How We Choose Campsites On Himalayan Treks

Last week, we had a fascinating conversation in office about campsites — specifically on how we choose campsites. I found it extremely interesting because so much goes into actually choosing a campsite, and we rarely give it a thought.

Indiahikes has been exploring and changing trekking routes for over a decade now. One big part of setting up trekking routes is finding the right campsites. The Sundarsar campsite on the Tarsar Marsar trek, the Dayara campsite on the Buran Ghati trek, the Pushtara campsite on the Phulara Ridge trek — these are some campsites we have identified and established over the past few years.

You’ll be quite surprised at how many elements have to actually fall in place to set up a single campsite.

So today, I’m going to give you peek behind the scenes!

Let’s dive right in!

There are basically 5 aspects that have to come together for us to set up a campsite.

1. A good water source

This comes first and foremost. And this water has to be potable. At high altitude campsites, it’s nearly impossible to boil water at every campsite to make it potable for a group of 20 people. So the water has to be clean and fit for use.

This water source could be in the form of a stream, a river, sometimes even a pipe that has been put in place by the forest department.

Good water source campsites: On treks like Rupin PassHar Ki Dun and the Chhattisgarh Jungle Trek, where you’re trekking beside a river throughout, it’s easy to set up camp anywhere because there’s plenty of water.

Bad water source campsites: The Talkhetra campsite on our new Kedarkantha trail has extremely beautiful settings, but there is very less water. On many treks, water sources freeze in winter, making it difficult to camp there! Bhagwabhasa on the Roopkund trek is one such campsite where water sources often freeze.

The Rupin Pass trek has resplendent water sources throughout the trek, making it easy to set up camp. Picture by Swathi Chatrapathy

2. Level and open space

This is the next basic requirement. Everyone wants a good nights’ sleep after a long day’s trek, and sleeping on an uneven surface is a nightmare. And we usually need enough space for 6-7 tents.

Also, we make sure we camp only in open grounds and not under trees. We want don’t strong winds to bring branches crashing down on our tents. So even in forests, we look out for clearings to camp in.

Good campsites for space and level ground: There are several treks with ideal settings in terms of this — the Khorurai campsite on the Brahmatal trek, the Dayara campsite on the Buran Ghati trek, the Lohali campsite on the Beas Kund trek are splendid campsites!

Bad campsites for space and level ground: But there are some campsite that have unavoidable space issues — Bakhim and Sachen, both on the Goechala trek are completely cramped for space. The Bhojkarak campsite on the Kedartal trek has hardly any level ground. It is expected in such alpine settings, but unavoidable nevertheless.

The Bhoj Kharak campsite on the Kedartal trek is a campsite that has very uneven ground for camping. Picture by Franchelle DSouza.

3. The right altitude break

Our challenge here lies in finding a campsite that is at right altitude intervals — not too less that you haven’t covered much ground at all. Not so much that you’re susceptible to AMS. We cannot afford an elevation gain of more than 2,000 – 2,500 ft. Even around 3000 ft is extreme. The number of altitude sickness cases increase immediately.

Good altitude gain treks: Compared to most treks in the Indian Himalayas, the Rupin Pass trek is actually laid out beautifully in terms of altitude gain. You gain just the right amount of altitude everyday — around 2,000 ft. Consequently we see very few AMS cases on this trek. Brahmatal is another trek where you have just the right amount of altitude gain.

Bad altitude gain treks: The Goechala trek is quite notorious for its altitude gains. So is our recently opened Mukta Top trek. In fact, the “altitude gain” factor is one of the reasons we had to stop the Kuari Pass trek after the ban to camp in bugyals — Gorson Bugyal was at a crucial altitude to help trekkers acclimatise.

The Brahmatal trek has campsites with just the right amount of altitude gain. Picture of the Khorurai campsite shot by Anurag Singh

4. The right distance

With altitude, we also have to keep in mind distances. The ideal distance to cover everyday is within 8 km. Now, we have to make sure of the right altitude gain, a good water source and level, open ground falling within this 8 km range. Any more than that, the trek could get too difficult.

Good distance campsites: Hampta Pass is a trek that has campsites at ideal distances. So is Tarsar Marsar. In fact, most of our moderate treks have ideal distances covered everyday.

Bad distance campsites: Kashmir Great Lakes is one trek where we have to trek long distances every day for the other aspects of water, space and altitude to fall in place. Rupin Pass is another such trek. On both these treks, you trek almost 10 km everyday.

The Tarsar Marsar trek has campsites that are laid out at ideal distances. Picture by Raghavendra SN

5. Scenic beauty

If all those requirements weren’t enough, at Indiahikes, we are very particular about every campsite being aesthetically pretty! As trekkers ourselves, we know what it’s like to camp and wake up in a gorgeous campsite! So we look for good views, a calm ambience, safe places to explore around.

Few of our prettiest campsites: Right off the bat, the Tarsar campsite comes to mind. We love it when trekkers flip out a book and sit beside the lake on a rock to read. The Dayara campsite on the Buran Ghati trek is worth giving an arm for too.

Not so pretty campsites: Well, this is a hard one. We don’t camp at not-so-pretty campsites. But Kheerganga is one such example, it was extremely crowded.

Spot the campsite in the meadows of Dayara on the Buran Ghati trek. We believe this is one of our most ideal campsites. Picture by Sandhya UC

It’s incredible how the entire combination of good water sources, open space right distances, correct altitude gains and scenic beauty have to fall in place, not just once, but at least 4 times, for a whole trekking trail to take form.

And we love the challenge of setting these up! 🙂

So that’s about how we choose our campsites.

If you have any questions about this, just drop in a comment, we’ll give you answers!

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Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy is the Chief Editor at Indiahikes. She also runs a video series, Trek With Swathi. Before joining Indiahikes, she worked as a reporter and sub-editor at Deccan Chronicle. She holds a Masters in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications such as Deccan Herald. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates that mind like nothing else can.Read Swathi's other articles. Watch Swathi's video series here.

4 thoughts on “How We Choose Campsites On Himalayan Treks

  1. There is nothing new that you have mentioned but it is so beautifully articulated that I read it twice. Generally we know many of the things but collating them and converting it into an article is an art of which you are a master

  2. Perfectly articulated the pre-requisites to set-up camp site on trail. Impressive and crispy information covering each and every information a trekker must know. Keep it up.. Good Work Indiahikes.

    A quick question, Have you ever noticed an incident when entire campsite demolished due to bad weather even thought camp site was set-up at best suitable location considering above factors. If yes, how Indiahikes handle such situation especially providing appropriate accommodation in such bad weather to all the trekkers. I asked this question because I experienced this situation and entire group of 50 was stuck at “Pathar Nachuni” campsite on the way to Roopkund. I was a part of the trek in Sept-2017.

    1. Hi Suhas, this does tend to happen on extremely windy campsites! It also happens to perfect normal campsites in bad weather. Take a look at this campsite at Brahmatal for instance The Brahmatal campsite after very heavy snow.

      This is a completely normal campsite that has been buried in snow! If the tents and equipment cannot be retrieved immediately, we evacuate teams to lower campsites or base camps immediately.

  3. Quite an informative article.
    I think two of the most beautiful campsites I have had the fortune of staying at were the Har-Ki-Dun campsite and the Gangbal Lake campsite on KGL

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