Mom Goes Camping

Things You Should Never Bring Camping or Backpacking

There are lots of lists of what to bring when you go camping or backpacking, but what about the things you should not bring with you?  After encountering a lot of campers with some ridiculous and irresponsible items, I thought it was time to write this list.

 

Electronics

If you want to bring your phone camping in case of an emergency, then fine.  But you really don’t need your laptop, tablet, Gameboy (or whatever kids play these days), TV (yes, I’ve heard of people bringing TVs camping)…

The entire point of camping is to get away.  You can’t do that if you are plugged in.  Really, your TV shows can wait until you get back.  You don’t need to keep up on the news while away (is knowing the news really going to change anything?).  And you certainly don’t need to stress yourself by checking your email!

Even some “innocent” electronics – like a music player – can be a bad idea.  How are you going to hear the music of the crickets, owls, and frogs when you’ve got the radio blasting?  Not to mention that playing music at a campground goes against the principles of Leave No Trace. Just enjoy the peace and quiet, or sing campfire songs if you feel like music.

If you really have to bring electronics…
Be considerate of other campers. Don’t use them in public spaces. And keep the sound OFF (use headphones).  I don’t want to hear your music/podcasts/shows!  And I don’t need my kids running over to see what your kids are watching when I’m trying to give them the benefits of a digital detox.

 

An Axe or Saw

Axes and saws not only destroy nature, but are completely unnecessary whem camping.

What about for firewood?

You can gather enough firewood from the ground. If there isn’t enough dead wood on the ground, then the place is probably a fragile ecosystem (like above treeline on mountains) and you definitely shouldn’t be cutting any trees.  Or the place is so popular that campers have already gathered all the dead wood, which means that you should buy firewood instead to minimize the already-drastic impact.

On top of that, wood cut from trees is live wood. It sucks as firewood because it is still moist inside.  If you use it for firewood, you will get a LOT of smoke.

And what about using an axe/saw for practicing bushcraft, such as building a shelter?

This seems harmless enough but it is still destroying nature.  Instead, take your skills to the next level by making shelters which don’t harm nature, such as using cordage to hang your ridgelines.  Also note that it’s annoying for other nature-goers to see your shelter in the woods.  It ruins the nature experience, so take down any bushcraft shelters after you leave.

 

When it is okay to use an axe or hatchet…

At many campgrounds, you will have to buy firewood. In this case, you can use an axe to cut large pieces of firewood that you PURCHASED into kindling.  Read more about how to use a camping hatchet without being a jerk.

 

Lots of Toys

I let my daughter bring one or two small stuffed animals when we go backpacking, a notebook, and some markers.  We also sometimes bring a deck of cards (which was great for rainy days).   Anything beyond this is probably too much toys.

Trust me, your kids WILL find something to play with in nature.  My daughter’s favorite thing to play with are sticks (making forts is fun), the Ace bandage from our first aid kit (she have fun pretending I hurt myself and wrapping up my ankle), and the rope (which she uses to make pretend fishing poles and other games she invents).

If you bring a bunch of toys camping, then your kids are going to be too distracted by the toys to actually enjoy nature!  Oh, and as an added benefit, your kids will play with their at-home toys more after having a break from them.

Feel like you must bring tons of toys for your kids? Then choose open-ended toys that will help them interact with nature, such as shovels, nets, and collection cups.  Here are some of the best camping toys for kids.

kids playing with sticks while camping

Trust me, the kids won’t get bored while camping!

 

Perfumes and Deodorants

You don’t like the idea of being all stinky while camping?  Don’t try to mask the stink by spraying on perfumes or deodorants.  First off, it is unnecessary because camping stink isn’t the same as everyday stink.  When you are in nature and outside all day, you don’t get the gross funky smell that comes from sitting around and exposing yourself to car exhaust. 🙂

And there is a practical reason not to bring scented items camping: animals are attracted to the smell.  Do you really want mosquitoes and bees chasing you all around? Or how about a bear breaking into your tent because you smell so good?

 

All Those Extra Toiletries

I bring a small bottle of soap camping.  It doubles as dish soap and hand-washing soap.  There is no reason that anyone needs to bring zillions of different soaps (hands, body, hair, face…), creams and conditioners.   Aside from being unnecessary, most toiletries contain perfumes — which means they will attract insects and animals.

