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Backpacker Bible: Camp Well

Who says spiritual travelers must shun earthly comforts? You just worked all day to reach a magnificent high-country cirque. Now create a campsite to match.
thermarest_neoair_445x260Therm-a-Rest NeoAir (Courtesy Photo)

{ True Believer }
Mark Jenkins

Look at his résumé, and it appears our longtime contributor and former Rocky Mountain editor prefers trips on which suffering is the main goal. During more than three decades of expeditions, he has routinely put himself at risk for frostbite, altitude sickness, infections, trench foot, hypothermia, torn muscles, broken bones, insect-borne diseases, and more. He’s a glutton for punishment, no doubt, but he won’t suffer a poorly chosen campsite. Here’s how he describes his approach:

» Take time. When I reach the day’s general destination, I drop my pack and make a comprehensive search for the perfect campsite. I give myself at least 15 minutes and move in an outward spiral. Even if it’s dark, take the time. Even if it’s storming, take the time. The morning is what matters.
» Go high. Always try to put your tent on a ridge or at least up in the alpine zone. Yes, it’s windier up there, but spectacular views are the main reason I go into the mountains in the first place. Besides, there are good reasons for placing a camp high: 1) The wind washes the bugs away; 2) wind reduces condensation in the tent; 3) cold air rolls downhill at night, so valley bottoms are often dank and wet; 4) a high camp gets the earliest sun. (Stormy? See below for tips on a sheltered, low-impact site below treeline.)
» Prep your site. Search for the most level tent spot; I also remove all rocks, sticks, pine cones, etc. (and put them back upon leaving). In snow, I’m known for being anal about shoveling until the tent platform is perfectly level. Every minute spent preparing the campsite is rewarded with hours of good sleep.
» Face the sun. If the wind direction will allow it, I always place my tent with a door or window facing east, so the first rays of the sun come directly inside the tent. 

Upgrade Your Slumber
Eliminate bumps, backaches, and cold spots with an extravagantly cushy-yet-light pad like the Editors’ Choice Award-winning Therm-a-Rest NeoAir ($150/regular; thermarest.com). For milder conditions (above the mid-30s), check the noninsulated Big Agnes Air Core ($50/regular; bigagnes.com).

Fine Dining
You’ve found the perfect campsite.

Here’s how to equip it with the perfect kitchen.

» Search out a site with natural windbreaks, like boulders or stumps, that shelter your stove for faster cooking.
» Collect the water you’ll need, and gather your ingredients close at hand. Avoid getting up and down repeatedly, risking a spill. 
» In snow, build a kitchen: Dig a hole three to four feet deep, with a large enough diameter to accommodate your group. Leave an uncut snow block in the center, to serve as a table, and cut benches around the side for sitting. Place your stove on a square of aluminum-wrapped cardboard to prevent it from melting your table. Cut a stairwell for a five-star setup. 

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