Finding the Right Spot

photo: Crystal Brindle


Choosing a campsite is an art, but at a minimum they should have an inspiring view and be:

  • Flat, or with a slight rise to the head end,
  • In a sheltered spot, but not in a hollow, or where water will collect if it rains,
  • Well above any flood level, noting that sandy ground is a cause for concern,
  • Close to water,
  • Under live trees to minimise dew and frost,
  • Well away from dead trees and tree fall indicating likely falling branches,
  • Above the valley floor to avoid areas where cold air would pool, or in the cold night-time down-valley air flow.

Depending on the site, it may pay to check for emergency exit routes in case one is needed in the night.

Carry out all toileting well away from any water course and bury waste under 100 mm, or more of soil, leaves and/or moss. Do not use soap, or detergent in waterways, nor throw food scraps into the water when washing cooking utensils.

Always leave the area as you found it.

When camping above the snowline, consider using your boots as a pillow to prevent them from freezing. Boots make surprisingly good pillows.

Tents and flies

It pays to pitch tents and flies as if bad weather is going to arrive during the night, just in case it does.

Tie recognised knots that can be undone if frozen. When breaking camp, make sure that all knots in the guy ropes have been completely undone.

Use the Truckers’ Hitch to tie your tent guys. The arrangement provides a 2:1 pulley advantage, meaning that you can easily tighten the guys, and it comes undone easily when you want it to and not before. If there is a branch to tie to, use the Clove Hitch instead.

A tent fly makes a welcome shelter for rainy lunch stops, allowing party members to take their coats off, open packs in the dry and light a small fire at one end.

Keep the tent doors open as much as possible to improve ventilation and so minimise condensation. After dark, consider opening the inner door, too, unless there are mosquitoes.

This page is a reproduction of the relevant section of FMC’s Safety in the Mountains booklet; first published in 1937, and still in print today, 11 editions later. You can buy your copy from the FMC website, at near giveaway price. More than 130,000 copies of this distilled mountain wisdom have found their way in to packs, huts and collections of generations of outdoors enthusiasts.