After successfully completing this unit, you will have the knowledge and skills to establish, use and maintain a temporary site. Site selection and planning is part of your navigation preparation and you may find it useful to review your navigation information in light of this unit.


To be able to:

  • Select a suitable site after consideration of several factors
  • Establish a safe shelter causing minimal environmental impact
  • Use and maintain the site according to procedures.


Selecting suitable sites for rest stops and overnight camping is an integral part of the planning process for extended and overnight trips. Each day of paddling needs to be split into achievable distances, with suitable rest stop and camping sites selected within these ranges. Complete details of your intended campsites, stopping points and emergency evacuation points need to be recorded on your float plan.

As a group instructor or guide, it is important that you have full knowledge of the route and its camp site and rest sites prior to bringing a group through. Coronial reports on accidents in the outdoor industry often point to lack of knowledge of the route and its sites as a contributing factor in major accidents. They then go on to specify that instructors should traveled the entire route within 12 months of any trip, or more recently if it is possible that there are significant changes to the route. 

Information about sites can be obtained from a variety of sources including:

  • Word of mouth
  • Guide books
  • National park information services
  • Councils
  • Other land managers/owners
  • Maps and charts.

When considering the suitability of a site, factors to consider include:

  • Length of duration of use of the site: Is it just a lunch stop, an overnight stop or will it be used for several days? A lunch stop can occur on a warm sunny rock in the middle of a river, but an overnight stop requires more space, flat surfaces for sleeping, toileting options, and must be accessible for paddlers with their camping equipment
  • Permission to land at the site and/or camp overnight: Is it allowed? Is permission needed? Is a permit necessary? Do fees apply? Stopping at some sites is prohibited due to private land ownership or sensitive cultural or environmental reasons
  • The size of the group, including the size and type of shelter being used
  • Access: Sites should be assessed for the following in regards to access:
    • The distance from the water to the site and the group members’ ability to carry their gear for this distance
    • The safety of the entry/exit point, which should ideally be in sheltered water, away from hazards
    • Erosion of river banks, which can be a problem in popular areas: any steps that can be taken to minimise further erosion, including sometimes choosing a different site, or alternating sites on regular trips, should be taken
  • Toilets: Overnight sites should be assessed for either existing toilets or the scope for setting up appropriate toileting arrangements that meet with relevant guidelines
  • Shelter: Instructors should always carry or have access to a form of shelter to be used in the event of accident or emergency. Even if you are doing only a short expedition, sudden sickness or an accident may require you to ‘hold up’ until help arrives. During your planning, check if shelter exists on the route. If not, carry a tent or bivvy with you at all times.

Topographic maps will give some indication of the degree of shelter offered from various weather conditions, particularly wind, by features of the landscape. Guide books and other sources of information may also assist

  • Aspect: The amount of sunlight obtained by the site can be important. More sunshine and a northerly aspect in cooler conditions may be desirable for warmth. Shade and a southerly aspect may be desirable in warmer conditions. Some people may want a westerly aspect to watch the sun setting
  • Availability of fresh water: For those paddlers not carrying all of their own water supplies, camping near a source of freshwater is essential. Unless the water supply is town water or certified by an authority as safe for drinking it should be purified before being used
  • Height above water level: Care needs to be taken to ensure the site is above high tides and rising river and lake levels to prevent nasty surprises in the middle of the night. Debris left by high water levels, and watermarks on shore, can be a good indicators. A stick planted on the waterline when first arriving at a campsite can provide a marking system for determining the rate at which a river or lake is rising
  • Use of the area by wildlife and stock: Sites selected should be clear of tracks and waterholes regularly used by wildlife and stock. Nesting areas and burrows should also be avoided
  • Other environmental hazards: Sharp rocks, loose debris, and cliff edges are among the hazards that may be present at a site. Some may pose risks that are manageable, others may make the site unacceptable

Overhanging branches, dead and dying trees, trees in unstable soils are all major dangers. Even perfectly healthy looking trees may shed branches either due to high winds or self pruning. A number of Australian gum species self prune, they will drop off a perfectly healthy looking limb due to lack of balance, root problems or other unknown reasons. Never pitch a tent or make a shelter under large trees. Pitch in the open and not directly down wind of large or sick looking trees

  • Degree of urgency: Emergency stops may be needed for a variety of reasons including:
    • Paddler’s condition including injury, illness or hypothermia
    • Weather and/or water conditions becoming unsafe
    • Lack of daylight

Emergency sites should be planned for as much as possible during the pre-departure planning. The group may have to accept sites that are smaller or less accessible, but safety considerations should still be observed

  • Changes to pre-planned site: Occasionally pre-planned sites are found to be changed on arrival.
    Reasons for this could include:
    • Changes to riverbanks and beaches due to floods and storms: it is possible to paddle past sites on river banks and not recognize them due to the degree of change
    • Site no longer allowed to be used
    • Site already occupied
    • Site overgrown, or blocked by treefalls
    • Being under water due to water levels

Information sought about sites should be as up-to-date as possible. If caught out by changes, then emergency sites may need to be used.


