We all know how captivating a thought it is to imagine yourself in the midst of mountains, enjoying the moment under a camp with either your friends, family, or lover. Camping is without a doubt one of the most fun parts of trekking but it can cause heavy damages to the environment if it is not done right.
Camping ethics go much further than the well-known slogans of "Leave No Trace" and "Pack it in, pack it out". They enhance the camping experience for other campers and help conserve natural resources. It is important that we all do our part to protect our state and our national parks. So, whether you are trekking solo or with a trekking organisation, the following are some principles which when followed can greatly favor the mountains -
Set up campsites at least 200 feet away from water sources. This reduces the possibility of contamination and allows wildlife access.
- If you are trekking in the Indian Himalayas, in one of the water predominant treks like Kashmir Great Lakes or Hampta Pass, make sure you maintain your distance from the water source when setting up your tent. For example, under the Himachal Pradesh tourist guidelines, a campsite must be at least 50 meters (164 ft) away from the water source but it is advisable to maintain a distance of 200 feet as a general rule of thumb.
- This also allows the wildlife in the region to have easy access to these water sources.
- Make sure not to get involved in any kind of activity that pollutes the rivers or lakes if you are camped right on the waterline. This is equal to contaminating the river at its source itself as it is the same water that runs into the villages in the valleys below.
Leave no trace principles at campsites.
- Concentrate use of existing campsites and trails -
Good campsites are found, not made. When you are on a trail, try to stick to campsites that have previously been used. Altering a site is not necessary. You can easily find existing campsites for well-known treks like Nag Tibba, Kedarkantha, Brahmatal, Bhrigu Lake, etc.
- Whenever trekking in a large group, make sure to dispose off human waste properly -
Human waste contains harmful pathogens that pollutes water sources and spreads diseases to insects, rodents, and other humans visiting the area. If you are traveling in a larger group you’ll need to dig a 6-8 inch deep, 4-6 inches wide, and 12 inches long pit to properly dispose of your human waste. Ensure the toilet pits are located at least 200 feet from all the water sources.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent -
Roopkund used to receive a lot of trekkers on its trail. But in 2019, it was banned by the Uttarakhand High-court because of the harm increased footfall was causing to the biodiversity of the alpine meadows in the region. So, try to keep the campsites as small as possible to lessen the impact it causes to the environment.
Check: Leave no Trace principles
Usage of Soaps at Camping Areas.
- Avoid washing dishes directly in a natural channel. Use another pot to collect the water and move it away from the canal to wash your things. As a general rule of thumb, you should always keep a distance of 50 to 60 feet between your campground or wash area and the nearest body of water. This will ensure that leftover food and soap spoil at your campsite does not end up in natural waterways. Also, make sure to dispose of greywater on the ground, and never straight into the water sources in the region.
- Soaps generally contain harmful chemicals like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Paraben, Artificial Fragrances, and Dyes that cause aquatic toxicity in the environment. Parabens have been found in the bodies of marine mammals and sulfates are known to cause a plethora of allergic reactions, organ toxicity, and environmental damage. So, when choosing your soap, check the label to ensure it is free of the above chemicals.
- Even when using biodegradable, eco-friendly soap, please take care to ensure that it does not end up in the river stream. The contents of the soap have a tendency to stay in the water for a long time promoting algae growth. They can also reduce water quality which in turn makes the water harmful for consumption by other hikers.
Avoiding fixed camping -
- Fixed camping results in overexploitation of a site - If you fix your tents at a particular place, it exploits the water and other natural sources without giving them enough time to replenish. Trek with organisations that follow a rolling camp model- this not only discourages the crowding of trekkers on select trails but also keeps the spirit of trekking alive.
- Waste accumulation becomes an issue in fixed camps. A small group going on rolling camps would never have more than a handful of non-biodegradable waste that can be easily carried back to base by the group itself. It is always healthier to capture and segregate waste in much smaller quantities and push it for either recycling or decomposition.
Read more: Fixed camps? No. That’s not the way to roll
Layout and Orientation:
When camping in river valleys and next to streams, kitchen areas should be most upstream, followed by camping areas and washing areas. Latrine areas should be downstream of all kitchen and camping areas, especially when camping at sites used by multiple groups.
- This prevents microbial contamination and ensures hygiene in the region.
Orient your tents such that the doors open downwind of the prevailing wind direction.
- Pitch your tent in such a way that the wind blows on you and around you. The last thing you want is to offer a breeze that turns anything that looks like a ship's sail into a roar.
- Set up your tent so that the narrow ends face the wind.
In case of rains and areas with high wind exposure like ridge tops:
- Avoid setting up camps in depressions where rain is likely to collect.
- Setting up a tent in the wind and rain can be a difficult task and can turn out to be potentially dangerous. It is always best to wait for the right conditions if there’s an option. So keep an eye on the weather forecast, check the precipitation forecast and wind map. Remember that the tent does not have aerodynamic properties until it is fully erected. Only you can correctly assess the risks.
