Campsite selection can make or break the success of your camping trip.
Probably, anyone who has camped regularly, has picked a not-so-ideal location.
There have been campsites where there were inch ants; no shelter from high winds; set up the tent on a slope so we slid down the self inflating mats most the night, etc.
You get the picture.
- Choose a site wisely – your camping trip gets off to a good start.
- Choose poorly, and you might have a few problems you hadn’t counted on for your trip.
To help you avoid some of the mistakes we have made or seen others make, we put together a guide on how to choose a campsite.
When we are referring to campsites in this story, we are more than likely referring to campsites that are not located in a caravan park which have all the mod cons and OHS regulations that go along with an established caravan park.
Campsites we are talking about are the ones you could find in bush land, National Parks, private properties, and literally, anywhere you can set up your camping gear!
Sometimes, you have to book your National Park campsite, which is going to make campsite choice a lot more tricky, as you have to take (in most cases) what is allocated to you. That sucks, because it might not be the sort of campsite you want or need.
But if you do have some choices, then this is the guide for you.
What should you look for in the site? Here are 7 tips to help.
Sites will vary in size, and you need to think about the size of your camping set up.
- Do you have a large tent?
- How many tents do you need to fit into the one site?
- Will you have space for your table and chairs and additional camping gear like a camp kitchen (if you have one).
- Is your camper trailer going to fit in, and will it be able to be fully opened without obstructing others. Can you maneuver the trailer into the site?
If you are paying for a site, you can’t encroach into another site without paying for the second one.
Think about the room you need based on the gear you are travelling with.
Another key consideration when choosing the size of your camping spot
- Will you be using a campfire?
You don’t want that campfire to be close to your gear, especially the tent. You want the fire to be far enough away, so smoke isn’t billowing through your shelter.
Look at a site that can fit your gear and hold a campfire – safely.
If you are sleeping on a hill, you will slide right out of your bed or have blood rushing to your head, or both. That is why you need to look for a site that is nice and flat for your shelter. You don’t want your legs to be higher than your head.
A level spot for sleeping may not always be possible, so a gentle incline may be OK, but just sleep with your head at the top of that slope.
The other gear can be on a slope – a little slope, otherwise your drinks will be sliding off the table – but nothing too severe.
Another reason you are looking for a relatively level spot is if rain is likely.
A site that dips, means that water can pool, creating puddles and increases chances of water getting in your tent.
If the weather is going to be warm, some shade is a nice option to have.
Look around at the site at the trees, and see what sort of trees are growing near your desired site.
Gum trees are notorious for dropping limbs unexpectedly, especially after a period of heat, then rain. They are called “widowmakers” for a reason. Avoid camping underneath large gums or any trees with large boughs and/or are dead.
Friends camped under a large pine tree which they said looked safe – a large bough broke off in middle of windy night, and fell on their car, writing it off. They were lucky; it was just their car, and not them.
Trees that are alive and healthy can provide much needed shade, but where they are located within the site is important to consider too.
You want to position yourself where the tree will provide afternoon shade, so see where the sun will rise and set, and put your camping gear where it will benefit from the afternoon shade. If you have arrived in the morning, then you need to think in advance.
For those of you who are hammock campers, trees at a campsite will be more crucial to your camping experience!
When looking at a site – look at your must-have needs (such as size, shade mentioned above) and then, your would-like-if-possible needs.
By this I mean, what you personally, want in a campsite.
Suggested things to look at are listed below.
Some of these might not be important to you: you don’t care if you hear snorers at night, or have lots of people walking past your site.
It’s a personal decision.
Proximity of water source: If you need water for drinking, how far will you need to walk to access? Is this something you need for your trip?
Toilets: How far away are they from you (if available)? Do you need them to be close and possibly get some of the odors and foot traffic to them, or are you self-sufficient and not requiring easy access?
Privacy: What screening is there between you and the next site? Are you going to be able to see and hear every part of neighbours camping trip?
Proximity of other sites: How close is the next site? Are you all going to be squashed together?
Think of noise factor if you squeeze into a tight camping space.
By choosing a site next to another camping group, are you giving them some of the privacy they had hoped for or can you camp further apart?
This might not be a popular thing to say, but what the hell! It’s a reality when camping near other people.
When looking at a campsite where there are others already present, we sometimes look at the campers themselves, and that will factor into our campsite choice.
Now before I get some hate mail on this point, let me say this: I know you can’t judge someone by the way they look….I am not referring to their physical appearance but the way they are camping.
Read on so I can explain further……
For example, if they have generators on during the day or trash all over the place and stereos blaring, I know we may not have a peaceful camping trip – that’s the way they camp, but not the way I want to camp.
Likewise if there are dogs running all over the place, unleashed or people drinking themselves stupid by mid-morning – I am not a fan of setting up my campsite next to them.
So we move on, and find another spot. They were there first, so we have no choice.
You can’t always pick your neighbours, and to a certain extent you are hoping that you will find people with good camping etiquette, but we have also seen a lot of bogans, who we just don’t want to camp next to.
If none of the above bothers you or you are the sort of camper that I just described, then you can skip this step in choosing a campsite.
A breeze can be a good thing – blow away smoke from campfires, help with condensation, cool you on a hot day (especially if coming off the water), but severe winds can make camping, not only more arduous as you set up, but the risk of your shelter and belongings not being where you left them, increases.
So some protection from the wind such as sand dune, stable boulders and hills, can be beneficial when choosing a camp location.
You might need to get out of your car and look around at your site a little more closely in your decision-making.
- Check that there are no anthills in the site – those ants will find you before you know it.
- Is the ground clear of debris like twigs/rocks/rubbish, especially glass and metal that can ruin your gear plus injure you? This is something that you can clear away if needed, so it’s not a deal breaker for a site. Worth thinking about though.
- Is it heavily compacted soil? Might indicate that if it rains, drainage will be poor.
The more you camp, the more all of the above will become second nature to you.
Sometimes you won’t be able to eliminate all of the above factors in a campsite.
You might have to put up with a camp that is more exposed to the elements, or further from an amenity than you had hoped for. You just need to be prepared for it when it happens, and make adjustments if possible.
Final piece of advice for anyone camping:
A good campsite is found, not created.
Please care for our environment and keep your campsite clean, safe and with minimal harm to the area. Leave No Trace.
Now your turn. What do you look for in a campsite? Let us know below.