In survival situations and in regular old camping, you’ll often find yourself camping in the wilderness or bush. Camping is great—it’s fun, it’s good practice for more serious situations, and it’s a great experience. However, a bad campsite —exposed to the wind, too cold or hot, wet, etc.—can make everything miserable.
In this article, we’re going to focus on the most important elements to consider for choosing a good campsite. We’ll look at shelter, drainage, exposure to weather, danger from falling materials, access to resources, and more. Let’s dive into it.
Shelter from inclement weather
One of the first and most important considerations when choosing a campsite is shelter from inclement weather. This can include rain, snow, hail, sleet, wind, dust and sandstorms, and more.
Ideally campsites should be sheltered from anticipated weather conditions. Tight groves of trees can slow and stop rainfall and wind. So can cliffs, hillsides, hollows, embankments, shrubs, and more.
When setting up camp, consider the prevailing winds and direction weather is coming from. Then take advantage of the terrain to stay out of the weather.
Another critical issue when it comes to choosing a campsite is drainage. Rain, flooding, or snowmelt often gathers and travels in low spots on the landscape. Many people have set up what they believe to be a ship-shape camp, only to have it flood at the first sign of rainfall.
This is compounded by the fact that often the flattest locations to sleep are located in low-spots in the terrain. Avoid the temptation to set up your tent or other shelter here. Instead, look for areas that will drain well in the midst of a downpour. Serious high-water conditions can occur without much warning, and you don’t want to wake in the middle of the night soaking wet.
In hot climates or when sunburn is a concern, exposure to the sky can be a serious concern. Look for the same types of obstacles—groves of trees, cliffs, bluffs, and other natural features—to protect you from the sun. In desert climates, shade is absolutely essential to survival.
Snags or falling materials
Another prime consideration when choosing a campsite is to avoid danger from things falling on you. The most common source of this is snags (dead trees) or dead branches (widowmakers) on living trees. Other possible sources can include cliff faces shedding rocks, or threats like landslides or mudslides.
In high wind, snags or dead branches can fall without warning. Something it doesn’t every require high winds, or wind at all. Sometimes the thing will just fall without any apparent cause.
People have been and continue to be killed and injured every year by falling branches, trees, stones, etc. Take this threat seriously. Set your camp up away from these hazards whenever possible.
Cold and warm air masses behave differently. In fact, this is what drives weather conditions in general. Warm air tends to rise, while cold air tends to settle closer to the ground. Warm air masses meeting cold air masses generates wind, storms, and other weather events.
In cold climates, avoid setting up camp at the base of hills or in low spots in the terrain. However, you’ll also want to avoid ridges and exposed areas where the wind can lower the temperature further. Instead, set up camp midway up ridges and hillsides. On cold nights, temperatures partly up a hillside will often be 5 or 10 degrees warmer in these locations than in low areas!
In warm climates, the best campsites may be in bowls to enjoy what cool air does exist in the evening, or on ridges or hills to catch breezes.
Access to water is essential for camping. You need it for hydration, cooking, and hygiene. It can also be helpful in the event or burns or a fire that gets out of control. Any campsite should ideally be located close to water, close enough to make carrying water easy. However, watch out for the possibility of flooding, and don’t site your camp too close.
Another essential element during camping or survival situations is food. This is mostly true during an extended situation or a true survival experience. If you’ve brought your own food, you don’t need to worry about this.
However, access to food sources is essential for siting long-term camps. This includes wild plants, animals such as game and birds, sources of fish and shellfish, and so on.
Fire is essential to survival. It allows you to cook food, purify water, dry out, and stay warm. Therefore, a source of firewood (or alternative fuel like dried dung) is essential when siting a campsite. Firewood should be abundant, easy to gather, conveniently sized, and dry. If you can meet these conditions, you’ll be very happy when it comes time to make a fire.