Camping is a wonderful way to get kids to fall in love with nature. By following the principles of Leave No Trace camping, you set a lifelong example of how to enjoy nature without leaving waste or damage behind.
Nothing says summer has arrived more than a camping trip. Exploring nature, cooking over an open fire and sleeping under the stars is the classic summertime story that parents have shared with their children for generations.
While some of the ways we camp have changed, such as staying in a yurt rather than a tent, or taking a mobile camping trip in an RV, one principle has remained steadfast: Preserve what is here so it is available for years to come. As you plan your summer camping getaway with the little ones, consider these eco-friendly camping tips to help teach them the importance of preservation.
When it comes to a family campout, teach your kids to leave your campground in the same condition or better than what you found it. This is known as No Trace Camping, and while some campgrounds require it, in general, it is a great principle to use anywhere you camp.
In short, Leave No Trace Camping is the most natural way to spend time out in nature.
Leave No Trace Camping Principles
The principle of “Leave No Trace” camping is just how it sounds: Leave no trace you were there so the next visitors to your campsite have no indication of your stay.
Here are the 7 principles established by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:
• Plan ahead & prepare
• Travel & camp on durable surfaces
• Dispose of waste properly
• Leave what you find
• Minimize campfire impacts
• Respect wildlife
• Be considerate of other visitors
Here are some practical ways to put this principles into action.
- If the ground cover is grass, never put your tent where the previous campers put theirs. You want to give the grass a chance to recover and repair itself.
- Only use certified organic and biodegradable soaps and shampoos. Most campers dump their dishwater out into the bushes. Don’t toss out toxic chemicals with it!
- Pollution prevention is key when camping as it helps to sustain the beauty you left the daily grind to enjoy. Look for campgrounds that have recycling, composting and cylinder return programs.
- Always use the designated fire pit. It is built in a safe location and with the structure to contain the fire and prevent accidents.
- Pay attention to firewood rules for the campground. Sometimes you can bring in your own but sometimes you can’t due to fears of diseases or insects spreading to species within the park. Never cut down your own firewood inside the park.
- Remember to take everything with you. Common items left behind that people think the next camper will use include half empty propane cylinders, clotheslines, and bug spray.
Living by this principle is easy – as long as you take the time to plan how you’ll do it before leaving for your trip. To start, remember that everything you bring in has to go out with you, including any garbage you accumulate along the way. Pack plenty of extra bags for trash and ensure you have room for everything as “stuff” tends to accumulate as things are unpacked/repacked. Make sure you have an abundance of spare bags in case any break or neighboring wildlife comes exploring.
When you check in at the campsite, ask if there are any temporary rules or restrictions in place while you’re camping. Rules like where you can have a fire or “off limits” areas are common during droughts or right after baby animals are born. By sticking to these rules, you can help make sure you are not negatively impacting the wildlife around you.
With the abundance of beauty in nature, it can be tempting to bring home a small token from your trip such as a flower, leaf or rock. However, it’s important to remind yourself and the kids that if everyone were to bring something back, there wouldn’t be any beauty left. Enjoy nature while you’re there, but don’t take it with you when you leave. For example, you can enjoy the beautiful trails at national parks or campgrounds, but don’t disturb any natural habitats by picking flowers along your way.
Bring Reusable Gear
While paper or plastic dishes and utensils may seem like a great way to pack light, the impact those have on the environment lasts for years. Instead of throwing away a mountain of paper or plastic at the end of your trip, bring, use and reuse sturdy dishes that will last for years to come.
An easily available and highly popular choice is collapsible dishes which take up significantly less space in any car, RV, or backpack and are much simpler to store when not in use. Plus, the dishes usually come in bright, vibrant colors and are easy to find as you’re packing up the campsite (even after being left 30 feet from the campsite by the kids).
What you drink while in nature is even more important than what you eat and staying hydrated is vital to ensuring everyone stays healthy and has a great time. While many people think bringing gallons or bottles of water is the only way to keep everyone safe and healthy, that option has a significant cost, can generate a large amount of plastic waste and can be a burden to carry for the entire trip.
Instead, bring water bottles with built-in filters. They are light, portable and can be refilled at a spigot, water fountain or anywhere with fast moving water. Just remember to pack extra filters and avoid refilling where water is shallow and still.
Buy Second-Hand Camping Equipment
We all know camping gear can be a big investment, but it’s an investment (if taken care of properly) that can last for years. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, parts can break or go missing. Instead of buying a brand new replacement piece or an entirely new set of gear, consider buying used. You’ll recycle in a whole new way and will more than likely save money. Some excellent resources for used gear include websites like EBay and GearTrade.com.
If you can’t find camping gear or if you’re looking for a few more comforts on your camping trip, consider staying in a yurt, cabin, tiny house or other retreat at the campground you’re visiting. These shelters are a little more like home and can provide some extra reassurance to little ones who aren’t quite ready to have only a thin layer of fabric separating them from the outdoors.
No matter where or how you’re camping this summer, keeping these tips in mind will help ensure your children, grandchildren and generations beyond can enjoy the outdoors. Whether you’re on the coast of the Pacific Northwest, in the middle of a birch forest in Wisconsin or on a crystal clear lake in Texas, eco- friendly camping is a great way to keep natural beauty available for you and everyone who comes after for years to come.
Getting Little Ones Excited & Involved
- Look for campgrounds that promote ecology with nature programs geared for kids. It is a great way to introduce those key environmental concepts to kids in a way that they can relate to.
- Plan an eco-scavenger hunt with things commonly found in a campground (i.e.: chipmunk, pinecone, maple key).
- Let them bring their bikes so they can explore the park on their own. Making your own adventures is a great way to connect with your environment.
- Ditch the stroller and bring a babywearing carrier. You’ll enjoy the park more without the constraints of a stroller.
Camping should be fun, and it should never feel like “roughing it” unless you choose. Camp in the style that works best for your family and remember to stop and enjoy the smells and sounds that surround you. The simplicity of it all is bound to stay with you and your kids for a lifetime.
Creating Lifelong Memories
The smell of crisp, clean air, the sound of rain hitting the leaves above the tent or laughter around the late night campfire; these are a few of my favorite things.
I was 6 months old on my first camping trip, and from that point on I spent my summers sleeping under the stars. If being an environmentalist is my end point, camping certainly was the starting point.
I developed a strong connection with nature that led me to want to protect it so that when I had kids of my own, it would be there for them to enjoy. Now as a parent, I’m passing that love of nature on to our son.
Never been camping before?
It’s never too late to try leave no trace camping, and you don’t have to canoe off to a remote campground to connect with nature. There are great campgrounds right in your neighborhood just waiting for you to explore them.
Or join in NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout. As you and your family get more comfortable with it you can try new types of camping and new campgrounds.