Bushwalking Workflow | Campsite Selection, Set Up and Pack away.

What do you look for in the ideal campsite? How important is water? What about shade? When should I set up? What is the sequence of unpacking? How do I select a campfire or toilet site? Minimal impact camping and its implications for bushwalkers.

Camp Early

 I always like to get into a campsite in winter by about 3.30 or certainly no later than 4.30 pm. This gives me time to make a cup of tea, find where the nearest water is, put up my tent  and perhaps even have a brief nap before dinner. I like to begin making my dinner in daylight.

Use established or natural campsites

Your campsite may be in a Park, require a permit and have special regulations. Check before you go.

Those of us who walk in wilderness, untracked areas, can choose to camp wherever there is a natural campsite. We should of course never clear an area and preferably should use a site that someone has used before. At the most, you should sweep away fallen twigs and loose stones, so you don’t have an uncomfortable night. Good advice is only to spend one night in each campsite so the site doesn’t get too damaged.

Not like the old days, when the first step was to cut down a few saplings to make tent poles and pegs, then sufficient bushes to make a thick mattress and finally wood for the fire!

Select sites with shelter, water and wood

“Select sites with shelter, water and wood” is the traditional advice which was once given to bushwalkers.

I can remember always looking for a campsite with lots of fallen logs which could be used for a campfire, but I wouldn’t advise this anymore. Firstly there are too many campsites which are bare, as the result of campers collecting all the fallen wood for their fires and this has been recognised many Parks Authorities, who now insist on the use of fuel stoves. A bare campsite can only mean that all shelters for local animals have been destroyed. Fallen timber does of course mean that the trees nearby are regularly dropping branches, which means that it is not a good idea to camp under them. Too many people have been killed by fallen gum tree branches!

Shelter is of course necessary from the wind and perhaps sun.

Water should be close, but campers are always advised not camp to next to creeks and especially waterholes due to the possibility that you may prevent local wildlife from reaching their normal water supply. Camping too close is likely to increase the chance of pollution and you are recommended to camp at least 100m away. Most of use carry water bags (wine cask bladders for Australians) which can be filled and carried back to camp.

My favourite is the MSR Dromedary bag which come in a variety of sizes, have a wide mouth opening to make it easy to fill and attach your filtration pump,  have a 3-in-1 cap, and  hydration and solar kits, so they can be multi-purpose. They are very tough and versatile having lasted me for 15 years at least.

Check for potential hazards: overhanging gum trees, flash floods, polluted water

In Australia, and no doubt many other countries, camping in a dry creek bed or narrow gorge is not a good idea, due to the risk of flash flooding.  Camp well above the flood plain. If you find a waterhole with a dead animal in it, then you will need to boil the water or purify it in some other way or move to another location. Check your water for suspended mica which may cause diarrhoea, although I have never found it caused this.

Minimal Impact Camping

If you do have a campfire, make sure you dig a hole for it first and cover this fully before you leave in the morning.

  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Do not create new fire-pits.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash. 
  • Put the fire out completely with water and bury under soil.
  • Clean out campfire rings after use, leaving no glass, alfoil or plastics
  • Don’t construct camp furniture or dig trenches around your tent for drainage.
  • Don’t feed native animals and store rubbish securely

“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints …” should apply to your campsite.


On Arrival

As soon as you arrive, when there are no established toilet facilities, assign an area well away from water, with some privacy and let everyone know the location. If you have both males and females in your group you might like to assign two areas.

Suggest suitable camping areas, indicate where the water is located and where the cooking area and perhaps campfire, if you’re having one, will be located.

I always start by putting up my tent as soon as I arrive, especially if it looks like possible rain. My gear, that I will need for the night, comes out of my pack into my tent which I then drag it into the vestibule to keep it out of the rain once I have done this. If it is raining already, I wait until there is a break in the weather, before taking out my tent. If it is sunny, my first step is to put on the stove for a cup of tea.

Next I take out my mattress, put it inside my tent and inflate it if needed or wait for it to self-inflate. My sleeping bag goes on top, I take out my torch and warm clothing for when the sun sets, get out my cutlery, meal, cooking utensils, stove, lighter and grippers. I then zip up my tent to keep out insects.

Time now to chat to others, fill up my water bag, take a few photos, select the meal spot and help where needed with set up. A good meal site will have seating for everyone, a flat, clear area for the stoves and shelter, although as I have said before under a gum tree is not a good idea.

Before leaving

  • Inspect your campsite and rest areas for rubbish and spilled food. 
  • Check no one has left belongings eg hanging from clothes lines.
  • Do not burn rubbish. “Pack it in, pack it out.” In some environments eg narrow, popular, river gorges this could even mean faecal material.
  • Clean out campfire rings after use, leaving no glass, alfoil or plastics

A good reference is the A Guide to Better Bushwalking from Bushwalking Leadership SA , which has a  couple of excellent pages on environmental considerations.

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    This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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