You’re probably familiar with some of these common house rules:
If you move it, put it back.
If you make a mess, clean it up.
If you break it, fix it.
These rules don’t just apply to your house. They’re good rules to take everywhere you go, including your campsite. Much like your house rules, there are a few camping etiquette tips you should follow to ensure an enjoyable trip for you, your family, and those around you.
1. Follow Your Campground’s Rules
The first lesson in Camping Etiquette 101 is to always check and observe your campground’s rules. Each campground has its own set of rules and regulations, many of which are seasonal.
The most relevant information is available when you check in, usually in a brochure. The literature will tell you where to park, pet restrictions, what the different signs and symbols mean, quiet hours, and all sorts of useful information.
Even if you’re a seasoned camper, it’s still important to review these specific guidelines, which can change frequently. For example, some waterfront tent sites may be unavailable if river is too high, or you might be camping during a burn ban.
Many campsites require you to review and agree to their rules when making an online reservation. Read the campground’s rules in advance to avoid bringing too much, leaving something behind, or paying hefty fines.
2. Be Mindful of Your Fires
Speaking of fines, it’s important to be mindful of weather conditions when you camp. Some of the best camping takes place during the driest seasons. If a burn ban is in effect where you’re camping, be respectful of the rules and skip the campfire. Not only do you risk getting a fine, but you’re putting yourself and those around you in danger.
If you’re permitted to have a campfire, keep a close eye on it at all times and do not leave it unattended. When you leave or go to sleep, be sure that your fire is completely put out and no longer smoldering.
3. Don’t Throw Trash Into the Fire
Although not a rule, it’s in good taste to avoid throwing trash into your fire. Cigarette butts will carry smoke downwind, affecting neighbors who may not be smokers themselves. Camp staff will have to remove beer bottles and cans from the fire pit after you leave. Plastics cups and containers emit harmful fumes when they burn, causing air pollution and disrupting the environment for other campers.
Even the most innocuous items, like paper plates, can release unpleasant gases and odors when burned. Instead of throwing your disposable items in the fire or trash, consider investing in a set of reusable plastic dishes.
4. Use Local Firewood
It seems like there are a lot of rules surrounding fires. That’s because a poorly managed fire can lead to a bad camping experience or harm the environment.
Most campgrounds will have firewood for sale, and it’s not because they want you to buy it there. Using local firewood and leaving yours at home is a critical part of good camping etiquette because firewood can spread harmful insects and diseases. By bringing contaminated firewood to a campsite, you risk infecting nearby trees and damaging the local ecosystem.
Likewise, don’t take firewood from your campground back home with you to avoid spreading contaminants. Leave any extra wood behind, or give it to a neighboring camper as a friendly gesture.
5. Be Mindful of Your Neighbors
Being mindful of your neighbors is an all-encompassing camping etiquette guideline you should always consider. Just because you’re okay with something doesn’t mean you neighbors will be, too.
When setting up camp, consider where you hang your lights. If you plan on having bright lights on at night, face them away from others’ campsites. That being said, don’t be the person who leaves their lights on all night.
Keep your music low enough so that only your campsite can hear it. There will most likely be other campers playing music, and nobody wants to hear classic rock clashing with today’s Top 40s.
One of the rudest things you can do to your neighbors is use their campsite as a thoroughfare. Even if the restrooms are just on the other side of your neighbors, or they have the best view of the river, avoid walking through their campsite to get where you’re going. This also applies to children.
Show your kids your campsite’s boundaries, and ask them to let you know if they plan on going outside of them. Camping with children is a great opportunity to teach them how to treat their neighbors. Be sure to explain the rules to them, and lead by example to reinforce camping etiquette.
6. Respect Quiet Hours
Most campsites enforce quiet hours from 10am to 6pm. Quiet hours don’t mean you have to put out the campfire and stop the party. Just be courteous when it comes to nighttime fun.
If you arrive late, be considerate of quiet hours while you set up camp. You’ll be pitching a tent and unloading in the dark, and calling out to fellow campers while setting up. Voices carry further than you think, so be mindful of those around you and set up only the bare essentials. The easiest way to wake up your neighbors is by repeatedly your slamming car doors.
Many campers like to sleep in, even if quiet hours end at 6am. On the weekends, try to be a little quieter during your morning routine, especially when preparing breakfast. Your neighbors will appreciate the extra effort!
If you’re camping in a tent-only section, please do not bring a generator or run your car for electricity at night. Instead, opt for a campsite that offers electric outlets to maintain the quiet that fellows campers expect in a tent camping area.
7. Respect the Wildlife
Assuming you won’t feed the animals, there are some other things you can do to respect and protect local wildlife.
Put away all your food at night, and make sure to close all coolers and plastic containers containing food. Animals are masterminds when it comes to stealing human food.
If you see animals, don’t try to befriend them or scare them away. Take photos, but don’t interact with them. Keeping animals at a safe distance will help them maintain their natural patterns and behaviors, and they’ll keep returning to the campground for others to enjoy long after you’ve left.
8. Be Mindful of Your Pets
Camping is one of man’s favorite ways to spend quality time with his best friend. If you’re bringing dogs along, keep these common courtesy guidelines in mind.
Most campgrounds enforce a strict leash policy. Be respectful of other campers by not allowing your dog to go off-leash. While your dog might be friendly, other campers may bring pets who don’t play well with others. A great way to avoid incidents while still allowing your dog some freedom is to bring a lead. Tie a lead around a tree to a length that limits your dog to you campsite.
If you leave your campsite, make every effort to bring your pets with you. Never leave a dog on a lead unattended, even if your neighbors are okay with it. Your dog could have an undesirable encounter with wild animals or an off-leash dog while you’re gone.
Most campgrounds prohibit leaving pets unattended, even inside a crate in your tent. Think about how much your dog barks when a delivery driver comes to your door. Imagine your dog barking all day as people walk and drive past your campsite, disrupting your neighbors and everyone around you.
This should go without saying, but Camping Etiquette 101 dictates that you clean up after your pets. You may know how to avoid where your dog has used the restroom, but the next camper won’t. (And you don’t want to be responsible for someone ruining their brand new hiking boots,)
9. Put Everything Back as you Found It
When loading up, be sure to put everything back as you found it. If you moved picnic tables and fire pits, put them back in their original places. You never know what physical limitations the next campers might have.
If you dug a trench around your tent, fill it back up before you leave. They’re dangerous for groundskeepers and other campers who walk through the campsite after you.
Last, but not least, make sure your fire is completely out before you go. It’s worth mentioning again, and should be the last thing you check before you head out.
10. Take Nothing and Leave No Trace
This is the golden rule of camping. Campgrounds are part of a larger ecosystem, so you should make every effort to maintain the natural balance of the areas you visit.
Do not remove local firewood, plants, or critters. If you’d like to take something from the campground, pick up any trash that previous campers may have left behind. Always try to leave the campsite better than you found it.
This also means not leaving anything behind. Remove all your trash, even if you think the groundskeepers will be around to collect it. Return anything you borrowed from neighboring campsites and do a double take before you go to make sure everything is back in place.
Most camping etiquette is common sense. The rest of it comes with experience. What are some lessons you’ve learned on your camping adventures that might help others have a better experience?