I. Determining where to build your shelter:
- Scout it out early: Start your site search well before dark, if you are able; remember you have just 30 minutes of good visibility after sunset.
- Consult your topo map: Open circles indicate flat terrain, while stacked lines ringing a site can be good windbreaks. Cold air flows downhill, so higher land will be warmer at night. (This does not mean be on top of a mountain, the lack of cover will make it much colder, however do not setup in a basin either.)
- Avoid hazards: Scout for dead trees and limbs, dangling branches, rock fall debris, etc… Look above where you’re planning to setup your tent, make sure something isn’t likely to crush you in the night.
- Anticipate how terrain could intensify weather: Consider drainage, natural cover, and sunlight. Could a long valley become a wind tunnel? Where will the runoff flow in a storm? What will attract lightning?
- Where possible, use natural advantages: Seek shady forests in the summer, maximize southern exposure on cold days, and choose a dry, sunlit spot with a steady breeze in mosquito country.
II. Pitch your tent:
- Remove debris: Any sticks, rocks, pine cones, or other sharp debris from the area where you are going to setup your tent. Don’t be lazy and think you’ll tough it out, this is as much for your comfort as to protect your tent from punctures.
- Avoid sunken areas: Holes on the ground, no matter the size, can become extremely wet when it rains.
- Elevate your head: Take care to orient the tent so that your head will be on the uphill side of sloped terrain while you are sleeping.
- Use a waterproof footprint: Spread out your ground cloth or “footprint” upon which you will set up the tent. Most tents do not include one, so take a waterproof tarp to use as a footprint. After your tent has been setup on the footprint, be sure to fold any excess tarp under (folding away from the tent tucking against the earth) otherwise water will be channeled under your tent rather than acting as a repellent layer beneath it.
- Hammock camping: Remember that all of this could have been avoided if you had just taken a hammock instead of a tent.
III. When camping in bear country:
- Keep 200 feet between where you are cooking and where you are sleeping.
- Always store food at least 200 feet from your sleeping space.
- Do not sleep in clothes used while you were cooking.
- Hang your food in a bag, from a tree when not needed. Food includes things with a strong smell like toothpaste and deodorant (think what would a bear eat not what would you eat)
IV. Improve your living conditions daily:
Let’s face it, if this is a one night bivouac site, you’ll do as little as possible to setup, so you have as little as possible to tear down the next morning. That being said, if you plan on being in the same place for a few days, continue to improve your camp site daily. Think of it as the equivalent to improving your battle position daily when you are forced to dig into a defensive position. Not only does this give you something to occupy your time and mind, but it also improves your quality of life and ability to survive as the days go on.
Improvements I would look at first are:
- Stock up on fire materials: Split a stack of fire wood, gather kindling and tinder
- Gather soft moss: Going to be there for a while and didn’t bring TP? Sounds crazy, but it’s best not to need to look for something, in the moment.
- Build a fire: Not just for cooking, it really is the best thing for my morale.
- Build a thermal barrier: Whether a log wall or woven branch wall, use the thermal barrier to reflect campfire heat towards your sleeping area, it also works to block the wind. More than one may be necessary to make the most of your campsite.
- Setup a drying rack or clothes line: You have to stay dry, no matter what time of year. In the winter especially though, it’s important to rotate and dry your clothes.