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Camping is something our family loves to do together. In fact, it’s become kind of a norm for us, whether we’re enjoying a weekend away or off on another road trip adventure. Over the years, we’ve gained a healthy respect for nature and all that it entails. That respect has led to us changing the way we do some things while camping and spending time outdoors. We’ve encountered so many things along our camping journey, that sustainable camping has become a passionate topic for both Dan and myself, certain parts of it more than others.
Why Sustainable Camping?
Camping, especially dispersed camping, is something most people do just to get away from it all and enjoy the quiet and beauty that none other than nature can offer. In the words of John Muir…
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul… In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
Nature offers a solitude like no other. When sustainable camping is done responsibly, it ensures the beauty, solace, and solitude of nature for every person and family who ventures that way.
Sustainable Camping Tips
Whether you’re into dispersed camping (like our family), campground camping, or camping in your own backyard, there are a few things to really consider and plan for before you go. These tips will help you form sustainable camping habits when spending time in the great outdoors.
Leave No Trace. In other words, pack it in pack it out. Whatever you bring needs to leave with you, even and especially your trash. There is nothing like pulling up to your favorite campsite, only to get out and see that someone else has trashed the place and left it a shambles. Sadly, this happens. People leave stuff hanging from the trees, leave diapers or cans in the fire pit, you name it. Leave no trace means leave nothing behind. Make it look as though you were never there. Leave No Trace can apply to other things, as well.
Camp only at established campsites and stay on roads and trails. Don’t hack a new campsite out of the forest. There are many already established places to camp throughout our National Forests and wilderness areas. When you’re searching for a campsite, always look for the fire ring; most sites will have a fire ring already built.
Check fire safety and rules. Before you go, check fire danger levels in the area where you’ll be camping. Never have a campfire without a fire ring. Always put the fire out before heading to bed and before leaving the campsite. When you do have a campfire, make sure you have water to put it out and a shovel just in case a problem should arise. Also, check firewood policies for the area you’re going. You may not be allowed to carry in your own firewood due to threat of disease or insects.
Recycle while camping. Plan your meals and snacks accordingly, and pack recyclable containers of food, drinks, and other products. This eliminates the problem of even more waste going to sit in our landfills. Our sponsor, Tetra Pak, offers sustainable, recyclable cartons of food and beverages that are especially perfect for camping and spending time outdoors. For example, we decided to make a stew on our last camping trip. We added in fresh veggies, as well as packages of diced tomatoes and baked beans to give the stew a delicious flavorful mix. Our Tetra Pak ingredients are perfect for camping because they require no refrigeration unless opened and un-used (HUGE plus when camping), they’re easy to open (no can opener needed), AND they’re space efficient (another HUGE plus when camping with a family).Their packages are specifically designed to reduce environmental impact and offer a protective packaging for food that also helps to prevent waste. The nice thing about recycling their containers? They’re made out of paper, and they fold flat, so they take up less room when packing them back out of the campsite. You can find all sorts of food and beverage selections, even ready to eat meals, at your local grocery store. A few of the brands they offer include Hunt’s Diced Tomatoes, Dr. McDougal’s soup, Pacific Foods beans, Bossi Tea (my boys love this), Rethink Water, Nooma and Greater Than sports drinks, and more.
Respect nature. Again, leave no trace. Respecting nature involves caring for vegetation, plants, and trees by staying on existing trails and not destroying vegetation. We’ve seen so many trees that have been marked up by an axe (some with sap just running out of the wounds), marked up by initials and carvings all over the trees, and those that have had things hammered into them to hold certain items. If you want to hang a lantern, come up with a solution that doesn’t involve potentially harming a tree. One solution: Use a lantern hanger with a bungee cord. Also, only use dead wood when starting a fire. Please don’t ever chop a live tree to build your fire. There’s usually plenty of dead wood all ’round.
Respect wildlife. Don’t feed the animals. If you’re in bear country, keep food and trash either up in a tree, in a bear box, or if admissible, in your car. We made the mistake of leaving our trash out for just a little bit on one of our first camping adventures, and we’ll never do it again. Before we knew it, we had a bear invading our campsite, trying to carry off that bag of trash. Stay safe and grow a healthy respect for the wildlife in your area. It may be tempting to feed that cute li’l marmot, but try to resist the temptation.
Carry in your own water. Water is a necessity, and you’ll likely drink a lot of water while camping. You need to either carry your own potable water OR treat the water that you drink, either by boiling or with water purification tablets or filter. You can use a re-usable water bottle or use recyclable bottled water like that from Tetra Pak. Also, carry in enough water for dishes, food prep, and wash up.
Use re-usable dishes and silverware. Try to avoid disposable whenever possible. This cuts down on waste and trash.
Use biodegradable soap. Speaking of dishes and wash up, use a good biodegradable soap when camping.
Use a naturally based bug spray. Making your own bug spray with ingredients like Witchhazel and essential oils is not difficult at all. It’s a great way to not only care for the environment when camping, but also care for your health and that of your family’s health.
Dig a hole. Nature calls when you’re out in the woods, so if you need to go and don’t have a portable toilet, dig a hole and bury it.