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Having found the general area in which to camp, what should I look for when choosing the exact location for my tent?

I'm thinking specifically about conditions along the east coast and great dividing range of Australia. Typically this means gum trees and various low bushes. I'm not likely to be staying above the tree line.

  • 2
    The best place is on a thick layer of deliciously soft tundra moss! – gerrit Jun 4 '14 at 14:43
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    @gerrit: ...except when it rains and the soft patch of moss turns out to be a small peat bog. – Ilmari Karonen Jun 4 '14 at 23:09
  • @IlmariKaronen Ah, true, but it's nice in October when everything is frozen ;-) – gerrit Jun 4 '14 at 23:13
  • Hmmm. One answer for camping under trees and one for not camping under trees. – WW. Jun 5 '14 at 0:19
  • If the current answers do not contain enough detail, it could help to add more specific information to your question to get the detail you're seeking. These aren't bad answers from my perspective, but I'm not in Australia... – manoftheson Dec 10 '14 at 7:03
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+350

First, a good place is where you can fit your tent's guy lines.

What is the weather (forecast)?

good weather: sunny, clear, stable

  • distance to the fireplace, water and toilet

    • go close to the fireplace to reduce walking, not too close to burn your tent
    • go at least ~90m from the fireplace, toilet and water if there are wild animals attracted by the smell (bear safety, 300 feet triangle)
  • levelness of the ground to have a comfortable sleep

  • is the view important find a nice spot
  • close to some bushes and trees: helps to hang clothes and tighten your tent
  • maybe far away/close to others to have freedom or community

bad weather: rain, thunderstorm, wind

  • priority 1: find a safe place, not on top of a hill to be not too exposed to the lightning and also not too close to a higher tree, which can fall on you or attract lightning
  • don't place your tent in a ditch to stay dry :)
  • find good ground where you can use your tent picks (stakes), secure them with stones, logs or tighten them around small bushes
  • close to some bushes, small trees helps to reduce surface exposure to the wind
  • place the entrance(s) of your tent not into the wind direction to prevent a flying tent
  • when you have found a good trade between these points, you can check some points from "the good weather"

It's normally not possible to find the perfect spot, so you need to choose a tradeoff between some of these points. In bad weather go primary first for the safety points and then for comfort factors.

  • 2
    I would notice that the perfect place does unlikely exist as those (by the way great) guidelines are often mutually exclusive. Sometimes you may want to sacrifice the view to have more shelter, one other you may prefer the wind to wake you up but be able to see the sunrise. And so on. So it's always a compromise. Also, don't forget to ensure that it is actually legal to camp where you want to! – Dakatine Dec 5 '14 at 16:40
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    flatness as well! This is critical! – Dakatine Dec 5 '14 at 16:42
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    @Dakatine thanks for your input. I'll edit my answer to include your suggestions too. – ibex Dec 9 '14 at 8:07
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    steepness/slope is a factor too including surround hills (runoff) – Mapperz Dec 11 '14 at 16:06
  • Morning sun to dry the dew – paparazzo Sep 26 '16 at 20:03
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I suppose the two main factors are how comfortable the location is and how likely the location is to have problems should the weather play an influence.

For comfort, the best location will be flat, free from bumps, and objects such as sharp rocks or sticks which can damage the groundsheet. Even with a decent sleeping pad or mattress, it isn't very nice when the ground is sloping and you slide about all night.

Regarding weather, the best location would provide shelter from strong winds, be unlikely to flood in heavy rain (not in a dip or near a river which is likely to rise), not be exposed to possible rockfall if camping near cliffs, etc. and not be in a dangerous location when lightning threatens, such as near a tree. Also it's best not to camp under trees as a branch could fall off (or worse, the tree itself may fall) and even though they provide some shelter from rain, they will drip on the tent for hours after the rain has stopped.

It is always handy of you can find a decent location near a good water source as this will help avoid having to carry water too far.

Obviously strong winds could be a problem in that there could be damage to the tent if the wind is strong enough, but even with moderate winds, it can be difficult to get a good night's sleep with the noise of the tent material flapping in the wind.

You may also have to consider whether you need to ask permission to pitch your tent at your chosen location.

12

Camping under a tree protects against

  • rain
  • wind
  • morning dew
  • heavy sun (worst on beaches)
  • you can hide your bike from the rain ;)

But you lose the sight of the stars.

If rain is possible, it is a good idea to try to imagine how will the water be flowing downhill and not camp in its way. On the topic, if thunderstorm is possible, don't camp on top of a hill.

It is worth to investigate sources of water nearby and camp conveniently close to one. However, I think in some places, camping less than 100 meters from fresh water is prohibited.

Plan the safest and least windy fireplace (if using).

It is convenient to have a low tree nearby. You could hang equipment from its branches, plus food and rubbish sack - all things that are often needed in the camp and it is not convenient for them to be deep inside the tent.

