Trail Tips: Base Camp Selection for Off-Road Excursions
Because many 4WD excursions last two days or more, there’s usually the need to select a campsite arrangement. You can elect to go with a base camp or set up camp at a different location each night (what I call a cruise or a moving camp).
Another option is a hybrid variety. This is handy for really long excursions, say in excess of seven days. Use a base camp for a few days, then a moving camp for other days in your trip.
There are no hard-and-fast rules. Select the arrangement(s) best suited to your trip, its location and the needs of your guests.
Before going further, we should review some fundamentals of campsites. Regardless of the style you select, it should:
- Have an epic view
- Provide Level spots for tents (or trailers)
- Be Remote
- Allow the ability to have a fire
- Include the possibility of shade
- Be easy to find for those who arrive on their own.
- Be large enough for all vehicles, including trailers.
- Offer multiple trails out the backdoor or at least an easy drive in and out. Long, difficult drives become tiresome, especially after a hard day on the trails.
- Someone suggested "no wind" but that might be hard to control!
- And let's not forget Tread Lightly! - the best camp site are found not made - use existing campsite.
It might be impossible to combine all the criteria into one penultimate campsite. Compromise on the items that are less imperative to you.
I prefer a moving camp for nearly all my trips, but I understand the interest in base camps. Let’s look at the pros and cons of using a base camp for your 4WD excursion.
Advantages of a Base Camp
A base camp is ground zero for a four-wheeling experience and becomes the launching point for each day’s driving. Upon arrival you off-load much of your gear, including: tents; unhitch trailers; and set up portable toilets or PETT systems, among other items. Extra fuel, water and firewood are also stored at the base camp.
It takes a fair amount of work to set up and break down a campsite. Therefore, if you can minimize those events, you’ll save a lot of valuable time and aggravation. A base camp can be set up and left for several days.
A prepared campsite is a real sight for sore eyes — and a relief for tired butts — after a long day of driving. And if you happen to run long one day, you’re not stuck having to set up camp in twilight and on an empty (or near empty) stomach.
Or if a storm hits, you are not setting up in the rain and snow. You are not packing away wet gear and tents. In fact, you might make your current site a base camp and hunker down to wait out a storm.
Similarly, mornings tend to start at a leisurely pace. You’re not scrambling to break camp. You can take a shower, spend time with your buddies, and enjoy a fine cup of coffee with a full breakfast. Your “home port” (A.K.A. base camp) affords you a little more time to enjoy the peaceful early morning hours.
One of my most enjoyable mornings was sitting around a breakfast campfire in the Rasor Off-Highway Vehicle Area (OHV) drinking coffee. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Most mornings we are up early, break camp and don’t have time to sit around much less build a fire. This day we had no plans. The weather was a bit on the crisp side but there was brilliant sunshine you only get in the desert. I spent a couple of hours talking to some great people I just met, who invited me to share their camp fire and coffee. A day in the desert sure enhances simple pleasures!
If you build a "breakfast fire" be sure it is dead out before leaving for the day.
As you prepare to hit the trails for the day, you have time to make sure all tasks are completed properly. That means securing all gear, cleaning up thoroughly and, most importantly, making sure any fire you started is out cold. Never leave a campsite with hot embers in the pit. Speaking of fires, if you happen to be in a rush one morning, skip the campfire. Use propane stoves for cooking.
Disadvantages of a Base Camp
One big advantage of a base camp — leaving most of your gear behind for lighter, less-cumbersome four wheeling — is also its Achilles’ heel. Inclement weather and a significant breakdown can leave you stranded.
If the weather turns sour, you’ll have to decide quickly whether to turn back or hunker down for the night. Can you get by without a tent, sleeping bag and your main stash of food? Extra gas, water and other supplies are hours away. What will you do?
Breakdowns happen, as you know. Axles and other power train parts break. Radiator hoses blow. Tires burst and valve stems crack. Vehicles run out of gas. If you have all your gear and supplies with you, these issues are manageable. If all that stuff is back at camp, you could be in deep doo-doo.
This is why I prefer a moving camp. I (and my guests) carry basics such as a sleeping bag, fuel, food and other necessities the entire trip. If something happens, we can set up camp right there. We’ll get a good night’s sleep and deal with the problem in the morning. At least we’re safe and secure.
If using a base camp, you’ll pack lightly each day: a lunch and a small container of water, along with some basic tools. You’re counting on nothing significant happening while on the trail. Granted, you rarely experience major issues, but four-wheeling is inherently risky. You’re off road and usually hours from civilization. You must be self-sufficient at all times.
Another disadvantage is that you’re limited in how far you can travel each day. You don’t want to stray too far, because eventually you have to return to base. A moving camp allows you to plop down where you want, which is nice if you’re pooped after a day on the trails.
A base camp is a useful option for four wheeling. Account for its inherent drawbacks, and you and your guests will enjoy a nice outing in the wild.
MORE TRAIL TIPS STORIES
Checking the Weather Before Heading Off-Road
Badlands Off-Road Adventure
Off-road trainer Tom Severin shares insight and tips on a variety of topics related to preparing you for that next off-road adventure. With over 40 years of off-road experience, Severin operates under his business Badlands Off-Road Adventures. He is a certified professional 4WD Trainer by the International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR). He is a member of the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (CA4WDC), United Four Wheel Drive Associations and the BlueRibbon Coalition. He also is a certified UFWDA and a CA4WDC 4WD instructor.
For more information about Badlands Off-Road Adventures, visit 4x4training.com.