COVID-19 Camping Tips

How to Camp Responsibly in the Age of Coronavirus

Posted on: June 7, 2020
By: Robyn Smith
COVID-19 Camping Tips

Photo Credit: Wendling

Although camping may be the best way to socially distance while remaining healthy and active in the outdoors, there are several things you should keep in mind when choosing where, when, and how to plan your next camping adventure.

Recommendations and restrictions vary widely across the country and are rapidly changing. Know – and follow – the current recommendations for both your destination, your place of residence, and all the places in between.

Should you go camping in a pandemic?

Escaping the confines of your house and soaking up some nature is probably more important now than ever. Camping is an excellent opportunity to get out of your house, stay away from other people, get some fresh air, and clear your head. Extensive research has shown that outdoor recreation has a multitude of health benefits. Camping is also fun – the type of fun that doesn’t inherently involve coming into close contact with strangers. Although camping is one of the few activities made better by social distancing, there are several considerations to keep in mind when deciding if, when, and where you should go.

Why are campgrounds closed?

If camping is the ultimate recreational activity for preventing the spread of COVID-19, why are there restrictions on camping at all? There are 3 main risk factors that camping can contribute to the spread of coronavirus. Knowing what they are can help you avoid them.

Travel

The small communities that serve as the gateway to wild spaces are hotbeds for transmission. These idyllic little towns are built around tourism – making them the first hit by community spread and the last to recover economically. The medical services are often extremely limited and would be easily overwhelmed by the long term intensive care required for even a small handful of seriously ill COVID-19 patients. The single grocery store and the single gas station are high traffic areas for residents and travelers alike. Do your shopping at home before you leave and don’t travel further than a single tank of gas can take you to avoid contributing to or contracting the virus. However, if you are passing through, many restaurants badly in need of customers provide contactless curbside delivery.

First responders

Accidents – and occasional stupidity -- happen. Camping is generally extremely safe. Even the ancillary activities that typically accompany camping like hiking, biking, rock climbing, wildlife watching, and campfires do not require first responder intervention the vast majority of the time. However, when accidents happen in the wild, a more substantial response is required – often from a proportionally smaller pool of responders. Enforcement and prevention further strain land managers. Play it safe, keep it mellow, and don’t cause a problem – now more than ever.

Campground Facilities

While camping is all about getting away from it all, most camping takes place in a developed campground. Campgrounds typically consist of a number of designated campsites each with an area to pitch a tent, a fire pit, and occasionally a picnic table. Most campgrounds have shared facilities such as restrooms, trash, and even a camp store. To curb the spread of COVID-19 some campgrounds have closed, while some remain opened with restricted access to shared facilities. These shared facilities are convenient, but entirely unnecessary for self-supported camping.

Where to go camping During Corona

The term 'campsite' is generally applied to any patch of land upon which one camps. A 'campground' is a collection of campsites and is often developed.

Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping is camping that takes place outside of a developed campsite. Services and amenities are limited or non-existent. Potable water, trash pick up, and bathrooms are rarely available. Some primitive campsites may have rock ring fire pits built up over years of use. Camping out in the wilderness away from developed campgrounds is ideal for responsible, self-reliant campers when seeking solitude and privacy.

Bureau of Land Management:

BLM holds 12 percent of the landmass in the United States – much of it in the west. This is your land - you can camp pretty much anywhere that you find suitable. Dusty rutted up dirt roads in the middle of nowhere are typical of BLM land, if you follow them far enough you’ll find amazing remote campsites and possibly your inner cowboy.

National Forest Land:

Similar to BLM, USFS holds 8% of the landmass in the United States. Find a suitable pull off on any forest access road and you can pitch a tent.

Private Land:

If you know someone with a large plot of land, odds are good they will give you permission to camp there if you ask nicely.

Your Own Backyard:

Often overlooked and underrated, the back-yard campsite is making a huge comeback. Escaping the confines of your home -- even by a few yards – is a refreshing change of pace in a quarantine. If you have kids, setting them up in the garden is a great way to take a break from each other while maintaining household isolation.

Developed Campgrounds

Campgrounds are common in popular areas where land managers have dedicated specific areas for camping in an effort to limit human impact on the surrounding environment while providing an excellent guest experience. Developed campgrounds typically consist of several drive-up campsites with a designated fire pit, tent pad, and picnic tables. Amenities like running water and waste management, and shared facilities such as bathrooms, are often common in developed campsites. Many campgrounds have reopened or are in the process of reopening, although access to shared facilities may remain closed or limited.

National Parks:

Many campgrounds at National Parks require reservations, although many of those reservations are being cancelled which provide an opportunity for you to snatch one up if they become available.

