist preserve it wholesome on the market.
  • Avoid unlawful campsites too near the water. If you discover a sturdy, beforehand camped-upon floor that’s nearer to the water than rules enable, you is perhaps tempted and suppose it’s okay as a result of different folks have camped there. But you staying there simply continues to ship the message that it’s alright to not comply with greatest practices for selecting a campsite. Instead of tenting there, you must enable that space to recuperate and the vegetation to develop again.
A tent pitched in a legal campsite in the Sawtooth mountains in Idaho with trees, dirt, and rocks surrounding the tent.
My tent is on sturdy floor with no vegetation in an space that has clearly been camped in earlier than.

4. Be Respectful of Others

One time after I was backpacking within the Wind Rivers, we discovered a tremendous campsite after a ten mile day, solely to be stored awake till midnight from rowdy neighbors throughout the lake. It was so annoying!

When I’m tenting, I at all times remind myself of the golden rule – me having a very good time shouldn’t have an effect on anybody else’s potential to have a very good time. Here are some methods I be sure that I’m being a very good campsite neighbor and respecting my fellow campers whereas backpacking.

  • Keep your distance from different campers. If there are many open campsites, attempt to decide on one that could be a affordable distance from the opposite teams so that you aren’t encroaching on different’s area. If it’s a crowded, standard space close to a lake, you night time not have a variety of choices, however do your greatest to provide your fellow neighbors some privateness, identical to you’d need different campers to do for you.
  • Don’t camp instantly on the path. Don’t arrange your tent in a means that obstructs the path. Look for established campsites which can be well-off the path, so oncoming hikers don’t should dodge you and your gear or unintentionally catch you altering your garments or going to the lavatory in plain view.
  • Maintain a respectful quantity. Other campers need to relax and loosen up in peace – so preserve music and group noise at a thoughtful degree and take into consideration how shut different campsites are to your group. Remember the sound can echo by way of a canyon or throughout a lake, leaving your neighbors each awake and irritated, particularly if they’ve an early morning deliberate.
Three tents set up at a backcountry campsite in Olympic National Park
Being conscious of others is very vital in case you have a big group

5. Be conscious of hazards

I’ve made the error of establishing my tent too near some lifeless bushes earlier than. The wind picked up in the course of the night time, and I used to be so paranoid {that a} lifeless department was going to fall on me that I barely bought a wink of sleep.

When you might be deciding on a backcountry campsite, you need to go searching and see if there are any hazards to keep away from:

  • Look for lifeless bushes and branches: You don’t need to set your tent up proper subsequent to any lifeless bushes that appears like they might blow over in a windstorm and fall in your tent. Same goes for placing your tent beneath any giant lifeless branches.
  • Set up close to smaller bushes to guard your self from lightning and wind: If you might be tenting in dangerous climate, it’s greatest to set your tent up near some small bushes. Avoid being instantly subsequent to the tallest bushes, as lightning is interested in the tallest object. Trees may also assist break up the wind.
  • Avoid washes, gullies, and water drainage paths: Look for indicators of water stream by way of your potential campsite, or think about the water’s path or low spots the place water would possibly pool up in heavy rains. Avoid these spots, particularly if within the desert or areas susceptible to flash floods.
Three tents set up at a backcountry campsite in Olympic National Park
The darkish patches within the grime point out water stream, which helped us decide the drier areas to arrange our tents

6. Think in regards to the solar

If you might be up within the mountains in chillier temperatures, you might have considered trying the heat of the solar in your tent very first thing within the morning. Or maybe you’re within the desert the place it’s sizzling, and also you need to be within the shade so long as doable.

When determining the precise placement of your tent, you’ll need to take into account the place the solar rises and units. Then set your tent up close to bushes or massive boulders that may block the solar from hitting your tent on the hottest occasions of day.

This tree offered afternoon shade on my Paria Canyon backpacking journey the place many of the websites had been out within the solar

7. Minimize the Impact of Your Campfire & Campsite

While nowadays I’m means too paranoid about wildfires to have a campfire whereas backpacking, if you wish to have a campfire, your first step is to ensure they’re even allowed. In many wilderness areas or throughout seasonal fireplace bans, campfires are unlawful, even when they’re in an current fireplace ring.

If you discover out that campfires are allowed and also you’re set on having one, right here are some things to search for when selecting a campsite.

  • Only use current campfire rings. Don’t create a brand new ring as this will harm vegetation. Instead, discover a campsite that already has a hearth ring.
  • Don’t construct a hearth if it’s windy. All it takes is a number of sizzling ashes to blow into some close by brush.
  • Only use wooden that you just purchased or collected legally. Many state and nationwide parks don’t assist you to collect firewood. If gathering wooden is allowed, solely decide up lifeless and downed logs, and don’t lower down or hurt residing bushes, as they’re dwelling for birds, bugs, and different creatures.
  • Keep the dimensions of your fireplace affordable. There is not any must have a bonfire if you end up backpacking.
  • Make certain your fireplace is 110% out. Do not go to mattress or go away the campfire till you might be sure it’s utterly out. Peeing in your fireplace earlier than curling up into your sleeping bag is just not an applicable solution to put your fireplace out – relatively, one of the best ways to place your fireplace out and funky the ashes is to drench it with water. This is simple in case you have a Platypus Gravity filter, since you’ll be able to scoop up lake water after which carry it again to camp.
  • Don’t throw trash within the firepit. Trash doesn’t burn and finally needs to be packed out by another person!
  • At the top of your go to, go away the campsite higher than you discovered it. Search for cigarette butts, micro-trash, and meals particles. Whether they had been already there earlier than you arrived or a results of your social gathering, be a very good steward and decide it up. Make certain you pack out your whole trash in addition to any trash you discover. Stay organized at your campsite with a chosen receptacle, so your trash is multi function place and straightforward to get rid of once you get out of the wilderness.
Don't put trash in the campfire! Learn how to Leave No Trace at your campsite.
This was a hearth ring I got here throughout that was filled with trash. Please don’t throw your trash within the fireplace.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is backcountry tenting?

Backcountry tenting means you need to stroll on a climbing path to a campsite within the wilderness. Since you can not drive to backcountry campsites, you need to carry your whole gear in a backpacking pack.


What are a few of the key elements to think about when selecting a campsite whereas backpacking?

The greatest issue to bear in mind is to make sure you’re in a authorized and pre-established campsite. Then, I search for campsites which can be flat, dry, secure, and comfy, ideally one which’s barely elevated to keep away from pooling water if it rains. I prefer to be close to a water supply if doable, however I be certain to camp not less than 200 toes away. Finally, I guarantee that I’m off of the path and respecting the area of any neighbors who’ve already arrange camp by tenting as far-off as I can from them.

How can I guarantee my campsite is secure from wildlife?

To preserve wildlife away out of your campsite, be sure to retailer your meals and scented gadgets correctly. Depending on the place I’m backpacking, I exploit both a bear canister or cling my scented gadgets and meals in a bag from a tree. I preserve the canister or bag not less than 100 toes from my campsite. Another good observe is to prepare dinner and eat away out of your tent to maintain meals odors from attracting wildlife to your tent.

What ought to I do if somebody already took the campsite I deliberate to make use of?

Before you head off to the path, you must have a backup plan of the place you’ll camp in case your first selection doesn’t work out. Print out a map so you need to use it that can assist you discover different campsites and keep versatile. If you’re caught, you might attempt asking the folks on the campsite you wished in the event that they know of different good spots close by.

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What would you add to my recommendations on how to decide on a campsite? Let me know within the feedback under!

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