Camping is a fun activity for the whole family and a great way to make memories that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. However, the negative environmental impact of camping trips is making the pastime far less fun for both people and animals.
In order to make camping possible for everyone for centuries to come, we have to lower our impact on our planet before we reach the point of no return.
Today, we’re going to talk about low impact camping and how you can practice it on your next trip, so stick around and learn how you can make a difference.
So what is low impact camping?
To put it simply, low impact camping means practicing mindful behaviors that are environmentally friendly while on your trip. It is often referred to as “no trace” or “leave only footprints” camping. This is accomplished by always cleaning up after yourself and trying to leave no trace that you were ever there.
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Basic Principles of Low Impact Camping
The Leave No Trace campaign has outlined seven basic principles of low impact camping that you can incorporate into your trip while still having fun. It is important to follow these guidelines, as not doing so harms humans, animals, and plant life in the surrounding areas.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
It is crucial that you plan your trip ahead of time and prepare for low impact camping. This will help you know what environmental conditions you are facing and what to pack to conserve nature and wildlife. Of course, planning ahead also keeps you safe and ensures a smooth, relaxing camping experience.
When planning, you should identify and take into consideration:
- The goals and expectations that you have. Think about what you want out of your trip before you go and write them down.
- The environmental and weather conditions of the area you are camping in. This will give you an idea of the gear and clothing you should pack.
- The meals that you will be preparing during your trip. The way that you prepare these items will affect the amount of waste produced and air pollution caused by campfires.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
While traveling during your camping trip, you need to take into consideration your impact on the land and local plant life. Too often, campers hike, bike, or camp out on vulnerable land and trample local insects or plant life beyond repair. This has more of a negative impact than you know. It causes soil erosion to occur and if the damage is extensive enough, the destabilization of the area.
To combat this, follow simple rules laid out by the Leave No Trace organization:
- Do your hiking on already established trails. Not only is this safer for campers but it also reduces damage done to local flora.
- Travel and camp on surfaces like rock, gravel, dry/sparse vegetation, and thick ice with a snow layer on top. These areas are much more resistant to trampling than wetter environments like meadows and dry areas like deserts.
- Do not travel through water if at all possible, especially in the desert. Clean water is a precious resource, and repeated traffic through it makes it unsanitary for the most part. In the desert, any pool or puddle you come across should be treated as a priceless treasure; it is exactly that for desert wildlife.
Dispose of Waste Properly
Both organic and inorganic waste can be harmful to the environment. Know how to properly dispose of both, and you are doing your fair share to make a low impact.
When nature calls, so to speak, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to dispose of it. If you neglect to do so, you are polluting the water and could be spreading disease. Aside from the environmental impact, it’s just rude to other campers to not do your part in covering your tracks.
There are two main ways to dispose of your waste: burying and packing it out. You should consult the local land management agency to find out which is better for the area you’re camping in.
When you choose to bury it, follow these instructions:
- Find a spot at least 200 steps away from any water source, though it’s preferable that you go further if you can.
- Dig a hole 6-8 inches deep. Bury your human waste in this hole.
- Pack out any toilet paper or other hygiene products (i.e. tampons, pads, wet wipes) that you have used
If the only waste that you have produced is urine, please try to urinate on rocks, pine needles, or gravel. Though your initial impact may be low, animals that find your urine will likely dig in the area and tear up the vegetation.
You should pack out all other waste and garbage. Yes, even if it is food waste. Food waste attracts local wildlife. This can be dangerous and at the very least, it makes these animals dependent on food scraps which is unhealthy and makes them less able to survive without it.
Bring along a bag to pack your trash in and pack it out when you leave. Don’t try and burn the trash instead, as this can release toxic fumes into the air and it may not dispose of the waste completely.
Leave What You Find
This is a rule that is particularly difficult for humans to follow, as we are generally scavengers. You may want to take a souvenir of your trip, but this is inadvisable. Practicing low impact camping means leaving behind things you find in your area. This includes:
- Archaeological artifacts
It’s tempting to take them, especially if what you find is colorful, smooth, or shiny. However, even taking something small can alter the environment.
Leaving what you find also means not altering the site more than necessary. Digging trenches, and clearing your area of all rocks, twigs, and plants makes a moderate negative impact as more campers do this. Only use what is available to you and if you must dig, only dig latrines or holes as needed for waste burial.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Campfires are a central part of the camping experience for many people. Some may not be able to imagine a trip without sitting by a cozy fire, roasting marshmallows and telling stories. However, campfires aren’t always eco-friendly and can pose a danger in some environments.
Low-impact campers must take into account the following before deciding to build a fire:
- Any burn bans or advisories put into place. In dry conditions, one stray spark from your campfire could cause a disaster that takes the lives and homes of people and animals in the surrounding area. Places like Southern California often have burn bans during wildfire season to protect everyone. Don’t be the person who causes this devastation.
- The amount of available wood. Remember, you are not the only person camping. You may think that taking some wood that you find for your campfire will make only a tiny difference, but so does everyone else at the campsite or in popular backcountry spots. If the available wood can’t regenerate to keep up with demand, many animals may be displaced and the environment will be negatively affected.
If you are building a campfire, only do so in fire rings and only use wood that can be replenished naturally quickly. Thoroughly put out all fires and reduce them to white ash before you leave. Pack out campfire litter and scatter the unused wood back into the surrounding areas where you found it.
When you see local animals at your campsite, you should take any measures possible to avoid harming them or agitating them.
- Observe from afar. Don’t try and pet wild animals. Don’t get too close, as this can frighten them and cause them to attack. If threatened, they may vacate the area and never return, which throws the environment off balance completely.
- Do not leave food waste. Again, this will cause animals to come near your campsite which can pose a threat to your safety. This also makes them dependent on what they consider a new food source. The result is unhealthy animals who depend on humans for survival. Wild animals are not pets and should not be treated as such.
- Keep your campsite at least 200 feet from water sources. Animals depend on them, and being too close can make them averse to drinking from these sources.
Be Considerate of Other Campers
Please be considerate and courteous of other campers or visitors in your area. It’s common courtesy and ensures that everyone enjoys their camping trip. Low impact camping is not restricted to the environment and wildlife. It also considers your impact on another person’s vacation.
- Don’t be too loud. No one likes a noisy neighbor, especially at night. Be considerate of others by keeping your voices at a reasonable volume and any music at low volume. Don’t play music late at night at all or use your headphones instead.
- Don’t crowd a trail. When hiking or taking a nature walk, stick to one side of a trail instead of taking up the middle or crowding it in large groups. Other people would like to enjoy the trails, too, and it’s frustrating to feel as if you can’t go at your own pace and see what you would like to see.
- Don’t set up camp too close to someone else. People camp to get away from crowded settings; trying to be a close neighbor is only intrusive. Respect their privacy.
- Do not cook very smelly foods. Strong odors can be unpleasant for others; be considerate when preparing meals.
Low impact camping is easy as long as you remember the seven principles and follow guidelines. Be mindful of how your behavior affects the planet, animals, and your fellow humans. If you do these things, you are contributing to making the world a better place!