Campsite Set Up

You’ve been hitting the miles all day. The seat is beginning to feel like the padding has gone out. Your shoulders are stiff from working the wheel on technical trails and your neck feels sore from trying to lean forward to watch the front corners. There may 2-3 hours before the sunsets. Camp cannot come soon enough. As the sun sets you arrive at the location you pre-designated to camp at. When you pull in what’s the first thing you do? Well for seasoned travelers, campers, and those used to being in the outdoors it’s probably a similar routine. If you are just getting started however, here’s a run down of how I like to set up camp. This article is based around BLM land, National Forest Service areas, and primitive camping for the majority. Paid campgrounds would be less entailed.  


Once I’ve arrived I will get out and begin to decide where I will set camp. My tent is the AT Overland Habitat. Due to it deploying to the rear I must make sure I have room to open the camper above my truck and leave room to the back of the vehicle. While looking overhead I am checking for any widow makers (trees that could fall or limbs that appear to be hanging precariously). If using a ground tent, swag, or hammock you will need to evaluate for those needs and considerations. Waterways, cliffs, holes, signs of predator animals, and other natural concerns are considered before I take time to setup camp. If I have found the site to be acceptable I park and begin deploying my setup.  

The reason you should start with your tent first is to provide shelter should weather change. Also as you get busy with other tasks the sun will begin to set if it hasn’t already. Camp setup in the dark is less than desirable. It is difficult to truly understand your surroundings in the dark. Unfortunately, I’ve set camp in the dark more times than not. I don’t prefer it that way.  


With the tents pitched, hammocks hung, and swags staged you are practically there. If you have a tent or hammock of any kind you should always put out the rain-fly if part of the setup. Weather is fickle in mountain areas and rain is almost a certainty. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning by the soft pitter patter to rain isn’t the most ideal time to put the rain-fly on. Although that is bad, it’s worse when there is hard wind and heavy rain.  


There are several setups that allow for a mattress in the tent such as rooftop tents, wedge tents, and campers. These are nice and allow for comfort while traveling. This is especially nice on multi-day or week-long trips. If you don’t use one of these setups you may need to consider a ground pad for ground tent setups. Hammocks are nice but need an under-quilt to keep the heat in from beneath the body. As you are suspended, the hammock allows your body to lose heat from convection.  


Additional blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows (yes, I use a pillow) are set out so I can climb into bed once I’m done for the rest of the evening. While not a necessity, pillows are nice, especially for multi-day trips. When traveling in a vehicle you can bring these niceties more easily than backpacking.  


After getting my shelter setup I have a priorities list: food, repairs, clean-up, and campfire (if allowed). Each of these should be taken care of in that order. If there are several people with me these tasks are shared. Sharing the tasks allows for us to progress through them in a more timely manner. These tasks are normally handled by those who are best suited for each.  


Why is food next? It’s hard to keep going without fuel. The body needs nutrition. When I am by myself it is normally a quick bite and something easy to clean up after. With a group, though, food is huge for morale. Food can bring a rough day into a nice close if you play your cards right. If you spent the day tackling obstacles and difficult sections, it’s rained overnight, or there’s a general malaise you should consider your next meal to be the quick fix. If you get the aroma of food swirling in the air and offer out little taste tests, you will see those in your group begin to perk up. Food can turn the tide and help people brighten up.  

Repairs can be anything requiring attention: radios, gear, vehicle maintenance, or anything you found damaged while setting up your shelter. Some of this can be remedied by making sure batteries are topped off, batteries changed, or mending a tent. In a later article we will discuss vehicle walk-around and inspections. If you find something during the vehicle walk-around you can tend to it at this time or develop a plan to correct the issue.

Once I have eaten and repairs are knocked out I begin the clean-up process. Clean-up consists of making sure I have put away gear. Gear is lost at camps all the time. Gear is costly. Checking the campsite for items left out makes sure I won’t lose anything. The camp kitchen is cleaned and put away. If in bear country I make sure to secure food items accordingly. At this point I like to then either have a quick wash or wipe down. Going to bed dirty isn’t necessary. Having backpacked for multi-day trips and now turned to vehicle-dependent travel I no longer need to wait to hike out to end the day clean. Being clean makes me feel better and tops the day off for me. I sleep better and start my next day feeling fresh.

The last thing to setup at camp is a campfire. Now this is from time-to-time switched with clean-up. The reason I keep this last is there are several factors to campfires: can I legally have a campfire, raining, snowing, temperatures are cold or hot, etc…There are many factors that need to be considered whether a campfire proceeds clean-up. Campfires can be just as rewarding as food for groups and solo travelers. Campfires have provided comfort since man learned to harness fire. Sitting around a fire provides warmth before heading to bed. They can be cooked on. Fire provides light around the campsite. Light provides a sense of security. Campfires can become a focal point with a group and takes us back to an ancestral connection. One of my favorite things about campfires is their ability to draw out of us deep and meaningful conversations with those around them. If you use a campfire you must make sure you snuff it out completely before bed. There should be no questions whether it is out. There have been too many acres damaged by people not taking proper care with their fires in the back-country. These fires are costly, dangerous, potentially deadly, and have long term effects on the ecosystems.  

Once I’ve finished out my evening I head back to the tent. Depending on weather I may or may not need to run a little buddy heater for short interval or heat water to put in a Nalgene bottle and throw in the bottom of the sleeping bag to cut the chill while getting into bed. After getting everything done its time to slip off to sleep so I can rest for the next day full of adventure. 

Plan, Prep, Explore   


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