6 December 2018

What To Look For When Setting Up Camp

What To Look For When Setting Up Camp

I get asked this question on bushcraft courses. Whether you are surviving, bushcrafting or camping - most of the same points apply.

1. Shelter:

Self explanatory but important. Do you need shelter from the wind, from the rain, from the sun? Even if conditions are calm and settled when you build your shelter think about what that night, or the following day, may bring. Sometimes as simple as building your shelter behind a bush, tree trunk or boulder.

2. Not Too Sheltered:
Sometimes a breeze on a midge/mosquito laden day, or a wind on a blazing hot day, blowing past your shelter can be really useful.

3. Easy Access To Water:
Self explanatory but important. You want to cut down the trips, time, energy back and forth, to your water source. You don't want to get lazy about washing, cleaning, collecting water and keeping a constant supply of sterilized water on hand. Also at night, in the dark and possibly without a torch, you don't want a tricky stumbling route to and from the stream/river, and you do not want to be slipping into the river in the dark!

4. No Flooding Possibility:
Being close to water is important, but camped right on top of it and you will be in a cooler zone at night as the air above the water cools more than the air above the land. Midges/mosquitoes love water/swampy areas and most of all you do not want to be awoken in the middle of the night with a flooding stream/river spreading into your shelter. It happens more often and easier than you think. It is very easy to be complacent and think 'there is no way my shelter will be flooded by that stream'. This also applies to camping down in a dip or hollow where water can gather or air cools more.

5. Easy Access To Shelter Building Resources:
If you are building a shelter - that can be up to three or four hours work, gathering and carrying spars/ribs/debris/vegetation, so make your life easy - don't be having to carry each armful of debris/vegetation twenty mins back to your campsite - unless you have no other choice. Of all your shelter building resources debris/vegetation/leaf mold/bracken (all used to wall and roof your shelter) is probably the one that needs to be considered most.

6. Easy Access To Fire Wood:
Keeping your fire going is often a big part of being at camp, so therefore constantly collecting fire wood can be a big part of being at camp. Keep this in mind. The closer your fire wood source the less work you will have. Good to build up a fire wood depot so, especially at night time, there is no gathering work involved. Every time you return to camp have fire wood in any empty hands. As they say in the restaurant industry to waiters 'never do empty runs'.

7. Easy Access To Any Other Resources:

Self explanatory. Generally the biggest resources you will need are shelter building materials, water, fire wood and food; and these are the main considerations. However you may have other resources you need and it's worth considering this in advance.

8. Off Any Predator Nest:
Not just snakes or killer ants! A normal red ant nest, a wasp nest, an old stump full of mice or a damp area full of midges by day/slugs by night can be a nuisance.

9. Off Any Predator Trail:
You obviously don't want tigers or elephants following their regular water trail through your camp to their watering hole. In the UK and further afield a snake-run needs to watched for. In Ireland sheep, deer and especially cows can damage your camp; even just their droppings all over your clean seating area or cooking area.

10. Beside A Landmark:
Ireland, UK or further afield; if you are somewhere unknown; it is good to have a prominent landmark at your camp. This allows you to leave camp with confidence knowing if you became misplaced or totally lost, you can simply head for your camp landmark. Examples would be a prominent dip, a prominent height, a noisy river cascade, a prominent stream junction, a rocky outcrop, or an especially tall tree rising above all other trees.

11. Consider Climatic Weather:
However fantastic the weather when you are choosing camp - think about your general climate. Is the wind generally from the south west? Does it rain most days? Are there lightning storms most afternoons? When it comes to natural bushcraft navigation it is also invaluable to know your general climatic weather, such as prevailing wind direction.

12. Consider Incoming Weather:
As well as your general climatic weather think about specific local weather. Get this in advance from a forecasting website and on the ground from paying attention to what is happening around you, especially the sky and clouds. For example what can accidentally happen is you build your shelter facing away from a gently daytime south-westerly breeze but end up facing into a strong nighttime north-easterly wind, perhaps with driving rain or snow.

