Five-star backpacking campsites


Choosing a good backcountry campsite — or, in my parlance, “five-star” — is a critical but overlooked backpacking skill. Campsite selection is at least as important to my sleep quality as my choice of tent, bag, and pad. Even with appropriate gear, it’s difficult to sleep well in a campsite that:

  • Is relatively cold, damp, buggy, and vulnerable to high winds;
  • Offers only hard, non-porous, sloping, and bumpy ground sites;
  • Must be shared with snoring and smelly hikers, and fearless rodents and black bears; and,
  • Is heavily impacted, with eyesores like trash-filled fire rings and Charmin blooms.

Unless I’m required to stay in such locations, I try hard to avoid them. Instead, I seek out five-star campsites that are more conducive to a quality night of sleep and that enhance my backpacking experience.

Solo backpackers and small groups will have an easier time in following this advice. But I have offer at least a few tips that would be relevant for larger groups like the Boy Scouts (BSA).

In this four-part series I explain the characteristics of a five-campsite (on two levels: zone and spot), discuss pertinent regulations and Leave No Trace ethics, and provide examples of horrible camping areas that should be avoided.


Five-star campsites || Part 1: Intro, regs, planning, zones & spots

By Andrew Skurka / September 15, 2016 /

Campsites are not created equal. Where possible, I seek out locations that are relatively warm, dry, private, aesthetic, and free of bugs, rodents, and bears — “five-star campsites,” I call them. A high quality campsite makes a difference: It is more conducive to a night of quality sleep, and It enhances my backcountry experience. Sadly,…

Five-star campsites || Part 2: Ideal features of camping zones

By Andrew Skurka / September 17, 2016 /

Recall from Part 1 that I assess backpacking campsites on two levels: zones and spots. The zone-level features of a five-star campsite never change. But spot-level features depend on whether I am sleeping on the ground or in a hammock. In this post I will discuss zone-level features. Safety This one should be obvious, but it’s…

Five-star campsites || Part 3: Ideal features of camping spots, plus Tradeoffs

By Andrew Skurka / September 17, 2016 /

In Part 2 of this series I discussed the ideal features of a camping zone, which is a general area like a creek valley or lake basin. For example, I seek out locations that will be forested and that aren’t in the bottom of a drainage. Once I have arrived in a camping zone, I…

Five-star campsites || Part 4: Four examples of classically bad campsites

By Andrew Skurka / September 17, 2016 /

In the previous two posts I discussed the ideal features of backpacking campsites, on both a zone- and spot-level. There are many of them, probably too many to remember. So in this final installment I will discuss four classically bad campsites. Despite having multiple and severe problems, I regularly see backpackers camping in these types of locations. If…