The work that goes into finding a good campsite starts long before you start to set up camp. As early as during the planning phase of your trek you can identify areas on the map that are suitable - for example where you will have the greatest chance of finding flat surfaces and running water. Look for trail descriptions at the library or online and ask friends if they can recommend any good campsites.
One fundamental requirement for a campsite, particularly in mountainous terrain, is that it is protected from strong winds – for example by trees, boulders or other formations in the terrain such as a ridge or hill. Firm, flat ground or smooth cliffs are a good surface. Avoid mountain passes or other places where the wind is compressed.
Choose a dry surface
If you pitch your tent on sand or dirt, the water will often be led away if it starts raining. However, avoid dried-out river beds or banks – you never know when they will fill again. Place your tent preferably higher up than at the bottom of a depression - it is often drier and you will not wake up in a pool of water. A slightly higher location also means better ventilation in the tent and fewer insects and mosquitoes.
Flat and soft
When you have found a flat area that is large enough for a tent and extended guylines, remove loose objects such as stones, sticks, pine cones and anything else that can potentially keep you from sleeping well. Having fewer sharp objects under the tent also protects the tent floor from unnecessary wear.
Since you probably are spending time outdoors for the experience, you should place your tent in a location that has a good view and preferably evening sun. But pick a protected location over one with wonderful views. You can always walk a bit from the tent if you want to enjoy the view while eating. During the warmest summer months it can be a good idea to have shade in the morning since the sun goes up early and rather quickly makes the tent uncomfortably warm.
Look for running water
Once you have put up camp, you need access to water for drinking, preparing food, cleaning dishes and hygiene. Even if you cannot use the water for drinking, you can probably use it for washing and cleaning dishes. If you have limited access to drinking water, you will have to save it for preparing food.
Identify the bathroom area
In order not to risk introducing bacteria into your food, you should stay downstream for activities related to hygiene, bathroom visits and cleaning. The toilet should not be in or immediately beside the stream, and it should be lower than the tent and the drinking water. Decide within your group where you will do what, so everyone is in agreement. On busy trails or at popular camping sites, you should make sure that you are not pitching your tent in what was previously someone else’s toilet. Also, remember not to leave leftover food, toilet paper or anything else visible at the campsite. A good campsite should be available to others as well.
Keep track of your things
The more people you are, the messier it gets in the vestibule and tent. Create routines for how you will live and where you will keep equipment. Keep the items you might need during the night or morning where they are easily accessible. This will make it easier when you are tired and the weather is not cooperating. Stuffing wet socks, insoles and base layers in your sleeping bag will disrupt your sleep. Hang them on a clothing line inside the tent or vestibule if the weather is nice. During the summer they will dry faster in the vestibule than in the inner tent due the vestibule’s better ventilation.
Prepare for tomorrow
Prepare for the following day before you go to sleep. If you already have warm water in your thermos, you can make your freeze-dried breakfast without having to leave your sleeping bag. If this is not your preference, make sure that you have water in easy reach so you can start breakfast in the vestibule if the weather is bad. You will also be able to drink small portions of water right when you wake up so you are fully hydrated early in the day.
Your own heater
Boil water at night and pour it into half-litre bottles and a thermos. Insulate the bottles, for example with a sock, so you do not burn yourself and put them at your feet. During the night when the water has cooled slightly, you can move it to the middle of your sleeping bag and remove the insulation. This way you can have both a little extra heat during the night and water that is ready to use for breakfast. If you have two bottles, you can also put them in your boots to force out the moisture and give yourself a better start to the day.