13. Build Shelter/Tent On Clean/Dry/Sleepable Ground:
It is easy to quickly glance at a piece of ground and decide it is dry enough or comfortable enough to sleep on. Or to ignore a jutting knob in the ground and think it wont particularly effect your night's sleep - only to regret your location choice at 1am in the morning! Really check and feel the ground you intend to build your shelter on. Expect the ground to be a little damp (that is why you build a mattress), but is the ground holding pools of hidden water? Are there definitely no small jutting knobs? Is there a funny sloping angle to the floor that will have you sliding around all night?

14. Face Shelter/Tent Away From Wind Direction:
Facing shelter/tent away from wind direction makes sense. You will face the back of the shelter/tent into the wind direction. This wedge or spearhead shape is nicely aerodynamic and allows the wind to separate around your shelter without tearing it to pieces. I have already mentioned being aware of different wind directions in point 12.

15. Consider Fire/Cooking/Seating Area:
Your sleeping, fire, cooking, seating and working areas are collectively your home. It makes sense to have them nicely gelled together and fairly close to each other. For example at home when the kettle boils to make tea, you don't then want to be walking up two flights of stairs to get your cup and tea bag, followed by walking through four rooms to sit down and enjoy your cup of tea. Flip side of this is you don't want your shelter smoked out by the fire being too close, or all your ground turned to mud on a damp day because all your different areas are far too close together.

16. Consider Toilet Area:
Convenient but definitely not too close to your camp. Simple access to it at night, so you don't end up wandering around in the dark looking for your bed, after having used the toilet. If the access to it is confusing you can mark a trail with stone 'bread-crumbs' or timber wands. Toilet, for either number ones or number twos, should be three hundred meters from any watercourse and downhill of any watercourse. Number twos should be in a latrine, dug three to six inches deep. With a longer term camp one single big latrine is more efficient than many small single-use toilet holes. Sprinkle a decent handful of soil/vegetation/sand into latrine after each use. Wood ash from your fire also works really well. Avoid doing number ones/pees randomly around your camp area as where you pee today someone else in your party may be sitting, lying, collecting fuel or picking wood sorrel the following day - so for number ones it is also important to have a designated area or two.

17. Designate Four Water Access Points:
Ideally have four easily defined and easily accessed water points. Beginning with the most upstream point - this is where you collect your pans of water for sterilising, then drinking or cooking with. Second point downstream is where you wash your hands/face/teeth/blow your nose/etc. Your tooth brush water is actually always taken from sterilised water to avoid water poisoning. Third point downstream is where you wash your pots and pans. Dirty washing-up water, full of food debris/etc is sprinkled onto the ground, not poured back into watercourse. Once pots and pans are thoroughly washed they are then also rinsed in sterilised water. Fourth point downstream is where you wash your hands after going to the toilet, or wash your hands/face after vomiting. Vomiting should be done into your latrine or worst case away from any watercourse and covered with wood ash and vegetation afterwards.

18. Designate Natural Hooks/Shelves For Food/Cups/Gear:
This way things don't get stood on and damaged, lost, dirtied or slugs crawling into. It will also tell you what is clean and what needs to be washed. Keep gear up off the ground, especially food. Food wrapped (wrapped in moss can be good) and free-hanging from a branch is a deterrent to pests such as mice/rats.

19. Keep Your Camp Clean/Tidy/Organised:
Stick to a simple, fairly rigid, routine, so a clean pan always gets put in the same spot, food always gets hung in the same spot, a pan of sterilised water is put in one area and a pan of un-sterilised water is put in another area, and so on.

20. Have A Decent Firewood Depot, Close To The Fire:
Have it organised into five grades; tinder/kindling, matchstick thickness, finger thickness, wrist thickness; plus some major heavy branches for a long term fire lay, such as a star lay.
One handy thing to look for when initially choosing your camp is a naturally formed fire wood shelter, such as a small cave or overhanging bank to keep your fire wood dry.
21. Do You Want Your Camp Visible Or Discreet?
Perhaps you are in trouble, or have arranged to meet others, so want your camp and campfire reasonably visible? Perhaps you are bird watching or stalking, so want your camp and campfire reasonably discreet? Siting your campfire carefully and building a mix of fuel depots and fire reflectors around your fire will significantly drop it's visibility. The four main things that give away a camp are fire light, wood smoke, you talking or making noise, or being on a trail that an animal or person stumbles across you.

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