Setting up Camp: Know Your Ws!

Setting up Camp: Know Your Ws!

( – Camping is a favorite pastime for many people around the world. It’s an escape from the daily grind in an urban environment, often with family and friends. For some, a nice campground just won’t do — they want to trek out into the wild as far away from civilization as possible. Regardless of which path you choose, the premade site, or a bushcraft paradise, there are some important rules to consider before you set up camp.

To be exact, there are five rules you should check off before deciding you have located the perfect spot to pitch a tent (or build a survival shelter for that matter). Known as the five Ws, these are Wood, Water, Wildlife, Wind and Widowmakers.


If you’re camping in cooler weather or need something to heat your food or provide some protection, you need a good supply of fuel for your fire. This is true for both standard camping, and for survival situations. For a standard campground, make sure you’re allowed to cut firewood before you start swinging an ax. In many areas, this is prohibited. If this is the case, you will likely need to bring fuel in with you. If you do bring your own wood, check to make sure it’s legal in your camp. Sometimes wood from out of state is prohibited because of disease and infestation.

In a bushcraft camp, or a true life or death scenario, the best choice is to set up camp in an area with plenty of deadfall to suit your needs. The less you have to travel to get fuel, the fewer calories you’ll expend in the process. And, the less time you take away from relaxing by the fire you’re about to build.


This is a no-brainer. Water is one of the most important factors to staying alive. Make sure you set up camp close to a freshwater source, if at all possible. Things to note about your source of water include:

    • Location of the water – You don’t want to set up camp in a location where water will collect or wash away your camp in a rainstorm. Being too close to the source could bring unexpected guests in the form of wildlife or mosquito infestations as well. Too far away, and you have to haul the water to and from your campsite.
    • Free Flowing or Pooled – is the source of water a stream or river? Or is it a pool? Stagnant water is more likely to carry nasty surprises and may be harder to decontaminate.
    • Foodis the source large enough to support a population of fish? What about crawfish, frogs, or even turtles?


Signs of animal life can be a good thing, unless it’s from a predator that may not take kindly to your presence. Setting up camp a few yards from where a momma bear is raising her cubs isn’t going to pan out well for anyone. In a modern campground, you may not have to worry about this quite so much, but attacks on campers are not unheard of.

If signs of animals are found (scat, tracks, etc) you will need to be especially careful in handling your food. Even if you don’t see immediate signs of predators, the smell of your dinner is often enough to bring them in.


Weather is a major factor to consider when setting up camp. It can not only act as a force of destruction on your camp itself, but can also lower your body temperature, making you more susceptible to hypothermia. When choosing a site, look for natural wind blockers such as thick vegetation or large rocks. This is especially true if you’re setting up a survival shelter, not simply a tent.

Pay attention to the direction the wind is blowing as well. Having smoke blown into your shelter will make the whole experience more uncomfortable than it needs to be. Also, setting up camp behind windbreaks won’t do any good if the wind is coming at you in the wrong direction.


Predators aren’t the only danger lurking in the woods. A dead tree falling on you can do as much damage as any angry beast. Signs of rot around the base of standing trees is a good sign it’s unstable. Dead branches are a threat as well; one large limb dropping from above can lead to a bad day.

These are not just threats in your camp; anywhere you frequent should be thoroughly examined for dead or dying trees. It’s worth noting that large branches seem much smaller from the ground when they are high up on a tree. This rule is every bit as important in a standard campground as it is when out in the wild, or when hiking, for that matter.

As with any survival situation, being observant can save your life. Taking a few minutes to check off the five Ws can be the difference between a pleasant camping trip and a visit to an emergency room.

Did you know these five W’s could be so dangerous? Reply to your email and let us know, we would love to hear from you!

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