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The only way beautiful, pristine areas will remain accessible to the record number of people who want an outdoor experience is to take steps to reduce recreational impact on the environment. This is a matter of taking personal responsibility for your own actions. The following guidelines should not be considered optional. They are critically important for ensuring the enjoyment of all campers and preserving our last remaining wild spaces. When camping is an entirely new endeavor, easing into it will help ensure a pleasant experience that may lead to future—more adventurous—campouts.

Beginner-friendly camping options include:

  • A rustic cabin with running water
  • A campground near your home so that you can easily pack up and find comfort if necessary
  • An overnight stay in a large tent furnished with cots, which can be found on a number of glamping websites like tentrr.com and hipcamp.com
  • A true glamping experience, complete with running water, electricity, and furnished accommodations, located in a picturesque setting where you can still hear the sounds of nature
  • A luxury camper van with all mod cons.

Camping ethics have evolved in response to the environmental impact of increasing numbers of people participating in outdoor recreation. Camping is no longer the exclusive domain of rugged survivalists. Over the last century, inventions like sleeping bags, gas stoves, and synthetic tents have opened camping to people from all walks of life. After World War II, a surge of campers visited the national parks to enjoy the outdoors in a new, more comfortable way. By the 1960s, in order to help mitigate the effect of this influx of campers, the United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service began teaching wilderness ethics to public land visitors. In 1987 these three government agencies collaborated to create a pamphlet titled “Leave No Trace Land Ethics.” These guidelines have since been nicknamed Leave No Trace. The principles were developed as a framework for making low-impact decisions in the backcountry, but can also be applied to the frontcountry, or campgrounds closer to civilization. A summary of the principles is listed below. More detailed explanations of some of the principles appear as side notations throughout the chapters of this book. They have been reprinted from the official website of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

  1. Plan ahead and prepare: When properly prepared, a camper is less likely to resort to high-impact strategies to resolve a dangerous situation that could put themselves or others at risk. When a camper plans ahead, it’s easier to think clearly and problem-solve, thereby reducing harm to the environment or to the campers involved.

  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Degradation to soil, vegetation, or communities of organisms is caused by veering off trail or camping outside of designated campgrounds. Over-trampling leads to erosion, exposed soil, and harm to plant and animal life.

  3. Dispose of waste properly: All litter and human or dog waste should be carried out unless trash receptacles are available for this specific type of waste. Otherwise, leftover trash and waste will detract from the natural beauty of an area, and has the potential to cause environmental damage to soil and waterways.

  4. Leave what you find: While it can be tempting to alter a campsite by permanently clearing an area of rocks or debris, or to take home a souvenir like an animal bone or feather, this can disrupt an ecosystem or leave a campsite beyond repair. Campers should avoid making alterations like digging tent trenches, hammering nails into tree trunks, or cutting live tree branches.

  5. Minimize campfire impacts: Because wildfires are so easy to start, it’s important to practice low-impact fire techniques or use alternatives to campfires when appropriate or required.

  6. Respect wildlife: Do not follow, feed, or motivate animals to flee, as this can impact animal survival. Give animals the space they need to find water, to feel unthreatened, and to care for their young.

  7. Be considerate to other visitors: The golden rule applies to camping. Do unto other campers as you would have them do unto you is a good principle to follow to ensure that every camper has an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.