Earth Friendly Camping

Posted on May 27th, 2011 by Tonia 3 Comments

Happy Memorial Weekend! Every year, my family and a big group of our close friends head out into the woods for three fun-filled days of camping. Depending on the weather, our usual activities include a boccé tournament, lots of frisbee throwing, hiking, lots of eating, singing and playing instruments around the campfire, telling stories and listening to someone read out-loud, and a swim in the lake for those who are brave enough {the water is still FREEEEEZING!}

We’re all sharing food potluck style. Most of us are preparing food ahead of time to cut down on messy cooking and clean-up at the campsite. I made a huge pot of hearty soup to bring, quiche-muffins, and supplies for Bloody Mary’s {using mason jars as glasses}. I’m already excited to gather around the picnic tables and enjoy the poo-poo-platter with everyone. Because of course camping, like the rest of life, is really all about the food for us.

I figured a fair share of you will be camping this weekend as well, or in the weeks to come, so what better time than the present to go over some reminders about how to enjoy yourself in the great outdoors while leaving as small a footprint as possible.

McLain State Park – Houghton, MI – Memorial Day Weekend 2007

Doesn’t that look like fun? It is! We have camped many places over the years, and some of my favorite spots are right here in Northern Wisconsin! And that’s the first point I’d like to make: you don’t necessarily need to go far from home to have a great camping experience. Less travel= less fossil fuel usage= a greener camping trip. Find a park near you.

Now, there’s a few different kinds of camping. “Leave No Trace Camping” is when you leave the place you camped exactly as you found it. No trace at all that you were ever there. It’s harder than it might sound, and there are actually several differing schools of thought on how to do it correctly.

Glacier National Park, MT – July 2008

If you have ever camped in the backcountry somewhere, you probably know at least some of the principals and methods of LNT. It’s  really good stuff to know and to apply no matter where you’re camping. Here are some of the basics:

  1. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. Travel and camp on established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow. Good campsites are found, not made. Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams, and focus activities on areas where vegetation is absent. In pristine areas, disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
  2. Dispose of Waste Properly. Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your camp for trash or food scraps. Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug six to eight inches, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap*. Scatter strained dishwater.
  3. Leave What You Find. Cultural or historic artifacts, as well as natural objects such as plants or rocks, should be left as found.
  4. Minimize Campfire Impacts. Cook on a stove. Use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. If a campfire is built, keep it small and use dead sticks found on the ground.
  5. Respect Wildlife. Observe wildlife from a distance. Feeding wildlife alters their natural behavior. Protect wildlife from your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  6. Be Considerate of Other Visitors. Be courteous, respect the quality of other visitors backcountry experience, and let nature’s sounds prevail.

*Some folks are under the impression that it’s OK to bathe themselves or wash dishes in a water source {lake, river, etc.} as long as the soap they’re using is biodegradable, but that is not correct. Even biodegradable soap takes a long time to break down, and it needs to be filtered through the layers of the ground in order to break down completely. Dispensing it directly into a water source is no bueno, you guys!

Second Beach – Olympic Peninsula, WA – April 2011

On the other end of the spectrum, RV “camping” is when you drive a large vehicle into an RV park, hook it up to electricity, and hang out in it. And then there is the most common form of camping, “Car Camping”, which is when you drive to a reserved camp spot {usually in a State or National Park}, unload your tent and all your gear, and settle in to your home away from home. A fire ring, a picnic table, and a nearby bathroom/shower-house are usually in the picture. It’s not as cushy as being in an RV but it’s not exactly the backcountry either.

Arches National Park – Moab, UT – March 2009

Big Rock Campground – Washburn, WI – Labor Day Weekend 2010

This weekend we will be CC-ing on the outskirts of the Chequamegon National Forest. Car Camping is tricky, especially in a large group like the one we’ll be in, because it’s just comfy enough that some of the LNT principals can be forgotten or forgone in favor of more convenient options. A couple naughty examples: Using disposable plates and cups, because it’s easier than washing dishes. Buying plastic jugs of water instead of filtering your own into a reusable container. Throwing trash in the fire, or throwing it in the trash bin instead of packing it home and recycling it properly. Lots of people, pets, and vehicles means lots of flora and fauna disturbance and displacement…and lots of nasty DEET-filled bug spray in the air. We’ve all seen these less-than-Earth-friendly campers before, or maybe we’ve even been them.

The upside, though, is that folks are getting out into nature and enjoying it, which will hopefully in turn motivate them to help protect it so their childrens’ children can also enjoy it. And in the meantime, all of us can camp responsibly and show ’em how it’s done.

Sylvania Wilderness Area – Land O’ Lakes, WI – August 2009

Helpful links to make your next camping trip more Earth-friendly:

Homemade natural insect repellent {there are specific recipes for mosquitoes, ants, and beetles. Citronella candles also work wonders against mosquitoes! Just keep one burning on your picnic table.}

A list of eco-camping-gear, in case you’re ready to trade in your disposable dishes for something Mother Earth would approve of.

RV’s can be green…kinda.  Tips for greening your RV, if you’re really that opposed to a tent.

A basic camping packing list {it’s a PDF, so you can print it out}

{Sorry about the fuzzy photos…in my rush to get packed up for the impending camping trip, I can’t be bothered to find the original files for them, so I pulled them off Facebook- UGH!- and they are low-resolution. I know, I know…not the outstanding-supreme-top-notch quality you’ve come to expect….but the wilderness calleth and I must hurry forth!}


  1. Caitlyn says:

    Can’t wait to see you guys this weekend! We will try to be super green right along with you.

  2. […] was nice to get away for the weekend and to be out in the woods with friends and family. We laughed a lot, we told stories, we played highly-competitive-bocce, we ate remarkably good […]

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