Spending time in nature is one of the most natural things we can do. A weekend camping in the woods allows us to recharge from our busy, stimulating city lives and go off-grid.
Unfortunately, camping isn’t always sustainable if we aren’t mindful of our actions. Adopting sustainable camping practices is an easy way to ensure we’re protecting and respecting the natural environment.
What Is Eco Camping?
Eco camping is camping in a way that leaves the smallest negative impact possible on the natural environment. Sustainable camping means being mindful of what we pack and what we do while camping.
This can look like supporting campgrounds that are transparent about their sustainable practices, only choosing activities we know how to do responsibly, or not posting the location of local camping spots on social media.
Why Is Eco-Friendly Camping Important?
While living a sustainable lifestyle is important in general, it’s essential when we’re directly interacting with the outdoors. When we’re camping, we’re in wild, natural environments that humans don’t usually spend time in.
Many of these areas don’t typically experience day-to-day pollution and they are also vital natural habitats for animals and plant species. Keeping them protected ensures that these environments remain healthy and thriving.
When we choose to adopt sustainable camping habits, we can safely enjoy the great outdoors without endangering it.
10 Sustainable Camping Tips
1. Pay the Fees
Most official campsites and parks have entrance, camping, or hiking fees. While this can unfortunately make these areas less accessible, fees do serve a purpose.
The fees are used to protect the natural surroundings you plan to enjoy. They ensure facilities are maintained, park rangers are paid, and these beautiful areas stay beautiful.
Many parks, however, operate on an honor system with little to no regulation. It can be tempting to skip out on paying, but please pay the fee so that these precious spaces can be enjoyed for decades to come.
2. Stay in Designated Areas
While it may seem harmless to explore off-trail or to try to find a secret campsite, it may not be sustainable. Campgrounds and natural parks have designated areas for hiking and camping for a reason.
Staying in designated areas maintains the natural habitat, respects the wildlife, and helps you avoid unpleasant experiences like poison oak. If you’re interested in exploring more remote or off-the-beaten-path destinations, check out the next tip to do so sustainably.
3. Research Your Location Beforehand
Before you head off into the woods or the desert, take the time to research your location. Are you going on a rugged backpacking trip? Then make sure you know where you’re going, what you need to bring, what the natural environment is like, and what species are native to the area.
It’s also a good idea to know the history of the area you’re planning to camp in. Are there any current issues like overtourism or water pollution that you should be aware of? How does the local community feel about tourists camping and hiking in the area? What problems has it posed?
Once you’ve done your research, you can camp in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the community.
4. Choose Campgrounds that are Eco-Friendly
It may seem like all campgrounds should be eco-friendly. After all, they are right in the middle of nature! But, this actually isn’t always the case. It’s important to research what type of facilities your campground offers and how they maintain them.
If you can, find designated eco-friendly campgrounds in your area but keep in mind that not all eco camps are advertised as such. When choosing a campground, try to find out who runs the campground, what environmental initiatives they are taking, and how they dispose of camper’s waste.
5. Plan Trips Outside of Peak Season
Peak season is usually during the summertime or dry season, which makes perfect sense. After all, why wouldn’t you want to enjoy the great outdoors during the nicest time of the year? That being said, there’s usually some wiggle room on this timeline so that you’re not camping right when everyone else is.
Camping is a particularly popular activity in places like California, but guess what? California has great weather year-round. You don’t have to visit June-September to still enjoy the surroundings.
If you need to camp during peak season, choose lesser-known campgrounds and save the most popular ones for off-season. This will also increase your chances of getting a campsite while lowering costs.
6. Leave No Trace
A common saying for hikers and campers is “pack out what you pack in.” Sustainable camping means leaving little to no trace. Campgrounds usually have designated dumpsters for your trash, so please do not litter and dispose of your waste properly.
If there’s no trash collection in the area, bring your own bags and hold on to them until you’re back in an area where you can properly throw them away.
When packing up your campsite, check to make sure that the surrounding area is just as it was when you arrived. Ideally, though, avoid bringing things that will generate waste in the first place. How? By following the next tip.
7. Bring Reusable, Plastic-Free Items
Packing reusable, plastic-free items helps prevent excess trash during your camping trip. Bring your reusable water bottle instead of a plastic water bottle. Check to see if the campsite has a water refill station. If it doesn’t, plan ahead so you have enough water to last the trip.
Pack items like coffee, tea, snacks, and dry goods, in reusable jars or containers to prevent packaging waste. If you can, make your meals beforehand so that you can also bring them in sustainable containers.
Shampoo, conditioner, and soap bars are great zero-waste items to bring. Resist buying single-use items like disposable wipes or travel-size toothpaste. Instead, pack the toiletries you already have.
8. Choose Toiletries & Cleaning Items That Are Environmentally Safe
One of the most important things we can do when camping sustainably is to ensure that our toiletries and cleaning products aren’t harmful to the natural environment.
When camping, you’ll most likely be brushing your teeth, washing your body, or cleaning your dishes, outdoors. It’s important that these products are truly natural and biodegradable so they don’t pollute the surrounding environment.
Don’t forget to use the same standards for the things you’re putting directly on your body — especially when it comes to sunscreen that can sweat or wash off into local waterways.
9. Use What You Have, Rent What You Don’t
It’s tempting to go out and buy all the latest gadgets and gear for your camping trip, but try to resist this urge!
Unless you’re a regular camper, most of that gear won’t be used, making it an unsustainable purchase. Chances are, you already have the essential items like reusable containers, water bottles, suitable clothing, blankets, pillows, and maybe even a sleeping bag.
If there’s something you truly need to get, like a tent, or a camping stove, you can rent it. You don’t need to buy these items brand new. Check out your nearby sporting goods store or do a quick Google search to find out where to rent the camping gear you need.
If you do need something, shop secondhand first! REI has a Used Gear marketplace for all sorts of needs.
10. Pack Sustainable Gear
When deciding what to pack, prioritize your items made from natural fabrics to limit the spread of microplastics and minimize our impact.
If you own non-synthetic material shoes, activewear, swimwear, or backpacks, move these items to the top of your packing list.
Final Notes on Sustainable Camping
Sustainable camping doesn’t have to be complicated. If you love the outdoors enough to go camping in them, chances are you already know how to do so somewhat responsibly!
Following the tips above will ensure that your next camping trip is both fun for you and respectful of the natural environment you’re choosing to visit.
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About The Author:
Alicia Briggs is a writer & editor specializing in slow travel & sustainable living. She’s worked in journalism since 2016 and currently writes for a variety of publications such as Sustainably Chic and Hidden Lemur. She has been a full-time traveler since 2018 and runs her own blog, Learning the Local Way, where she covers responsible travel & living tips.