How to enjoy your next family camping trip AND not leave a trace on our environment

In this media & technology age, it often feels like we are worlds away from the nature our species is rooted in, not just miles. And for many of us, there is nothing quite as effective at bringing us peace from the stresses of daily life, than getting up close and personal with nature.

It may seem as if there could be no vacation more eco-friendly than a camping trip. Unfortunately, camping can have as much or more of a negative impact on the beauty of nature, unless you approach it in the right way. Join me in learning how we can both enjoy nature and respect it at the same time!

The many benefits of camping

Unplug your kids

Phones should only be for photos on a camping trip

There are so many benefits of going on a camping trip as a family, but the number one advantage is that it encourages us to experience being unplugged, if only for a few days. Our kids are growing up in a different reality, where it is easy to become more connected to our phones than our own people. By immersing ourselves in nature, we are reminded of the indispensable, more natural part of life. It has a way of pulling us in to take notice–or it simply doesn’t offer decent wi-fi connectivity.

Destress together

Over 40 million Americans are now affected in some capacity by anxiety issues, confirming our desperate need to get away and relax. There is something about getting out in the fresh air, immersing ourselves in natural water sources, and basking in the sunlight, that slows our heart rate and stimulates pure joy. It is so much easier to remain present and mindful when you are surrounded by the quiet beauty and stillness of trees that haven’t budged in hundreds of years.

Experience Nature’s Detox

Besides the natural detoxing properties of the sun and its Vitamin D3, you are receiving the amazing benefits of breathing in fresh air. Studies show that our indoor air tends to be anywhere from 2 to 100 times more polluted than our outdoor air. Due to the nature of camping itself, we typically engage in it miles away from any industry, heavy traffic, or other forms of outdoor pollution.

Adopt the “Leave no Trace” philosophy

In light of emerging environmental issues, the camping and outdoors community has begun sort of a “Leave no trace” campaign for campers. It is basically a set of guidelines for how to best experience camping, without leaving a negative impact on the natural beauty we’re there to appreciate.

roast your marshmallows responsibly
  • Plan ahead & Prepare: You are away from home and your regular routine/supplies. Think thoroughly about how you will eat, sleep and entertain yourself in this environment. The little things that generally seem so simple–using the toilet, for instance–can become an issue depending on what type of camping you choose.
  • Travel/Camp on durable surfaces: Once you arrive, survey your surroundings. Try not to disturb the area anymore than you have to when setting up camp. Use flat, durable areas, away from natural water sources. When hiking, stay on the trails.
  • Dispose of waste properly: Waste is not a part of nature until humans set foot in it. Anytime you bring man-made materials in, it is bound to set things adrift–especially when large numbers of people are involved. Bring compostable trash bags in which to dispose of your trash & recycling, and take it all with you if there are no receptacles at the campground. Include a biodegradable soap for washing everything from your dishes to your hair. And if there are no toilets–NO, that is not compost–bury your dung, deep!
  • Leave what you find: Think those rocks are beautiful? Then so do a million other campers. Take a picture if you want to remember natural beauty. Or you may find yourself part of a gradual group effort in removing some animal’s natural habitat. You can also hit up a local gift shop, as an alternative.
  • Minimize campfire impacts: As natural as it may seem, wood fires release several different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, that can wreak havoc on both our air quality and our lungs. These include substances such as nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide, the number one greenhouse gas. Not to mention the deforestation and potential for forest fire. Luckily, there are ways to lessen the environmental effects of a campfire. Keep your fires small and use only dry logs, as they emit fewer pollutants. Always completely drown your fire with water when you’re done, and consider limiting your campfires to one evening instead of every night of the trip. Experiment with different experiences such as catching fireflies, searching for constellations, or listening to the sounds of nature while you tell ghost stories. Also, invest in a more eco-friendly camp stove for your meals on the nights when you opt for no campfire.
  • Respect wildlife: All the animals of the wild were there first. Give them the utmost respect as it is their home. This includes observing them at a distance, not feeding them an unnatural diet, and giving them their peace; which means that your own animals should be kept away from them as well.
  • Remain considerate of other campers: You are all there together with the same purpose–enjoying nature. Please be mindful of others in your noise levels, etc, and they will be mindful of you.
So many options–many of them sustainable

Eco-friendly camping gear

Personally, I find that the best way to obtain gear that is both easy on the environment and low in toxin exposure, is through purchasing it second-hand, renting or borrowing it. First of all, there is only one tent on the market (that I could find) that is not coated in harmful flame retardants, that can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Secondly, almost any kind of camping gear you buy is going to be waterproof since camping takes place outdoors. The current technology for waterproofing almost always involves the toxic chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. These chemicals have been linked to thyroid disorders and some cancers. This includes the sleeping bags that you cozy up in at night.

The North Face does have a new line of refurbished outdoor gear that may be safer, since it has been used before; and has, therefore, been washed and had time to off-gas. Though Patagonia has attempted to replace PFCs with something less toxic, they haven’t yet succeeded. That said, there are some companies that have begun to produce PFC-free gear. Besides our own exposure to the toxins, we should be concerned about the run-off of these chemicals into nearby rivers and streams, etc.

Check out my pinterest board for more ideas–and don’t forget the natural sunscreens and bugsprays!

So many choices for where & how to camp

Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, let’s talk about campground options. My family loves KOA for all of their family-friendly amenities. And, I’ll admit that I’m more of a cabin camper, so that option suits me just fine. Some of their locations are greener than others. Reserveamerica.com is another great option for locating government-funded as well as private parks with campsites, all over the country. Also, if you subscribe to my mailing list, I will send you an awesome list of green lodging facilities, with several of them being “glamping cabins.”

Nature calls

I don’t know about you, but its been a rough winter for us, and I am so ready to book our next camping trip! I can just visualize my family roasting marshmallows over our responsibly kept campfire, crickets chirping, stars flickering. My little ones sharing ghost stories. Totally unplugged! Instant bliss.

What are some of your favorite eco-friendly camping tips? I’d love for you to share!

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2 comments

  1. Great post! Makes me want to go camping (right now). This is such important information to share.

    I’m not a smoker (anymore), but one of my pet peeves is cigarette buts so for those of you still smoking, make sure your butts go in the trash and not on the ground when you’re camping or doing anything else.

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