State Parks:

Similar to National Parks, State Park campgrounds are opening up again and provide excellent access to wild spaces. Reservations may be required in advance, but many are first come first serve.

Private Campgrounds:

Most campground operators are reopening and accepting reservations. Private campgrounds are extremely diverse and range from densely populated urban settings to remote and sweeping landscapes. HipCamp is a great resource for locating and researching private campgrounds.

GlampGrounds:

Glamping operations are everywhere – most provide everything you need, shelter included, however, you can also contact them to see about bringing your own tent for a discounted rate.  Check out glamping.com or glampinghub.com to discover a glampground near you.

Self-supported Camping

Being prepared to camp without relying on the services and amenities of a campground greatly increases your camping opportunities. A few extra pieces of gear are essential for self-supported camping, but it’s less than you would anticipate for the tremendous increase in freedom.

Water:

A 5 gallon (19 liters) jerry can of water typically provides enough for a family of 4 to drink, cook, wash dishes, and bathe for a two day camping trip. By packing in your own water you can avoid shared water sources at campgrounds. You will also be surprised how the skills of conserving camp water translate back to the home in everyday life.

Trash:

Pack it in, pack it all the way out – as in back to your trash and recycling at home. Cleaning up after yourself is a basic tenant of adulthood as well as outdoorsmanship. You can handle your own garbage management by keeping it out of shared dumpsters as well as our shared wildlife. Again, if you have to haul your own trash you will be more conscious of generating less of it.

Fire:

Everyone loves campfires, however, open fires are dangerous and often not recommended outside of designated fire pits. Instead, opt for a tent stove -- used inside or outside of a tent. Tent stoves produce more heat, using less wood, and since they are enclosed are a much safer alternative to an open fire. They’re much easier to cook on as well. BYO wood – or an axe and a saw to collect your own (if collecting wood is permitted in your area).

Poop:

Expert level campers can handle their shit – literally. While digging a cat hole may be appropriate in some locations, if everyone did it wild spaces would be a minefield of craps. Instead, opt for a groover – a sealable box purpose built for dangerous loads. The term ‘groover’ originated from the impressions left on a butt cheek after a long ride on an ammo can. Today most groovers come with toilet seats. Groovers aren’t for everyone, but for those that practice radical self-reliance there is no better option than a loo with a view. Check out our blog for a more in-depth look at how to poop in the woods.

Know the Rules

With the rapidly changing public safety responses to the global pandemic, it’s more difficult than ever to determine where to find the most up-to-date information. It is the responsibility of the camper to know and follow all the rules. Since there is no single source of information, you may need to research not only the recommendations of your intended destination, but all the places you must pass through to get there, in addition to the restrictions placed on your place of residence.

Countries, states, counties, cities and towns have always had different rules, regulations, and recommendations regarding land use for camping. Land managers spend years investing in social media messaging, website development, public education campaigns, signage, and enforcement. Many of the government agencies responsible for regulating land use have websites that are dated and difficult to navigate, as well as a patchwork of social media presences – making it even more difficult for the casual user to find the appropriate information. The rapid onset of COVID-19 and the constantly evolving restrictions have made it extremely difficult for many land managers to anticipate and communicate the rules. You are still responsible to ‘know before you go’.

Although it may seem arduous, inefficient, and even unfair to have to navigate such a disjointed system, the diversity of rules is intended to reflect the diversity of the land and its uses. Rather than a blanket no-go order for all people, in all places – the patchwork provides for local governance that is intended to protect and serve the unique needs of the land and its stakeholders. By putting in the effort to learn and follow the rules, outdoor enthusiasts prove to be responsible stewards of the land. Irreverence and ignorance of the rules will only further strain our already limited resources and encourage further restrictions. Just a few irresponsible campers can ruin it for the rest of us.

COVID Camping Rules

Stay closer to home, be more conscious of your own personal safety, and be extremely well prepared. Camping during the age of corona is really not that much different than being a responsible self-supported camper before the pandemic. Add these items to your camping checklist and you should be just fine getting outside and camping responsibly:

  • Know and follow all the local Special COVID rules
  • Fuel up and shop locally before you head out
  • Avoid shared spaces like bathrooms and water sources
  • Avoid dangerous activities
  • Avoid open fires
  • Don’t make new friends just yet

Go Ahead, Go Camping

As daily life is curtailed, businesses close, and the economy grinds to a halt in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus – the great outdoors provides plenty of opportunities to stay active, healthy, and sane. Camping is an excellent way to escape the confines of your house while practicing social distancing. Before you head out, make sure you are aware of how to camp safely and responsibly in the COVID-19.