The Right Duff
Camping Special, April 1997
The Right Duff
Are you sure you know what it takes to pick the perfect campsite?
In Plato’s realm of ideals, you’d find the perfect campsite floating in the ether, next to a crystal mountain stream and a wheel of good Camembert. But in the here and now, landing a supreme home away from home takes planning–and some knowledge. Environmental concerns, of course, are extremely important, as are those of aesthetics. Here are a
There’s nothing wrong with hand-me-downs. According to the National Outdoor Leadership School, the most environmentally friendly way to select a campsite is to move into an existing one, complete with downtrodden grass and a blackened stone fire ring. How is this low-impact? “The damage has already been done,” says Tom Reed, an instructor at the
If you must start from scratch, be sensitive. Pick a durable spot that shows no signs of previous use, and stay off fragile vegetation, such as alpine tundra and desert cryptobiotic soil. In the mountains, camp below timberline on decomposing forest litter. In the desert, look for slickrock instead of pitching camp in the sand; the tiny plant life
Build it, and they probably won’t come. Wildlife, that is. To increase your chances of spotting game, and to keep water sources bacteria-free, camp at least 200 feet from lakes, ponds, and streams. If you’re quiet, you’ll see wildlife wending to the watering hole at dusk for a nightcap. Which raises the issue of what they do to the water: Before swimming or using the water to wash pots and pans, you should scout for droppings near the source. And, of course, even if none are apparent, you should always either boil the water or run it through a filter before drinking.
Positioning is everything. Pick a site that’s far from stagnant water and its inevitable by-product, mosquitoes. A steady breeze will also keep the bugs at bay. Conventional wisdom says that you should choose a site with an eastern exposure if the prevailing winds are from the west, southern exposure if the winds are from the north, and so on. But
You’ll need a roomy kitchen. If you can make it jibe with other concerns, try to find a spot with an efficient kitchen space–namely, a flat, roomy rock sheltered from the wind. But make sure it’s at least 20 feet away and downwind from your tent. If you’re going to cook on an open blaze, make sure the ground is composed of mineral soil, such as
Remember, you’re spending the night, not starting a civilization. As important as finding that perfect patch of duff is knowing when enough’s enough. With the exception of food and a few other essentials, the less equipment you bring, the more “outdoorsy” your campsite will feel. If possible, leave the tent at home. Bivouacking is easier on the
Illustrations by Ross MacDonald