Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Importance of Location

In general, there are some pragmatic options to keep in mind when you pick a campsite, but of course there is a subjective element at play with every camper having certain preferences about where they choose to make camp.  So rather than just list off some static examples of what makes a "good" campsite (water source, solid ground, nice views, etc.), I thought it would be more useful and interesting to examine some real campsites from a few trips I recently went on.

I have been camping and exploring a very remote part of Sweden near the boarder of Norway for several years now.  I have really fallen in love with a huge patch of challenging, raw, beautiful, isolated woods.  Much of this patch is even doesn't even have any trails or roads, but on occasion there are some old logging paths and dirt backroads that are helpful in navigation and cutting through or around more unpleasant patches, like swamp and impassible cliffs.  I named this whole area the Bråten (Swedish for rubble or ruins) woods, after discovering a ruined old cottage out there on my first camping trip there.

Last month I spent a few nights in Bråten woods with some bushcraft buddies I met through a website, and this past weekend I spent the whole weekend there as well, but this time with members of the camping club I founded and run called GUCK.  Both trips were amazing fun and I was lucky to be around such excellent company!  On both trips I was reminded just how important the aspect of location can be when choosing a campsite.  But before getting into the details, let's enjoy some pictures!  The first three pictures are more relevant to the topic at hand (more on that soon) and the last four I just thought were cool:

 May trip, Johan and I checking out the lake near our first campsite.

May trip, 2nd night with our Bushcraft buddies. Left to right is Ruben, Johan, Jon, me, and Chris.  Thanks again to Chris for posting these pictures.

June trip, a view from across the lake of our campsite on our 2nd night out.  A large bog is hidden around the bend of the penninsula.

June trip, the view from our first campsite.

June trip, the view from one of the hills we climbed up on our way to our 2nd campsite.

June trip, climbing around the cliffs that surrounded the lake near our 2nd campsite.

The GUCK crew taking a break in the middle of nowhere.  Left to right, Lena, Jenny, Lovisa, Mr. Beardy's legs and arm, and me.  I only look so serious because it's tricky to take a good picture on your own.

Location can make a big difference on your general comfort level while camping, and certain details are often neglected or forgotten.  In my case on these two trips, I understood the risks involved in the locations that were picked, but took my chances to observe what would happen.  

On the first night of my May trip, there were clear skys so Johan and I chose to sleep out in the open with no shelter, but lots of cover from the woods (trees, brush, etc.).  The cover and vegitation soaked up and prevented any condensation, and we woke up dry as a bone.  We also slept only 20-25 meters from a lake (1st picture above), but were not given any problems from bugs.  

We then meet up with the other guys on the 2nd night, and all agreed that the weather still looked good with little chance of rain, so we opted again to sleep out in the open.  This time, however, we slept in a clearing (2nd picture).  When we woke up, all our gear and sleeping bags were soaked with condensation, but at least we still had no issues with bugs.  Lucky for us, the sun came up and we were able to hang our sleeping bags and such, and everything dried up in not too long.

On the June trip, the first night the group decided to sleep in an abandoned house I had stumbled upon that was in habitable condition.  This choice had a lot to do with the fact that it was raining all day.  It was a bit of a gamble, as who knows what animals might be using the house, or what leaks there might be, but it worked out great.  It was very cozy and everyone slept well.

The 2nd night of this trip we would spend next to a lake, only this lake I had not been to before, so we would have to scout for a good spot for a campsite once we got there.  After a long and tough hike through rough terrain, we get to the lake and it is amazing.  We see a large penninsula on the other side of the lake and agree to make camp there.  We did notice a bog on the other side of the penninsula, which would pose a bigger bug issue, but we had bug spray with us and also figured that we could have a fire going to help keep them away.  We set up camp after a nice swim just 10-15 meters away from the lake.

We soon found to our shock just how bad of a bug situation we would have to deal with.  The bug spray simply didn't work against the millions and millions of biting midges that were waiting for us.  We got a fire going, and that didn't help either unless you stood direcly in the smoke of the fire, which is no fun getting all that smoke in your eyes.  Then before we can even talk about moving spots, it starts to rain, so too tired to care, we kept our campsite but hid in our tents from both rain and getting eaten alive.

The point is, try and take as much into account when picking your campsite, and be ready to deal with any down-sides that might come with any given site.  Also keep in mind that two campsites might look very much alike, but camping at each might be very different experiences--often for less than obvious factors--or reasons out of your control.  For example, sleeping near a lake.  

Some lakes don't have much or any bog/swamp, and thus have less stagnant water, which amounts to less mosquitoes and biting midgs (e.g. May trip 1st night vs. June trip 2nd night).  Clearings are great for watching the stars at night, but expect to be wet in the morning after sleeping in the middle of a clearing without any cover.  Having water close by makes life easier, being able to drink the water (sanitize if needed), and in the case of larger bodies of water, one can also swim and/or wash clothing.  So access to water may trump dealing with bugs.

There are many other factors and aspects of locations you choose to camp, but the ones examined here are often the more central or important ones to take into consideration.  Being wet and covered in bug bites is bound to put nearly everyone in a bad mood, so if you are able and willing, try and account for these details.  

Yet at the same time, don't get too discouraged if you find yourself having to deal with rough conditions at your chosen campsite (especially the deeper in the woods you go); part of the fun is the challenge of dealing with rough conditions and in the end making things as comfortable and cozy as possible.  If anything, it makes your return home seem all the more luxurious.  Camping can really highlight how much we take simple pleasures for granted, like clean tap water at hand at all times, shelter from the wind and rain, warm food easy to produce, etc.

These two trips were amazing and everyone had a great time, in spite of some of the more difficult aspects of the locations my groups and I had to deal with.  Well...11 camping trips so far this year, and my hunger to get back out into the woods remains the same.