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How to Set Up a Campsite: Organization Tips and Tricks

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The big day is coming up, and you’re the designated individual who’s hell-bent on setting up the campsite the perfect way.

The problem is, you don’t have that much experience in selecting an area and setting everything up.

You know what they say: location, location, location. It’s a fact in just about any scenario you can think of: location matters, so from picking the right spot to designating where everything goes, we’re going to get you prepared.

We’ve also snuck in a few elite camping hacks in order to give you a little bit more info to push you over the line.

Today, you’re a camping enthusiast, but tomorrow, you’ll be a skilled survivalist.

Choose High, Level Ground to Start Out

sunlight while camping

Even if it feels like a minor detail, every aspect of your camping trip will come into play sooner or later.

To start things out right, you need to find the high ground and claim it for yourself. There are numerous reasons why it is important to have high and level ground.

Flood Protection

Higher ground means a less likely chance of water pooling up at your campsite. On the other hand, level ground is good because water won’t flow through your campsite on its way to a lower elevation.

On that note, do be careful that your flat ground isn’t immediately downhill from a very steep point, or else you might find yourself treading water. This is where bucket-style tent flooring and tables for your equipment come in handy.

Stay Away From Meadows

We’re trying to avoid big insects that tend to lurk in these areas. Although you can find ants almost anywhere, larger predatory insects typically live near tall grass.

If you can find high ground that is predominately dirt without any grass at all, that’s going to be your best bet.

Beware Widow Makers

This is a term for previously fallen trees that are visibly leaning on other trees. At any point, a strong wind could knock it loose and straight down on you.

The tricky part is that you still want to be near some tall trees, but inspect the campsite first to ensure that this isn’t an issue.

Stay Away From Cliffs

We trust you to not walk off of them, but you’re risking the chance of rockslides or falling boulders. Just because it’s a rare chance doesn’t mean it’s one that you need to test.

If you find a perfect campsite with everything you want, but it’s at the base of an overhanging rocky crag, pack up and find a new spot.

Do your best to make sure it’s not difficult to get to your campsite. In the event of an emergency, you want an easy path back to your vehicle or to the campground central office to get some help.

The level ground also allows you to place your tent much more easily, without having to account for imperfections in the land.

Check for Running Water

There are two reasons to check for running water: to have a nearby source, but to also not have it too close by.

There’s a rule that you need to be at least 200 feet away from any running water source where animals drink.

The reason for this is that not only will you disturb wildlife, but if you’re using an outdoor toilet and burying your waste, it must be a certain distance away from clean, running water sources.

We like to stay 250 feet away just to be safe and ensure there’s no rule-breaking. If you’re like us, you’re bringing a gravity-fed water filtration system along for the ride so you don’t have to lug heavy water jugs.

One gallon of water weighs approximately eight pounds, but a proper water filtration system can clean about two gallons in eight minutes.

Look for a Safe Campfire/Cooking Spot

cook over a open fire

Campfire safety is huge, and so is picking the right spot to set up shop in the first place.

When we go camping, we want to cause as little disturbance to the campsite and wildlife as possible.

When it comes to your firepit, it’s a risk-versus-reward mindset because you may have to clear a bit of brush or debris in order to make a safe campfire spot.

If you’re camping without a pre-configured fire pit, it’s acceptable. Head into the woods, find a collection of large stones, and make a ring around your campfire.

To completely contain cinders and wisps of fire, locate your campsite in a central area where your plastic camping chairs will be the only nearby objects.

After that’s all said and done, create a small campfire with a minimized peak. Your campfire peak is the tallest point of tinder (usually located in the direct center of your campfire), but you can still get a good fire going with a short peak.

You’ll have to account for wind speed and direction, so you’re not sending flare-ups toward your belongings.

Designate Your Area

This can get a bit technical if you’re a first-timer. Bring along a measuring tape and decide where all the tents will go.

This will help you light up your campsite more effectively and place your lanterns in key areas. The difficulty here is ensuring everyone has a bit of privacy, particularly in large-party camping situations.

A good rule of thumb is to have at least six feet of space between tents, but if you’re on a large campsite and you don’t want noise or eavesdropping to be an issue, opt for ten to twelve feet between tents.

While designating your area, you need to think about where the handwashing station, grill, campfire, and other campsite components are going.