There is also the issue of chemicals from your toiletries contaminating water sources. Always make sure to use biodegradable soap when camping. Even biodegradable products have an environmental impact. Soapy water should never be dumped into streams, lakes, ponds, etc.  It needs to be disposed 200 feet from any water body.

 

Glass or Ceramic Items

It’s really easy for cups, plates and bottles to fall off the table when camping. THIS INCLUDES GLASS BEER BOTTLES.  Bring cans instead!

It is impossible to clean up every last shard of glass/ceramic from the ground, which means the next campers might cut their feet while walking bearfoot or rip the bottom of their tent. So please don’t be the jerk who brought something breakable!

 

Mirror

Like glass and ceramic items, mirrors are breakable and shouldn’t be brought camping.  Plus, you should give yourself a break from worrying about appearance while camping.  Sure, you probably look funny with your hair sticking out in every direction, and you might have dirt streaked on your face.  Who cares!  You’ll get a laugh over it when you look at your photos from the trip later. 🙂

 

Accelerants

Fire accelerants are dangerous to you and the people around you, and they increase the risk of forest fire.  The NPS says that it is okay to use lighter fluid to start a fire, but you need to check with the park or campground first.  Even if lighter fluid is allowed for fires, it’s not necessary.  Trust me, you’ll enjoy a campfire more when you’ve built it and got it going yourself.   Not sure how? See these different ways to lay a fire and how to make a fire in the rain.

 

Anything that You Can’t (Or Don’t Want t0) Carry Out

At official campsites, they have trashcans for your waste.  When backpacking, wild camping or on hikes, this usually isn’t the case.  Anything that you carry in, you’ve got to carry out.  The only exception is toilet paper, which gets buried in hole you dig before doing your business (wet wipes take years do decompose so need to be packed out).   Though it generally isn’t recommended, paper trash can also be burned in your campfire.

So think about the trash issue when you are packing.

For example, canned soup might seem like a good meal idea until you realize you will have to carry out a sharp, dirty soup can.  I personally repackage all of my camping meals into sturdy reusable baggies so I don’t have to deal with any trash.  Even granola bars get taken out of their wrappers – it’s too easy to accidentally litter when a piece of granola wrapper blows away as you open it.

 

Do you bring any luxuries while camping?

Image credits:
Feliz dia del trabajador” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by  Miradortigre
Cool but unnecessary camp luxury” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  Beige Alert 

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About the author /


Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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4 Comments

  1. robotapartments

    A mirror or other shiny object is necessary in case you get lost and need to signal, in fact it a very important object to have with you; many people have been saved by signaling planes and helicopters because the pilot noticed an unusual shine coming from the ground. An ax is necessary for many reasons such as marking a trail, self-defense against aggressive wildlife, chopping larger dead branchd into kindling, it can also be used to create a lean-to or other shelters in an emergency situation.
    I agree though about the majority of the rest of the stuff on your list. Happy camping!

  2. Nicholas

    The axe part is ridiculous limbs burn fast especially after they are dried out a bigger piece always burns slower a axe or hatchet is great to take camping especially when you plan on making a fire. Do not cut wood off living trees. But they are great to chop fallen logs for a better fire

    • Diane

      I talk about that in the linked article about camping axes. An axe or hatchet is useful if you buy local firewood (which is usually only sold as larger logs) so you can chop it into kindling. Even then it generally isn’t recommended to use wood larger than the size of your wrist on campfires: large wood simply doesn’t burn as completely and can pose a fire risk. This is what the US Forest Service and Leave No Trace recommend (https://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfpubs/pdf97232815/pdf97232815pt01.pdf). I do sometimes use larger pieces of wood when I know I’ll have a fire going for a long time, but only in areas where forest fires aren’t a big risk.

    • Jett

      I am a hyperboreal horticulturalist / consultant who has have lived in the Northern Canadian wilderness for 6 months of the year for over 20 years ( I am now in my 40s ) – I teach responsible bushcraft, construction, first-aid, masonry, test camping tools and survival equipment in the field, and work as a pilot and guide – I hunt, but no longer for recreation — you are absolutely CORRECT —- while I appreciate the personally conscientious spirit of the article, I would consider an axe ( and some knowledge and experience as to how to use it ) as an ESSENTIAL and possibly life-saving piece of equipment … Likewise, kudos to the poster who mentioned the use of a mirror in an emergency situation … Extremely useful for first-aid

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