In Camp

Camp Layout and Setup

The primary objectives of laying out camp are to find a safe, secure, sleeping area and to leave as little trace of your presence in nature as possible.  To achieve this noble objective we employ use of the Bearmuda Triangle (a take-off on the Bermuda Triangle where bad things happen).  The three points of the triangle are formed by the following:

The objective is to keep your tent well outside the triangle as this is the area animals are likely to travel between, attracted by food odors—its no fun being a Bear lollipop.  Actually, in these parts, bears are not the "critters" to guard against.  You'll more likely encounter raccoons, porcupines, and skunks.  All are attracted to smells or salt and can "maul" a pack to pieces in search of food.  Simply, Scouts don't want to sleep anywhere inside the Bearmuda Triangle.

If you feel I'm a bit paranoid, here are a few stories that might make you think a bit.  A Wood Badge friend of mine who was camping at the Philmont Scout Ranch (Miners Park) in New Mexico had a bear rip into his unattended pack right in the campground—in broad daylight!  He had a candy bar buried deep inside his pack.  In July 2000 two Scouts were scratched by a black bear in the Mt.  Phillips area of Philmont Scout Ranch.  They had chocolate chip cookies in there tent.  Sloppy campers have conditioned bears in some areas so well that many now link food to campfires and shortly after starting a fire it is not unusual to observe bears mulling around near the horizon.  The moral is not that you should fear bears, but you must respect them.  Want to read more?  Check out the National Park Services (NPS) "Bears and Outdoor Fire Safety" web page, the USDA Forest Service (USFS) "Safe Campfires Guide," and look up the article "Yosemite Bears Prefer Toyotas and Hondas For Late-Night Snacks," Wall Street Journal, January 13, 1999, pages A1, A8, by John Fialka.  All are chalk full of horror stories about camper encounters with "nature."  Keep in mind that while we generally do not camp in areas inhabited by bears, this will not always be your experience.  Don't be lulled into a false sense of security.  Here are a few reasonable guidelines designed to reduce the likelihood of animals entering your sleeping area and keep your personal story off these web pages.

In Your Sleeping Area


Cooking and Fires

It is the cooking / dining / fire corner of the Bearmuda Triangle that often ends up closest to the tenting area.  Food spills will occur here and they must be cleaned up by treating the spill like any other food scrape; place it in the "yummy" bag and pack it out.

Cooking Cleanup

Seal, ALL food scraps in a zip-lock bag ("yummy bag"), store it with other food, and pack it out.  The sump strainer is used to separate food scraps from "gray/waste water."  Wash dishes and dispose of "gray" water at least 200 feet from water sources and your camp.  Gray/waste water can be dumped in "vault" toilets (one with concrete septic tanks) or that it be "broadcast" by throwing it over a wide area (otherwise designated the "sump" area) to diffuse the odors.  The idea is that only the smallest amount of food (that which passes through the strainer) gets disposed and that it is deposited well away from the camping/tenting area.  Never throw food, scraps or garbage/trash into "pit" toilets, bury it, or burn it; pack it out.  A bear drawn to a camp by the smell of buried food scraps or garbage in the fire pit may begin to associate food with people, a lesson it will remember all its life which may ultimately cost it it's life.  "Feed a bear - kill a bear."

Bear Bags

Hang ALL food and scented items at least 300 feet from your tent (downwind if possible), 10 feet or more above the ground and 4 feet from the tree trunk or any substantial limb.  To hang your bear bag, place sand or soil in a bandanna, sock, or small stuff sack (the size of a tent stake bag) tie to the end of your rope and sling over the selected limb.  Don't use a rock as a weight for slinging over a limb as it could be dangerous if the rock comes loose or swings back.  A Bears' natural curiosity may attract it to any odor, even if it isn't food-related, so all "smellables" go in the bear bag.

Besides making the "smellables" unattainable, hanging the bear bag diffuses the smell, making it somewhat harder for animals to pinpoint its source.


Purify all water by using a portable water filter, then bringing it to a full boil for one minute, or using water purification tablets.  This step is unnecessary if you choose to use a water purifier.


Pitch your tent on high ground but avoid the tops of bald hills when there is the possibility of lightening strikes.  Don't trench around your tent (sorry, B.P., but Scouts don't do that any longer).  Water is life.  Aim to pitch your tent at a comfortable distance from a drinking-water source but be careful not to pitch your tent too near streams that could rapidly rise in heavy rains or where the valley is narrow but drains a large area.  Most tents have good ventilation when the rain fly is left off.  Resist the urge to sleep outdoors.  On warm dry nights, remove the fly and sleep inside.  A closed tent will put a barrier between you and rodents, animals, and insects.  Insect repellent should not be used be used in the evening.  Many manufacturers add fragrances to their repellents which can stimulate an animals natural curiosity.  Observe these other tips for finding a campsite:

Every Scout is responsible for knowing the "Wilderness use Policy of the Boy Scouts of America."  This policy charges us to "conduct pre-trip training that stresses proper wilderness behavior, rules, and skills for all the potential conditions that may be encountered," to "treat wildlife with respect and take precautions to avoid dangerous encounters with wildlife," and to "emphasize the need for minimizing impact on the land through proper camping practices."  If you observe these practices, you will have many years of safe, fun backpacking and you will help preserve the outdoors for the enjoyment of backpackers for years to come.