Respect Nature: 6 Tips for Keeping Your Campsite Clean

Follow the principles of Leave No Trace at your campsite.

Respect Nature: 6 Tips for Keeping Your Campsite Clean

It doesn't matter whether you’re staying at a fully electric campsite in a modern campground or backpacking in a designated wilderness area, campsite cleanliness is important. A clean campsite minimizes environmental harm, prevents unwanted interactions with animals and pests, and also just makes for a more pleasant camping experience. Moreover, Leave No Trace (LNT) principles dictate that humans leave areas as they found them, if not better. So, when you head out on a camping trip, respect nature and follow these half-dozen tips for keeping your campsite clean.

Cook, Clean Up, and Store Food Away from Your Tent

Whether you’re staying in a developed campsite or in the backcountry, it’s always a good practice to keep food smells away from your tent—a clean campsite keeps the critters (bears, raccoons, etc.) away from your sleeping area. To this end, you should cook and store your food, and clean your dishes, as far away from your tent as practicable. In dispersed campsites in bear country, the guidelines are 100 yards from your tent. In developed campsites, follow campground guidelines for cleaning and food storage (e.g., use bear-proof lockers if provided). Use a camp stove to cook meals and do everything you can to minimize spillage. Store waste and food in a locker, bear canister, hanging bag, or in your car, if you must, and be prepared to pack it out or dispose of it according to campground rules.  

Use a Groundcloth or Tarp

A good way to help ensure that you leave a campsite as you found it is to lay down a tarp or groundcloth in the area where most of your camp activity will take place. Empty the groundcloth of its contents each day, and store the waste as you would food waste, and prepare to pack it out or dispose of it as instructed by campground rules.  

Bring Cleaning Tools

Along the lines of a using groundcloth, keeping a few simple cleaning tools in your camping kit will help you to shore up your campsite and keep it shipshape for the duration of your stay. Use a small hand brush or broom to sweep out mud, dust, and any nonnative seeds that may travel from your campsite back home with you, as well as to sweep off picnic tables, sitting spots, and the aforementioned groundcloth or tarp. A bandanna or other type of cloth is good for wiping down surfaces, cleaning dishes, or cleaning yourself. Bring two, so you can clean one, use the other, then alternate back. Finally, a small scraping tool for pots and pans will make post-meal cleanup much easier. 

Choose Biodegradable Cleaners

Even developed campgrounds are often in fragile environments, and many have outdated septic systems that are under tremendous strain from the regularly increasing number of people who choose to recreate outdoors. One thing you can do to ease human pressure on the environment is to pack and use biodegradable cleaning and hygiene products—from dish soap to shampoo to toothpaste. Biodegradable versions of just about every kind of cleaning or hygiene product imaginable are available, and if you love being outdoors, there’s no good reason not to use them.

Minimize Disposables

As you are likely aware, camping enthusiasts in this country too often choose the ease of disposable products when they head out to their campsites. This creates unneeded waste and causes significant damage to the environment, whether in the form of litter, plastics that won’t degrade, or air pollution from burned trash. As convenient as disposables may be, it’s even easier to bring a few lightweight, reusable items in your camp kit. Titanium or aluminum cooking pots and pans are light, packable and clean easily—as do titanium eating utensils. A good spork covers just about any meal and reduces the number of things you need to pack. A reusable cup and water bottle can drastically reduce the amount of waste you produce. Finally, when planning your meals before you leave, remove external packaging and repack dry foods into reusable containers or bags that you can pack out with you. A little prior planning can prevent a lot of damage to the environment—and keep your campsite clean.

Keep Campfires Small and Clean

Unless there is a designated fire ring in your campsite, you should generally avoid making a campfire. Even within fire rings, burn nothing but firewood—not garbage, paper, or leftovers—that was locally obtained. Gathering firewood is prohibited in many parks and forests, as are campfires. Make sure you know the rules and regulations before you go and be prepared by buying firewood ahead of time or at the park, itself, if sold there. If you do make a fire while in a dispersed or backcountry campsite, follow LNT principles for the fire and for cleaning up afterward. Often, due to dry or windy conditions, locations normally permit campfires may ban them. Check for fire danger—red flag—advisories before trying to make a fire.