Sustainability Now

Sustainable Camping

“Leave Only Footprints, Take Only Pictures”

by Terry Heller

The future of wilderness camping, hikes and other sustainable outdoor recreation depends on more people adopting the principles of “Leave No Trace” camping. The core principal is that no one should know you’ve been there after you’ve gone. This means no litter, no smoldering fire pits, no ripped up grass, crushed bushes or re-positioned boulders. It also means staying on the marked trail, never picking plants, flowers or berries, and never harming or disturbing wildlife–endangered or not. 

Following these simple principles will not only enhance your experience of the wild, but will secure that experience for the next visitor and the next generation.

“Leave No Trace”

Plan ahead and prepare:

Carry a map and know where you are going to reduce the chance of having to travel off trail.
Always pack out trash. Bring spare garbage and recycling bags.
Reduce what you bring: repackage food to bring only what you’ll eat, nothing more. 
Bring bulk water and use a refillable water bottle. Consider freezing jugs of water for your cooler, to be used as drinking water when it thaws.
Schedule trips during low-use times and travel in small groups. Make ​reservations, if you need, at

Travel and camp on durable surfaces:

Camp on durable surfaces. These include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
Protect plant and wildlife habitat by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

Dispose of waste properly:

Pack it in, pack it out.
Do your business in “cat holes” at least 200 feet from water, and cover the hole when done. Or pack it out in a “groover.” Urinating on rocks, pine needles and gravel is less likely to attract wildlife (a good thing). Diluting urine with water from a water bottle also can help minimize negative effects. 
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.

Leave what you find:

That rock or antler looks cooler in the wild than on a shelf at home.

Minimize campfire impacts:

No raging bonfires. Burn only when essential in established fire rings or using a low-impact mound fire. Burn everything in the campfire to ash before putting it out.
If you are burning firewood, avoid transportation of logs, as this can spread insects and other diseases. Read up on the Nature Conservancy’s campaign to “Buy Where You Burn.” 

Respect wildlife:

View from a distance.
Never feed wildlife. Store food and trash securely. If you are planning to be in bear country, read up about proper precautions beforehand.
Control pets (if allowed) so that they don’t harass or scare wildlife. Check the rules at the trail head to make sure your dog is permitted on the trail. 

Be considerate of other visitors:

Protect the quality of everyone’s experience. Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises and let others coming up the trail pass by.

Here are some additional Green camping tips:

1. Gear:

If you need to buy new gear, consider buying eco friendly products or products that have been recycled.  
Consider freecycling. If you have an item that you no longer want, that is in good condition, you offer to give it away for free. On the flip side, if you want something, before you buy it, check to see if someone else has the item used, and is willing to give it away for free. Instead of a perfectly usable item going to the landfill, it finds a new life with a good owner.

To locate freecycling in your area:
Trash Nothing

2. Reusables:

Bring reusable utensils, plates, and pack refillable water bottles. Go a step further and let the Park Service know that you want National Parks to be plastic free!

3. BUGS and the SUN

There are safer alternatives to toxic bug sprays and sunscreens:
Goddess Garden Sunscreen or DIY natural sunscreen;  
a few drops of tea tree oil in a spray bottle of water to ward off ticks
a citronella-based bug repellant or one of these eight natural mosquito repellents

4. Solar Power

It’s Summer!  Take advantage of the sunny days:

Solar powered lighting that charge during the day and emit light during the evening.  There’s even an inflatable one that packs flat and inflates to create a lightweight, waterproof lantern (LuminAID). 
A solar charger to keep your emergency phone and/or GPS powered up:  Reviews: Outdoor Gear Lab 
A solar hot water bag. It’s portable and easy to use. You simply fill it with cold water in the morning and set it in the direct sun all day. It has a thin solar panel attached to it, which helps it absorb the sun’s energy. By the late afternoon, you are ready for a shower.
Solar powered backpacks can charge portable devices while you walk, and there are even solar powered tents available.

And remember:  just as you rely on wild places to rejuvenate and restore you, those places rely on you to keep them in good condition.


Terry Heller grew up on the shores of Puget Sound and spent family vacations camping throughout Washington state. She is currently TorahTrek's Marketing and Development Coordinator, and on occasion has been talked in to being the head chef for TorahTrek retreats.