The Art of Campsite Design

Courtesy of The Dyrt

It is no secret to the hippies, heads, and wooks of the world that the practicality and aesthetic charm of one’s home base at a camping festival form the groundwork of relaxation and security we all seek amidst the psychedelic chaos of these sacred gatherings. Establishing a thoughtfully planned campsite can indeed make or break the potential enjoyment and depth of engagement possible at a festival. Far too often, I have seen gaggles of otherwise well-prepared concertgoers fall into confusion and disarray towards the end of a weekend because of a poorly laid-out, ill-equipped camp setup that descends from a place of refuge into a mess of mismanaged responsibilities and mangled belongings. Festivals, especially those of the camping ilk, are meant to be the highlight of your year, and so it is with immense gratitude and love for the community that I present this list of tips and guidelines to help prepare the best possible campsite for you and your heady squadron.

The art of campsite design is a nuanced and highly personal journey upon which we all must embark, but more often than not it becomes a team activity that hinges heavily on compromise and group efficiency. So, rather than placing a primary focus on decoration and aesthetics, this guide will operate on a form-follows-function mentality that favors structure and usability over fine-tuned visual splendor. This brings me to what I consider to be the most essential tenet of effective campsite design: Layout Upon securing a suitable location for you and your group, it’s often tempting to begin throwing together tents and canopies in a haphazard, half-assed configuration with the goal of simply being unpacked and ready to party. However, if you take a few decisive moments to establish a functional layout, you can then take a minute to sip a brew and get settled before locking down more specific campsite details. The first step in this process is to decide where your entryway will be: if your site lies directly adjacent to a main thoroughfare, the obvious choice is to place an EZ-Up canopy parallel to said pathway with that side completely unobstructed for easy access to your communal area. For couples or small groups, one 10×10 canopy will usually suffice, but for groups larger than four, a second canopy placed directly back from the first helps to establish a sort of walkway leading to the area in which you will place your tents. And good God, folks, don’t forget to STAKE IT DOWN!!! As an avid backcountry camper, I always make a concerted effort to immediately fasten down each corner of every individual tent and canopy so that I need not worry about the issue for the rest of the weekend. Don’t think you can get away with allowing any part of your campsite to be poorly anchored to the ground – we’ve all lived through the chaos of sudden heavy gusts tearing apart not only our precious belongings but also our overall team morale. Winds can come from any direction at any time – once they hit, a lack of preparation in this regard will be glaringly obvious.

After properly securing your structure, take a moment to consider the direction in which the sun will rise and set – there’s nothing worse than waking up the next morning to an oppressive wall of solar hell that violently rips away those vital final hours of sleep, so if you can build the walls of your “living room” to block the glare of the sun from your sitting area and your tents, you’ll already have a major advantage as far as enjoying your time at home base. My general idea for tent placement is to utilize a half-moon shape encircling the back end of your space, far enough off the main walkway to give yourself some necessary privacy but close enough to your canopies to allow a quick and immediate dive into your tent at the end of the night. Once again, finding a way to block the early morning light from interrupting your sleep/rest hours will hugely benefit your festival experience.

Other than your front entryway which should remain unobstructed, the only permanent and unmovable feature of your communal space should be a snack/drink bar placed at the opposite end of your setup, as far back as possible from the main entrance. If your space is linear (e.g., the aforementioned two-canopy design), set up a folding table or two at the back of the second canopy with snacks laid out on top and coolers tucked beneath with a decently hefty tarp forming the rear wall of your camp. This format helps to anchor the campsite visually and structurally because it serves as a dead end which cannot be walked through, and also because you can tie down the back end of your canopy to your coolers, keeping it doubly staked down and thus impervious to winds. If your campsite is placed in a less accessible location further back from a main thoroughfare, a linear structure and the placement of this “back wall” won’t be as obvious, and while the concept of a main entryway is still just as vital for such a site, simply aiming that entrance towards a pathway (or towards the nearest stage) is often not a sufficient method for quickly and efficiently locating your headquarters. In these scenarios, we must turn to the second most important aspect of campsite design:

Revel Gear



While lighting undoubtedly plays a critical role in the aesthetic and functional design of a campsite, it also serves a paramount safety purpose. Proper illumination is essential for preventing accidents and ensuring that each member of your group can safely navigate the campsite, no matter the time of night. This becomes even more critical when alcohol or fatigue may impair someone’s coordination and spatial awareness.

  1. Clear Signage: In addition to using lighting for navigation, clearly marked signs can direct campers to essential areas such as first aid kits, emergency exits, and communal gathering spots. This is particularly useful in larger or more complex camp setups where paths might not be immediately obvious.
  2. First Aid Stations: Every campsite should have a well-stocked first aid kit, easily accessible and known to all camp members. LED markers or glow-in-the-dark tape can highlight these critical resources, ensuring they are quickly found in an emergency.
  3. Communication Plans: With the distractions and scale of festival environments, it’s easy to get separated. Establish a lit and unmistakable meeting point within the campsite that can be easily found and recognized. Equip this spot with communication tools like a board or notepad where messages can be left for members who might return at different times.
  4. Emergency Lighting: While ambient and decorative lighting creates a comfortable and inviting atmosphere, having robust, battery-powered or solar-charged lights available is crucial for emergencies. These lights should be brighter and more focused, capable of signaling for help or illuminating larger areas during power outages or when other light sources fail.
  5. Fire Safety: Campsites often involve cooking and possibly open flames. Having fire extinguishers or buckets of sand at strategic locations around the campsite—and well-lit so they can be found quickly—is essential. String lights should be checked for safety certifications and kept away from flammable materials to prevent fire hazards.
  6. Weather Preparedness: Sudden changes in weather can pose a significant risk, especially in open areas like festival grounds. Ensure your lighting setup includes options that are weatherproof and can withstand rain or wind. Additionally, have a plan for securing or quickly dismantling elements that might become hazardous in bad weather.

