Friday, 17 May 2019

How to choose a good site to camp

Camping above Puerto Español, Bahía Aguirre - Peninsula Mitre
Wilderness trekking all day and only 2-3 hours of light left, tired and hungry, you have to now find a place to pitch your tent. The last thing you need is not getting a good rest because of branches falling on the tent or getting wet from water running into the tent during some heavy rains. 

Versión Español: Como escoger un buen lugar para acampar 

So what things do you need to take into consideration when choosing a place to camp? Camping in the wilderness can be some of the best experiences of your life but, there are risks that can be mitigated out there in the wild. 

These are my recommendations based on my experiences and that of other experienced trekkers/hikers. Very seldom that you will find the ‘perfect’ campsite but take the following points into consideration to ensure your site is as safe as possible in your given circumstances and location. 

Take your time and look for a good spot; take off your backpack and explore your surroundings. (Make sure you know where you left your backpack though!) 

Camping along the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina


Choosing the site to camp

Water

  • Drinking and cooking water is essential. Try not to be too far from a water source. Alternatively if you know you will be camping far from water, ensure you have enough water for drinking, cooking for that night and the next morning. 
  • Glacial and mountain streams are always great options but ensure you take into account your distance from them in case of heavy rain and flash floods. Spring for example poses a larger risk with the snow melting higher up in the mountains. 
  • Bogs (turba in Tierra del Fuego) are also a great source of freshwater - some of nature’s best filters. 
Wilderness camping south of El Calafate, Patagonia Argentina

Weather

Wind
  • Look for protection from any potential strong wind and gusts. 
    • Behind some large boulders or dense shrubs. Keep in mind that strong wind can still move considerable-sized rocks.
    • Forests can provide great protection from wind. Lookout for branches above that may break off and fall on you…often referred to as widowmakers
  • Tent entrance should not face into the wind. 
  • Campfire: you want to avoid fiery sparks blowing in the direction of the tent. 
  • Decent wind keeps flying insects down. 

Rain
  • Look for signs of water rundown like collections of leaves and/or pebbles and furrows in the soil. 
  • Avoid pitching your tent in valleys, canyons, hollows or shallow caves where rainwater may potentially accumulate. 
Pampas camping in Patagonia Argentina

Sun
  • Hot weather: area where the tent will be in the shade. 
  • Cold weather: early morning sun always helps dry out the tent a bit before packing it up. Alternatively, drying it out more, especially the floor, before pitching it at the end of the day. 
Camping in Peninsula Mitre, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Lightning (electric storms)
  • You don't want to be the ‘antenna’ conducting the lighting, so avoid large areas of water and summits where you’ll be the highest point.
  • Avoid proximity to high trees that may attract lightning and result in trunks and branches falling on you.
  • Note that even though people may tell you a place “never” gets electric storms, it may still happen. 

Snow and Cold
Cold:
  • Narrow canyons and valleys can be colder than areas a little higher, especially at higher altitudes. Remember though that camping at altitude will always be colder. 
    • Consider camping before a huge ascent if possible. 
  • Forests can provide some protection from cold and minimises the morning dew and frost. 
Snow camping in Patagonia Argentina
Snow: 
  • Check area for signs of previous avalanches and landslide debris like broken trees and boulders. Avoid camping below ‘channels’ or ‘passages’ in the mountainside. 
  • Flatten and compact the area (footprint) where your tent will be. This ensures you have a solid base to pitch your tent. 

Wood

  • Availability of firewood in places where it's safe to make a campfire
    • If it has been raining, check for dead wood in drier areas that get less rain like behind boulders and large trees. Many times the wood is still dry in the centre after the rain.
    • Put rocks around a patch of clear ground for the fire. 
    • Keep in mind wind direction and strength. 
    • Put out the fire and cover with sand and/or stones before going to sleep. 
  • Check out for dry trees and branches that may fall on you. 
Camping in Peninsula Mitre, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Wildlife & Plants
Animals:
  • Ensure you know what animals you may encounter and the relevant risks, before heading out to hike/trek and camp. 
  • Avoid an area with a high volume of animal tracks like routes to and from drinking spots. 
  • Well sheltered spots are often frequented by animals. 
  • Check that you're not pitching your tent on an ant’s nest or any concentration of insects, spiders etc. 
  • Store your food in hermetically sealed containers or bags to minimise the chances of animals looking for food during the night. 
    • This is especially true in high use areas where many trekkers stop to camp regularly; best to avoid such places if at all possible. 
Plants:
  • Thorny bushes and especially stinging type plants need to be avoided. 
    • If you can't avoid being near thorny bushes, make sure there are no thorns hidden in the leaf litter that will not only damage the tent floor but make for unpleasant camping. 
Camping in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Terrain

Surface:
  • You’ll be looking for a flat and reasonably level site. 
  • Grassy-type places not only give you a softer sleeping surface but also generally makes it easier to get the tent pegs in. 
  • Harder or stony areas: look for large rocks etc to which you can tie the tent anchor lines. 
Safety:
  • Avoid areas with loose rocks that might be a sign of previous landslides or avalanches. 

Read as well:
Equipment: Gearing up for Extreme Trekking - Peninsula Mitre 

Foodstuffs: Foodstuffs and Provisions in Peninsula Mitre


Parque Nacional de Los Glaciares, Patagonia Argentina


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