The Rule of 200 Feet and Other Campsite Tips
Here are some rules and tips to follow when selecting a site and setting up camp.
You've hiked all day and you're ready to create a pop-up home for the night. Maybe you have the perfect backcountry campsite in mind. Maybe not. Maybe it's already been snagged by other hikers.
If you have to set up camp at the end of a day on trail, do you know what you're looking for? How well do you know your Leave No Trace principles?
Tips for planning ahead
Sometimes it is easiest to choose a camp location from the comfort of home. Hiking guidebooks (like Backpacking Washington, from The Mountaineers Press), WTA trip reports and National Forest or National Park websites and maps often suggest good camp locations, and let you know where campsites are either not recommended or are prohibited.
Try to plan your route and your intended campsites before you go, and mark them on your map. It's also not a bad idea to have a few locations in mind, in case one is occupied.
The rule of 200 feet
When it’s not possible to camp in your intended location, use this easy rule to tips to help you choose a great campsite and set up your camp stations.
- Tent: 200 feet from trail, water, food storage, dishwashing, toilet
- Food Storage: 200 feet from tent, dishwashing, toilet
- Dishwashing: 200 feet from tent, water, trail, food storage, toilet
- Toilet: 200 feet from tent, trail, water, food storage, dishwashing
More campsite tips
- Choose an existing camp location, whenever possible. At a minimum, choose a campsite with a durable surface (sand, gravel, forest duff, pine needles). Avoid fragile areas like alpine meadows.
- Check your location by placing your tent footprint or your sleeping pad on the ground to give the site a test before you set up your tent. Lie down and make sure it’s flat, that there isn’t an uncomfortable bump, and that there will be enough drainage in case of rain. Once you’re satisfied, make camp.
- Do not cut vegetation or build windbreaks. Minimize your impact and leave no trace; rather, leave it better than you found it.
- Have a campfire only if there is an established fire ring, if the managing agency permits campfires, and if conditions are safe. Most areas prohibit campfires above 5,000 feet in elevation or at certain times during the year, so check before you go. Keep backcountry fires small. Use wood that is smaller in diameter than your wrist; collect downfall and never cut live trees. Never burn garbage or food scraps.
- When camping in bear country, it can be a good idea to take an early dinner break, and then continue hiking for a while before choosing a campsite. This keeps the potentially alluring scent of your dinner far away from your tent.
Keeping a clean camp kitchen
Proper food storage is essential any time you're in camp, as critters both big and small will be attracted to your food. If you are preparing a meal, you should always be within an arm’s length of your food, and it’s good practice to keep your container closed at all times.
When leaving camp to explore, or turning in at night, put all of your food, scented toiletries and trash into your container.
Find a place to store your food away from your tent site and dishwashing location:
- Hang Bag: Find a tall tree with sturdy branches. Using a length of rope or cord, hang your bag at least 10 feet off the ground, and 6 feet out from the tree's trunk.
- Canister: Find a place somewhere where it won't roll down a hill or into a river if a curious critter decides to poke it around.
Got questions? Ask us, and we'll answer
Rules aside, sometimes choosing the best location can be confusing. If there is an established site, but it's right on a lake, should you use it? Does "established" mean you can expect a fire ring and a privy?
If you have questions about setting up campsites, leave them in the comments below, and we'll get them answered.