Leave No Trace: Tips to Keep Your Campsite Clean and Pristine
By Steve Markle1 Min. Read
Imagine your favorite campsite…now imagine it heavily impacted—half-burned trash and broken glass in the fire pit, bottle caps and pieces of plastic wrappers littering the ground, trees with broken branches and scars from a previous camper’s knife or hatchet, and used (gross) toilet paper over by the bushes. Most of us have had this experience on some level, right?
As we set off for our summer camping trips this year, let’s all make a pact to follow the 7 principles of Leave No Trace for the Frontcounty (because even the tiniest bit of litter and waste encourages more and can be dangerous to wildlife). Are you in?
11 Ways to Leave No Trace at Your Campsite
When packing for your trip, think about reducing litter at the source—before you leave town. Leave excess packaging at home and plan rations to avoid leftovers as much as possible.
Good campsites are found, not made. Use well-established campsites that are big enough for your group and avoid expanding the campsite with satellite tent sites beyond the established area so as not to damage vegetation. Don’t dig trenches or build structures in your campsite.
Check to make sure you have all your tent stakes so you don’t have to tie down to rocks or logs and bring a hatchet or a hammer for pounding them in.
Bring a clothesline to dry out wet clothes and towels so you’re not compelled to hammer a nail into a tree or hang clothing from branches, both of which can cause damage to trees and make them more susceptible to disease. Breaking branches off trees can also create an ugly scar.
Camping furniture is actually a great way to minimize your impact and stay comfortable. By bringing camp chairs, for example, you won’t be tempted to move logs or rocks for seats, which can disturb habitat.
Pack it in, pack it out. Put trash–even crumbs, peels and cores–in garbage bags and dispose of it properly. This includes your pet’s poop.
Bring bio-degradable soap for dishes and washing up and a fine mesh strainer (nylon stockings also work well) to screen out small food particles from wastewater. It’s best to wash your dishes away from camp and at least 200 feet from any water source using portable wash tubs (one for washing and one for rinsing). When you’re done, strain your dishwater and dispose of any food remaining in the strainer by placing it in the trash. Scatter the wastewater broadly. As a rule, use as little soap as possible. Even biodegradable soap can affect the water quality of lakes and streams.
Plan to use bathrooms or outhouses if available. If not, bring a trowel and bury human waste (if permitted) in a small hole 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet (70 big steps) from water. Better yet, bring your own portable toilet system or a supply of WAG BAGs and pack out your human waste.
Be sure to properly store your food (and trash) and use designated bear boxes where appropriate. You’d hate to have a bear or a pack of raccoons raid your kitchen and spread trash around the campground.
Everybody loves a good campfire. If permitted, build a campfire only in established fire rings with dead and downed wood no bigger than your forearm (or purchase firewood locally), do not burn trash, burn all wood to ash and make sure your fire is completely out (and cold) before leaving.
And last, but not least, spread out as a group before you go and inspect your campsite for “micro-trash” such as bits of food and trash, including organic litter like orange peels, egg shells or potato chips.