I usually walk around the area, feeling with my feet the subtle bumps, hidden under the leaves and grass.

  • 5
    But you lose the sight of the stars. Does your tent have a transparent roof? When I'm in the tent I anyway have no view of the stars, or at best a very limited view. When I was camping in desert mountains (California White Mountains) I crawled out of my tent at 2:00 for my stargazing. – gerrit Jun 4 '14 at 14:42
  • @gerrit It has "windows" in the first room. Lying on your back, watching the raindrops squash against the transparent nylon. – Vorac Jun 4 '14 at 15:13
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    Still you'd see only a small part of the sky... for the best experience I'd get out completely in any case. – gerrit Jun 4 '14 at 15:21
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    "Holmes retorts, 'Someone stole our tent.'" – Joshua Taylor Jun 4 '14 at 19:57
  • The best experience is actually bivying with no tent at all when the weather allows it, and to use a tarp when the weather doesn't. You may still have plenty of view with a tarp, though not of the sky. A tent really screens you from the beauty of the wilderness. – Dakatine Dec 6 '14 at 14:56
5

High and Dry

  1. Find a flat area.
  2. Make sure that flat area won't pool with water if it rains.

There's really not much else you need to be concerned about in a well forested area except for critters, which everyone knows Australia has in abundance - all sorts of little deadly creatures that could easily kill you in your sleep with a single bite, but I digress.

The Great Dividing Range looks awesome, and rich with natural shelter:

Great Dividing Range

I'm from BC, camping in the trees is always preferable to sleeping in an exposed area, trees provide natural shelter from the elements, they typically have softer ground around them, and make tying down your fly super convenient (tie lines to the trees instead of sticking pegs in the ground.

I was camping this summer in the Ptolomy Plateau just below the treeline when it started to pour rain. We were in a nice patch of big trees that kept the rain off nicely. We discovered that the area we picked to pitch our tents was apparently a popular shelter for the local wildlife too, as deer kept running out of the bushes to our spot to try and escape the downpour. They didn't seem too impressed when they discovered that their spot had already been taken.

The first thing I do when I find a nice flat area large enough for my tent is to take a look around and see which way the the ground slopes around it. You don't want to set your tent up in a spot were you think water might flow towards you, you want water to flow away from your tent. Sometimes I'll even dig a little "moat" around my tent with a stick or trowel to help the water flow around it in case I can't find a perfect spot that's guaranteed to stay dry. The next thing I check is which way I want my head to point. I actually lay down on the ground and get a feel for which way is "head up". If there's even the slightest bit of a grade it will affect your comfort, so you want to orient you tent so your head is uphill, and your feet downhill. Of course you also want to check to make sure that there aren't any big rocks or roots that are going to poke you in the back while you sleep. In especially soggy areas, people will set their tents up on gravel or scree beds. Small scree is easy to work with because you can rake it around with your hands to make a flat spot, and you don't have to worry about water as much because it will actually flow right under your tent through the scree.

3

I look for

  • flat ground on dirt or grass free of pebbles
  • not underneath dead branches (which could fall and hit you while you sleep)
2

My stomping grounds are in central Florida, deep in the subtropical jungles. You do not have much choice, it is under a tree or nothing, so check those trees carefully. If you do find an open prairie that is where everyone else who is out here tonight will be and I like to be stealthy. I like to be far from people. Trees can shield you from rain at first, but then they saturate and then the torrent falls. Rainwater makes branches heavier so falling debris is a problem. The one great benefit is protection from that tropical sun which can burn tarps and tents.

Campfire has to be close to the tent because you want your tent in plain sight at all times. Varmints, two and four legged can get nosy. Last thing you want is to finish eating and come back to a destroyed tent. But it has to be far enough that no spark can reach the tent. We have high winds here that can come up out of nowhere. Toilet, has to be fairly close to you, you just can not go stumbling around in the dark carrying a flashlight, tissue paper, spade while bears, gators and snakes can be anywhere. Dig your holes in the day. A flashlight does not overcome the darkness...everything out there can see a whole better than me in the dark. Also, I have a tight sealed container for urinating when leaving the tent just ain't possible.

Flat ground is deceiving, it can look dry on the surface and be total mud a few inches down. Sometimes, my favorite stealthy deep pit fire just can not be done. Areas here flash flood real quick and suddenly that flat safe area is under 4 inches of water. Last time, we hiked through an area that looked great for camping, only thing it began to rain and soon we were sloshing through a brand new swamp. Still, you have to choose something, we can not even consider lightning. Camp on a small mound and you increase your chances of a strike. Camp away from it and your tent will soon be submerged from runoff from that mound you turned down.

So it is a tradeoff and sometimes you will get unlucky. ShemSeger and others stress the "leave no trace" approach. That is a good rule, I started camping just 18 months ago, came from NYC to Vegas to Florida and although I love it I am always glad to come home. I truly believe that everyone should spend a night or two out there, make them appreciate the benefits of civilization.

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