Wind River Range (Tetons)

Where to Place Your Basecamp

The American Backpacker

A basecamp is a temporary/centralized location that allows you to set up a shelter system in a Wilderness area.  A basecamp allows you to centralize your gear and equipment so you can conduct daily backpacking trips.  Improper placement of your basecamp can lead to injury or death.

Having your basecamp in the right location allows you to enjoy what a Wilderness has to offer. In real estate there is a saying, “location, location, location,” This is true when selecting your basecamp. I find that pre-planning plays a key role when it comes to finding the right area for your basecamp.  Prior to me starting my adventure I use a good topographical map to scan the area I plan on exploring.  Doing this to gives me the necessary information to make an educated decision on where to place my basecamp.

Unfortunately, you may have a topo maps that is outdated or incorrect. There may have been some environmental conditions, (Storm, Fire, Wind damage), prior to your trip, which may have changed the terrain you plan on backpacking.  It is a good idea to get with a local Ranger Station to ask if the area you plan on visiting has changed due to some type of environmental impact.

Once I have done my pre-planning and I am the Wilderness I have devised an acronym that I use when deciding on where to place my basecamp. That acronym is W.E.S.S

W.   Water
E.    Elevation
S.    Security
S.    Safety

WATER

Full view of mountain landscape
Wind River Range (Wyoming)

When looking for a good basecamp location first look for a water source that is close by. Having to walk a long distance may not be in your best interest and it could be dangerous especially if you need water in the evening and you are in a mountainous area.  Make sure that you don’t place your basecamp too close to a water source either.

Having a basecamp close to a water source can have its inherent dangers.  Rising waters from rain can flood out your basecamp.  Having it to close may also allow wildlife that drink from this water source to enter your basecamp.

ELEVATION

Elevated camp site
Superstition Mountains (Arizona)

Look for high ground when setting up a basecamp. Having your basecamp in a low point exposes you to cooler temperatures and other dangers such as flooding, landslides, etc. Being on the high ground allows you a better observation point to see what is coming into your camp, (i.e. animals or people). Terrain will dictate and you may have no choice but to put your basecamp in a lower elevation.

SECURITY

Campfire at basecamp
Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon)

Place your basecamp in an area where you have a tactical advantage.  Make sure that you have exit points in case you have to leave in a hurry. If you are with a group of people have a rally point outside your basecamp so that you can all meet when the emergency is over.

SAFETY

Basecamp along the Illinois river in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon)

Make sure that your basecamp is in a location where falling trees, rocks, or other environmental conditions won’t injure you. Placing your shelter next to a tree that is rotten or about to fall is not a good idea.  There have been incidents where trees have fallen on tents injuring and killing backpackers.

If you use the acronym W.E.S.S. you should have a safe and enjoyable basecamp on your next wilderness adventure.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JfyMIgjWbc&w=560&h=315]


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