Look for one that exists already -
One of the best developments in hiking and backpacking that we've seen so far are the Leave No Trace principles. They tout intelligent camping, attention to the environment, and preservation of delicate wildlife. How is this relevant you ask? Well, 90% of the Leave No Trace principals refer to your camping site selection.
The White Mountains are rugged and tough, but are also fragile. Plant life at or near summits is delicate and a single night being trampled under foot could easily kill the flora in a 200 ft.² area. The first thing you should always do when searching for a suitable campsite is ironically the easiest: look for a site that already exists. By using an existing site, you minimize the impact on areas untouched. Existing sites typically offer an area large enough to set up a decent sized tent, with enough space left over to set up a camp chair or two for relaxation before sleep time.
Another important thing to look for is an existing fire ring (only if you plan to make a fire, though). Fires are one of the biggest detriments to the environment, even aside from the Smokey the Bear warnings. By lighting a campfire on virgin ground, you destroy existing flora, damage the soil beneath the fire, and introduce toxins to the earth. The ground under a fire takes years to recover, so using an existing ring makes all the difference. And remember, use only dead wood lying on the ground – never cut a living tree for firewood (it won't light anyway!).
Once you've found the perfect site, check your topo map (you did bring your topo map, didn't you?) for nearby water. A good campsite should be close, but not too close, to water. The rule of thumb is to be at least 200 feet from any water source or trail. By camping close to a water source, you get the convenience of a light pack (you don't have to carry all that water), which can make all the difference between a good hike and a dangerous one.
Other things you may wish to consider:
- Avoid camping beneath the tallest trees. Weather changes quickly in NH, and camping beneath tall trees during a storm is, well, not smart.
- Be sure there's enough room for you and whoever might be camping with you. Large sites are tough to find, so you may want to break up your group into two or more sites.
- Look for trees with suitable branches for hanging your food. There are bears in NH, and they act a little like Yogi. You got food, they want food.
What if no sites exist?
If you find yourself in a situation where no sites currently exist, you will need to find the best available. Begin by looking for a spot that is large enough and has the fewest ground level plants possible. Spots between evergreen trees are usually good, as they typically drop a ton of needles that are nice to sleep on, and have already limited the growth of plant life. Remember to look for a site at least 200 feet from water and trails, and keep in mind the list of "Other Things To Consider" above.
If you have questions about this or any other How To article, feel free to contact us:
For the Leave No Trace Principals visit: http://www.or.blm.gov/EE/LNT/six.htm
To visit the Leave No Trace Homepage, go to: http://www.lnt.org
To get the Leave No Trace book for yourself, visit our books page.