Can Camping Help the Environment?

There’s nothing quite like pitting yourself against the wilderness while you’re camping. It’s just you against nature, with only the gear you can carry on your back. Camping can also help you connect with nature in a way staying in a camper or RV can’t match — but can it also be good for the environment?

The Impact of Camping

Even if you’re not driving an RV onto a campsite, just pitching your tent can have negative impacts on the environment if you’re not careful. Recreation ecologists often find signs of erosion and trampled vegetation when campers pitch their tents off the beaten track. You can reduce this impact by picking sites that are already well-used — there’s less potential for you to damage something, because previous campers have already “broken in” the site before you arrived.

You also won’t be able to enjoy your camping trip without creating some waste — either garbage or human waste, depending on your campsite’s available facilities. Don’t make the mistake of burning your garbage — not only does it create the risk of a larger, uncontrolled fire, but it can release dangerous chemicals and harmful pollution into the ecosystem. Take your trash home with you.

Teaching Moments

Taking your kids camping can be an excellent opportunity to bond, but it also presents a unique opportunity for teaching moments. Being out in the wilderness helps increase their awareness of the world they live in and their impact on our shared environment.

If you have the opportunity, a camping trip in an area where farming is common becomes an opportunity to teach them about how to grow and preserve food, and how important it is to make sure you leave the land the way you found it.

If you are taking your kids along, though, make sure they’re prepared for the type of camping you’re planning on — young kids might not take well to primitive camping if they’re haven’t experienced it before. Start slowly, and work your way up to the more difficult or primitive campsites.

Take Only Photographs

The goal of a camping trip shouldn’t be to come home with as many souvenirs as possible — if you’re out in the woods, you probably won’t find anything other than sticks, rocks and pinecones anyway. Still, if you’re trying to make your camping trip as green as possible, you should live by the old campers’ adage — “Take only photographs, leave only footprints.”  Take care to make as little impact with your trip as possible.

How Can I Help?

What can you do to turn your camping trip into something that helps the environment?

  • If you brought it with you, bring it back home when you leave — including all garbage, gear and food.
  • Clean up your campsite. Bring an extra trash bag with you, and leave your campsite even cleaner than it was when you arrived.
  • Be careful not to contaminate the campsite. Damp fishing gear can carry invasive bacteria or larvae to a new lake or river, which can wreak havoc on the ecosystem. Insects in firewood can do the same. Many campsites ask you to leave your firewood at home for that same reason.

When it comes down to it, camping is miles better for the environment than flying to a destination and staying in a hotel. Just make sure you only leave footprints behind, and try to leave your campsite a better place than you found it. When the weather is good, head out into the woods and see what you can learn about the world around you.

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Emily is a freelance conservation journalist who feels passionately about protecting endangered species and preserving the wilderness landscapes.

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