How close is too close?

balzaccom

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Sep 30, 2014
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On our last backpacking trip, after spending a couple of days off trail and away from people, we arrived at a nice lake that is on a regular trail, seven miles in from the trailhead. Yep, we were going to have company here.

So we set up camp on a sandy ridge to the northwest of the lake, nestling our small grey tent in among a cluster of small trees. It was nicely obscured from view. That was a mistake. Nobody saw us there, and as other hiking groups arrived, they set up camp right next door. By nightfall we had four other groups camping near us, including two who were within 75 feet. The rest of the lake was empty, except for one group of young men on the far side.

So here's the question. When you arrive at a lake, which campsite do you take? If there is nobody there, do you take the best one? We do. But if someone is already set up at the best campsite do you take the second best site, even if it is quite close to the first one? Or do you follow the bus seating rule, which says that you take the site farthest from the person who is already set up?

And if you are third? Do you fill in the space, or do you try to find something farther away?
 

Nick

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I try to get as far away from others as possible. If people move in on our site, I'll go out and make my presence well known if I am around at the time.
 

Eric O

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Apr 12, 2014
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I purposely try to camp far away from others and that essentially means that I usually have to hike a ways to find a suitable site. I go backpacking to get away from people and to commune with nature, not to listen to other people snoring, partying and making noise.
 

uintafly

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Mar 1, 2012
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As far away as possible for me as well. Based on my experience though there is a group of society that NEEDS to be close to others for some reason. This can especially be true when boondocking with the RV. I'll never understand why someone will set up on top of you while there is plenty of great spots further out.
 

uintahiker

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Consensus seems to be not close at all. But that wasn't exactly the question. Too close for me is a function of 3 things- noise, motion, & privacy. First off is noise. If I can hear another group, they are too close. Especially if it's after dark. I've had way too many times where I've been in bed and heard other groups close by being rowdy around their campfire. If I'm in my bag and I can hear you, you're too close. Second is motion. If your group is running all over the place like banshees, you're too close. Third is privacy. In anything other than heavy cover/vegetation and I can hit your tent with a rock, you are too stinkin' close! Typically I avoid pay campgrounds because they violate all three of these principles.
 

ram

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Feb 15, 2013
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In America we like to stretch out our arms. In Europe where there is not really much wilderness, etiquette has folks filling in right next to each other. Both are polite for the place the folks come from. Ignorance of the different sensibilities is seen as rudeness
 

Vegan.Hiker

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I take it none of you have stayed in an AT shelter. Some of the AT shelters in Harriman State Park near my house actually have bunk beds built into them since they see so much use. I value solitude myself, and prefer to hike solo, but staying in a crowded hiking shelter, hiker hostel, or hut, and mingling amongst good company in the form of strangers on the trail can be a fun and worthwhile experience imo. I don't seek out these situations, but I try to embrace them when they occur.
 

LarryBoy

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I take it none of you have stayed in an AT shelter. Some of the AT shelters in Harriman State Park near my house actually have bunk beds built into them since they see so much use. I value solitude myself, and prefer to hike solo, but staying in a crowded hiking shelter, hiker hostel, or hut, and mingling amongst good company in the form of strangers on the trail can be a fun and worthwhile experience imo. I don't seek out these situations, but I try to embrace them when they occur.
Well by time you get to Harriman, those strangers probably aren't strangers anymore! The other thing is rain - if it's raining, I will gladly stay in a shelter stuffed to the rafters, amidst the smell of wet hiker clothes. Especially if you're hiking for weeks or months at a time, you need some social life unless you're a total hermit... and the shelter scene provides that. That being said, it can get old pretty quickly, especially with the wrong mix of people.

The overlooked solution is to not camp by the lake at all, or in established campsites. Certainly not possible in a National Park in in an extremely high-use area, but the best campsites are often a hundred yards off the trail, away from a water source, etc. Plus you won't have the rodent troubles!
 

Vegan.Hiker

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Hey @LarryBoy, just out of curiosity, do you actually remember passing through Harriman? If so, any impressions? Not the most memorable place but I'm sure it'd be hard to forget hiking through a zoo and over the Bear Mtn bridge? I'm just curious because I live a few minutes away and have been hiking there forever.
 

LarryBoy

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Hey @LarryBoy, just out of curiosity, do you actually remember passing through Harriman? If so, any impressions? Not the most memorable place but I'm sure it'd be hard to forget hiking through a zoo and over the Bear Mtn bridge? I'm just curious because I live a few minutes away and have been hiking there forever.
Vividly. New York was a pretty miserable state actually (with apologies to you, as it's your stomping grounds). It was 95 with a heat index of 105 and severe thunderstorms moving through each evening. I think I started a few miles before Harriman that morning and went down a crazy steep rocky incline down to some NY state route that was about 6 lanes wide (not Palisades Pkwy, that was later) in the day. You had to play frogger to cross it. Then you got into Harriman itself, which was more steep and rocky ups and downs, capped off by the Lemon Squeezer, which was kind of BS. I think there's a shelter called Fingerboards Shelter there right? Interesting name.

