Campsite Etiquette 101

Guidelines for how to create fellow happy campers around your site

Camping is meant to be fun, offering a break from the normal pace of life. But camping on public lands also means it’s a common ground for other people, too. So if you step too far outside your own experience and begin impeding that of others, the great outdoors can take a turn for the worse, especially when introducing noisy music, scraps of litter, or buzzing drones to the mix. Small courtesies go a long way in ensuring everyone at a campground enjoys their time in nature, even if you’re sharing picnic tables and restrooms. Keep adjacent sites in mind when it comes to your music, late-night fireside chats, photography equipment, or even your grilling smells—it all becomes part of the environment, and how other campers are experiencing it. Bring a smile and pass it on. 

DO: Introduce yourself to your neighbor

A simple “Howdy!” will do. No need to make new best friends off the bat, but a neighborly greeting will let anyone in your orbit know you’re friendly and can prevent any surprise “I didn’t see you there!” encounters later on. 

DON’T: Play king or queen of the campground

Everyone at camp is a visitor of equal standing. While many campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis in terms of who gets what site, that hierarchy system ends once a site is claimed. Be kind to your neighbors and offer to lend a hand if you see someone in need, but don’t cut through people’s campsites or enter without an invitation. If you’re rolling in late at night, don’t steamroll through the campground; always drive with caution and dim your headlights. 

DO: Live by LNT principles

Think of yourself as a human ambassador to wildlife in the outdoors. No matter where you’re camping, be a good steward. That means treating the campground infrastructure, any animals that visit the area, plus the surrounding flora with respect. Look but don’t touch—leave only footprints, take only memories, and don’t feed the wildlife. If you’re camping in dispersed locations, be sure to choose a site that doesn’t worsen erosion. And when you leave, pack absolutely everything out with you, which includes all your trash: Don’t leave litter or food scraps in your firepit, as a campfire cannot get hot enough to burn it away.

DO: Embrace differences

Don’t patronize others for recreating in a way that might look different than what you have experienced or are expecting. People like to enjoy the outdoors in their own, personal ways. Too, don’t belittle people for “beginner” gear or making do with what they’ve got—remember everyone had to start somewhere. 

DON’T: Destroy vegetation to get the “best spot” or “best shot” 

If a campground’s sites or parking lot is full, don’t pull into a non-designated camping or parking area and risk running over vegetation. Pitch your tent only in designated tent sites to help protect the high-use areas and keep them in quality condition for future guests. Likewise, when it comes to photos, don’t trample vegetation trying to get the “best shot”—get creative and work with what’s available to you on-trail or on-site.

DO: Buy wood locally

If fires are allowed, purchase the firewood on-site (campground hosts often have bundles for sale) or stop at a local grocery store or roadside stand en route to your site. You don’t want to introduce foreign wood to a campsite, as it might contain harmful pests or other pollutants that can hurt (and sometimes devastate) the local ecosystem. 

A woman standing and smiling while holding a mug of coffee, she is wearing a fleece multi-color quarter zip and black paints while standing in the forest.

DON’T: Over-scavenge your campsite

If you’re pulling wood from the area surrounding your campsite (and first check to be sure this is allowed at your campground), don’t strip vegetation of their branches or bark for fire fodder. Leave decomposing logs alone, too—you’ll alter the ecosystem’s natural balance, and besides, damp wood doesn’t burn well. Look for already-dried twigs, sticks, and logs that won’t leave your campsite as a flat of scrubbed dirt for the next guests. 

DO: Consider your generator

A motor’s hum can mean lights and warmth for one party, but for another, it can bring an annoying background drawl to the outdoors. If you’re using a generator, walk around your setup and take note of how far its noise travels. Think about the atmospheric impacts on not only other humans, but also animals. (Quieter electric power banks are another alternative.)

DON’T: Blast music or other loud noises

Odds are most people didn’t pick a campground so they could listen to your playlist. Camp speakers are fun, but be cognizant of their blast radius and sensitive to the fact that your fellow campers and the wildlife may have their own music tastes or might be seeking the quiet that nature can provide. 

DO: Ask permission when taking photos of other people

If you’re snapping a landscape or campground shot that might include other people, ask them before you capture the photo. Not everyone feels comfortable with other people having photos of them; a quick check-in will make sure you’re all on the same page—you can even offer to send them the photo when you get back home.  

DON’T: Make others clean up after you

Pack out all your trash and don’t misuse campground sinks—they’re not for use as your personal gray-water dumping grounds. First, wash your dishes at your campsite in an oversized tupperware or dish bucket, strain the food waste into your trash bag, then use the campground sink for a light rinse. Wipe down campground surfaces like picnic tables and benches. Don’t leave food waste or crumbs for wildlife or a campground host to take care of—that’s not their job. And bring the trash from your trip out with you. Campground trash cans often have limited capacity, so it’s helpful if you can bring all of your trash with you (gas stations often have dumpsters you can use on the drive back home).

DO: Offer any extra food to remaining campers

When you’re packing up to head home and you have extra food (or firewood) left over, consider offering what remains to other campers (especially if they’re backpackers). This’ll reduce your food waste and can make someone else’s day—maybe they can extend their trip or enjoy the surprise of something new. 

DON’T: Forget the Golden Rule

Remember the universal guiding rule of thumb: Treat others how you want to be treated. 

DO: Stand up for yourself

If someone is making you feel uncomfortable or is taking away from your enjoyment of the outdoors, begin a respectful conversation. Ideally, everyone should recreate on public land on their own terms, so long as their actions don’t infringe upon or conflict with the tastes, personal freedom, health, and safety of others. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.