Quick Tips for Setting Up Your Campsite

Dreaming of sleeping under a star filled sky after a night sitting around the campfire? Honestly, who doesn't? Setting up a great campsite isn't difficult, but goes much more smoothly with some advance planning. Planning at home, the right gear and some conscientious camp habits can make all the difference. Once the basics are down, we'll give you some tips for adding a few smart, simple touches to make it more comfortable.

3 Basic Rules to Follow

  1. Select the tent site, keeping bathroom and water sources in mind.
  2. Know where you will have your campfire.
  3. Layout out your area for food prep, storage and trash, etc.

First, assuming your campsite does not have water and electric hook-ups, select the most level area possible. Even if your weather forecast is bone dry, higher ground is the way to go, as rain can occur even with a forecast calling for zero percent chance of precipitation. Puddles, streams and flooding can occur very quickly. If the site is not free of debris, it's well worth the time to clear it, including moving small rocks and rubble. Next, look up! We personally prefer a semi-shaded area, but the trees have to be healthy. Make sure there are no dead branches, broken branches swaying in the wind--that sort of thing. If the area you are camping in is under any threat of thunder and lightening, leave your tent and seek the nearest shelter, which may be your car. If hit with lightening, a tent does not work like a faradic cage, which is the ability to carry electricity from its surface into the surrounding ground--exactly what a car does do. Around 200 feet to the nearest bathroom is a good distance to set up your tent. Err on the side of more distance from the bathroom is better. Consider the water source as well. Carrying a large bucket of water several times a day back to the campsite is not a fun way to spend your time.

Second, where is your campfire going to be? Basic guidelines are at least 15 feet from your tent, and 10-15 feet from vegetation, including tree overhang. Know the campfire rules for where you are camping. Many parks and recreation areas, particularly in the western half of the country, prohibit an open fire during much of the summer and into fall. Collecting firewood can be a great family activity for kids--kids as young as two or three can pick up twigs. Finally, if you are camping beyond your local area, check the campground rules on outside firewood. Due concern with non-native insects, most campgrounds require local firewood to minimize the risk of introducing non-native insects into the area which has no natural immunities to fight them. The forest devastation wrought by the emerald ash borer and ips (sometimes called engraver) beetles is sickening. So always follow firewood rules!

Finally, a little thought into the overall organization and layout of your camp can go a long ways. When thinking about how to set up and organize a campsite, the first thing we always do--while still at home--is to check food storage regulations. Areas with high animal populations, particularly bears, have strict food storage rules. Have your food prep, including cookware, close to where you will eat. Our go-to here is a picnic table, which most public campgrounds have. Store your cookware in a covered plastic tub under the table. Trash is another major consideration. Be obsessive about proper trash disposable, not only for a tidy campsite but to care for the environment. We "take out or trash" every night, and recycle appropriate waste as well. We recommend always being at least 100 feet from trash cans--distance alleviates foot traffic and noise, flies, odors, etc. We recommend a laundry bag for dirty clothes, which is easy to stash in the corner of your tent or back floor of your vehicle.

Setting up a convenient, safe campsite is easy. Everyone in your camping party, even young children, can participate. There's really no one-size fits all model, much of your set-up depends on the site location and configuration. Play around with it, and have a little fun!