After that I went up West Mtn (in the heat of the day, with no water, up steep rocks) and up to Bear Mountain. The trailwork going down Bear Mountain was incredible - simply unbelievable. They must have had a bunch of stone masons do it or something. We commented wryly that this must be a tourist area, as there was actually trail maintainence being done. The zoo was closed so I had to detour around it. As I recall it took about 4 hours to get across the Bear Mtn Bridge - it was the end of a 25 mile day and pounding pavement is tough on your joints. Then it was back up the steep east bluff of the river to a marginal campsite. The next day I got mistaken for an actual homeless dude multiple times (and was offered cash) when repackaging my food in front of the Save-a-lot in Peekskill.

NY is just as rocky as PA, but with more PUDS up a rock pile with no view and down the other side, when there's a perfectly good blue blaze or hiker-blazed around said rock pile. I still use the term "New York Grip" to refer to the way you hold your trekking poles with the neds in the meat of your palms, pushing down in the ground in front of you to keep yourself from tumbling downhill.

All that being said, I found NJ to be surprisingly delightful. Sure it's urban and such, but it was beautiful to be on top of those ridges, there were a couple fire towers with interesting views, the crazy long boardwalk, and I fewer rocks and PUDs than either of its neighbors PA or NY
 

Vegan.Hiker

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Wow, I'm utterly impressed by your accurate memory considering the amount of miles you've pounded out. Your memory is spot on. That was Sterling Forest you were exiting before crossing 17A to enter Harriman. I've stayed in the Fingerboard shelter a few times and there always seem to be thru hikers in it. Definitely annoyingly rocky and a lot of pointless up and downs. There are only 20 AT miles that run through Harriman but over 200 miles of other trails. Unfortunately for AT thru hikers, the nicest areas of the park aren't on the AT. The NJ section is indeed beautiful, especially Sunfish Pond near the Delaware Water Gap and Pochuck Boardwalk that you mentioned. Sorry @balzaccom for completely hikacking your thread.
 

Nurrgle

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If I came to a lake and had to stop for the night and the best spot was taken, then I would find a spot as far away as I could. In my mind, that is the proper thing to do.
 

regehr

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I'll generally avoid camping where anyone else is likely to show up, and if I'm car camping on a little turnout off a dirt road, I'll make sure to block the entry with a vehicle (though this is as much to avoid getting a tent or a kid run over by a fool at night as it is to avoid company).

One time I took my family into the Swell over Memorial Day weekend and setup camp maybe 1/4 mile from another group, which I thought was plenty far enough, but all evening more trucks, campers, and ATVs showed up, and for an hour or two around dusk someone was running a chainsaw. Why do you want a chainsaw in the Swell??

These things said, I've had plenty of pleasant nights with strangers nearby.
 

WasatchWill

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Jul 23, 2013
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I think it all depends on the area. Some areas, you just have to know and accept that there will probably be others coming in pretty close. I generally value solitude and isolation so if I come into an area and others are present, I try to move on, and would hope that others do the same if I'm in an area first. However, in some areas, it has to be expected that you'll have neighbors close by and visa versa for others. For example, I like to do an overnighter up on the locally popular Mount Timpanogos in process of tagging its summit every year. Even though it can be done as a long day hike, and despite the crowds, it's still a beautiful setting to spend a night in. I know of a handful of sites out of sight from the main trails that lead up to the summit and are away from Emerald Lake and the main basin where the majority of people set up camp. Still, even in the more remote sites, I wouldn't be surprised to have others come into the area throughout the night or to find others already in those areas. At that point, I just try to be a good neighbor and hope for the same in return. Sometimes it can be fun to meet some new people if they are decent and respectful, share stories, and so on.
 

Bob

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One thing you have to remember is camping out in an area, it is not exclusive to you.... you should expect company, just hope they have good etiquite...

In popular places I usually pick a site, not within the area others have camped, maybe not perfect, but never get company. Off trail planning, no problem..... never usually see anyone.
 

John Goering

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One thing you have to remember is camping out in an area, it is not exclusive to you.... you should expect company, just hope they have good etiquite...

In popular places I usually pick a site, not within the area others have camped, maybe not perfect, but never get company. Off trail planning, no problem..... never usually see anyone.

Yep! Need to pick your areas. We didn't see another person last weekend, even on the RS road.
 

ogg

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Jan 23, 2015
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If I'm to be camping near an alpine lake n the Sierras, camping higher up a farther from the water tends to ensure greater privacy and minimize intrusions, although I do so primarily for the view and longer exposure to late afternoon/evening sun when possible. Most people seem to want to congregate near the lake shore.
 

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