CampingSelecting a campsite

So you are going to camp. Hopefully you know where you are going, but by campsite I am not referring to the town/city/sitename. By campsite here I mean how to layout your camp.

It may not seem that important to some people, but the first time they wake up to a tent that has been crushed by fallen branches, or smoke blowing into their tent from the campfire, or experience the '10 mile' trek to the toilets in the middle of the night they will regret that they did not put a little more thought into their camp's layout.

Most of this admittedly is common sense, but we all make mistakes and learn from previous experience to make that next camp run a little more smoothly.

Locating your campsite

If you are not actually on a 'campsite', for example when out hiking in remote regions, then care should be taken when deciding the actual location of your campsite (before we come to layout).

If you are on high, exposed ground go down to find a sheltered spot. Similarly though, when on low, wet ground seek higher shelter. Look for somewhere sheltered from the wind, on rising ground that has no risk of flooding, and no risk of rockfalls/avalanches.

Remember that hot air rises, cold air sinks. Valley bottoms often contain pockets of colder air, and can be areas for frost and damp mist.

Ideally you should be near a good, clean water supply (although not too close. Pitching camp near the water you will be invaded by insects!). On river banks look for the high water mark, and be wary of flash floods in mountain ranges where streams can suddenly turn into 5m of water with almost no warning!

Choose ground that is reasonably flat and free of rocks and roots.

Don't forget to check above your head too. Look for dead wood in trees that could fall, bee's and hornet's nests are not very nice neighbours either. Keep away from solitary trees as they attract lightning. In forested areas keep to the edges of the forest. Take careful note of any tracks, including those made by game. You will not want unwelcome animal visitors in the night.

Do NOT camp at the following;

  • Hilltops exposed to wind (move down and look for shelter on the leeside)
  • Valley bottoms and deep hollows. They could be damp and more liable to frost
  • Hillside terraces where the ground holds moisture
  • Spurs which lead down to water (often routes to animals watering holes)

Site areas


Ideally the campfire should be located fairly close to the centre of the campsite. You must take into account the prevailing wind direction before you set up any area of your campsite. You will not want the wind blowing the smoke and embers towards any tentage (or indeed any other area), and the prevailing wind will also determine your type and layout of the fire itself.

Position your campfire downwind of the rest of your campsite. If there is not already a fireplace you will need to clear the ground for a distance of around 2m of any dirt/grass/leaves etc., or use a form of trench fire.


It is common sense that your woodpile should be within a short distance of your campfire. The wood should be graded and arranged into different sections. Woodpiles may differ in appearance, from the simple 'stack-it-on-the-floor' to the more complex wood shed. Even a simple stack should be provided cover against the elements, even if it is only a bin liner pegged over the top of the pile.

Ideally you should have a store of kindling as well, this most certainly should be kept dry.

Chopping Area

Place your chopping area adjacent to your woodpile. The area should be clearly marked and 'roped-off' forming a circle that is at least 2 arm+axe lengths in radius. I would suggest that when you rope the area off that you drive uprights into the ground and run a rope around the perimeter at around 30 cm off the ground. There should be an entrance/exit left for ease of use, and by this should be a post at which the user can leave any loose clothing before they enter the chopping area.

Inside the chopping area you may want to place a log (in which you can store the axe when not in use, although they should have a sheath as well for when the weather turns). A chopping block of some description will really be needed. It is much more comfortable, and safer, to aim your swings at a block that is at a certain height, then at the piece of wood lying on the floor. A simple tree stump or large log turned on its end will normally suffice.

Cooking Area

Your cooking area should be placed fairly close to the campfire, away from the tentage and ideally close to a clean water supply. Your cooking area includes area for food preparation, serving, utensil storage and food storage. It should be within a shelter (even if you have no mess tents/dining shelters you can construct a simple shelter that at least provides cover from the rain). All food (storage and preparation) should be done off the ground. If you have no tables construct a table/dresser from natural materials (see camp gadgets). Water can be stored on the ground as long as it is in good quality, sealed containers. Your cooking area must be kept clean at all times. There should be several 'bins' for wet and dry refuse. All utensils/pots etc. should be stored off the ground in a clean environment.

If you are cooking under a shelter with gas, the gas bottle itself should be outside the shelter if possible. Common sense dictates that any flame should be away from the sides of the shelter, and any fire should be on a sturdy rest that will not fall, or get knocked over. If cooking within the shelter a water container of some description must be kept nearby for the sole purpose of safety. It is to be kept full, ready to hand, and not used for any other purpose.

Dining Area

A dining area can be immediately adjacent to the cooking area. It should be sheltered from the elements, and have easy access to where the food is prepared. You will need some form of seats/ tables to eat from, make your own if you have brought none.

Waste food etc. should be cleanly disposed of in nearby 'bins'.


Mention has been made of storage tents below. If you do not have a first aid tent, then the storage tent must contain a full first aid kit placed within easy reach by the door. Any items stored in the tent must be off the ground, place on a platform constructed from natural materials or a table.

Storage could also include your own tents. Any clothing/equipment not being used should be neatly stored away in your bag/rucsac and placed within the tent.

During the day, 'store' your sleeping bags and any wet clothes on an airing line. Simply erect two uprights and place a rope between them to hang the items on. This airing line should be at the upward edge of your camp out of the way of all the other areas.

