February 1, 2021

How Does Camping Affect The Environment?

Scott Kimball

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Scott Kimball

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Millions of people across the country take to the outdoors by camping. It is arguably one of America’s favorite outdoor activities.

However, camping is often associated with damaging the environment.

So how does camping affect the environment?

Camping can cause environmental impacts on nature through the destruction of land, feeding wildlife, fires, and of course litter. Luckily, there are ways to minimize these issues.

Table of Contents:

Campground

The destruction of land can happen innocently, but can dramatically affect the environment.

Think about one of your favorite camping spots, it could be a park or some remote spot where you primitive camp.  

As you visit this spot you will slowly change the landscape. Maybe you remove a few rocks here or there. Maybe you trim branches and trees to make a clear path or site. But, by constantly walking on the same path or pitching a tent in the same location you’re killing off vegetation.

Regardless of what you did, you altered the environment.

The ecosystem is delicate and any change will impact the environment, even if only slightly.

It would be nearly impossible to leave the area in the same exact way as you found it.  But, you should make every effort to protect the environment.

The Fix

Try switching up your camping spot as often as possible.  If you use a different spot each time you camp you can minimize the damage you do to a given area.

This way you limit your destruction and give vegetation a chance to grow.

Campfires

Campfires cause environmental damages in a couple of ways.

First off, it is the most common cause of wildfires. I don’t think I need to explain how this damages the environment.

Secondly campfires damage the environment by the smoke the fire emits. Burning wood releases all sorts of compounds and gas, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and greenhouse gases.

Humans will often destroy their camping environment by cutting down small live trees, branches, or peeling the bark off of a tree- which can kill off trees.

Additionally, people will move rocks and take dead wood off of the ground.  This can kill off insects and animal species.  Plus, expose bare ground, which can lead to erosion.

The Fix

I would never tell someone to give up a campfire.  It is one of the simple joys of life.  

But, bring in your kindling and don’t cut branches or peel bark. Try not to harvest a bunch of deadwood from the same spot, mix it up.  

Use small, dry sticks and branches, which will burn hotter and cleaner.  Meaning the hotter the fire, the cleaner it burns, by burning off harmful gases.

Feeding Wildlife

People feed animals for a variety of reasons, some do it to have a close-up look at animals. Others believe they are helping animals survive. While others do it out of pure boredom.

There are a host of issues that arise from feeding animals.

Approaching Animals

First off, animals that are fed by people will be less afraid of people.  This can lead to animals approaching people.

People aren’t used to animals approaching them, which can result in a person believing the animal is sick or violent.

If the person is armed, they may shoot and kill the animal.  If not they may try to scare or harm the animal by throwing rocks, sticks, and so forth.  Even a minor injury may kill the animal.

Ruining Their Hunting/Foraging Skills

Animals who are continuously fed by humans will lose their drive to hunt and forage for their own food. So when the campers leave the area and the animal loses its “food source”, they will struggle to find food and often get mal-nourished, or worse, die.

Human Food Can Harm Animals

Let’s face it, humans do not eat healthily. These foods are even more unhealthy to animals who live off of natural foods and vegetation.

Pastries, marshmallows, chips, bread, and so forth can actually upset a stomach or even kill an animal.

It Can Get Animals Killed By People

Camping season often leads right into the hunting season.  While I believe hunting is important to balance the ecosystem, feeding animals prior to hunting season gives humans an unfair advantage.

Many hunters would not feel comfortable if they knew they shot an animal who was fed like a pet for the entire summer.

Additionally, animals are opportunists and they will start to seek out food from people.  This can lead them to hang out near parking lots and roadways.  Which inevitably results in animals getting struck and killed by vehicles.  

Leaving Litter

I am an avid hunter, who pushes deep into the woods every year to pursue game birds and deer. One thing I have noticed, no matter where I am, is the amount of trash I can find in remote areas.

Glass beer bottles, cans, buckets, old furniture, nails, brackets, and associated hardware are just some of the common items I find at remote camping sites.

Pack-In and Pack-Out

The easiest way for you to combat litter is to practice pack in and pack out.  Meaning, whatever you bring into the woods comes out. Doesn’t matter if it is an orange peel or coffee cup.  Take everything back with you.

Biodegradables

People will often leave items in the woods because they are biodegradable.  While these items may break down over time, they often take a long time.  Toilet paper, vegetable shavings, fruit peels, and so forth can take years to break down.  So pack them out.

Collect Other People’s Trash

Some people will just leave litter in the woods.  It is sad, but it is common and no matter how much you tell people it harms the environment, they just won’t care.

So it doesn’t matter, if I am camping, hunting, fishing, ATVing, or hiking, I will always carry a small trash bag and try to collect as much trash as possible.

I would ask you to do the same.

Make Camping Less Damaging To The Environment

Let’s talk about little ways to make your trip into the woods less damaging to the environment.

Use reusable containers, dishes and water bottles.  First off, less plastic/glass is just good for the environment. Secondly, it reduces the risk of you leaving trash in the woods.

Use all-natural products. Items like soap, bug repellent, sunscreen, deodorant, and so forth all have chemicals that are not natural.  Use natural items that won’t negatively impact the environment.  

Try to use products that are water-soluble.  This way if you find a swimming hole you don’t need to worry about contaminants in the water.

Bring organic food and snacks into the woods. Fruits and meats from stores often have chemicals and additives to preserve the shelf life.  Organic foods do not. These chemicals don’t break down easily. Therefore, opt for organic food that will break down easier and be all-natural.

Avoid loud sounds and music. Animals who rely on foraging or hunting, especially at night may be scared by loud music or noise.  It also scares away the animals’ prey. So enjoy the crackling of the fire and conversation with your friends, instead of the music.

Gear

One of the things I’ve noticed with the outdoor crowd is the amount of gear we like to purchase.

A new sleeping bag or tent, because it saved six ounces.

Maybe boots, pants, and a bag, because of this sleek design.

Remember the manufacturing of this gear harms the environment, by emitting gases, polluting waterways, and filling landfills.  

Try to keep your gear as long as possible. Buy quality and care for it over time.

The Benefits Of Camping

I do not want to scare off potential campers by only discussing the negative impact camping can have on the environment.

When you spend time outdoors, you start to become more conscious about the outdoors. You will want to clean up after yourself, pick up trash, and protect the woods.

You may need to buy a permit.  A permit to camp will provide funds that go directly into managing the land.

Additionally, while you are out in the woods you are using less water, gas, and electricity at your home.

Not to mention camping is a good form of exercise and a refreshing mental health break.

Wrap Up

No matter what you do in the woods will have an impact on the environment. But, by being mindful you can minimize your footprint.

How Does Camping Affect The Environment? | Today I'm OutsideHow Does Camping Affect The Environment?

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About THE AUTHOR

Scott Kimball

From a young age I was introduced to fishing, hiking, camping, snowboarding and more through family, friends, and scouting. After 20 years of learning and participating in these outdoor activities, I share what i've learned (and continue learning) with you.

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