Camping & Survival

Leave it Like You Found It: Camping Responsibly

Picture shows two tents pitched on the beach by a large body of water.

Camping, hiking and backpacking can have a detrimental impact on wildlife and vegetation. Studies throughout the United States have proven that trampling through the wilderness and camping have depleted trees, polluted fresh water systems, caused loss of vegetation and increased run off and erosion.

Picture shows two tents pitched on the beach by a large body of water.
When camping, I like to follow the rule of thumb: leave it the way you found it.

According to only 5% of the United States is protected wilderness. As outdoorsmen and women, we can minimize our environmental impact by following best practices while enjoying the wide and wonderful outdoors. By practicing Leave No Trace’s Seven Principles, you will leave a minimal environmental impact while camping, hiking, backpacking, and hunting.

I like to follow the rule of thumb: leave it the way you found it. These tips will help.

  • Pick up all your trash and the trash left by others
  • Dump gray water (water mixed with soap when used for washing up) 200 feet away from any water source. Scatter it throughout the area or use an official gray water dumpsite.
  • Observe all fire restrictions and burn bans
  • Use a portable toilet or bury human waste 200 feet from any water source in a 6 to 8-inch hole. Throw toilet paper in a trash bag.
  • Stay on designated hiking trails. Avoid making new ones.
  • Leave rocks, plants and flowers where they are.
  • Keep food packed away properly so bears and raccoons cannot access it.
  • Build a campfire in existing fire rings. Smother it properly with sand and water before leaving your campsite. Scatter wood and coals throughout the area and not in one place.
  • Do not burn paper products.
  • Camp at an established campsite. Do not build a new one. If you are primitive camping, pitch your tent in gravel, rocky or dry-grass areas.
  • Completely clean your boat before launching it into any water.
  • Use native firewood.
  • Do not feed any animals.
  • Do not bathe or wash dishes in any rivers, streams, lakes, or oceans.
  • Pre-plan before going. Know the rules of the park where you will be camping.
  • Do not dig any trenches.
  • Use a cook stove more than a campfire for cooking.
  • Put food scraps in the trash or burn them.
  • Secure your trash bags so critters cannot get in them.

I like to use as many natural products as I can while I’m camping. Instead of DEET aerosol spray, I use citronella candles and DEET alternatives such as picaridin. Another way I like to reduce my impact is by reusing and repurposing products. For example, plastic sandwich bags are cheap and convenient, however they create more trash. Reusable dry boxes and Tupperware containers might be more costly initially, but can be used for multi purposes. They keep electronics and supplies dry, store leftovers and pre-cooked dinners and lunches, and hold small items such as matches and a tent patch kit, wet sponges, tinder and other necessary camping gear. Swedish company, Light My Fire makes camping gear products like lights, fire starters and mess kits that are compatible with Leave No Trace principles.

What is one sustainable rule you live by when you go camping? Share it with us in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (4)

  1. Thanks, Suzanne. As for camping supplies, I am too old to camp any longer, but when my wife and I did camp, we found that we weighed each item that we had to carry in. I found that a pair of extra Levis weight about 2 lbs, as did our old Minolta camera. Nowadays, much lighter clothes are available, and as for cameras….good ones are on the market that weigh only a few ounces.

    We were avid canoeists also, but with a canoe, a camper can pack in almost everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. Regarding canoeing, when I say “pack in,” of course that means that the campsite should be be within walking distance of the water’s edge because it is just not practical to drag larger items such as camp chairs over longer distances. Portaging usually requires emptying the canoe and making one or more extra trips to move the contents of the canoe.

    We never used campfires because of the concern that root fires were always a possibility, as were the danger of spark-caused fires. The small back-packer stoves worked fine and we didn’t have to spend a lot of time looking for wood, starting the fire, having to scrub off the black soot from the bottom of the cooking utensils, put out the fire, etc.

    After a few outings, we got it down to a science by packing in only what we needed. We found that we always seemed to go overboard on food, though, and ended up having to pack out uneaten dried stuff. I always managed to finish off the desserts.

  2. I agree with CTD Suzanne’s assessment and her suggestions for leaving no traces when camping, but I question her statement that 95% of U.S. land is “open for development.” No mention is made of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or Forest Service Land, which may not be included in the “official” stats as being part of “wilderness” land. I think there is more to this than appears in the article and which seems to imply that developers (I am not one) may build just about anyplace they want, as long as it is not in “wilderness” areas. What say you, Suzanne?

    1. Neil,
      Thank you for your question. This is what Lisa from the Wilderness Institute told me:
      “It is correct that only 5% of the US is protected as legislatively designated wilderness. However, the other 95% isn’t private land and thus isn’t entirely open for development. Certainly, a lot of the 95% is privately owned and thus can be developed, but wilderness areas are only one land designation that can apply to public lands. Included in the 95% of the US that is non-wilderness are things like roadless areas on National Forests, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges etc. Many land designations other than wilderness also disallow development.”

  3. I always go by the philosophy “you pack it in, you pack it out!” Granted there will be times one might not be able to do so, but it should be minimized and buried or burned. I also go by “Leave nothing behind but foot prints.”

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