Low-Impact, Eco-Friendly Camping Tips

June 19, 2011 Four comments View all articles in General

Camping is one of the American family's favored and treasured pastimes. For many outdoor enthusiasts, the beginning of summer signals that it's time to get out of the city, load up the coolers and cars, roast some hot dogs and marshmallows around a campfire, and sleep under the stars. It's hard to believe there could ever be anything environmentally harmful about something as traditional and wholesome as camping, right? But hiking boots actually have the potential to leave pretty devastating footprints on the environment. Camping is a social institution; it isn't going away, at least not this summer. So read up on the following tips for responsible camping and respectful outdoor behavior, and put some or all of them into practice.


  • If you plan on taking an SUV or RV on your camping trip, try organizing a carpool with friends and family, or even other campers who are going to the same spot as you.
  • Even if you're driving a sedan or coupe, carpooling is a good idea for reducing fossil fuel emissions, saving money, saving space at the campsite, and reducing the amount of potential car fluid leaks. Connect with fellow campers at eRideShare.com, and CarpoolConnect.com.
  • Avoid overusing ATVs and dirt bikes during your camping trip. Noise isn't the only pollution these enjoyable recreational vehicles create!
  • It's easy to feel like you have to pack everything except the kitchen sink when you go camping, but packing lighter is much better for fuel mileage.
  • Limit any trips you need to make with your car after you've reached your campsite: try to walk or ride a bike instead.
  • Choose a campground that's closer to home, if possible, so you don't have to drive as far.


  • A lot of campsites now have separate trash and recycling receptacles readily available, so all you have to do is pack two bags and instruct everyone in your party to put the plastic and glass in one, and everything else in the other.
  • If you bring trash into a campsite where there are no receptacles, leave with it. Don't burn it in the fire, as that only contributes to air pollution; pack it up so you can dispose of it properly at home.
  • In case you didn't realize, cigarette butts are considered trash, which means they should be carried out in your trash as well.


  • When making your campfire, burn only fallen wood or drift wood; don't cut down branches from a living tree.
  • Don't clear a new piece of ground to make a fire. Most campgrounds provide you with a place to build a fire so keep your eyes out for a previously cleared space and reuse that.
  • If you don't want to risk the chance of not being able to find any dry firewood at your campsite, purchase some near the campground. It has to be local, though: many states and counties have restrictions on bringing firewood in from outside their borders due to the threat of invasive species. Check out Dont Move Firewood for more information on the dangers of moving firewood.


  • Set up a method for collecting rain water so you can use it to wash dishes or to fill up your solar shower pouch.
  • If your campsite doesn't have showers and you're inclined to bathe in the great outdoors, don't take soap into the pond or lake with you, as it can damage the pond's ecosystem.
  • Take an eco-friendly water purifier like Katadyn with you so you don't have to bring plastic water bottles to the campground.


  • The environmentally-friendly choice is to stay in designated areas that have already been established for camping – they can accommodate tents and have hiking trails and campfire rings.
  • Wear soft-soled shoes around the campground to minimize any disturbance to the land.
  • Do not level the ground of your camp: place cloths or other materials under your sleeping mat to make it level.
  • Stay on designated hiking trails – they make them for a reason and veering off the beaten path could damage precious wildlife, seedlings, and wildflowers. Oh, and you could get a big fine if you get caught.


  • If you're buying new camping gear, make sure it's the highest quality you can afford. The more use you receive from an item, the more environmentally-friendly it will be.
  • Connect with like-minded campers by joining a networking community like Community Green. For those living in the New Jersey area, they can offer advice for the best brands and places to find eco-friendly camping gear.
  • Look into buying an eco-friendly tent. The Salt Creek 2 by Big Agnes is made from 100 percent recycled materials and without the use of toxic dyes.
  • There is also a large selection of pre-owned tents at eBay.com.
  • Consider purchasing a Marmot UpCycle sleeping bag with fabric made from recycled plastic soda bottles and insulation made with 80 percent post-consumer waste.
  • Pack an all-purpose, natural cleaner such as Burt's Bees Outdoor All-In-One Wash. It's specifically made for camping and is 100 percent biodegradable. You can use it for washing dishes, clothes, even your own hair and body, and it's completely harmless to streams, lakes, and groundwater.
  • Try to minimize the amount of disposable items you take to the campsite. Pack reusable dishes, utensils, cookware, and cloths.


Granola Girl on June 20, 2011 at 8:53 a.m.

A lot of people don't realize how important it is to use local firewood. Many states actually have firewood movement restrictions. Just because you can't see the pests doesn't mean they aren't there. Check out www.dontmovefirewood.org for lots of info.

Liz on June 21, 2011 at 12:40 p.m.

We went camping recently and did a lot of the above. Great article for a few new tips and ideas we did not think of previously. One thing I did without even thinking about it was purchasing inexpensive plastic plates, bowls, and cups from Walmart ($1 for 4 of each) and standard plastic silverware. I brought everything home with me, washed it, and packed it back for the next trip (even the plastic silverware).

Chasing Green on June 21, 2011 at 3:53 p.m.

Thanks Liz! I'm glad you found a couple new tips to try next time.

Linda Ann Mahony on June 20, 2017 at 9:21 a.m.

what about teflon and flame retardants? Do you know of tents, sleeping bags, etc that are free of things like this, and also free of PVC? I'm giving you my husband's email--he checks it frequently.

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