Often in traveling a party must put up for the night on unfavorable ground; but granting that there is much choice in the matter, then select, in summer, an open knoll, a low ridge, or, better still, a bold, rocky point jutting out into a river or lake. A low promontory catches the breezes from both sides, which disperse fog and insects, and it is soon dried whenever the sun shines.
In cold weather seek an open, park-like spot in the forest, where surrounding trees will break the wind; or a “bench” (natural terrace backed by a cliff) on the leeward side of a hill. In the latter case, build your fire against the cliff, and shield the tent with a wind-break. The rock will reflect heat upon the tent, and will serve as a smoke-conductor as well.
On a hillside that is mostly bare, if there is a thicket or a cluster of evergreen trees, get on the downhill side of it. The stream of cold air from above will jump this obstacle and will leave an eddy of comparatively warm, still air immediately below it.
The best site for a fixed camp is near a river or lake, or on a bold, wooded islet, with a bathing beach, boating and fishing waters.
Exposure
As a general rule, an easterly or southeasterly frontage is best, not only to admit early sunlight and rouse you betimes, but also because, in most regions, it is the quarter least given to high winds and driving rains. Sudden and violent storms usually come up out of the southwest. This is true nearly everywhere: hence the sailor calls his tarp hat a “sou-wester.”
Other considerations may govern the case. In hot weather we want exposure to whatever cool breezes may blow, and they are governed by local features. Late in the season we will take advantage of whatever natural windbreak we can find, such as the edge of a forest, the lee of a cliff, of a large rock, or of an evergreen thicket. This may make a difference of 10 or 15 degrees in temperature. A rock absorbs the sun’s heat slowly all day and parts with it slowly at night.
A grassy glade or meadow is colder than bare earth, sand, or rock. The air on a knoll is considerably warmer than that of flat land only a few feet below it.
Shade
In summer it is well to camp where one’s tent will be shaded from the afternoon sun, as otherwise it will get very hot, but morning sun should strike the tent fairly, to dry it, lest the canvas mildew and the interior get damp and musty.
The wetter the climate, and the thicker the surrounding forest, the greater need of such exposure.
Neighborhood of Trees
It is a common blunder to pitch the tent directly under the “natural shelter” of a big tree. This is pleasant enough at midday, but makes the tent catch drip from dew and keeps it from drying after a rain; besides, it may be positively dangerous. One of the first things to do in choosing the tent site is to see that it is not within reach of falling limbs. A tree branch falling forty or fifty feet, and striking a tent at night, is something to be remembered — if you survive.
Shun the neighborhood of tall trees that are shallow-rooted, and of those with brittle limbs (the aspens, poplars, cottonwood, silver maple), and any with unsound branches.
Dead trees are always unsafe. Every woodsman has often known them to come thundering down without the least warning when there was not so much as a zephyr astir. A tree that leans toward camp from a steep hillside close by is a menace, and so is any near-by tree with a hollow butt.
Tent Ground
Avoid low ground. Seek an open spot that is level enough for the purpose, but one that has good natural drainage. Wherever you may be, pitch your tent on a rise or slight slope instead of in a depression where water will gather if it rains. Don’t trust a fair sky.
If you camp on the bank of a stream, be sure to get well above the flood-marks left by previous freshets or overflows. Observe the more or less continuous line of dead grass, leaves, twigs, mud, and other flotsam left in bushes along the water-front.
Precautions as to elevation and drainage are especially needful in those parts of our country that are subject to cloudbursts. I have seen a ravine that had been stone-dry for months fill fifteen feet deep, in a few minutes, with a torrent that swept trees and boulders along with it; and it is quite common in many parts of the West for wide bottoms to be flooded in a night.
Bottom lands, and deep woods where the sun rarely penetrates, should be avoided, when practicable, for they are damp lairs at best, and in warm weather they are infested with mosquitoes. Keep away from thickets in summer: they are stifling and “buggy.”
A ravine or narrow valley between steep hills is a trap for fog, and the cold, heavy air from the head of the hollow pours down it at night, while an undertow of warmer air drawing upward now and then makes the smoke from one’s camp-fire shift most annoyingly. Besides a ravine gets too little sunlight.
Sandy beaches, and low, gravelly points, are likely to swarm in summer with midges.
Sandy soil does not afford good holding-ground for the tent pegs ; neither does a loamy or clayey soil after it gets soaked from rain. The best ground is gravelly earth: it holds well, and permits the rapid filtering through of surface water. A clay top-soil holds water and is soon trodden into sticky mud after a rain.
Precautions Against Fire
In evergreen or cypress forests there is often a thick scurf on the ground (dead needles, etc.) that is very inflammable. Always scrape this away before building a fire. In a dry forest carpet, or in a punky log, fire may smoulder unnoticed for several days; then, when a breeze fans it into flame, it may start a conflagration. One can’t be too careful about fire in the woods. Never leave a camp fire or a cooking fire to burn itself out. Drench it with water, or smother it absolutely by stamping earth upon it.
Horace Kephart

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