This post was originally written by Brendan Leonard and published in the NFF’s magazine, Your National Forests.
DO be aware when you’re traveling in bear country and take precautions to secure your food and camp 100 feet from your kitchen area.
DO look beyond developed campgrounds—National Forests offer hundreds of magical campsite opportunities away from picnic tables and bathrooms. And let’s face it, as nice as it is to be close to a bathroom, it’s even nicer to not have to smell a pit toilet or be serenaded to sleep by the wannabe folk musician with a one song repertoire (Oh great! Wagon Wheel....again).
DO have a plan of how to deal with your waste when camping in primitive campsites—bring bags for your trash and bury waste or bring a portable camping toilet with you. Toilet paper doesn’t biodegrade very quickly, so pack it out too.
DO try to expand your wilderness cooking repertoire. Yes, dehydrated backpacking meals are great, but there are hundreds of possibilities beyond just boiling water and pouring it in a bag. For instance, you can pour it on the ground, on your lap or on your dry clothes. If you spend a little time researching and planning, you can wow your friends and yourself with a yummy almost home- cooked meal.
DON’T assume that since you haven’t seen a bear, you can be lax about food smells, or believe that old joke that says you don’t have to be faster than the bear— you just have to be faster than your friends.
DON’T “construct” a new campsite. If you look in the right places, you’ll be able to find a spot where people have camped before and most, if not all, of the work has already been done for you. Don’t build new fire rings, cut down trees, break branches or rip out plants to make a new campsite.
DON’T forget that you still have to clean up after your feast. Bacon is great, but in the backcountry, bacon grease is a little problematic to deal with (consider pre-cooked bacon). Melted cheese is tasty on a backpacking trip (actually, like the aforementioned bacon, it’s tasty pretty much anywhere) but hard to clean off pots. Save it for car camping and movie night nachos.
DO try to experience the joy of “going light,” or the camping version of the saying “the more you know, the less you need.” After each trip, take stock of items you brought along but didn’t use or brought but later realized weren’t worth the weight, space or time. Trim it down next time for a more efficient experience. Yes, a cribbage board is nice to have, but you can just keep count on a piece of scratch paper; first one to 121 wins!
DO take pictures and share the beauty.
DO have a campfire where it’s safe and legal: “Caveman TV” will keep you entertained and warm for hours.
DO remember that it’s always a little rougher sleeping out there. There are some trade-offs for that “million-star hotel room” out in the wild, and one of them is a little bit of comfort.
DO bring a few extra things along to help you get comfortable: earplugs (they help with snoring tent mates and reduce the tendency to think every squirrel out for a nighttime stroll is a ravenous bear), a stuff sack you can fill with extra clothes and use as a pillow (clothes not in a stuff sack crawl into the corner of the tent all on their own), an extra foam sleeping pad to slip under yours (proven fact: rocks and roots get harder over the course of the night, reaching the density of concrete just as the birds start singing at dawn [see earplugs]), and hot drinks can make a big difference when you’re trying to make yourself at home out there.
DON’T forget the things you need to survive out there, though: a forgotten warm jacket, bottle opener, map or eating utensil can make a big difference between a fun memory and a bad, maybe even dangerous, experience.
DON’T be the person who puts a huge log on the fire just before going to bed and leaves everyone else to wait up for the fire to go out, or the person who brings in firewood from a different region and contaminates the entire forest with an invasive species, or the person who throws beer bottles or cans in the fire (pro tip: they’re not flammable or biodegradable), or the person who has to rearrange the fire every two and half minutes (every three minutes is totally fine).
Definitely DON’T be the person who leaves an unattended campfire smoldering the next morning. Douse, stir and feel!
DON’T compromise the environment just to get a good Instagram photo: trampling sensitive vegetation, vandalizing rocks or trees, setting up camp in sensitive areas or camping where it’s illegal ruins it for others (if you post photos of you and your friends doing illegal things, the Forest Service will track you down. They have people).
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Want to learn more about our National Forests? The National Forest Foundation promotes the enhancement and public enjoyment of the 193-million-acre National Forest System. By directly engaging Americans and leveraging private and public funding, the NFF improves forest health and Americans’ outdoor experiences. The NFF’s programs inform millions of Americans about the importance of these treasured landscapes. Each year, the NFF restores fish and wildlife habitat, plants trees in areas affected by fires, insects and disease, improves recreational opportunities, and enables communities to steward their National Forests and Grasslands. Learn more at www.nationalforests.org