With camping season pretty much here, now is a great time to talk about one very important component of outdoor adventure: being a responsible camper. In my opinion, knowing how to camp responsibly without impact on the environment is one of the most important things you can do as an outdoors person. It doesn’t matter if you’re going for an afternoon hike or a multi-day backpacking excursion or a group car camping outing. These tips are are all things that I do every time I do anything remotely outdoorsy and I hope you’ll join me in being a good steward of our great outdoors.
Camp Responsibly This Summer With These Essential Rules
Leave no trace and pack it out
Nothing makes me angrier than discovering other people’s trash and pet waste on a trail or at a campsite. There is never a reason or excuse for leaving litter and poop! Especially because it’s as simple as bringing your own trashbag… and then using it. And yes, leaving no trace includes pet waste. Always scoop your dog’s poop, always. And if you’re backpacking, you must pack your trace out with you. My goal when I’m camping is to try and leave an area better than when I left it. That includes picking up others’ trash, unfortunately.
And while I’m on this topic… pit toilets and pretty much any trailhead restroom is not a trash can! It is incredibly difficult for rangers to remove trash when they are emptying the facilities. Often, these restrooms will have a trashcan which is great for small items. However, do not put your entire bag of trash in them as they are often very heavily used and run of out trash space quickly.
Pee and poo responsibily
The best place to use the bathroom while outdoors is in at a pit toilet or designated bathroom. But I get that sometimes emergencies happen or you’re backpacking for a few days. In that instance, there are a few rules that apply when going to the bathroom au naturale:
- Pack it out — Yep, bag up your poo and bring it with you. I’ve done this before and it isn’t awesome, but it’s the responsible thing to do.
- Dig a hole — if you are deep in the backcountry, you need to dig a hole for your poo. I recommend investing in The Deuce to make this process easier.
- Do not defecate or pee near a water source — Seriously. do not. Don’t do this because then you’d be risking contaminating a water supply. This is especially crucial if you’re hiking on a trail because often people will refill their water containers from these supplies while backpacking on the same trail. Yes, we purify our water while backpacking, but why are you trying to get us to drink water contaminated with your poo???
- Take your toilet paper with you — Please don’t just leave your toilet paper on the ground after you pee. I don’t care if it’s biodegradable or even TP designed for camping because someone who doesn’t know the rules could see it on the ground and think it’s ok to do… and then not use biodegradable TP.
Research ahead of time
Most of us wouldn’t hop on a plane and go on vacation without at least some research… and the same applies to camping, backpacking, hiking, and climbing. Start with Recreation.gov for established campground information, rates, availability, etc. You can also do a quick google search or post to community Facebook groups in your area for tips. The key is to know more about where you plan to go before you even leave — especially if you won’t have cellphone reception.
Always read the posted notes and information at the campsite or trailhead
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, there will often be posted information. This is typically true of established campgrounds and trailheads. Always be sure to read the information thoroughly — I even take photos of the boards and notices sometimes if it’s something I want to make sure I have handy. The information can vary from the cost to camp, how to park without getting a ticket, information about predators, or places to avoid. For example, some parks have active restoration efforts and will post about areas you need to avoid to prevent trampling new growth.
On this topic, be sure to register at the trailhead. It’s a simple and fast way to ensure someone can find you in case anything happens. Just be sure to also mark when you’ve exited the trail, too.
Be a responsible pet owner
I highly recommend checking out my post about 5 Tips for Dog Friendly Camping. But as a quick overview, only bring your pets where it’s actually allowed, always make sure you keep your dog on a leash when required and pick up the poop. Thats the bare minimum! If you’re unsure how your dog will handle camping, I highly recommend going on a short overnight trip to see, but with the flexibility to pack up and head home if necessary. It does take time to get your dog used to camping and some dogs just aren’t into it. That’s totally ok. Just be sure you put in the dedicated effort to find out and learn about how your pet reacts before committing to a big trip and being stuck in a bad situation.
Stay on the trail
This recommendation applies to pretty much any outdoor activity you can think of. If you’re hiking, stay on the trail. If you’re backpacking, stay on the trail. If you’re camping, stay on the worn areas. If you venture off the path, you risk trampling young foliage and permanently damaging the environment. This rule applies to pets as well!
Only camp in designated areas
If you’re car camping, always park in the designated area and always put your tent on the tent pad. If you’re backpacking, look for a spot where someone else has already put a tent previously. Usually you can tell because it’s a level spot that’s been brushed clear of rocks and large branches. A good tell is to look for a fire ring. Usually a tent area is around that. The same is true if you’re disperse camping. Again, you don’t want to risk trampling and damaging plants, so select your spot responsibly.
Extinguish your fires and pay attention to burn bans
It’s not even true summer yet and I’m already anxious about wild fires. Please please please do your part by only have campfires in designated areas and only when it is safe to do so. A designated area includes a metal fire ring like those found at campsites. Pay attention to any and all signage about burn bans in the area — and then actually follow the rules! And always make sure your fire is extinguished completely before going to bed for the night or otherwise leaving. Please don’t be the person who starts a massive wildfire that affects thousands of people and ravages beautiful areas.
Keep noise to a minimum
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone camping and been totally irritated by loud people. I don’t get it! It’s incredibly rude to blast music, have tons of barking dogs, and yell when you’re camping near other people. And keep in mind that if you’re camping near water, noise travels even better across water. I get that kids can be loud and some noise is out of control… but do your best to be conscientious of others.
This applies while hiking as well. I hate that I have to say this, but please don’t carry a speaker with your favorite song blasting… no one wants to hear the latest Drake drop when they are communing with nature — especially if it’s on your speakerphone.
Don’t be afraid to speak up
This is a big one. If you see someone not being respectful or otherwise being an all-around jerk while outdoors, tell them. Don’t be aggressive or anything because maybe they just do n’t know any better. But I view it as my duty as an experienced outdoors woman to educate and inform if I see something amiss. That can mean asking parents to keep their kids on the trail or established picnic areas or reminding people that their dogs needed to be leashed. Always start by trying to talk to them and if that doesn’t help, report them to the campground host or park ranger. I know that sounds like a big deal, but here’s the thing: if they are being totally irresponsible, something awful like a forest fire can happen and you don’t want to feel responsible for having let that happen.
There is so much more you can do to be a more responsible camper, hiker, backpacker, climber and overall outdoors person. I’d love any additional recommendations you have for this list! Leave a comment.