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How To Set Up Camp At Night & Tips For Camping In The Dark

Often when the subject of setting up camp at night arises people will simply say that it’s a mistake to leave yourself in this situation and to avoid it at all costs. We agree it’s great to have a plan and be prepared to have camp set up with a fire and a comfortable place to sleep before sundown.

But let’s face it, everything can’t always be perfect. Sometimes the need to set up camp at night is unavoidable. Here we discuss some hints and ideas to bear in mind when setting up camp at night from alternatives to best practices.

Do I really need to set up camp at night?

Ok, we acknowledge the whole point of this article is to provide tips on setting up camp but firstly, ask yourself the question. Do I really need to? You’re never going to be able to set up as well in the dark as you would be able to in the daylight so unless it’s absolutely necessary then why bother?

If you traveled to the site where you plan to camp by car, for instance. You’re already inside a perfectly good, warm and waterproof shelter. Why not wait it out until daylight, get some rest and start afresh when you have good visibility.

Camping doesn’t always require the use of a tent. If you’re not in a vehicle and have run out of light but it’s a dry evening and you’re not shy about getting in touch with nature, then maybe you can last until daybreak without having to set up your tent. Check out this article for some great tips and ideas for camping without a tent.

How can I prepare for setting up camp at night?

Here at Hiking American, we are strong believers in the phrase, “fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” Setting up camp can be daunting enough, especially for beginners. But when you’re going to be setting up camp in the dark, this phrase holds even more meaning.

If you’re lucky enough to know that you’re going to be setting up camp at night then prepare. Prepare for every eventuality you can but mainly, make sure you can actually set up your tent or tarp and hammock, or whatever you have chosen to use. You’d be surprised how many people prepare to fail by not knowing their own gear. The last thing you want to do is turn up at a camp at night with a tent you have never constructed before.

Practice at home, make sure you know your tent or hammock inside and out. Pack it in a way that is methodological to the order in which you set it up. Make sure all poles are marked brightly and you know exactly where they all go. Take a mallet for your pegs, replace your guy ropes for fluorescent, where necessary.

When packing your gear, whether in a backpack or vehicle, make sure the things you are going to need first are packed last and the rest of your things are packed in descending order of importance.  You don’t want to get to your location and have to pull out all your clean dry clothing whilst searching for your lighting or to be able to pull out your tent.

Also, consider only setting up the essentials. Constructing your tent may be a necessity but you may not need to unpack all your gear right away. If this is the case, just unpack the essentials, get a good nights rest and build the remainder of your camp once there is some natural light.

What lighting should I use when setting up camp at night?

This may seem obvious but make sure you have some great lighting. Headlamps are invaluable when setting up at night. This should be your go-to lighting whether hiking with the bare minimum or taking your truck with all the trimmings. Check out this article to learn about truck tents.

Secondly, you want to have a decent handheld torch such as a Maglite. This will come in handy when walking around in the dark and allow you to keep a light on where you are going as well as watching where you are walking. You can also set it down and use it as extra lighting when setting up your camp in the dark.

Check out the best Maglites on Amazon

Maglites are very popular in the security industry and also couple up as batons if needed! Check out this article for tips on backpack security and keeping safe whilst traveling.

If you have the option to carry as much gear as you like then you may even consider a generator and a small floodlight. This would make setting up camp at night no problem at all but is most likely not an option.

Solar powered lights have become really cheap and readily available. The types with stakes that you use in your garden are great for marking out the perimeter of your camp or to highlight any potential trip hazards. They don’t create an immense amount of light but they definitely do a great job if you can carry them.

A top tip when setting up your tent whilst using torches and headlamps is to be mindful of bugs. You don’t want to be inside your tent with a headlamp on with the doors open at night. It’s like putting up a big neon sign inviting all the surrounding bugs to Insectopia. Check out this article for some tips on dealing with bugs.

Some headlamps have different color light settings, such as red, for this reason. They may still attract bugs when using this setting but nowhere near as bad as the bright white light.

Check out the best Headlamps on Amazon

Where is the best location for setting up camp at night?

As you may have seen in our other articles, you should avoid setting up camp in valleys or on low ground so not to get caught in floods. You should also avoid bodies of water as this is where mosquitoes are most likely to attack. Check out this article for everything you need to know about wet tents and camping in the rain.

Although cover from trees can be a good thing, avoid low hanging branches when setting up camp at night. The last thing you need is a sharp branch in your eye. This could turn a great camping experience into an emergency situation in the blink of an eye! Pardon the pun.

If you plan on setting up a hammock and a tarp then staying away from tree branches may not be an option. But always try to remain mindful of the dangers. Check out this article for tips on setting up a hammock and creating comfort.

You should also be mindful of trip hazards. Make clearing your camping area a priority and do this before you start to unpack your gear. Not only will moving unwanted rocks and branches save you from tripping, it will also help to make sure you don’t damage your gear.