Whether you’re hiking across Catalina Island or braving the length of the Pacific Crest Trail, chances are you’ll be doing a bit of dispersed camping. For those that don’t know, dispersed camping is the act of setting up a campsite in a wilderness area that has not been specifically designated as a campsite. If this is your first attempt at dispersed camping, give yourself a pat on the back for researching first, as many do not obey the following general rules which can endanger themselves and the precious natural environment around them. Without further ado, here are my Dos and Don’ts of dispersed camping.

Leave No Trace

Without a doubt, this is one of the most important rules to follow and should apply to almost any action you take while on an outdoor adventure. The idea around this rule stems from the sentiment of leaving as little human footprint as possible as we enjoy nature. 

This includes the obvious such as littering food packaging as well as the not-so-obvious like destroying yoou fire ring and packing out your own toilet paper. Yes, you should be packing out your own toilet paper in a plastic resealable bag instead of burying it with your poop (as many hikers erroneously believe to be the correct method). In short, if it didn’t come from the wild, don’t leave it there. 

Pay Attention to Camp Proximity

This next rule is also quite important yet is very loosely followed by many hikers: always ensure that your campsite is at least 100-200 feet away from any trail, road or water source. One of the main reasons why people come out to remote parts of the wilderness is to enjoy nature without human presence. However, if you’re tent is set up right alongside the road, it can ruin their experience that they may have waited years to enjoy. This is similar to the concept of not playing your music publicly while hiking (a huge personal pet peeve of mine).

Following this rule can also help you better enjoy your own camping experience! 

Respect Local Campfire Restrictions

This next rule of thumb could save you a ton of legal trouble so read closely. Always check with local authorities for current fire restrictions before starting a campfire. I cannot overstate the importance of this more. Too many devastating forest fires have been started by ignorant and uninformed campers starting illegal campfires. Trust me, when “Extreme Fire Danger” signs are up, they are up for a reason. 

Many National and State parks actually do allow campfires to be made with certain restrictions and permits and it is definitely worth asking if you are planning on cooking up some s’mores or roasted sausages (a childhood favorite of mine). Not only can you save yourself from some pretty hefty legal fines, but you’ll also be doing your part to protect the forest for your own future enjoyment and the enjoyment of many generations to come. Plus, you’ll be on Smokie’s good side!