- Set Camps in open areas. Pay special attention to low-hanging branches or rotting wood that could fall in high winds.
- Set up your tent on a slightly sloping area to keep the rain out.
- If you have to pitch your tent when it rains, put a tarp over your tent and work under it.
- Keep bags of clothing and equipment away from the sides of the tent; If something touches the walls of the tent, water can get in.
- Make sure the tarp is securely stored in the tent and that the edge is not sticking out, which will collect rain. Rain can sink your tent, so you may need to periodically tighten the tie ropes (the ropes that secure your tent to the ground). Pour out any excess water that has accumulated in your tent to reduce weight. Also, be aware that the ground will become softer during and after rain, which can cause the pegs to loosen.
Keep your campsite clean of dirt dishes and leftover food. This can attract animals. Manage waste responsibly, pack out all non-biodegradable waste and bury biodegradable and food waste in a food pit.
- Trash can attract animals, so never leave food or food waste lying around for long periods of time, especially when leaving the site.
- Biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste should be disposed of in two separate containers.
- Separating waste at the source allows for efficient treatment and disposal. Biodegradable waste can be decomposed naturally through composting.
- Non-biodegradable waste can be recycled. If the two wastes are collected in a single container, they would mix and form toxic compounds that can cause contamination.
Focus on preparation in advance. Create a camping checklist to ensure nothing vital gets left behind. Examine your gear before you leave and carry repair kits for your tents and stoves.
- Being prepared is an important part of a fun, quiet, and comfortable camping trip. A camping checklist provides you with a comprehensive list of equipment and accessories. A checklist can help you remember essential equipment and helps divide the supplies amongst the different members if you are traveling in a group. You are unlikely to require everything on the list. And depending on the type of camping or trekking, your demands may change. However, if you're making your own list, it's a great place to start.
- You never know what issue you might face with your tent (no matter how much you spent on it initially). Thus, it’s advisable to carry a proper tent repairing kit every time you go on a hike.
Do not leave food or burning fires unattended. Animals can strike swiftly and unattended fire can spread rapidly. Tents and other gear materials are generally very flammable.
- Before you go hiking for the day or retire to sleep, make sure to clean up your campsite to avoid unwanted animal encounters.
- A tiny breeze or an animal can swiftly spread fire. If you have set up a campfire or are cooking, the fire needs to be watched at all times. Even if you're only going to leave the fire unattended for a few minutes, it should be entirely extinguished. A breeze can even carry embers into vegetation, which can potentially lead to a wildfire.
Do not camp near stagnant water in the rainy season, it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
- When choosing a campsite, make sure the water supply is flowing rather than stagnant. Animal carcasses and mosquitos have the potential to pollute standing water. Find a creek that is running or has fresh water. Remember that, Mosquitoes don't require an entire pond or a wheelbarrow full of water to reproduce, they can lay their eggs in as little as a bottle cap.
Make camp before sunset
- Camping in the dark can be tricky, even for seasoned campers. Choose your campsite and set up camp while there is still light.
Do not light open flames or smoke inside tents.
- Never have an open fire or charcoal burning in a tent or awning. Tent fabric catches fire quickly and can emit many poisonous gases. Grills, cookware, and other hot equipment should be placed at least three feet from the tent wall, outside the tent. If you light a barbecue or gas appliance in the tent, you risk not only setting the tent on fire but also being suffocated by the smoke and other gases in the tent.
Do not camp on or near slopes that are prone to landslides or avalanches.
- According to National Geographic, 90 percent of avalanche accidents are caused by the victim or someone in the victim's party. When someone walks or drives over a slab (with a weak layer underneath), that is when an avalanche is generally known to occur as the weak layer collapses, causing the mass of snow on it to break and slide.
- A human-triggered avalanche can be caused by various factors. When trekking and camping at high altitude, do stick to the guidelines given by your trek leader and do not venture out into areas they ask you to avoid.
Cook outside and away from tents. If traveling in the monsoon, carry a tarp to provide shelter for kitchen areas. Tent materials are very flammable and cooking in enclosed spaces can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Again, because of the highly flammable material of the tent, you should avoid cooking inside of the tents.
- Make sure to carry a tarp whenever you plan on camping. In case of heavy rainfall, a tarp provides shelter from the rain. Remember you should be cooking outside, not in your tent.
Use bear canisters when traveling through bear country.
- Himalayan Brown bears are known to be found in Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh. And even though bear encounters are relatively uncommon- it does well to be prepared for wildlife encounters.
- Outside of India- people use bear canisters or bear bags. Many sites also come with bear-resistant lockers. These are used to store food, toiletries and garbage.
- While bear canisters are not commonly used here, do ensure you store your food and garbage in a way that is out of reach of the wildlife in the region. Do not leave your belongings lying around at any site.
We hope these pointers are helpful in planning your next camping trip! If you have any questions or comments, do drop them below! We would love to hear from you!