You’ve got your gear all packed in the trunk, and you’re on your way with family or friends to the great outdoors for a weekend of camping. Pulling into the park, you find an open space and… what do you do next? Before unloading your gear, you might want to have a look around and seek out a spot that’s ideal for your needs. Is privacy your main concern? How about proximity to the toilets (if there are any) and a fresh water source? 

Picking out your campsite isn’t a great mystery; you just need to know a few basics to make your weekend a pleasant experience. Namely, look at the terrain, high ground or low ground, the surrounding features, and regulations. 

Terrain 

A smart decision is to find an already-established campsite, instead of beating back the wilds of a new area. This lessens the impact on the natural environment. For the best tent spot, you’ll want a flat, even terrain that’s free of rocks, branches and twigs, and other natural ground litter. You’ll put some work into clearing a spot of these items; but if it’s a major pain, keep moving and find somewhere else. If you’re on uneven ground, you can end up rolling off your sleeping pad in the night. And clearing the area of both blunt and pointy objects helps to reduce possible tears and punctures to your tent floor, and gives you a more comfortable spot to sleep. 

Seek Higher Ground 

Second aspect to consider is to take an area that’s on higher, dryer ground. A storm can flood a lower ground like a valley or a dry creek bed, and when it cools down, moisture will condensate primarily in low-lying areas. That water and moisture can end up in your tent unless you choose a higher spot with good drainage. If there’s a chance of bad or windy weather, orient your doors away from the wind for better tent stability and to help keep rain out. 

Check Your Surroundings 

First off, avoid setting up camp at the base of a likely lightning strike, like a live tree on a hilltop. Don’t set up you tent under hazardous features, such as a dead tree branch or adjacent to a loose rock ledge. They might not have fallen yet, but that doesn’t make it a safe spot. However, if you’re looking for good windbreaking features and better privacy, it’s nice to have trees and brush surrounding you. Also look at proxemics. You want to be at least 200 feet away from a body of water, like a lake or stream. Consider where the toilets are, and how close other campsites are to yours. These are topics you want to keep in mind for matters of privacy, camp size, and convenience. You’ll probably want to be within comfortable walking distance from a fresh water source. 

Regulations 

When you’re out camping, it’s smart to check up on the regulations for the park or campsite. The last thing you want to do is spoil your weekend due to a violation of any park restrictions or permit requirements regarding campfires, pets, or crossing park boundaries. That tap on the tent door might be a ranger citing you with a hefty bill for your ignorance. It’s a good move to do your homework before going camping, and research that park or campsite to make sure you’re coloring inside the lines. 

A final note, and an important one, at that, is to leave the campsite as you found it, or better. Don’t leave trash or other waste behind for the next campers to deal with. It’s not fair to them, and it’s a definite violation of park policies. Not to mention, we all have the responsibility to help preserve the natural environment. 

These tips should help you find a perfect campsite to pitch your tent. There’s no harm in having a look around when you get to the park. If you want privacy, find a wooded area away from the other campsites. When you know you’ll be up in the wee hours of the morning for a bathroom break, don’t hesitate to get a spot that’s closer to the latrines. The important thing is to find a campsite that’ll keep you dry, safe, and will suit your needs while you’re there. All that’s left is to decide who gets the last s’mores before you turn in for the night.