Use a permanent set of camp plates, cups, and utensils. Avoid disposable products. This reduces waste and saves money in the long run.
Drink water rather than less healthful beverages. I no longer bring soft drinks or sugary kids drinks camping. Using water bottles and refilling them saves money and reduces environmental impact, helping us avoid generating a pile of trash.
Another method of reducing fuel consumption is to switch to a stove that consumes less fuel. In my quest to reduce waste, I discovered my two burner car camping stove used a can of propane in under two days. If I use my single burner propane stove for car camping, on the other hand, I consume less fuel. A can of propane lasts at least six days in camp.
Leave the campsite cleaner than you found it. Finding your site full of pistachio shells, twist ties, juice box straws, and other trash sucks the beauty out of the outdoor experience. A campsite is not a hotel room. A paid team of cleaning people don’t come to the campground and clean up.
Come prepared to pack it in, pack it out. Do not leave your trash bag at the side of the road, and do not leave trash in your fire pit. Trash collection service only applies to trash receptacles. Even if it’s bagged, trash both attracts picnic pests, and provides a mess for the next campers to deal with. On a recent car camping trip, I saw plastic containers and utensils in a vault toilet. Toilets are not trash receptacles, seriously.
Try to prevent bug bites without chemicals when possible. Wear clothes that protect your arms and legs rather than coating your body with chemicals. Use your campfire to escape the bugs. If you require chemicals, try botanicals. If your campsite is swarmed by mosquitoes, wear a head net to avoid placing chemicals on your face.
If botanicals don’t work for you, try methods that do not include creating clouds of smelly fumes that infiltarate downwind campsites. Last summer we car camped at New Glarus Woods on the bicycle trail. A thick cloud of our camping neighbor's fan propelled insect repellent hung in the air. Despite the fumes that overwhelmed our campsite, the mosquitos attacked with full force as we breathed our neighbor’s toxic chemicals.
I’m not a purist, and not asking anyone else to be. Just putting a few common sense suggestions out there. When I know I’m walking (or paddling) into a situation likely to be super buggy, I prepare. Prior to a buggy canoe trip I spray key pieces of clothing with permethrin following the manufacturer’s instructions. I use bug repellent, but sparingly and only when we really needed it. I keep it to a minimum by wearing clothing that protects most of my body. We do not use insect repellent on our faces. We wear head nets instead.
Slow down when driving through campgrounds. The roads are narrow and tend to function as an extension of some camper’s campsites. Bicyclists, kids at play, adults playing rope ladder or bean bag, and walkers often hang out in the middle of the roads that meander through campgrounds. Someone in the road could take you by surprise as you round the next bend.
Do not catcall, whistle, make bird calls at, or otherwise harass other campers as they walk by. These could be interpreted as threats, especially after dark. It’s not neighborly to scare ladies or small children, particularly if they are walking alone.
If you have extra firewood, consider stacking it neatly for the next campers. If you leave half burnt wood in the fire pit in your quest to burn every last morsel, the next campers must clean it up before building their own fire. The same goes for trash left in the fire pit. After posting a trip report on a forum, my husband once received an online “thank you for the wood” from someone who occupied our campsite in the Boundary Waters the day we left it. Others will appreciate your thoughtfulness, and will be more likely to pay it forward.
Speaking of fire, put your fire out before going to sleep or leaving. Put out cigarette butts safely if you smoke, and do not toss butts onto dry foliage. Dropping butts into the wet mud on the trail isn’t much better, as it leaves an eyesore. The next hiker will feel obliged to clean up.
Don’t burn trash. You and your neighboring campers do not want to smell or breathe trash fumes. You also don’t want floating cinders to land on your hair, tent, or camp chair. If your trash fails to burn completely, the next camper will feel obliged to clean up your mess. If the incomplete burn contains food, it will attract picnic pests. These pests will likely return seeking more food, becoming a nuisance for the next campers.
Past fire pit finds include partially burnt Slim Jims still in the package, hotdogs, crayfish with meat still in them, plastic bottles, beer cans, food cans. Charred waste is not a lot of fun for others to clean up and pack out. It is much messier to pack out than waste that has never thrown into the fire pit.
Do not feed animals, intentionally or unintentionally. Keep a clean camp. Put all food and trash away so it does not attract foraging animals. Once an animal is fed by humans, even if by accident, it becomes habituated, and is likely to return looking for more.
The next campers don’t want to be pestered by aggressive chipmunks any more than they want to be frightened by a habituated bear. As they say, if you feed a bear you may be responsible for its death. Wildlife management personnel must stop habituated bears once they begin aggressively seeking food from campers.
Respect quiet hours. Your neighbors don’t care how great your music is, and they don’t want to hear your totally awesome party. During quiet hours your joyful sounds are noise pollution.
Do not cut through or hang out in occupied campsites unless invited. This is about boundaries. Yes, you may be in a public park. But folks pay for the use of their sites. Trespassing too close to camp might be viewed as a threat. You could wander into an uncomfortable encounter, especially after dark.
Leash your dog. Don’t take your chronic barker camping unless you wish to do what it takes to stop the barking, including bringing it into your tent at night. No, I am not a dog hater. In the past, I brought a barker of my own into the tent to spare camping neighbors the earful. I also used a leash, despite thinking of my pooch as the friendliest, most harmless creature ever to grace this green earth.
If someone needs help, be a Good Samaritan. Once while car camping at Devil’s Lake on a cold April day, our car battery died. With our then young child in tow, this made me nervous. After waiting quite some time for someone to drive through the nearly empty campground, a man and woman pulled up in a BMW.
My husband asked for a jump. They said it wasn’t convenient and motored off. We waited until finally an older SUV drove by. My husband started waving. My heart sank when I saw the driver had big blonde hair, tons of makeup, and long colorful nails. Surely she wouldn’t be comfortable stopping alone to help.
But she, or should I say he, did stop. The driver turned out to be cross-dressed, and quite obviously a man from the neck down. If he has ever been harassed for cross-dressing, surely he had cause to be concerned for his own personal safety when stopping alone in a nearly deserted campground to help a stranger. But he did it. And he wouldn’t accept any kind of payment in return. Now that’s a good neighbor.
Do you have great tips on greening up your car camping experience or being a good camping neighbor?
I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.