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Keeping your campsite clean benefits both your camping experience and the environment

Unkempt campsites attract pests and bears, so keep it tidy with these tips and tools

Dakota Kim  – April 24, 2019 | Updated June 18, 2019

When it comes to a clean campsite, planning ahead is key. Set a few key rules for your group about clean-up before you arrive. Stock up on cleaning tools, reusable plates and cups, and bear-safe containers before your trip. You’ll keep animals and insects away while you’re enjoying the great outdoors, and your campsite will look just like it did when you arrived.

Clean Your Tent and Backpack Before the Trip

The week before your camping or backpacking trip, thoroughly rid your tent and backpack of any crumbs and stains, so lingering odors won’t attract pests or bears. REI recommends Nikwax Tech Wash, a specially-formulated cleaner for outdoor gear.

Bring Cleaning Tools

Consider bringing along a broom and dustpan, or a Dustbuster, for the inside of the tent and picnic tabletops and surfaces. Bring scouring pads to clean tough pots and pans.

Keep Your Clutter Together

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Car camping can mean a lot of odds and ends in tote bags in the trunk. Make Marie Kondo proud by streamlining your camping miscellany so that it all fits in one or two Rubbermaid storage containers. Hauling small items to the campsite, however close, just got easier.

Create a Reusable Camp Kitchen

The less you have to throw out, the less food residue there will be to attract bugs or bears. Remove packaging before you get to camp, or pack it all out with you, and bring reusable kitchen utensils. Also pack reusable containers to wash out after consuming food, empty cardboard six-pack holders to store odds and ends, and collapsible cups. Yunko collapsible cups can hold almost six fluid ounces of hot or cold beverages and fold down easily to fit in a small bag or pouch, and Kuju Coffee is perfect for compact camp pour-overs.

Use a Groundcloth or Tarp to Catch Crumbs 

Spread a picnic blanket, groundcloth, or fine mesh tarp under your cooking station and eating spots to catch any errant crumbs and prevent the ants from marching in.

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Went rafting this weekend and our #leavenotrace skills were on point! The awesome guides from @cascadiaex set up a food prep station with bags for recyclables and garbage. A ground cloth caught any dropped items. Dishwashing and handwashing stations were provided. And I did a general pre-and post- camp sweep to pick up any bottle caps and miscellaneous debris left behind by other campers. It was pretty clean when we arrived so I had very little to pick up! We all brought our favorite coffee cups (duh) while the guides provided reusable plates and utensils to cut down on garbage. After all 16 of us got the river it was hard to notice we'd ever been there. River ninjas… #cleancampsite #rafting #trash #recycle #rivercamping #packitinpackitout #stewardship #oregonexplored @envirocenterbend

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Clean up Before Dark

It can be tough to motivate your camping comrades to clean up in the dark, especially after they’ve imbibed a few brews by a cozy campfire. Maybe you didn’t bring lights with you or you want to save energy, so before the sun goes down, crank up the dishwashing music so your camp crew can dig into scrubbing those pots and pans. Pack everything away safely and you’ll be ready to snuggle up into your sleeping bags and tell ghost stories instead of cleaning into the night.

Scrub Your Dishes with Biodegradable Cleansing Agents

Dr. Bronner’s is an easy camp dishwashing option you might already have lying around the house; Campsuds are also multi-purpose, working to clean your body and hands too. If you don’t have any biodegradable suds, skip the Dawn and use wood ashes. Set up your dishwashing station as far from your campsite as possible, and strain the greywater of any food remnants, which you’ll throw into the trash.

Invest in Collapsible Washbins

Two or three Prepworks’ collapsible dishwashing bins make washing up a snap. One bin for suds, one bin for rinsing and one for sanitizing later, your dishes are brand new and waterways are intact.

Dispose of Waste Water Safely

Dump strained waste water in the sink or toilet, or further from campsites. Pour it out in various spots, not all in one place, to avoid attracting animals.

Don’t Leave Fats or Grease Out for Bears

Spread your leftover bacon grease or meat fat onto toast and eat it asap, or dispose any napkins with grease smells into bear-safe trash cans. Similarly, don’t wipe greasy hands on your clothes, which can later attract those strong-nosed foodies.

Buy a Bear-Safe Container

Rubbermaids aren’t bear-safe, and you can’t always count on the presence of bear-safe trash cans in your area, so it’s smart to invest in a real bear-safe food container

Put Your Tent Upstream of Water Spigots

Check for the various water sources around you, and make sure your tent won’t be downstream from any. There’s nothing more annoying than discovering your tent floor has become a soggy puddle that then needs to be dried out and cleaned of mud and debris.

Put a Mat Outside or Inside Your Tent

This Coghlan’s mat is the perfect way to keep your tent clean and works inside or outside your tent. It keeps you from tracking dirt, debris, food, or animal scents into your tent.

Clean up after Your Campfire

It’s important to use existing campfire rings, build as small of a campfire as possible (only as big as you need to cook), and clean up after it. Build a mound fire rather than creating a new campfire ring so as not to damage the soil and the plants, organisms, and insects in it. Give yourself enough time to burn all your wood to ash. Disperse any unused wood and soak your ash with water to prevent forest fires. Scatter the cold ash across a large surface area.