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Updated: May 19, 2023

River tripping, hiking, random camping, there are some basic considerations about how to set up camp.

Typically we focus on four things;

  1. tent site.

  2. cooking and kitchen area.

  3. lavatory

  4. food storage.

Four general things to consider in your lay out or organization. With four points to organize there is typically a diamond or square that is set up. With each of these things there are more specific details to look at.

Tent site: this is important. Things to consider, the ground and its flatness and the presence of roots or rocks, and always avoiding low spots where water can pool. When the sun hits your tent and how long it will linger for the day. The presence of vegetation like poison ivy or thorny bushes etc. Always look for and try to avoid dead trees or widowmakers. For me I enjoy getting early sun. I will also try to find natural shelter from wind or rain.

Cooking and kitchen site: This area should include the areas you are eating. The kitchen itself should consider the entrance and exit. Your entrance will be a point of contention especially with large groups. Your entrance will have the hand washing station and sanitization features. With large groups it is very important to control who is cooking and grabbing things for general consumption. Gi issues due to poor sanitization is one of the most common causes of evacuation for trips lasting over a week. Water can be set out outside of the kitchen but again it is a good idea to have some sort of sanitizing options there. With river tripping there is typically the ability to bring some tables and buckets,

Setting these up for good flow and organization usually involves a L shape or in parallel.

The common fire pit or eating area should remain close to the kitchen so all smells and food bits are kept away from the tents.

The toilet: Some thoughts here would include privacy and shelter. A common location for an "in use" signal such as a paddle sitting up or laying down a fun hat or trowel to be returned to its respective location can prevent a un planned contact. Naturally this site would be away from the tents and kitchen. It is vital to keep more sanitary items here. A good view is a nice touch but of course not at the expense of privacy. Your toilet system is a completely different discussion but the point here is that there should be a system or understanding of how waste should be handled.

Food storage: Typically in the paddling world, food is kept in a barrel or cooler. All your smellies should be kept in these things over night. The coolers and barrels often are kept away from camp and all tied together. In over 20 years of camping I haven encountered bears a handful of times and only once have they attacked our food cache at night. Barrels are amazing at keeping the smells down and coolers we typically put a cam strap around. Other options when barrels and coolers are not available are to hang a bag or use food lockers that are in place, and even to float a boat with the food in it. There is some controversy here. I have spent hours I will never get back trying to hang a bag from a tree branch. In these cases there isn't much option but to try to sling a rope over a large branch that extends out of the perceived reach of a bear. In the Alpine this is not always an option. At the very least, protecting your food from rodents by hanging a stuff sack. Overall keep your food and smellies (toothpaste, sun screen, gum, chap stick etc.) away from you.

Escape routes: Consider the possibility of a bear coming into camp and becoming protective of your food cache, or becoming interested in the contents of your tent. I always like to have a path way or direct route to the boats, rafts or pathway from my tent. And I do often discuss a gathering place for each camp site with my group so I can account for everyone. Another group safety consideration is to have a common placement for bear spray, medical kits, toilets supplies, sanitation and signaling (IN Reach, radios, flares, etc.).

Of all these things the most important considerations are:

  • Dead or poorly anchored trees and likelyhood of windfall

  • Food cache and securing your containers so they don't draw animals into your tenting site, roll away or get carried away.

  • Keeping fecal matter out of the kitchen and water supply (Was your hands!)

  • Tying up your water craft incase of wind, flash flood or seasons water fluctuations (I insist of tying up my boats regardless of how high up on shore they are!)

  • keeping your tent high and dry

  • having a plan with your group for mustering, escape routes and accessing essential safety supplies.

The one time I have had a bear come into camp and trash our food cache it ripped open a cheap plastic jug I had never used before. We had a ton of food in four classic canoe barrels. Those barrels were not touched. They were not knocked over tampered with at all. The smaller cheap plastic jug had all our goodies in it. I'm not sure how much wine and chocolates the bear actually consumed, but we figured it was sleeping comfortably somewhere on its head.

My wife has a much more harrowing story about a black bear on a NOLS trip. She had kept the Nalgene water bottle that the bear had punctured with its teeth after ripping though a campers tent.

When I was working as a wild land fire fighter, a large black bear once infiltrated our landing zone. It sat on our cooler and refused to leave. We tried bear bangers and scaring it off as a group. We even got the sector boss to try and buzz it with a Hughes 500 helicopter trying to scare it away. Needless to say we did not get our lunch that day.

I have bags and backpacks with holes chewed in them from rodents, I have slept in tents with puddles and have had nights of moving from place to place while trees fell all around me in a wind storm.

I have chosen a camp site with fresh snake tracks, then surprisingly finding young rattle snake under a SUP after many hours of being there.

Camping is the best! The hazards are there. Have fun and be safe!

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