Also during the day, if you have room and the weather permits, pull your groundsheet out of your tent and store to one side to let your tent air, and the ground 'recover'.

Washing Area

If you have a washing area (if you are not using any of the camps toilet facilities) then this should be placed towards the centre of the site as a whole. As it will be used not only for personal washing, but washing the dishes etc. it should be within a short distance of the cooking/dining area.

If you are using natural running water, care should be taken to establish a point from which you will take drinking water. You must then ensure that no-one washes, cleans pots etc. upstream of this point.


Where you place your tentage will determine the layout of the rest of the camp to a large extent. Tentage should be placed towards the outer edge of the site if possible (not in the middle of the field!). Choose a flat area, clear of any roots/rocks. Do not place tents right next to trees (especially solitary trees that will attract any lightning!), and be sure to look above as well as around on the floor. Look out for any possible 'deadfalls' from the surrounding trees. Common sense says that no tentage should be placed near the campfire/ chopping area/toilets.

Care should be taken in the relative positions of the tents. No tents should be placed immediately next to the site entrance/exit. Leaders tents should be placed in between the 'scouts' tents and the entrance. If you have more than one leaders tents, then place them at either end of the line of tents. Otherwise all the tents that will be used for 'living/sleeping' should really be placed in the same area, rather than spread around the site.

A first aid tent should be provided for any camp under canvas. This first aid tent must not be used for anything other than first aid, no sleeping/storing etc. It should be clearly marked and a full first aid kit kept inside at all times.

If you have any storage tents you may want to place them closer to the areas where they will be used (e.g. the kitchen area).


If you are using existing toilets you will have little choice about their location. If you have to camp close to toilets make sure they are downwind of the rest of your campsite (your campsite should not be next to the toilets in any case). If you have had to construct your own, make sure they are in fact 'off-site' and downwind of the prevailing wind.

They should be clearly marked and screened from view. Ideally some washing facility should be placed by the toilets themselves.

Latrines should be dug downhill of the camp and away from the water supply as well. You must be careful not to dig them too far away otherwise people will be tempted to 'go' somewhere closer to hand!

Waste Disposal

First Principles

Waste will be disposed of. That should be the rule for camp.

Simply do not leave any waste, of any description, anywhere at any time.

When you arrive at the site you should already know what the warden/landowner wishes you to do with any rubbish (you don't? Go and ask now). My knowledge of local, 'modern' sites is that they have specific areas for rubbish disposal, clearly placed bins, and an incinerator of their own. They also tend not to let people dig any pits/trenches for any use (campfire, rubbish disposal or latrines). Make sure you know what you can and cannot do on your site.

Wet Pit

If permitted a simple wet and dry pit should see to most of your needs. Simple to construct, you just excavate an area around a metre square, and at least 20 cm deep. Clearly rope off and mark the pit, and make sure it is placed so that people will not be falling in it every two seconds.

Cover with a layer of interlaced sticks and a filter layer of grass/ leaves etc. These layers should be renewed daily.

When you have finished with the pit, it should be filled in with earth and completely covered. It should then be marked with a sign placed into the ground at that point with a date on which it was created.

Dry Pit

A dry pit is constructed as above. The two pits should be next to each other, and fairly close to the campfire and kitchen area. For the dry pit you simply need a 'hole-in-the-ground'. Only place thoroughly washed or burnt material here, otherwise you will have animal visitors and insects paying you a visit, making life in camp a bit more uncomfortable!

Never place any glass or sharp materials (e.g. a ripped tin can) in the pit.

When you have finished with the pit, it should be filled in with earth and completely covered. It should then be marked with a sign placed into the ground at that point with a date on which it was created.

Wet Bin

Most campsites frown upon anyone digging holes in the ground, most certainly when they intend to leave some form of waste in the hole! Instead you will want to construct a bin. You will need two types, a wet and dry.

The details of construction have already been covered in the camp gadgets section.

Make sure you replace the bin bag at regular intervals and either store in a place that is out of reach of any person/animal or, ideally, immediately dispose of this rubbish at an appropriate area. Most campsites have proper bins for waste disposal anyhow, but if you are camping in the middle of nowhere, you will either bury your rubbish or take it home with you!

Dry Bin

Only washed items should be placed in the bin. Any cans or containers must be flattened first.

Oil Can Filter

A filter will be required for all those mucky and greasy wet items you want to dispose of. If you are allowed to dig into the ground at your site, make yourself a trench a just bigger than your can, and at least 30cm deep. Stuff your oil can with grass, leaves and bracken.

Place a grid (either metal or make a lattice from natural materials) over the hole and place the filter on top. Make sure you replace the filter materials often.

Use to filter any wet, or more useful, greasy waste.


If the site does not have an incinerator of its own you will need to make one. Any rubbish that can not be burned on the campfire should be placed in the incinerator. The ashes should be removed at regular intervals and disposed of as above.

You will need a large metal can (an 'oil-drum' type is ideal). Pierce the can with holes all round and place over a fire. You may find it easier to fill the can with earth and use a large nail or spike when making the holes.

Tin Cans

Empty tin cans can be a bane at many campsites. They are difficult to dispose of. Quite simply you have two choices.

You either burn them, then bash them flat and bury them or you crush them and carry them home.

Most modern tins can be recycled now so simple clean them, flatten them and store apart from the others.