Choosing A Tent Site On A Guided Backpack Trip

On any of our guided backpacking trips, your Big Wild guide will choose the campsite. On our Yellowstone backpacking treks, we will have reserved each campsite prior to the trip. But on most of our other treks, the guide can pick and choose as the trip unfolds, according to the groups’ progress, weather, animal sightings and other considerations — including our knowledge of great places to camp! In any event, once the guide proclaims “We camp here!”, it will be up to you to choose your tent site. The guide will point out general tenting areas, and of course he will make a specific recommendation if you ask, but the final decision for a good night’s rest is yours. Here are some things to consider:

  1. In bear country, set up your tent at least 50 yards from the cooking and food storage area. Your guide will provide guidance on this important consideration.
  2. Beware of snags, especially “leaners”. Standing dead trees, known as “snags” are more likely to fall or blow over than are live trees. And they generally fall in the direction in which they lean, usually, but not always, in stormy or windy weather. So don’t place your tent where a snag might fall and skewer you! On our guided Yellowstone backpack trips, many camps are loaded with snags, so care in tent placement is essential. In addition, Yellowstone is known for sudden storms, often with strong wind gusts, so consider this, too. If a snag is leaning with the prevailing wind, that is a double whammy. If you have any question as to whether you’ve chosen a safe tent site, please ask your guide. Although most beginning backpackers are primarily concerned about bears, we think that falling trees are under-rated as a source of potential danger.
  3. Level ground is not essential and is sometimes impossible to find in the mountains, anyway. No matter. The important thing is to make sure that if you are on a mild slope, you set up your tent so that your head is uphill and your feet directly down the fall line, so that you won’t slide sideways at night.
  4. Smooth ground is good. Pine needles are better than rock. Before you stake out your tent, lie down on the proposed sleeping area to make sure that it is comfortable, with no big lumps or sharp rocks or pine cones that might ruin both your tent and your night’s sleep. Remember, though, any “gardening” that you do to the ground to make it smoother for sleeping should be minimal; and you must completely naturalize the site when we break camp.
  5. A great view out your tent door is nice, but really, how much time do you spend looking out your tent door? If the choice is smooth comfortable ground or a site with a great view but with rocks stabbing at my ribs, I’ll choose the comfortable ground every time!
  6. Privacy: Sometimes, with limited tent space and a group of 6 to 8 hikers, privacy for your tent is not possible. But other camps have plenty of room to roam. If I can bed down near a stream so that the flowing water lulls me to sleep, I am a happy camper. And with any luck, the white noise will drown out anyone in the group who snores!
  7. Never set up your tent close to the trail and avoid the less obvious game trails, too. Humans are not the only critters that use trails. Especially at night, trails are used by many species, including some with fangs and sharp claws! Or sharp hooves! This is basic common sense!

In fact, most of this is common sense. And again, if you have any questions or concerns, just ask your Big Wild guide. After all, we want you to have a great wilderness experience, and that means that on any of our guided wilderness backpack adventures, we also want you to sleep safely and soundly.

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