This is a classic Leave-no-trace (LNT) case study.
If the site you are considering is in a pristine wilderness area, and it is not a designated campsite, you should locate your campsite away from the impacted area to allow it to regrow.
However if the site is in a popular area, and will be used often (10+) times per year by anyone else, you should locate your camp on the previously impacted area to concentrate the impact rather then to spread it over the area.
Generally, it is best to camp on sites that are so highly impacted that further careful use will cause no noticeable impact. In popular areas, these sites are obvious because they have already lost their vegetation cover. Also, it is often possible to find a site which naturally lacks vegetation, such as exposed bedrock or sandy areas.
On high-impact sites, tents, traffic routes, and kitchen areas should be concentrated on already impacted areas. The objective is to confine impact to places which already show use and avoid enlarging the area of disturbance. When leaving camp, make sure that it is clean, attractive, and appealing to other campers who follow.
Exceptions to the popular site rule are:
- If the popular site is next to a water source (< 250 ft)
- If the popular site is directly on the travel path.
- If the popular site is a heritage location.
- Example: Native american historical location.
Exceptions to the pristine site rule are:
- If an appropriate campsite can be found on a durable surface such as rock, snow, or a sand bar which experiences periodic floods to wash away evidence of impact.
Following these guidelines and the other principles of LNT will lead to a very sustainable camping area.
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate to other visitors
For more information visit Leave No Trace - principles