You have picked your destination, packed all your cases, and now you’re rolling onto the campsite. Whether you are staying for a night or a week you want to make sure you pick the right spot. If you shut your eyes, spin and point at random you are likely to end up with a pitch you regret, and miss out on the comforts the right spot could have given you.
Sure, its only a tent pitch. You could take it down and re-pitch in a better spot later, but that’s an awful lot of hassle once you are already all set up.
So, drumroll please.
The perfect pitch is… number 23.
Nah, just kidding. There are as many right pitches as there are different people. I can’t tell you exactly where to go, but I can help you pick a good place based on your needs and desires.
Who are you?
Are you a younger or older camper? Do you have children who want to run free, or toddlers who need keeping close? Are you looking for a community, or a secluded plot where you are hidden in the wilderness? Are you part of a group, a family, a lone camper? Do you want to bring the luxuries of home with you?
So what does your age have to do with where you pitch?
Before you accuse me of ageism, not a lot really, but there may be certain factors that are more important to a more mature camper with their family than an 18 year old student at a festival… like my first point:
My father used to joke that as he aged the offices he worked in got bigger and better every few years, but the best thing about each one was that it was closer to the toilets than the last, until he ended up immediately opposite the gents.
Or perhaps you have one or more younger children who are likely to demand to be taken to the loo at 3am. It really is no fun wading through cold wet grass in the dark. Trust me.
So if being close to the toilets is a comfort you appreciate, then stick close to the entrance where the shower and toilet block is usually placed. However if you don’t want to be disturbed by the torchlight and footsteps of someone heading to the toilet in the night, then go as far away from the toilets as you can!
Are you a wilderness camper? Or do you like to bring some of the conveniences of home with you. Your hairdryer and a heater perhaps? Is the thought of your tablet and phone running out of battery enough to give you the cold sweats? Then you need to look for an electric hookup (and have the converter yourself of course). These are usually close to the entrance, in lines following where the cables have been buried.
Near the entrance there is usually a gathering of campers. If making eye contact with a stranger is your worst nightmare then keep on driving up to the furthest corner of the field. But if you would like to make a friend or two, share a packet of teabags, and have the added peace of mind that a group of fellow campers will get to know you and be keeping an eye on your tent, then set yourself up as part of the village. This is also a great spot for anyone with children, as they are more likely to find themselves next door to another group of kids who they can play games with and give you a few minutes to yourself.
“Keep your neighbours awake and they will take their revenge on you at 7am when they get up to make the nosiest cup of tea they can.”
Are you in a group? A hen do, birthday party or on a lads holiday? If you are planning high jinks and much merriment, then for the sake of everyone else please stay away from other campers where possible. Tents are not known for their soundproofing properties. Keep your neighbours awake and they will take their revenge on you at 7am when they get up to make the nosiest cup of tea they can achieve with much clattering of kettles and pans. Look for a spot away from the entrance where you can camp together around a central sitting area.
Its a good idea to check with the campsite before you arrive, not everywhere accepts groups. It would be a shame to be turfed out before your party has even begun!
Fires, smoke and BBQ’s
As you drive onto the campsite you spot a picturesque firepit, you head on over and pitch right up next to it, you’ll be enjoying the marshmallows tonight!
Fine, but your tent, your clothes, and everything you have brought with you will probably smell of smoke for your whole holiday. Fires also seem to attract loud and silly behaviour. You might prefer to be at a distance, up wind, and in a quieter spot.
Do you intend to BBQ every night? Then the neighbourly thing to do is to head downwind of other campers so you aren’t treating them to a constant smell of burger soot.
If you can help it, stay away from trees. Yes they give you a bit of shelter from wind, but they are likely to damage your tent in return. Many of the insects that live on trees… and then drop onto your tent, are sticky, messy, and generally a pain to clean off.
When you are camping, sunshine is your friend. Early sunshine helps the tent heat up, definitely worth it especially in the early and late months of the camping season! And then there’s wet tents, packing up a wet tent is the scourge of any camper. Logically, the more sunshine you can get on your tent, the quicker it’ll dry.
