I’m excited to share tips and tricks for picking the best spots to sleep on the trail. There are a few things to consider here, like what type of sleep system you have; how isolated you want to be; where are the closest trails and water sources; and most importantly, how safe is the area?
First, let’s talk about camping sleep systems:
- If you like the social aspect of hiking, a lot of shelters have nice tent areas nearby, which makes picking a spot easy. You’ll get to visit with other hikers, and can usually take advantage of the shelters fire ring, privy, and bear cables/boxes/poles, if it has them. Although, if you may prefer some solitude and quiet, I would recommend camping out a few miles before or after shelters.
Some things you want to be close, but not too close to camp:
- A water source – being voted “the laziest” hiker on the AT in 2013, I don’t like to hike with a ton of water, which is what you will have to do if you don’t camp near a water source. You would have to hike in all the water you would need for dinner, throughout the night, breakfast and to get you started hiking the next day, for me, that’s more water than I would want to carry. But, to help minimize impact and contamination to water sources, you should set up camp at least 200 feet away.
- The same goes for trails, please camp at least 200 feet away from the trail, and never camp on the trail! (Unless you are having an emergency situation and need to be found by other hikers or a rescue team.)
- To Leave No Trace, always camp on durable surfaces – patches of dirt/sand, or designated tent sites/pads as opposed to squishing live, delicate plants with your tent and foot traffic going in and out of the campsite.
- Always hang or securely store your food and anything with a smell at least 200 feet away from your sleeping area, and other people’s campsites as well! I’ve had backcountry neighbors in the past who walked their food bags away from their own tents – only to bring them closer to my tent and hang them right near my campsite! Don’t be that guy.
4 ways to manage risk at the campsite:
- It is safer to camp well below tree line, so you are not caught off guard by lightning storms in the middle of the night. If lightning could be a possibility, you want to stay in the midst of trees.
- Always, always, always check your potential campsite for widow makers. Widow makers are big dead branches or dead trees that could potentially fall on you if it gets windy or stormy. Do not camp under these dead branches or dead trees!
- Be aware of how close you are to a road or town. Campsites and shelters that are within easy access to a road are more likely to have “non-hiker folk,” trouble makers, or be more at risk for crimes. Local hooligans looking for late night trouble don’t usually bother to hike 5 or 10+ miles into the woods.
- Trust your gut when it comes to shelters – if you come up to a shelter and there’s only one other person there who kinda gives you the creeps, or says something to make you uncomfortable, move along and camp at the next available spot.
One of my favorite things about long distance hikes is that you get to sleep in new and unique place every night!
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Always with a different view, different sounds, and usually different people. I hope you find awesome places to camp next time you get out!
For more backpacking and camping tips, check out:
- 35 Backpacking Tips and Tricks
- 22 Tips For Thru Hiking The Appalachian Trail
- A Guide To Backpacking In The Rain
- 10 Essential Backpacking Skills Every Hiker Needs