Your plan was great. The campsite is just where you hoped it would be. Time to pitch that tent and enjoy time with friends.
No tricks here. The above is true. But we do want to cover a few things to consider when deciding where exactly to pitch that tent.
Continue reading below.
Careful where you place your Tent
Watch out for the widow makers. Dead trees. Dead limbs. They can fall at any moment. Don't camp beneath these.
Whatever you do, please do not place your tent on the trail. This might seem like a common sense statement, but you will witness someone doing this at some point in your hiking career.
Avoid the low ground. You would be surprised how quickly water can accumulate and flood your tent in what you thought was only a small area that couldn't possibly collect water.
Attempt to locate an area previously used. Two advantages; the area has already been tamped down for you (grass, leaves, etc), and it is good practice as part of the Leave No Trace principles.
Learning where to place your tent takes practice. Over time you learn to survey the ground and understand where water might flow during a heavy rain storm.
Check the rules for the forest where you plan to hike and camp. Many have restrictions on where you can camp, and some even have specific tent camping restrictions.
Here are some examples.
Hiking the AT in the Smoky Mountains, tent camping is not permitted. You have to reserve a shelter space when you get a permit, and you are expected to stay in that shelter.
Generally, along the entire AT, maps have campsites designated where it is preferred that you stay. But even at the shelters you can tent camp (except for the Smoky Mtns.)
This might not be the first thing you consider after your tent is up and ready. But do you want to be stringing rope over a tree branch in the dark? Find that perfect tree, get your rope set, then relax and enjoy dinner. You can leave the rope hanging as long as it's attached. Tying both ends of the rope to a carabiner works just fine until you are ready to hang your bag.
You want the bear bag to be at least 100 feet from your campsite. Some people suggest as much as 200 feet. Point is; whatever comes sniffing to check out your bear bags, you don't want it to be too close to you.
Read this article on Bear Bags to learn more.
Keeping your food and other odiferous items away from bears and critters is part of the Leave No Trace principles.
Know this. Anything which has, or could have, an odor goes into a bear bag or bear-proof container. Food. Toothpaste. Toothbrush. Baby powder. Utensils. Deodorant. And more...
A few state and national parks now require campers to use a bear-resistant canister. These are round and plastic with a large screw top.
The one pictured below, the BV450, can fit inside of most packs. It also makes for a great seat at the campsite.
Let's all eat dinner together
There is a triangle which is recommended for all camping areas. Tents, Bear Bags, and Dinning Area. The advice is to make sure all three of these are 100 feet apart. Hence the triangle.
We don't abide by this. Not that the triable is incorrect, we just find it a bit onerous to always find a campsite where distance allows for this imaginary triangle.
Our rule is this. Do not eat dinner next to your tent. Eat at least 15 to 25 feet away. No matter how careful you are, you will spill something on the ground. These crumbs are going to attract critters. The question for you is; how close do you want those critters to your tent at night while you sleep? Field mice are cute, but you don't want them in your tent.
There is a chance a bear could come searching for those crumbs, but not likely. It's about mitigating risk. Black bears are afraid of humans. When black bears become a threat to humans it is almost always because they were fed human food. If that is the case, then their fear has been replaced by a desire for food. So they are probably coming into your campsite without the crumbs present. (article on black bear encounters coming soon).
Leave No Trace
We take this seriously at the Mountain Blazers. Pack it in, pack it out. This is why our required gear list includes a trash bag.
Upon breaking down your campsite, it is imperative you search for any trash you might have left behind. This includes gear. Did you account for all of your tent stakes? Did you leave any lighters behind? Go back to our Planning Your Trip section and review the portion about packing and repacking your pack.
We require all members or guests of the Mountain Blazers to read the 7 principles of Leave No Trace at the below website before joining us on a trip.
Peeing in The Woods
Most of our trips include men and women. One of the first things we do upon setting up camp is to designate where each will go to the bathroom. It's usually as simple as; women go the right, men go to the left.
When urinating, the main rule of thumb is to make sure you aren't peeing in an area where there might be runoff into a stream.
For bowel movements, this is another one of those milestones you will eventually overcome in the wilderness. Once you find a private area, the main thing is to dig a hole AT LEAST 6 inches deep. Then only use biodegradable wipes or toilet paper. Once complete, bury all items in the hole. This is part of the Leave No Trace principles.
You don't have to carry a shovel. Most hikers now use their trekking poles to dig that hole. It's a bit tedious, but it works.
More on Leave No Trace
One of the tricks we learned is the use of ziploc storage bags. Many of us carry snacks and such in these bags. A large ziploc makes a great trash bag for two or three days.
When our meals consist of oatmeal, chips and snacks for lunch, and freeze dried meals for dinner, all of the resulting trash packs away pretty small. The storage bag of trash can be sealed and carried in your food bag.
This is great space efficiency, making it easy to practice Leave No Trace principles.