Mom Goes Camping

11 Rules to Know Before You Go Wild Camping

wild camping rules

I live in the Balkans where beautiful nature abounds – but the nature is often also full of trash and piles of toilet paper lurking right off the trails.  In many places, camping is completely forbidden simply because the people are too stupid to do things like not get mauled by a bear.

Basically, a few idiots are ruining things for everyone. None of this would be an issue if everyone would just follow these basic rules when wild camping.


Gourmet As Heck ebook

Never Eat Anything that You Don’t Know What It Is

Wild strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are pretty easy to identify – but other wild edibles aren’t so obvious.  There are plenty of wild edibles which resemble poisonous plants.  Like the nightshade berry which resembles a blueberry.

You probably won’t die if you eat the wrong plant, but you could end up with a terrible case of diarrhea and vomiting.  Speaking from experience, it is no fun to get sick while camping.  So don’t risk it and never eat something if you aren’t 100% sure of what it is.

Looks like a blueberry, but this is actually poisonous nightshade!

Looks like a blueberry, but this is actually poisonous nightshade!


Always Enclose the Fire

Every fire needs to be enclosed in some way so flying sparks don’t cause a forest fire. You could dig a pit for it.  Or, I prefer to make a fire circle out of rocks.

Remember to be careful when picking up big rocks when you are in snake country!  Give the rock a good tap before picking it up, and even then proceed with caution.

Don’t know how to make a fire? Read the 5 fire lays all campers should know and how to make a fire in the rain.

See all of that dry brush? That's why you need a fire ring or pit!

See all of that dry brush? That’s why you need a fire ring or pit!


And Always Put Out the Fire

I was camping on the beach in Albania last month.  Some locals made a fire.  When they left, they insisted that they “didn’t need to put it out” because “it’s the beach, and there is nothing flammable.”

True, you aren’t going to start a forest fire on the beach.  But what if the wind blew a hot coal onto the beach and some barefoot person stepped on it?

I put the fire out by dousing it with sand.

In the woods, you don’t necessarily have to douse the fire with water (though this is recommended if it is very dry out – a single spark could result in a forest fire!).  But do make sure that the flames have gone completely out and spread the coals out so they don’t  re-ignite.


Take Your Shoes Off before Entering the Tent

Boots and sandals should always be left in front of the tent.  This is why it is such a good idea to get a tent which has a vestibule as it will keep them dry in case it rains.

Why wouldn’t you want shoes in the tent?  Let’s see…

  • They will stink up the tent
  • They will track in dirt
  • They will take up space

The one exception is if you are camping in winter.  Then you might even want to keep your boots inside your sleeping bag so they are warm when you put them on.  But I have no intention of camping in winter (at least at this point in my life), so the boots stay outside!


Keep the Tent Zipped

I might not mind a few beetles or spiders crawling around on me while I sleep, but it is no fun to have a zillion mosquitoes buzzing around your head.


Set Up Camp Before Dark

If you’ve got a good headlamp, setting up your tent in the dark isn’t too hard.  But hanging a bear bag, gathering firewood, and making dinner are difficult if night has fallen.

Allow yourself plenty of time to set up camp before night falls so you can relax and enjoy the stars.


If You Go Off-Trail, Use Your Compass

There have been scientific studies which show that people really do walk in circles when they think they are walking in a straight line.  In other words, it is really easy to get yourself lost if you wander off the trail.

The best way to prevent this is to use a compass to make sure you are going straight. Or just stay on the trail.  You don’t want to stomp down nature anyway. 🙂

daughter reading map on hike

My daughter “reading” the map while hiking.


Hang a Bear Bag

When in bear country, take care to bear-proof your campsite and hang your food in a bear bag (see these 5 methods of hanging a bear bag). Alternatively, you can use a bear canister like this one.

The last thing you want is a hungry brown bear roaming your campground.  Even worse, ripping into your tent while you sleep to get the food you foolishly put there! And, just in case, bring some bear spray.

Even if you aren’t in bear country, you still may need to hang a bear bag or use a canister.  Bears aren’t the only critters which will eat your food.

Worried about bears? Read what to do if you encounter a bear in the wild.

The Frontiersman Bear-Resistant canister

The Frontiersman Bear-Resistant canister


Bear spray by Frotiersman has the industry-maxium spray distance of 35 feet.

Bear spray by Frotiersman has the industry-maxium spray distance of 35 feet.


If You Brought It In, Bring It Out

This applies to EVERYTHING – even the biodegradable things like paper. I try to minimize the amount of things I bring in, such as never carrying canned food (it’s too heavy anyway).  I take foods out of the packaging before coming and put it in ziplock bags instead.


Dig a Catole

If your campsite doesn’t have a latrine, then it will be up to you to dig a cathole for your waste.  Catholes should always be

  • 200 feet from water and camp
  • 6-8 inches deep
  • 4-6 inches in diameter
  • Covered with natural materials when finished

I once bought a cheap small shovel for digging a cathole, but found it useless in rocky soil or around tree roots (so, basically everywhere in the woods).  Instead, I just use my knife and a stick to dig a hole.  It works fine.


11.  Treat Water

Finally, remember to never drink water from natural sources (ponds, streams, lakes, etc.) without first treating it.

Even if the water looks clean, it can still contain bacteria and parasites like giardia and Cryptosporidium.  There are a few ways to treat water to make it safe to drink.  The easiest is to just filter it.  I use the Sawyer Mini filter and it literally makes camping possible for me.


What other rules would you add to the list? 🙂

About the author /

Diane Vukovic is an avid traveler, outdoor enthusiast and couchsurfer. She loves finding ways to explain complex topics to her 9-year old daughter and hunting beetles with her 1-year old. Follow MomGoesCamping on Facebook and Twitter @MomGoesCamping to stay in touch!

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