By focusing on these elements of safety and emergency preparedness, you ensure that your campsite is not only a hub of social activity and relaxation but also a secure and safe environment for everyone involved. This dual focus on both enjoyment and safety will enhance the overall experience, providing peace of mind and fostering a truly carefree festival atmosphere.


One of my biggest pet peeves regarding the well-roundedness of a campsite lies within the bizarre inclusions and exclusions on my fellow campers’ gear lists. Though it may seem slightly miscellaneous, the following list addresses a few simple additions that can turn a mediocre home base into a supremely functional home for the holidays. First and foremost, the seemingly hard-to-master issue of organizational efficiency at camp can be tackled by the use of drawers. Yes, drawers! A set of cheap plastic drawers or shelves, tucked away under the snack table (or wherever you find most convenient), can turn the major chore of finding and utilizing small items into a breeze. I always recommend keeping a designated drawer for small lights—headlamps, flashlights, glowsticks, and such—so that easy illumination is always at the ready. Another necessary item that I always need without fail is batteries: having a drawer stocked with double and triple A’s is a huge relief when trying to make a quick exchange. Rather than digging through your bag or tent for these elusive little cells, you can simply reach into a drawer and solve the issue at hand. The optimal aspect of drawers is that you can categorize them however you want, depending on your group’s needs. If you indulge in makeup, face paint, or body decorations, a beauty drawer is a must. If you have a hard time keeping track of your party favors and related toolkits, as I do, the party drawer is an absolute necessity. The use of drawers also directly relates to another essential but wholly overlooked bit of gear, which is a padlock for your tent. If you wish to keep valuables with you at camp rather than all the way back in your car, simply put a padlock on your tent’s zipper and hide the keys away either at camp or in a safe place on your person. Keeping your bits and bobs in a set of drawers rather than inside your tent saves an immeasurable amount of time and effort, as well as giving you peace of mind with regards to organization.

The next piece of campsite gear that I cannot recommend enough is the portable fan. Small battery-powered fans have wholly changed my experience while lounging and chilling at camping festivals. Walmart, Target, and essentially any large department store will carry handheld or clippable fans that pack a surprisingly strong punch with a fresh set of batteries, and they can be positioned wherever you most need them. Sometimes ideal airflow cannot be achieved even in the most ingeniously laid-out campsites, so rather than constantly rearranging camping chairs and inflatable couches to catch a light breeze, one can simply place a portable fan in each corner of a canopy to keep the air circulating throughout your communal space.

In terms of structural ease and disaster readiness, there are two more pieces of gear that I must recommend for any festival campsite. The first is a good sturdy tarp: as I mentioned before, the most essential place for said tarp is behind the snack/drink table at the back wall of your canopy space. In case of rain, the most essential thing to keep dry is obviously your food stash—keeping your tarp properly fastened and well-angled to direct runoff towards the grass rather than directly into your food (and whatever other belongings you prefer to keep dry) is beyond vital. While twine or bear rope can be effective in cinching up a heavy tarp, my weapon of choice for hanging up any sort of decoration from a canopy frame is also my final recommendation for campsite gear: heavy-duty plastic camping clips. Watching a spun wook attempt to tie up a tapestry by its corners is certainly a sight to behold, but in terms of speed and effectiveness, I’ve found that these large clips are the most viable for keeping objects fastened for the entire duration of a festival.

Decor Idea via Pinterest


Now that you’ve locked down an effective system of campsite functionality, it’s time to put the finishing touches on your space with some charming, personalized decor. One finalizing feature that can truly “tie a room together” is a good oriental throw rug. If you’re the cuddle-puddle type, I recommend bringing some pillows and blankets you can place on top of your rug to spruce up your ground space, especially when you’re too antsy or exhausted to continue sitting in a camping chair all night. It might go without saying, but don’t bring anything too high-quality or cherished, as any number of fluids or substances could easily end up on your ground-bound items by the end of the festival.

Another decor technique that I find universally effective is the “modular walls” strategy, in which I place tapestries or curtains around the border of the central living area in such a way that allows them to be tied up or pulled to the side during the daytime, and let down at night to form a consummate nocturnal perimeter around the communal space. While leaving certain areas entirely unblocked for egress and airflow may seem like a quicker and easier option, leaving your walls too open can serve visually as an open invite to what I call “through-hikers,” the unsavory late-night-wook-borrower types that tend to stumble through and post up at the most inconvenient times. Although the appearance of these entities might be inevitable, it is much easier to keep them at bay if your living area is deliberately endowed with a sense of spatial privacy.

Finally, in terms of decor, a cute little nuance I include to give my camp setup a bit of love from the festival itself is to gather trinkets and locally foraged artifacts together in a little shrine to the festy gods. Whether it be pinecones, local flora, kandi, stickers, silly gifts from my camping neighbors, or what have you, I like to weave all these keepsakes into the structure of my canopy or leave them upon a relatively safe surface for all to see, and to encourage more contributions from the group. While this may end up looking a bit tacky at times, I have found that it engenders a wonderful sense of community and camaraderie amongst not only my own festival squad but everyone who happens upon my carefully curated campsite.

So with that, I have given all I can give with regards to sound, usable advice on the art of campsite design. I hope that this guide can help introduce new ideas to all those who happen upon it, and perhaps encourage the regular festival-goers to rethink their own illustrious setups. Cheers to all you folks out there, and have a wonderful summer! See you in the pit!

– Thomas Hinds
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