How to Choose a Good Campsite

When it comes to choosing a good camping site, most people don’t put a whole lot of thought into the decision. The average hiker tends to base their campsite selection on two things: the moment that they get tired of hiking, and then the first open area that they find. To find a good area, there are a several more factors that are important to consider. In just a few easy steps, this is how to choose a good campsite.


How to Choose a Good Campsite

  1. Stay near water.

    It is always good to be close to water so you do not have to carry it far. Look for an area about 200 feet away from a water source. You want to be close without being in a flood zone. Also, water will attract many different animals.

  2. Find an area surrounded by trees.

    The dense surrounding trees will block the wind from your campfire and cooking. In cold weather, the trees will also block chilly wind gusts.

  3. Find flat ground.

    Look for an area with flat ground and avoid the bottom of hills. In the event of rain, the bottom of a hill will become a giant puddle.

  4. Avoid game trails.

    Be sure to choose an area that is not too close to any game trails. These trails are frequented by both animals and people, so it is best to set up camp elsewhere.

  5. Look for accessible firewood.

    Choose an area with easily accessible firewood. You don’t want to be forced to carry firewood over long distances.

  6. Avoid hazards tree hazards.

    Look out above the camping area to avoid any dead trees or dangling branches. They can fall during the night and cause serious injury.

  7. Consider the wind.

    Make sure there is space to position your tent upwind from the campfire. You want to avoid the smoke from the fire blowing directly into your tent.


Using the Four W’s Method to Pick a Campsite

Now that we have covered the basic steps and precautions to take for properly choosing a campsite, let’s elaborate a bit further on why they are necessary.

There are four important factors that you want to consider when choosing a good campsite. Luckily, all four of these factors begin with the letter “W”. This means you can easily remember them by referring to them as “the four W’s”.

1. Wind

The first factor you need to consider when choosing a campsite is the wind. When people are choosing an area to set up camp, they tend to look for a big open area with lots of room. Once they find an open area, they start setting up camp immediately.

Look for dense, surrounding trees.

A much better idea is to look for an area that has dense trees surrounding it. Surrounding trees will help block the wind from blowing across your campsite. The wind in an open area can make starting a fire and cooking food very challenging. In addition, excessive winds can put a damper on fun campsite activities, like gathering around the campfire and relaxing. Additionally, if you are a hammock camper, the winds can make sleeping through the night on your hammock an impossible task.

Good Campsite Near Trees

Put your campfire downwind.

It is also important to figure out what direction the wind is blowing so you can position your tent and campfire appropriately. Make sure that you arrange your campsite with the fire downwind from your tent. This is important because you don’t want to have the smoke from your fire blowing directly into your tent. Before you light the campfire, you want to ensure that the wind will blow the fire and smoke in the opposite direction of your tent.


2. Water

Water is another important factor to consider when choosing a good campsite. You will need to consider how close your campsite is to nearby water sources. It’s important to keep in mind that water can be both a danger and a resource.

Look for flat ground and avoid hills.

You want to look for an area of nice, level ground. Do not put your tent on a hill or at the bottom of a hill. If it rains during the night, all of the rain water is going to flow down from the top of the hill towards your campsite. In the best case scenario, you will wake up with a wet sleeping bag and campsite. In the worst case scenario, a bad flash flood will completely wash away your campsite. Flash floods and rising water levels are common in nature. Stay aware and keep this in mind, especially if rain is in the weather forecast.

Additionally, you should examine the ground to make sure that it’s not a dried-up swamp or stream bed. Usually, you can use visual clues to tell what areas fill up with water when it rains. Look for dried mud and a lack of plant-life growing. If the area looks like its susceptible to floods or large puddles, do not set up your camp there.

Stay close to the water, but not too close.

Water is also a very important resource, so you don’t want to set up too far away from it. Essentially, you want the water to be within walking distance of your campsite so that you can get anything you might need.

However, it’s important not to set up camp directly next to the water for a few reasons. River levels can quickly and unexpectedly rise, which can flood your campsite. Water sources are home to mosquitoes, their eggs, and a ton of other unwelcome insects. Additionally, animals from the forest visit water sources regularly throughout the night.


3. Wood

The third factor that you need to consider for your campsite is wood. Similar to water, wood must be considered as both a hazard and a resource.

Look out for dead standing trees.

When picking out your campsite, you want to avoid what’s known as dead standing trees. Dead standing trees are trees that have died but either haven’t fallen over yet, or got stuck in the branches of other trees on their way down. These trees and branches are just waiting for a gust of wind to come along and finally tip them over. They can be extremely dangerous and sometimes fatal, so you really want to be mindful of this when choosing the location of your tent.

Is there firewood?

On the other hand, you also want to consider wood as an important resource. You don’t want to set up your campsite, and then realize that you have to walk a quarter-mile in the dark to find firewood. Essentially, you want to have some dead trees kind within walking distance so you can easily retrieve firewood for your campfire. 


4. Widow Makers

Widow-makers are when large branches fall off of a tree and then get stuck in the branches of other trees. A strong gust of wind can push these large branches free and send them plunging down to the ground below. Obviously, you don’t want these falling on your campsite since they are very dangerous and can seriously injure or kill you.

Keep an eye out for these widow-makers while you are looking for an area to set up camp. It’s best to not choose a campsite that is directly beneath any trees at all.

Regardless of the area you choose, make sure you look up and around for anything that may be a hazard. Often, people are in a hurry to set up their campsite before the sun sets and they neglect to properly inspect the area. Don’t make this mistake — safety is a top priority!


Avoid Game Trails

It might not start with a “W”, but this is another great tip to keep in mind while searching for a campsite location. You should avoid choosing a location that is too close to a deer trail. It’s common for animals other than deer to travel down these trails. Setting up your campsite on a game trail is likely to expose you to raccoons, possums, or even large bears.

That’s it! Keep these tips in mind while camping and you should have no problem finding a great campsite. Remember to consider these important factors: wind, water, wood, and widow-makers. Additionally, remember to choose an area that is not on a game trail. Now get out there and have fun!


Happy Camping!

Is there a great tactic that you use for choosing a campsite? Tell us your secrets! Let us know in the comments section below.


  1. My family and I have been planning to go on a road trip for the first time. I like that you mentioned how important it is to stay in a surrounded tree area to make sure the wind doesn´t come through directly. I will make sure they are aware of this so that we follow your advice.

  2. My dad wants to take our family camping in June for a family bonding vacation. I appreciate you mentioning that it smart to camp near water but not be too close that it will flood near you. I will be sure to help my dad find a reputable and fun place for our family to camp in the summer that is close to a water source.


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