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Low Impact Camping

Low Impact Camping

I have a bad knee, so I practice low impact exercise whenever I can. I am a Boy Scout leader, so I do my best to practice low impact camping every time I camp.  Low impact camping has little to do with the impact on your body, but everything to do with the environment. In Boy Scouts, we call this Leave No Trace. Leave No Trace is more of an attitude than a set of rules for camping, hiking, or backpacking.

You might wonder how one group can make a difference, but over time small impacts can add up and cause a great amount of damage to the environment. What we will discuss here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace.

1. Plan ahead and prepare

The Boy Scout motto is Be Prepared. Proper planning and preparation helps Scouts have an enjoyable adventure while minimizing damage to natural and cultural resources. You can follow this motto too! Another way to say this is having the right equipment. Bringing the right equipment can make or break an outing. Knowing the regulations of the area where you plan to visit can help you plan as well. Certain land managers have certain rules and it is important to know them before you head out. Check the weather reports for your destination and pack  food to minimize the amount of trash to pack out.

2. dispose of waste properly

This is quite simply put as “pack it in, pack it out”. Leaving trash has an impact on both the environment and other campers. Nobody likes to see a bunch of trash laying around so pack it out! If there is trash at or near your sit, grab it too! We always carry a few trash bags with us on our hikes and unfortunately, come back with the full.

Wastewater: After straining food particles, properly dispose of dishwater by dispersing at least 200 feet (about 80 to 100 strides for a youth) from springs, streams, and lakes.

Human waste: Cat holes should be dug 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water, trails, and campsites.  Don’t try to burn your toilet paper; this can start forest fires.

3. travel and camp on durable surfaces

Low Impact Camping

Damage to land occurs when visitors trample vegetation or communities of organisms beyond recovery. The resulting barren areas develop into undesirable trails, campsites, and soil erosion. In high use areas, concentrate your activities where vegetation isn’t present. In remote areas, spread out and move your tent daily so as not to create permanent looking campsites. Avoid areas where impacts are just beginning to show. Try to camp or hike on durable surfaces such as rock, gravel, sand, compacted soil, dry grasses, or even snow.

4. leave what you find

Leaving what you find allows others to enjoy the outdoors and have the same sense of discovery as you did when you explored the area. Leave rocks, plants, animals, and archaeological artifacts as you found them. The old “look but don’t touch” comes to mind with artifacts. In some areas it may be illegal to move artifacts.

Trenching near tent. PLEASE DON’T DO THIS

Minimize site alterations. Good campsites are found not made. Avoid building structures or digging trenches.

5. minimize campfire impacts

Low Impact Camping

To some, camping without a campfire is plain wrong. If you MUST have a campfire, pick a campsite where a campfire ring has already been established. This minimizes the impact on the environment by creating another fire ring. Leave No Trace campfires are small. Use deadwood that can be easily broken by hand. Burn your fire down to ash and remove any trash that may be in the fire ring (whether it’s yours or not).

6. respect wildlife

Remember, you are a visitor in their environment. Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Observe wildlife from afar, give them a wide berth, and don’t leave food out. Human food can harm or even kill wildlife. Keep the wildlife wild.

7. Be considerate to other visitors

Thoughtful campers respect other visitors and the quality of their experience. Travel in small groups and let nature’s sounds prevail.Nobody like to be out camping to relax and unwind and have a huge party going on near them. Select campsites away from other campers to preserve their solitude. Respect private property and leave gates as found.

On our last campout, we decided to camp in a pre-camped in site with a fire ring and plenty of room for our troop. We Hauled our trash out and even brought back quite a bit of trash left by others.

I’m not saying you have to follow 100% of these principles 100% of the time;  but if you are mindful of them, and follow them as best you can, there will be plenty of wilderness for ages to come.

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How to Choose a Campsite

You’ve decided you want to go camping this weekend and head out to do so. Once you’re out in the wilderness or at the campground, the most important thing about your campsite is where you’re going to sleep.

Ground Surface

Having a flat ground to pitch your tent is crucial to a good night sleep. If your spot for your tent isn’t flat, you could find yourself completely off you sleeping pad and against the wall of your tent. Believe me, this is no fun, I’ve been there. You will also want to make sure your flat ground is free of debris. The smallest rock or pine cone in the wrong spot can completely wreck a night’s sleep (again, I have experience with this). Debris can also poke holes in the bottom of your tent. It is important to not only clear the debris from under your tent, but look for rocks that may be mostly buried and could also wreck your night; sometimes moving your tent a few inches or feet will fix this.

Nice flat ground

Campsite Shade

Having shade over your tent all day isn’t necessarily a must. In our minds, having shade in the morning is important. Look for a site for your tent that will be shaded in the morning, this will keep you from being woken up earlier than intended. Finding a flat spot with shade can be a bit of challenge in the desert (the shade, not the flat). If you’re camping in the desert, consider bringing your own shade. If you are bringing your own shade and you’re in the desert, you now have the option to move that shade from blocking the sun in the morning to blocking the sun in the afternoon and keeping your tent a little cooler.

What’s above you?

Not only is important to observe what’s underneath your tent, you should also look above you. Setting up your tent under a dead tree branch is just a bad idea. The thought may be “it’s up there, so it must be safe”, eventually, dead branches fall. Branches falling out of trees onto your tent is dangerous. The same thing goes for rocks. Pitching your tent at the base of a hill, or beneath a loose rock rock ledge could also be bad news.

What’s around you?

It is important to check your surroundings when setting up camp. You may not want to camp right next to the lake because of bugs. I actually camped next to a lake once and the croaking frogs sang a sweet lullaby! Downed or dead trees nearby, this could potentially be dangerous. Dead trees fall over; especially if it’s windy. Be sure to check your weather forecast. Not only can bad weather make a trip less pleasant, but if your tent is pitched in area of water run off, you may get flooded.

Lastly, please consider the impact your campsite has on the environment. Picking a spot that has clearly been camped in before has less of an environmental impact than forging ahead to find that pristine spot. Leave No Trace is a principle any responsible outdoors person should follow. Always try to leave your campsite cleaner than when you found it. For more information on Leave No Trace, click here.

Campsite Privacy

Neighbors are a good thing. In fact ,there can be safety in numbers. Having a large group that is right next to or near your campsite can certainly make your experience less enjoyable. On one of our first outings with the kids, we were across from a group site. It was empty when we checked in and got all set up. At around 10:00 that night is when everyone arrived. The kids slept right through it, but my wife & I didn’t get much sleep that night. Luckily the camp hosts were able to move us to a different site. Don’t settle for the very first spot you find, but you also don’t have to hike miles and miles into the woods to find a good spot.

Too close?


The number of people in your group and the amount of gear you have will dictate how much room or space you need in camp. Kitchen area and tents take up the majority of the space, but if you plan to throw the football or frisbee,  you will need to account for that as well.


Get out there, go camping and enjoy the outdoors.