Right now, camping is one of the best possible ways to get out of the house. Social distancing is easy in the great outdoors. And a camping trip affords you all the mood-boosting sunshine and fresh air you could want. But with so many more people heading to National Parks, there are some important rules to be aware of to ensure you’re not hurting the Earth’s health while helping your own.
According to Jess Phoenix, an earth scientist and the founder of Blueprint Earth, the thing you should keep in mind while camping is leaving the environment as you found it. Even the littlest things you do—things that seem like no big deal—can make a huge impact on the wildlife in the area.
“For many of us, excursions into nature are fun changes of pace from our normal lives. But for the creatures who call these wild places home, it’s their only way of life. It’s so easy to miss how our actions can damage the world of another,” she says. “For example, if you pick up a rock and drop it back down casually, you might be taking a lizard’s shade, or a moss’ cool, damp growing spot, or uprooting a community of soil microbes that have lived for hundreds of years, quietly making the air breathable for us. As humans, we operate on a far bigger scale than microbes or insects, but responsible environmental caretaking falls to us since our decisions impact entire hidden worlds.”
“Remember, we’re guests in nature, and no one likes a houseguest who trashes the place. A good camper is like the wind in the trees: lovely, but once it’s gone only memories are left behind.” —Jess Phoenix, earth scientist
It’s crucial to leave no trace when camping—something the National Park Service has been promoting for years. “To leave no trace means to add nothing unnatural to the environment, and to take nothing away,” says Phoenix. That could mean bagging up your used toilet paper and taking it out of the park with you when you leave. Or not bringing anything back home with you that you found on the land, even if it’s just a unique rock. “Remember, we’re guests in nature, and no one likes a houseguest who trashes the place,” she says. “A good camper is like the wind in the trees: lovely, but once it’s gone only memories are left behind.”
The next time you go camping, keep Phoenix’s golden rules of camping in mind so it can be enjoyed for generations to come.
The golden rules of camping to protect the great outdoors
1. Bring dedicated trash bags as part of your normal gear
Your go-to camping gear should always include trash bags. “Keep them secured either in your vehicle or in an animal-resistant container,” says Phoenix. “No one wants to come back from a hike to find their camp shredded by curious bears or picked over by crafty crows.”
2. Remove dog waste
There are many National Parks that allow your dog to join you. You just have to be extra considerate when your canine is along for the adventure. “Remove dog waste and either dispose of it in secure bins, lock it in your vehicle (double-bag it for sure!), or leave the pup at home if neither of those options will work for you,” she says. “While dogs are wonderful animals, our domestic canines aren’t native to anywhere we’d camp, so treat their waste just like your own.”
3. Always have baby wipes on hand
Baby wipes are always on Phoenix’s list of camping essentials. “They can serve as refreshing baths, hand cleaners, napkins, and dog wipes, and they help you cut down on your need for water to wash up with,” she says. “Just make sure you pack them all out for proper disposal.” You can even get wet some reusable options ($10), then run them through the wash once you get back home.
These compostable cleansing wipes are also a great option:
4. Take pictures of your campsite
One of the best ways to ensure you leave your campsite exactly as you found it is to utilize your camera. “Take pictures of your site when you arrive so you have a reference for how to return things when you leave,” says Phoenix. “This is extra helpful if you’re camping in a group, since you can’t always keep track of what other people do (that goes double for kids). Use your pictures as a handy guide to check your clean-up work.”
5. Ask for advice
Too many people are shy about asking for advice on the dos and don’ts of camping, says Phoenix. “It’s okay not to know. It’s also okay to ask, even if you’re a camping veteran,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with not knowing, but a choice not to inform yourself could quite literally spell the end for parts of the environment we all love to enjoy. Always be learning about the places you love and you’ll always have incredible experiences ahead, just waiting for you to roll out that sleeping bag.”
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