Leave No Trace: The Best Sustainable Camping Strategies

To bask in the wild and do it no harm is the sign of a master outdoors person. To move your camping game up a few notches, start planning your harm-mitigation strategies long before you head for the wilderness.

Check Your Camping Footprint

Whether you plan to use a pup tent or a net-covered hammock for shelter, take the time to set up your home away from home in the local park, your back yard, or your garage before you head out. Realistically place your sleeping/cooking/eating areas where you plan to place them on your camping trip.

Make sure you leave room to safely move around in your proposed setup. If you need a large area to accommodate all of your camping gear, rethink your priorities. Too much gear will become cumbersome—and may end up as abandoned trash along the trail—if you’re on a long hiking and camping adventure.

When you’re setting up a long-term base camp, more gear is fine. You may consider using a larger cabin tent rather than many smaller tents if you have a large group, though. The larger tent will disturb the least amount of vegetation, since each smaller tent leaves a separate footprint.

Be Aware of What You’re Bringing

This warning applies to your garbage, of course, as you must have a plan to pack out everything you pack in. More importantly, be aware of the diseases, pests, and parasites that may be spread from your area to the wilderness. There are ongoing concerns over diseases that impact specific vulnerable flora and fauna.

This map shows the spread of White-nose Syndrome infections among bats, who are responsible for a great deal of insect control along the Appalachian Mountains. Caving enthusiasts are being advised not to explore many popular caves in the Eastern U.S. to avoid spreading this disease and allow bats to recover.

Plastics should never be on your packing list when you’re planning a camping trip. These take an extremely long time to biodegrade and, in the meantime, pose a serious threat to both flora and fauna. This means everything from plastic bags to disposable water bottles must be reconsidered. To lessen your impact, use an Orvis coupon code from to get reusable filtration water bottles, so you won’t have to introduce harmful plastics to the natural world.

In the Western U.S., firefighters and nursery workers are being asked to hose off boots and vehicle tires to stop the spread of molds and pathogens that kill plants, including root rots and a disease called Sudden Oak Death.

In order not to spread any invasive problems yourself, use soap and water to wash tires and footwear before entering the wilderness. Don’t bring firewood, hay, or grass cuttings from home. Dry-dock and clean your boat thoroughly from stem to stern before moving it to different waters.

Use Safe and Mild Cleaning Agents

An organic Castile soap is a bit pricier than normal dish soap or laundry detergent, it’s true. But this soap can also be used as shampoo, body wash, and deodorant. Choose this or a similar phosphate-free soap to use along the trail if you want to leave the least chemical impact when washing dishes or yourself.

Avoid toothpaste, lip gloss, and body scrubs with micro-beads. Tiny fish think the miniature beads are food or plankton, and they’re getting sick from eating them. If you still like to primp a little when you camp, know that salt, sand, and sugar make great exfoliating agents if you mix them with a drop or two of essential oil and stir in some organic all-in-one camping soap.

Always think ahead when it comes to protecting the wild places you love. Choose gear that you know is made from sustainable, eco-friendly materials and remember to “pack it out” if you bring it with you.


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