June 22, 2012

Six Ways to Minimize the Impacts of Camping. ~ Karen Ho Fatt

My family loves to go camping, and we have been doing so for many years.

I think we enjoy it for a lot of reasons, but escaping everyday life for the excitement of the outdoors has got to be at the top of the list.

As I think about why we take so much pleasure from camping, I have to include hiking, outdoor photography and wildlife viewing among our favorite activities while we’re in the wilderness. Every time we return to a pristine, natural environment, it allows us to recharge our internal batteries.

Programs to Protect Natural Areas

One of the most important elements of the experience for us is to practice the principles of Leave No Trace, but lately, we’ve also been learning about another similar program that keeps us grounded and aware of how we can be responsible campers.

Tread Lightly is a lot like Leave No Trace and offers a broad scope of information on many specific outdoors activities like camping. My family practices these principles, and I’d like to share some great guidelines we have learned about caring for your surrounding environment when you go camping.

Best Practices of Responsible Campers

Here are the top six ways to minimize impacts to the environment when camping:

 1.     Use Existing Campsites.

There’s often a temptation to find a “new” place to camp, to find a spot that is natural and peaceful. This is especially true for tent campers and backpackers. I know it can be hard to resist this temptation, but with the abundance of locations available, there really isn’t a need to carve out a new space for camping.

There are several benefits to pre-existing campsites:

  • >They are usually easily accessible.
  • >Most are level and free of rocks.
  • >Most already have a fire pit ring.
  • >They are often adjacent to streams, trails and other recreational opportunities.

2.     Stay on Roads and Trails.

We always drive to our destination and keep our vehicle on established roadways. As we get deeper into the wilderness, the roads become smaller and rougher. Since we always pick our camp area before we leave home, we don’t ever feel the need to bushwhack our way through a meadow.

Once you’ve arrived at your location, remember the same principle for your recreational activities. We usually hike and mountain bike when in the wilderness, so we make sure there are plenty of trails in the area. Ghost trails, or user-made trails, can impact habitat or disturb fawning grounds. Just stick to the trails that are already there to avoid sensitive areas.

3.     Cook With a Stove Instead of a Fire.

This isn’t always necessary or required; it’s just a good rule of thumb. Campfires are wonderfully relaxing, but they also require firewood and have the potential for an errant spark to start a forest fire.

Because of hot, dry weather, officials often enact fire restrictions to decrease the possibility of accidental fires. By using a propane cook stove, you can preserve valuable resources and minimize fire danger.

If you are in an area that permits campfires, try using a cast iron fire pit ring that will safely contain your fire.

4.     Don’t Leave Food Out for Animals.

I have seen the effects of feeding animals with my own eyes, and it can be tragic. In most places, it is illegal to feed wild animals because it makes them aggressive towards humans or diminishes their ability to instinctively forage for themselves.

Be sure to dispose of all trash properly. Remember not to leave anything setting out overnight, and if you are backpacking, use a hanging technique to keep food out of reach of bears.

5.     Protect Water Sources.

An African proverb tells us,

Filthy water cannot be washed.”

Camp at least 200 feet away from a water source whenever possible. This will lessen the chances of everyday camp life effecting the cleanliness and purity of the water that is habitat for fish, insects, and small animals.

For personal sanitation, it’s better to brush your teeth, wash your hair, or bathe away from lakes and streams, so the soaps and detergents you use do not impact water quality.

When tending to personal lavatory needs, bury waste in a shallow hole at least 200 feet from a water source and pack out any paper products you use.

6.     Wash Your Vehicle After A Trip to Remove Invasive Species.

It’s impossible to make a trip into the wilderness without picking up a few hitchhikers. Seeds, pollen and insects will cling to your vehicle, camping gear and clothes. Be sure to thoroughly wash them so as to reduce the chances of relocating plant or insect species to areas they don’t belong in.

Tread Lightly

The Tread Lightly program, just like Leave No Trace, is a great way to inform yourself of ways you can do your part to preserve unspoiled wilderness environments so future generations will get the same enjoyment from them that you do.

My family certainly appreciates the efforts of others, so we try to do the same. 


Karen Ho Fatt makes her home in the Canadian Rockies. Karen publishes the website campfire in a can reviews and more popular brand reviews at her website. In addition to publishing, she is an avid photographer and enjoys being active in the outdoors.



Editor: Cassandra Smith

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