Is my tent in the right spot?

Medieval Village by Johnyzpodo

Position your Tent to benefit You

Tent camping is a battle to stay dry, at an even temperature, and out of gusty winds.

That doesn’t mean that camping in a tent isn’t fun, though. How you position the tent can make a big difference in your trip. Once you’ve pitched your tent and got the fire going, little in life can be as satisfying.

Flat Surface

Many people who haven’t camped before seem to believe that they can just set their tent wherever and get to the fun stuff. Yet, they cannot figure out why they didn’t get a good night’s sleep. This can be due to having their head lower than their body, which most people do not handle well, or because they started sliding into the tent wall in the night. Or even because they didn’t clear the space and have a rock poking into their ribs through the sleeping bag, or woke up in a puddle pf water.

You want the spots you sleep in to be as flat as possible. Having a little tilt can be okay – your mileage may vary depending on sleeping habits and level of comfortability.

Clear the ground of twigs, stones, pinecones, and make sure you aren’t setting up on top of the home of any animals.

Also, a good rule of thumb is to avoid placing your tent over/near mushrooms. The world holds a wide variety that are poisonous, and unless you and your family are aware of ALL the location’s varieties this can become deadly. If you are going to spend a good amount of time in the same area, getting to know the local Mycologist could be a good idea. For further incentive to be safe, please read this article here.

If you need proof to be careful what you touch: a fellow hiker I knew on the trails for over a decade was a Mycologist. He picked the wrong one from his own front yard and had a fry-up for dinner.  Within 20 minutes he knew he had four days to get his affairs together, and the hospital confirmed it. This experienced scientist and chef was very careful and still made a mistake. Do not let this be you or your family.

Another concern, although of the sticky kind, is to be aware of what moss is and does. If you place your tent over moss, when you tear down to pack it back up it will have a layer of ooze on it. Slugs live in moss and come out at night.


There are 2 primary concerns when you first try to place where your tent will sit.

  1. High Ground
  2. Fire Pit

High Ground

Placing your tent where it is least likely to end up a giant puddle is always a good idea.

However, how can you tell?

Before you start pulling out your supplies, look at the terrain. Where is big enough to hold your tent? Does that spot have any sections sunk in? Is there one side lower than the other? Is it in the middle of a wind tunnel? These are all questions to ask yourself before you unpack a single stake.

Look around the site to see if there are any hills or streams nearby, and where excess water is likely to flow. Don’t put yourself at the bottom of a hill, or at the very edge of a cliff top (even with a barrier water is a powerful and eroding force).

Look for the high section of your site that meets the above criteria, and check if it’s flat enough to sleep. Make note of the lowest corner and designate that as a supply/empty spot. Lay out your bottom tarp and see if the ground still looks the same. With the color change are you seeing potholes? Adjust as needed to get the entire surface as flat and even as possible.

In a perfect world you may find a spot where you can put the exact middle of your tent over the highest point, ensure the least amount of water collection under your tent. However, this is rare for tents pitched directly on the ground. There are some parks that have tents set up on pallets or even just the pull-throughs for RVs. If you are tenting in an RV spot, move your picnic table onto the gravel and the tent into the grass, unless the spot will collect rain. All that gravel is going to tear up both the tarp and tent once you move around inside.

If you are familiar with your tent, put the covering tarp up before laying out your tent. That way you do not have to worry about hefting the weight of the tarp while worrying about hitting the tent. I talk about tarp placement, temperature and puddling here.

Fire Pit

What’s camping without a fire? Still just as fun, actually, but not as usual.

How far away from a fire should your tent be? 20 feet (7 meters) is a good measure, generally. I know some would consider this too far, but it’s not a large distance at all. Embers and hot ashes can be carried a good distance before they cool, and better safe than sorry.

Overall, distance can depend on how big your location is, and what your local laws are. Local laws always win. Location-wise, if you can’t get 2o feet away, keep your fire pretty small and well contained. If it is a fire pit, pull the grill on top and layer aluminum foil over it to keep the ash from spreading as quickly. Some fire pits are movable with enough elbow grease, but the place you move it to needs to be clear of grass/etc.

If you are in a high risk area, the fire isn’t worth the fine or the risk of destroying houses. Nobody wants to be on the national news being compared to that distraught astronaut. Bring a camp stove and tell the kids “It’s an adventure!”

If you don’t have a fire pit, build one. Look around for stones you can move, set up in an area devoid of flora, make a solid large circle, and keep careful watch. Layer aluminum foil under your wood and curl the corners up a bit. Most of your fire pit area should be empty. Make sure any trees are high enough and far enough away that the branches don’t catch ashes.


Always, ALWAYS, put your fire out before leaving it, including dumping water on it. Even if you don’t see anything, embers are still burning inside the buried pieces. The water will help expose those sections as well as assist to putting it out. If you are using a fire for heat in the colder months, hopefully you already have some experience. Burn it down to a small flame, and only feed it often enough to keep it from smoking. Wake often, and early. Try to never have your first experience with tending a fire be in winter.


Once you have the primary concerns taken care of, look at two more minor issues:

  1. Wind Direction
  2. What’s Above You
Wind Direction

Keep track of how the wind shifts, and how strongly it is blowing. Don’t have the longest edge of your tent facing directly into the wind. If your location has a strong and persistent wind, set a well-enforced corner of both your tarp and tent into the face of it. Cutting the wind will help decrease the chances of it harming the tent or flipping it over.

If the wind direction is changing regularly, keep track. Try to place your tent on the high ground of a dell, and use the natural formation as protection. You will still get enough of a breeze to keep the air circulating well, but won’t have as much worry over the structural integrity of your poles.

What’s Above You?

Being directly under power lines is dangerous. It can also be annoying if it turns out they’re working on them during your visit.

Being under a dead tree can be just as bad. Falling branches can be deflected by tarps and tents, but they can still land on you. Taking care of major gashes in the dark is difficult even with help, and the larger the branch the bigger the worries. If you survive, trying to explain the new scar is not always easy.

You may ask: What if I know it’s a living tree?

I would respond: Is it currently dropping seeds? Are there baby birds currently living in it crying and/or learning to fly? What snakes live in the area? Turkey vultures?

Many animals are accustomed to the issues of humanity when you camp in regular camping areas. If you are camping more off-trail and remote, they may not immediately like the idea of sharing space with your tent. Take notice of any behaviors showing agitation, and move if needed.


What about you? What tips have you learned about positioning your tent for short or long trips? Comment below!

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I'm (now) an Affiliate, who blogs about the materials, gear and supplies needed for living in a tent and long term camping: http://longtermcamping.siterubix.com I also enjoy reading and sci-fi in all its many forms.

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