The great green outdoors

How to camp with care for the ecology

Whether you’re off trekking to Tahoe, the Tuolumne Meadows or the Trinity Alps, don’t forget to bring your green ethics along on the trail with you.

Whether you’re off trekking to Tahoe, the Tuolumne Meadows or the Trinity Alps, don’t forget to bring your green ethics along on the trail with you.

Summer’s here and the time is right for … camping! This year, as you trek out into the great outdoors with your family and friends, don’t forget to take the green trail. Here are a slew of ideas for camping with care for the planet:

Set up camp in designated areas. This helps protect undisturbed flora and important habitat for wildlife.

Do not feed the wildlife. Feeding wildlife can contribute to poor nutrition and encourages nuisance behavior.

Check for fire bans at your site. Due to weather conditions and time of year, camping sites may ban all fires.

Bury your waste at least 6-7 inches deep and burn the toilet paper. If there is a fire ban, pack used toilet paper out.

Use reusable utensils and dishes. It’s one of the best ways to reduce your waste.

Wash dishes with hot water or use biodegradable soaps at least 100 feet from water sources, such as rivers and lakes.

Lock up food in animal-proof storage bins or vehicles. If bins aren’t available or you’ve hiked to your site, hanging food from a tree out of the reach of critters works well.

Only make fires in designated pits or demarcated areas to ensure your fire is easily controlled and doesn’t pose a threat to nearby vegetation.

Prepare foods that require little or no cooking. Get a little creative with fresh organic fruits and veggies to make salads a staple meal. For organic, packaged food made just for campers, visit

If you must cook, use a solar cooker or a denatured-alcohol stove. Denatured-alcohol is a renewable fuel source and an environmentally friendly way to heat your food and water.

Leave no trash behind. Pack it out or burn items that aren’t laden with toxins (burning plastic is a huge environmental no-no!)

Bring or locally purchase wood for campfires. Don’t strip the surrounding environment of its natural habitat.

Become a master at extinguishing fires to prevent devastating forest fires. Put out a fire by pouring a liberal amount of water over burning coals. Then cover with a thick layer of dirt and mix well, making a pasty mud. Make sure you mix from the bottom of the fire up—potentially dangerous coals can linger several inches below the surface. Once you’ve broken up and extinguished all coals, saturate your mixture with another bucket of water.

‘Wild’ outdoor activities for kids
Track animals. Teach children to identify the animals that live where you camp by the shape, size and unique characteristics of animal tracks. A good tracker can recreate an animal’s behavior from tracks, disturbed vegetation and other clues left behind.

Observe wildlife. Bird watching is one of my favorite pastimes. It’s like being a fly on the wall in the world of a bird. They’re full of strange, exciting behaviors, and once you learn what they mean, it’s like you understand their language. It’s an incredible way to connect with nature. My favorite field guide is David Sibley’s The Sibley Guide to Birds. And if you and your children find creatures like snakes and lizards under rocks and fallen logs, make sure to replace the rock or log before you return the animal to his home to be sure you don’t accidentally squash it. Once you’ve returned the habitat exactly the way you found it, release the animal and let it make its way back into its home.

Replace ghost stories with a good book. Encourage a love of books and storytelling by reading kids their bedtime stories by the campfire.

Stargaze. Can you believe how many stars you can see when they’re not drowned out by city lights? Spend time kickin’ it with your kids gazing up at the sky. If your children are interested in astronomy, show them the constellations. If they’re too young, let your imagination go and see how many shapes, animals and objects you and your kids can find in the stars—just like clouds.

The green camper’s checklist
Camping gear. If you’re in need, visit and click on “Used Gear” to locate used items for sale. For new gear, consider items made from recycled or organic products. These days, most outdoor companies produce a few items that meet these standards.

Outdoor clothing. If you need appropriate outdoor clothing, think about visiting a local second-hand store—here’s an annoyingly long URL that lists thrift stores in Sacramento and the surrounding areas— Or if you really want to buy new, visit, the environmentally friendly outdoor-clothing company.

Wind-up flashlights and lanterns. These can’t-go-without green-camping items are the best! No batteries and a few cranks on the handle give you light that lasts. I love mine!

Pooper-scooper. Try the U-Dig-It. (A friend of mine swears by using a stick to dig his personal commode. Uh, no thanks! I’m all about handy tools.) This stainless steel hand shovel conveniently folds in half and fits into a nylon belt pack.

Biodegradable soap. Seventh Generation and Dr. Bronner’s are both great.

Natural insect repellent. No on DEET. Try Burt’s Bees Herbal Insect Repellent or Quantum Buzz Away.

Water treatment. Hand-driven water pumps that attach to your reusable water bottles are a big hit to purify water. They’re simple to work by merely pumping and don’t require additives like purifying tablets that cost extra and come in additional packaging. Sacramento’s Solar Cookers International WAPI ($6) is also another great option. This infinitely reusable plastic tube indicates when boiling water reaches the pasteurization temperature and is easy enough for a young child to use.