Picking your pitch
So that should give you an idea of an area you want to be in. But which exact pitch? And what way around should you pitch your tent?
Size of tent
Do you have a tiny 1 man, or a colossal family sized construction you can fit a dozen cousins in? Make sure you know how big your tent is so you don’t get half way through putting it up only to find you have run out of room!
Slopes and level ground
Look for a pitch on flat ground, or at the very least on only a slight slope. If you pitch on a hill you will find everything in your tent slowly slides to one side, and that includes you! You’ll roll right into the side of the tent if you aren’t careful, which is not a way to get a good, comfortable nights sleep!
Dry, grassy ground
Don’t pitch your tent in really wet, boggy ground. Ever. If the campsite is recovering from a flood then GO HOME.
Look for a grassy spot, if the earth is bare from a previous tent then you will be missing out on the natural padding the turf will give you. On busier sites this can be hard to achieve, but it is worth the search.
Test the soil, is it hard and stony? Will you be able to easily get the tent pegs in or will you spend half an hour sweating and swearing at your mallet?
Positioning your tent
Right, you’ve now picked your pitch. Job done, right? Wrong. Now you need to find the best position and angle for your tent.
Ok, so we said avoid the slopes, but completely flat pitches are rare as hens teeth (at least here in Cornwall), so how do you deal with an inevitable unlevel pitch? Look for bumps and dips in the ground. You want to avoid putting the door in a dip as this will collect water when it rains and you will end up stepping out of your tent directly into a puddle.
Will you be sleeping on a camping mat? Then try to avoid placing the tent so the sleeping area is over a patch of bumps as you’ll wake in the morning full of aches. If you are lucky enough to have a campbed or a good lilo you will be raised off the floor enough for this to not matter too much.
If you are on a bit of a slope, place your tent so you can have your head at the top of the slope, your feet at the bottom. That way you will roll less than if you are foolish enough to lie side-on to the gradient.
Keep an eye open for sharp stones, pegs that have been left by a previous camper, or anything else that might damage your groundsheet. Get a hole in the bottom of your tent and if it rains you might end up with a paddling pool rather than a cosy home!
Give yourself plenty of space between your tent and your neighbours. A minimum of 1 meter will mean you won’t be constantly tripping over guy ropes, but a much better distance is about 6 meters. Imagine the next tent over catches fire (every campers worst nightmare!) then how close do you really want to be to the flames?
Do you have a great big porch? Then pitch your tent towards the back of the plot so it won’t be in anyone else’s way. (I’m eyeing up this rather amazing looking porch, just need to actually buy a roof box to transport it!)
Prevailing winds and shelter
In the UK the prevailing winds are roughly South Westerlies to Westerlies. So unless other weather is forecast, you want to put your tent so your doorway is facing Eastwards, or away from the wind. This means you are sheltered by your tent when you sit outside, and when you open and close the door you won’t be letting huge blusters of wind inside. It’s important to keep in mind shelter doesn’t have to be behind something. Often right in front of big obstacles like high hedgerows or a barn can be a equally sheltered but without losing the view.
Of course, if the weather is good, then you want the views, so put your door facing the best of them. What is not a good view is your neighbours tent windows, so try to place your tent so you are not directly overlooking them. In some campsites like Court Farm Campsite the pitches are lining the edge of the field, creating a village green feel to the centre of the field. In this case you want to put your tent facing into the middle of the field.
Great! You should now have picked your perfect pitch, and you’re ready to set up in comfort for a wonderful holiday!
How you rate these factors is completely up to you. Personally, we like best a level, quiet and sunny spot, and trees are a big no-no. Following that is shelter and proximity to toilets/water. A quiet, south-facing pitch on a near some not-too-high well trimmed hedges will do nicely, thanks!
Have I missed anything out? What are your essential criteria for picking a pitch?