Setting Up Camp

29.06.2017 |

Episode #6 of the course Beginning Backpacking by Alice Morgan


Hello again! Today, we’ll be focusing on the camping aspect of backpacking. After all, half the fun of carrying all that camping gear is relaxing at camp. Setting up camp is like building a house. Before you can start building, you have to decide where the rooms are going to go. In backpacking, these “rooms” consists of a sleeping area, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a place to store your food.


Sleeping Area

If you’re in a tent or tarp, the most crucial element of your sleeping area is flat ground. A little slope will cause you to slide throughout the night. Make sure to move any objects that could tear the shelter’s fabric. Hammocks users will need a place with properly spaced out trees. Look up for dead branches before setting up your shelter. Called “widowmakers,” they can come crashing down in the middle of the night. Position your sleeping area upwind of the other areas, particularly if your campsite site is known for bear activity.


Kitchen Area

The kitchen should be at least 200 feet/61 meters away from your sleeping area. It should have some wind protection and a flat place to put your stove. You’ll want to try and find rock or bare ground to cook on, as forest litter increases the chance of an accidental fire. The kitchen area can also be the eating area. Never eat near your shelter, as it increases the chance of a curious bear, raccoon, or mouse visitor during the night.


Bathroom Area

We’ll talk about how to go to the bathroom soon, so for now, let’s stick to logistics. It’s not necessary to designate a bathroom area unless you’re hiking with a group. Make sure you’re pooping or peeing at least 200 feet from any trails or water sources, and try to pick locations that are downwind of your sleeping arrangements.


Bear Bag Area

Bear bags are a method of hanging your food from trees or cables to keep animals from getting to your food. The bear bag area should be 200 feet/61 meters from both your sleeping area and cooking area. Look for a tall tree with a branch that is about 15 feet/5 meters from the ground. Your goal when bear bagging is to get the rope you’ll use to haul your food at least 10 feet/3 meters from the tree. There are several different methods for setting up a bear bag. Let’s go over one of the simplest.

Throwing a bear bag:

1. Throw your rope over the branch, and pull the rope so both ends are resting on the ground.

2. Tie the longer end of the rope to the tree.

3. About six feet up on your untied rope, attach a carabiner with a quick release knot.

4. Place a second carabiner a little lower down on the rope, and clip your rope through it.

5. Clip the rope back into the first carabiner.

6. You can now pull on the untied end of your rope to haul your bear bag up into the air and tie the rope off.

For a visual, you may watch this video by Kevin Callan. He uses a pulley, but otherwise, his method is the same as described above.

At the end of the evening, anything that smells edible should go into the bear bag. That includes scented lotions, food wrappers, used dishes and utensils, and toothpaste. Some places with heavy bear activity require that you use bear canisters instead of bags.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, we’ll be talking about how to Leave No Trace!


Recommended book

Chapters 5 of The National Outdoor Leadership School’s Wilderness Guide: The Classic Handbook, Revised and Updated by Mark Harvey


Share with friends