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September 24, 2019 3 min read

It’s camping season! If you’re anything like us, you’re looking forward to nighttime skies filled with stars, roaring fires with the smell of roasting marshmallows, and of course, sleeping outdoors. If you are headed out with a tent and sleeping bag ready for an adventure, you’ll need to know a couple of things about WHERE to pitch that tent, because we all know, not every camping spot is created equal. 

We call them the 5W’s of campsite selection and they are some great wisdom for campers long before I ever dropped a ground cloth.


You just can’t underestimate this one. Let me tell you from my experience stake your tent when you can. If for nothing else it will help it keep its shape and if your fly depends on tension from a cleat, you are going to need it or you could wake up a little soggy. It gets even worse when you’re up above 10,000 and on sheer rock, if you don’t pick the leeward side of the slope, that first 70MPH gust will be a doozie.


Think about the way that water moves. It’s likely that your camping near water and the river is like a highway to the lake. When water falls, it will find the easiest path to the ‘highway’ that it can and you don’t want to be in the way. You want to look for erosion that shows you where water flows, try to pick level ground to avoid pooling under your tent but don’t camp at the bottom of a water erosion area. Make sure you are not in the river flood plain. That’s the area where the river can rise too and it can be 10x the size of the river so be attentive. Nothing like waking up soaking wet in the middle of a rainstorm to move your tent. It’s better than the alternative. People die each year as they are swept up in flash floods in tents. 


My house is in the woods, and when we get a decent wind storm dead branches start falling. In Bushcraft, we call those ‘Widowmakers” as they will take you out while your sleeping. Don’t forget to look up before setting up your camp. If it’s summer and there are no leaves on that oak branch… pick a new spot.


I subscribe to keeping my tent out of the “Bear-muda Triangle”. I have spent hundreds of nights in bear country backpacking in both the east and west mountain ranges. If you draw a line from your food storage to your food preparation area, that is the area that bears will smell food. 


If you see what looks to be a deer-trail, don’t camp in it. First, it’s just not respectful of nature (however I have found deer sleeping by my front walk at hone before so it might be fair). Secondly, it may not be a deer trail. I have had a bison walk through our site before and that is a different ball game. They are big, dumb and almost blind. Just stay away from animal trails and you will be good.

Hopefully, these are a couple good ways to think about where you place your tent. What other ideas do you have? Any tips or tricks to add to the list? Just post them here to help everyone out.