We want to have wide open spaces to walk between everything, so nobody is knocking over a grill or tripping on a tent wire.

It’s a good idea to write down a list of dimensions for your big items, like the ones we’ve mentioned here, so you can get a feel for where everything is going to end up.

Start With the Hub: Your Tent

pitching a tent

So now it’s time to actually set things up.

You chose a good spot; you have enough space, so start setting up your tent.

Inspect the ground to make sure it’s going to hold onto your tent stakes properly.

If you have multiple tents, you can overlap tent stakes and lines to keep them close together (if you’re on a small campsite).

This maximizes space and gives you a spot to rest if you’re weary from travel.

Designate a Toilet Area

Whether you’re making a DIY toilet or you’re burying your waste in the woods, you need to designate that area.

If you’ve gone solo, then you can ignore this step, but if you’re with friends, you don’t want to “walk in” on one another while you’re trying to answer nature’s call.

You can use some of our camping hacks to make your toilet area a little more comfortable and similar to indoors.

If you’re using on-site camp facilities or camping alone, it’s important to bring a lock for your tent zipper.

You never know what kind of people are camping at the site next door, and it’s important to keep your belongings safe.

While you’re away, stow as much as possible in your tent. At night, keep a lantern on inside your tent to make it appear like you’re there, even when you run to the restroom.

Hang Food From a Branch

Do you want a black bear to wake you up at 2:00 AM? We didn’t think so.

There are tons of critters who can smell food from five hundred feet away or more, so it’s best to hang it from a branch in sealed containers.

Besides that, it will keep ants, insects, and other critters at bay. People often refer to this as a bear bag, and you can pack it in various ways.

Our favorite method is to get a child-sized hammock and position it between two trees. This offers some of the highest storage and isn’t directly accessible from a branch (bears do know how to climb, you know).

You can also hoist up a dense nylon bag with some rope, leave it hanging ten feet in the air, and tie the rope around a tent stake.

The point is, keep your food up high to ensure the safety of your entire camping crew, keep your food up high.

Fill the Space

camping items

Now that you have a fully prepared campsite, it’s time to unravel the little things that make this outdoor space into a home away from home.

Start by getting the interior of your tent ready. If you’re placing sleeping pads or foam connector tiles down, take care of that first. This is where the handy packing techniques that we mentioned earlier come into play.

If you have a tent with bucket-style flooring, you might find it a bit difficult to space out those tiles. If you’ve found solid, level ground, then this issue should resolve itself after walking on the pad or tiles for a while.

Pop the camping table up, bring any essentials inside, and you’ll be all set with the tent interior. Head outside and start getting the fire going in the middle of the camp.

This gives you a sense of finality, like you’re finally settling into your outdoor space. This also allows you to designate where the chairs will be placed in close proximity to the fire pit.

From there, place a waste bin within arm’s reach, so if you’re enjoying a few cold ones by the fire later, you’re right next to a trash bin.

You’re all set to kick back and enjoy, but if you want to increase your game further, read these takeaway tips on maintaining the perfect campsite.

Create a Kitchen Station

Cooking outdoors? We all love to throw a few steaks on the grill, but cleanup tends to be a nightmare.

Get an outdoor sink, and create a DIY hand washing station out of a 2.5-gallon jug and a paper towel holder, so you can have a miniature takeaway kitchen in the great outdoors.

This keeps everything neat and tidy, but also gives you a place to keep your cookware and camping essentials clean.

Pack a Handheld Vacuum

This borders on eccentric, but nobody likes having dirt and dust on the inside of their tent. Keep this indoors, and run it before you go to sleep every night.

A handheld model usually costs around $30 and will give you about twenty minutes of runtime on a single charge. Since you’ll only need it for 1-2 minutes during each use, you shouldn’t burn through the battery supply.

Keep Trash Out of Sight

If you can’t stand the sight of the kitchen barrel at home, you’re not alone: people like having their garbage out of sight, and out of mind.

If you’re not a fan of keeping the trash bin by the campfire, keep it inside your tent, and let your camping party know where it is so things stay neat and tidy.


What are you waiting for?

Put all of this fresh information to good use, and bring some notes along to ensure you don’t forget a thing.

Let us know if you’d like to add something to our list in the comments below.