10 Ways to Green Your Camping Trip

View of a watery landscape as seen from a tent
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Eco-friendly camping may seem a bit redundant — after all, what's greener than getting back to nature and spending a weekend in the woods? But not all campers are as green as they could be. Here are some environmental camping tips that will help you truly abide by the leave-no-trace principles.

1
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Buy used gear

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If you're not an avid camper, there's no reason to invest in lots of new camping equipment. Instead, look for backpacks, tents and other gear at second-hand stores. You can also search for used gear on sites like Craigslist and Freecycle, or check out swapping and trading sites like Swap.com.

2
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Leave the gadgets at home

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Don't bring unnecessary gadgets with you when you're heading into the wilderness, especially those that require batteries or need to be hooked up to your car. If you have a sleeping pad or air mattress that needs to be inflated, use a foot pump. Instead of bringing along a radio or portable DVD player, listen to the sounds of nature or bring a book. Not only will you be technology-free, but you'll also have a lighter backpack.

The two exceptions: a flashlight and a cell phone. Bring a crankable or shakable flashlight so it won't lose charge, and always keep that cell phone handy just in case of an emergency.

3
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Camp nearby

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Cut down on both travel time and emissions by camping in a nearby state park or campground. Search the U.S. National Park Service for a park near you, or search for a local national forest that allows camping.

4
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Stay on the trail

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Whether you're heading out for a day hike or trekking through the backcountry for weeks, it's important to minimize your impact on the environment. Follow signs, cairns and trail markers and stay on the beaten path. Trailblazing and wandering off the trail can cause native plant life to be trampled and lead to soil erosion.

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Pick the right campsite

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State and national parks often have many well-established campsites with areas designated for tents and campfires. However, if you're truly heading into the backcountry, take care selecting your campsite. Look for a durable surface to set up your tent such as gravel, packed dirt or a rock slab — you won't have as much impact on the land and you'll have a safe place to build a campfire.

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Build a safe campfire

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Roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories around the campfire are classic camping activities, but make sure you're abiding by fire safety rules to ensure that campfire doesn't get out of hand.

  • Be aware of any bans or fire restrictions during forest fire season.
  • Keep the fire contained in a fire pit. If there's not one at your campsite, construct a basic fire ring using large stones (pictured).
  • Build the fire away from flammables like tents, clothing and backpacks.
  • Keep the fire small to ensure you can keep it under control.
  • Don't burn food because you may attract unwanted guests, like skunks and bears.
  • Put the fire out at least 45 minutes before you leave the site or go to bed. Pour water on the coals and stir the ash several times to ensure the flames are out.
7
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Bring reusable dishes

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It may be tempting to toss the paper plates and plastic forks into your pack, but it's best to bring reusable silverware, plates and cookware. There are a variety of greener options available — from lightweight titanium plates to foldable plastic bowls that take up virtually no space — that you'll be able to reuse for all your outdoor escapades.

8
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Do your business the right way

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If you're going to be in the woods for a few days, nature is going to call and it's best to be prepared. Here's what you'll need if your campsite doesn't have bathrooms or an outhouse: a small shovel, toilet paper and a small bag. When it's time to go, find a spot at least 200 feet away from campsites and water sources — regardless of whether it's number one or number two.

Dig a hole about 6 inches deep before you get down to business, and be sure to cover it up afterward. Put your soiled paper into a bag to throw away when you get back to civilization. If the idea of putting that bag back into your pack is too much for you, burn it in the campfire. Just remember: That may be the same fire you're cooking over.

9
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Use eco-friendly toiletries

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You might be tempted to toss your regular shampoo, toothpaste and bodywash into your pack, but those toiletries won't only add unnecessary weight to your pack, they might also harm the environment. Most of the soaps, moisturizers and cleaning products we use are full of chemicals and other unnatural ingredients, so if you plan to shower in the backcountry, pick up some eco-friendly, biodegradable toiletries first.

10
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Bring your trash with you

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You're probably heard the saying, "Take only pictures, leave only footprints," and this is an adage that truly embodies the principles of leave-no-trace camping. When you leave your campsite, make sure you bring all your trash and recyclables with you and dispose of them properly when you can. If you find litter along the trail or scattered about your campsite, do your part and pick it up.