Setting up the perfect campsite

By: Anita Pavey

Whatever your mode of travelling, there are a few things to consider in order to find the perfect campsite.

Setting up the perfect campsite
Making the best use of shade will help keep you cool

Unless you’ve booked a site in a caravan park, choosing a campsite requires a little consideration. It’s not just a case of plonking yourself down in the first spot you find. You should consider other factors, in particular, proximity to the neighbours, location of the amenities, overhanging trees, shade and more.

Have a drive around first, especially if you plan on hanging around for a few days. You want the best of the available sites. It’s like when you buy a house – choosing the suburb and street, by the sea or in the hills. If you make the right selection, your camping time will be great but, if you choose poorly, problems may arise.


If a perfectly flat spot is unavailable, look to position your rig so it is reasonably flat. Manipulation of the jockey wheel and adjustable support legs will alleviate some of the problem but, at a minimum, you want your head above your feet for better sleeping. Check for ant mounds and consider running some talcum powder around any area of your rig that is touching the ground. The talc keeps the ants away.

If you are expecting rain, make sure you camp well away from a river bed. It’s amazing what a strong torrent of water will pick up – branches, debris, rocks and more. I’ve seen the frightening after-effects in the Flinders Rangers, SA. In a matter of 30 minutes, we were stuck for a few days and had to wait it out until the flood waters had subsided. Consider water runoff and pooling. You don’t want to be swimming with the ducks.

Camping near a river or lake may give you a great outlook, but consider the time of year and whether bugs, such as mozzies and march flies, will be around. They can quickly put a dampner on things if you don’t come prepared.


If you have a compass app on your mobile phone or tablet, think about where the sun sets (west) and rises (east). Shade in the morning is lovely on a hot day, but even better for the afternoon and happy hour. Even when cooking, a cool, shaded area is a bonus.

Remember the golden rule about not camping under gum trees, though. Big and little branches do let go from time to time and you don’t want to be in the line of fire when they do. You can still get good afternoon shade by camping out from the tree line. If you need sunlight for solar, invest in some quality extension leads for the portable units. Most systems only provide 5m of length to play with, which isn’t a lot when you’re chasing the sun. About 10m or more of suitable cable is generally adequate to get the job done.


How much space do you need? How many of you will be on the site? Will your rig fit within the available space and will it be able to be fully opened without obstructing others. Can you manoeuvre into the site?


With the above items sorted, it’s now time to set up. Are you planning to have a campfire and, if so, where? Consider your neighbours and the wind direction, as smoke can be a real pain. Grab your rake and clear the site of twigs, tree nuts, rubbish, glass and small rocks, then put down a ground sheet. We always carry a CGear mat with its twin layer of mesh which protects your feet from sharp objects, yet still allows dirt to filter through without coming back up. If you are using a self-dug toilet, consider a spot well away from other campers.


What sort of screening do you have between you and the neighbours? For those without a full annexe, you can get shade cloth or specialty awning shades to block out the neighbours or at least construct make-do screening. Use your vehicle if needed.

Sadly, what is common sense to one person, can be totally vacant for another. Simple things, such as the continual opening and closing of doors late at night or early in the morning before others have arisen is something to be aware of. Consider others with any noise you make whether it’s the TV, radio, CD player, generator or just voices. Noise travels much further than you think.

Even in caravan parks, people can party on late at night beyond the curfew. It is often noisier if you are located near the camp kitchens where people congregate. Bush camping is often worse, as there is no caretaker to quieten the rowdy groups down. I’ve invested in a quality set of earplugs for such occasions. It keeps the noise down to a manageable level and allows me to sleep uninterrupted.


The best time to travel is outside of school holidays or mid-week. That aside, for bush camping, crowds also reduce the further you venture away from amenities – being self-sufficient is a huge bonus.

The more you camp, the better you’ll become at choosing the best locations. Often in national parks and caravan parks, there isn’t a huge choice with camp orientation, as the site is already defined. But at least you can adapt and make the best go of it.

Don’t get stressed with chasing perfection. You’re on holiday, remember, so go with the flow, be flexible and make changes if you can.

See you on the trails.

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The full feature appeared in Caravan World #546 December 2015. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!