Ren Fuller

Being responsible and respecting the environment—and others—has never been more crucial when you go camping. Here’s how to do it the right way.

Matt Bean  – September 23, 2020 | Updated October 1, 2020

Camping is a low-impact, rather than no-impact, way to travel, one of those Zen riddles in which we’re both part of the problem and part of the solution. Adhere to the following guidelines from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, an organization based in Boulder, Colorado, and you can minimize impacts both on the environment and on your fellow campers. 

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Reduce waste before you leave home by re-packing food and getting rid of wrappings and other packaging. Check in advance about site restrictions. 

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Try to use existing fire rings and campsites when in an area without formal facilities, especially wilderness areas. Keep to official trails instead of walking through vegetation. 

3. Dispose of Waste 

Pack it in, pack it out is the guiding principle. Before you leave the campsite, pick up any trash or food, and leave the area cleaner than you found it

4. Stay Clear of Water Sources

Set up camp 200 feet (about 70 paces) or more from lakes and streams to lessen the impact on water quality and local wildlife. When cleaning dishes (or yourself) use only small amounts of biodegradable soaps. Hand sanitizers also reduce water usage. 

5. Leave What You Find 

If you come upon a fossil, arrowhead, or beautiful rock, it’s easy to think, “Well, what’s the harm in just taking one?” But many are protected, especially in state and national parks, so leave them where they are. 

6. Reduce Campfire Impact 

Everyone loves a roaring campfire. But large ones are more destructive. Use a lightweight stove for most of your cooking and keep campfires small. Be sure to completely extinguish fires. 

7. Respect Wildlife 

You’re on their turf, so don’t be rude. Keep a distance while observing animals. Never feed wildlife, because animals that associate humans with food can become nuisances or even dangerous. Store food so it doesn’t present a temptation. 

8. Be Considerate 

The Golden Rule applies equally to camping. Make sure you keep campground etiquette in mind. 


This Story Came From the Fall 2020 Camping Issue—Read It Here!

To read: Click on the right and left arrows at the edge of the box to turn pages; to make the text larger, click on the fullscreen icon in the lower-right corner (desktop) or in the center (mobile).

Get one year of Sunset—and all kinds of bonuses—for just $24.95. Subscribe now!