  • Shelters for paddling trips may be carried in the craft, already established or carried in support craft
  • Tents are the most common choice of overnight shelter. All instructors must have access to a form of shelter for use in emergencies and tents are often the lightest and easiest form. A wide variety of tents exists from single person to family size with suitabilities ranging from summer to snow blizzard conditions (called four-season). It is important to choose a tent which fits in your craft and is suitable for the worst conditions you may experience. Since you can never guarantee the speed of any trip, you need to know how to pitch the tent at night or in windy and rainy conditions
  • Before pitching the tent ensure it is not in a hollow in the ground which will fill with water in the event of rain. Also check that you are not in a natural river course, which will be seen by a small valley in the land. It is no longer acceptable to dig trenches around tents except in true emergency conditions
  • Smaller and lighter than tents are bivvy bags. These bags are large enough to hold a sleeping bag and occupant, and have a protected mesh window at the head. Most are made from waterproof, breathable material. Bivvy bags are not suitable for emergency treatment of casualties and should not be carried as the emergency shelter by an instructor
  • Minimalist campers, and day trip paddlers, might carry a rectangular tent fly or tarpaulin that can be erected between paddles or trees
  • Shelters should be erected with consideration of the weather conditions, and well clear of anticipated high water levels. Pitching shelters in the natural protection offered by features such as hills, boulders, forests, bays and scrub can help. Tents should be tail-on, with entrances facing away from prevailing winds, rather than being broadside on to winds
  • Shelters should be up-wind and well clear of any campfires that may be lit
  • Sometimes doing a little ‘gardening’ to clear away small fallen sticks and stones can make areas more comfortable for sleeping, however larger fallen logs, and their tiny residents, should be left undisturbed.


Any site should be used with the minimum of disturbance. No traces should be left behind.


  • Relevant procedures should be used with regard to campfires and fuel stoves. In many areas now campfires are not allowed and all cooking needs to be done on fuel stoves. It is safe to assume that no fires are allowed in any national park except in designated fireplaces. An old fire scar is not a designated fireplace
  • Cooking should always be done outside tents. Fumes and flames are elements for disaster in tents. Stoves with low flames may possibly be used within the shelter of vestibules of tents for short periods of time by experienced stove operators, but this is still a high risk activity.


  • Fires can provide a lot of comfort and warmth after a day of paddling. However, a fire scar is almost permanent and scars the bush for years. The heat of the fire both kills everything below it and damages the soil so that nothing will grow for many years. It is illegal to have open fires in most national parks except in designated structures. On private land, you should always gain the land owner’s permission before lighting a fire. Your damaging of the area may preclude others from using the area in the future
  • If fires are lit, dead wood lying on the ground, including driftwood, should be used. Fires should be built in clear areas and properly extinguished. Differing methods exist for this, depending on the environment. Some methods include:
    • Burying the fire in sand, in a deep hole
    • Throwing all of the cold embers into deep water so there is no chance of the fire reigniting, and all trace of the fire is removed.


  • All toileting should be done according to relevant procedures for the area. Details of the toileting requirements can be found in the National parks brochure relevant to the area of your trip:
    • In some areas, toilets may exist and they should be used
    • In some areas, all solid waste must be carried out
  • In other areas without toilets, toileting should be done at least 100 m from any waterway and 50 m from any campsite. Solid waste should be buried in a hole dug to a depth of 15 cm. Some areas may still require that toilet paper and sanitary products still be carried out, as these take much longer than human waste to decompose.


  • The use of soaps and detergents should be kept to a minimum
  • Washing water should be emptied a long way from the waterway
  • Hot water and detergent should be used for washing eating utensils to help prevent the spread of any diseases. A two ‘bucket’ system works well, with one bucket for the hot wash and another bucket for rinsing. Draining utensils is more hygienic than using a tea towel for drying them. A tea towel can spread residue and disease
  • In a group situation, each person should use the same eating utensils for the duration of the trip
  • Water quality should be determined before use. If fresh water isn’t carried in, then a water purification process will need to be used if the water quality is poor
  • All rubbish should be removed from the site, including any rubbish left by previous parties.


Brown, I, Paddy Pallin’s Bushwalking and Camping, Paddy Pallin Ltd, 1995

Haddock, C, Managing Risks in Outdoor Activities, New Zealand Mountain Safety Council, 1993

Hart, J, Walking Softly in the Wilderness, Sierra Club Books, 1998

Meyer, K, How to Shit in the Woods, Ten Speed Press, 1994