Camp Notes: Campground Etiquette

A little dirtbag decorum goes a long way.


We are past Memorial Day, my friends, which means camping season is fully upon us. By now most of us have gotten a few nights in our tents and sleeping bags. But that doesn’t mean we are dialed just yet. Our systems are most likely still rusty and we’re a bit unorganized. Did I put the stove in this bin or that bin? Where are the tent stakes? And who brought extra water?

And while we’d like to believe that our extra-super-ultra-radicalness would see us camping miles away from civilization, most of us will spend a majority of our outdoor sleepy time at well-populated campgrounds. We can still be good neighbors while figuring out our camping junk show. Follow campground etiquette.

Just Go Ahead And Poop Anywhere, Why Dontcha?

A few friends came into town this past weekend, allowing me to be a periphery participant in their ladies camp out extravaganza. We met for dinners in town but my lack of estrogen kept me excluded from tent time, which turned out to be a very, very good thing. At about 4 in the morning on Friday night, Ashley’s dog woke Michele by vomiting human feces at the foot of her sleeping bag. Yes, you read that correctly. Let that sink in for a moment, projectile human turd doggy barf. Gross. MacGuyver, the heaving 11-year-old lab and otherwise lovely pooch, began shaking uncontrollably, couldn’t gain his balance, and was all together really messed up.

Ashley and Michele took MacGyver to the vet (at 4:30 in the morning, mind you), where they discovered that this happened: neo Hippie eats edibles, neo Hippie poops in a poorly dug cat hole (or right on the ground), MacGuyver finds weed-laced deuce. As it turns out, marijuana is toxic to pooches and barfed up weed feces is pretty much toxic to everyone in the world. Etiquette lesson here, poop better, people. Fellow AJ staff writer Abbie Barronian has some helpful hints for you. And get hip to the seven principles of Leave No Trace. Humor goes a long way in icky situations, but nothing is funny about a campsite that smells like human low tide. Especially, if it’s at the bottom of your sleeping bag.

No, No, Get Louder

The only thing worse than a campsite turned into a mountain town music festival port-a-potty is a group of campers that use their campsite as festival grounds. I’m all for music in the outdoors, and dancing, and laughter, and high fives, and general outside goofiness. But nobody likes a loud neighbor while they’re trying to sleep. It’s like the movie theater; it’s quiet time when the lights go down. And keep it down in the a.m. Did you seriously pack a battery powered coffee grinder? Try Alpine Start instant coffee (it is actually very good). You’ll be able to enjoy some early morn tasty brew without clanging around and waking your fellow campers.

Nudity Is Way Cool

No, it’s not. You’d think that this would be self-explanatory but the MacGyver Campground Coachella Poop incident proves otherwise. This is not about body shaming or being uptight. There’s an art to dropping trou outside. Be like a surfer. They’ve got it down. Wrap a towel around yourself and get to changing. Inside the sleeping bag works well, too. I have a huge tapestry from college that I use for everything from a sunshade to impromptu changing room.

If you’re trying to beat the heat by wearing skimpy jorts and a tank top, aka The Brokini, that’s just fine. Shirtless? Well, ok I guess. But that’s a little too dude-man-bro. Folks go a-camping to enjoy views of the great outdoors, not your birthday suit. There are such things as nudist campgrounds. Seriously. However, it’ll serve you well to remember that it’s almost never the people you want to see naked that end up naked at a campground. My brother Brendan and my sister Kitty and I had a very uncomfortable encounter with a retiree in the lobster pot at Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway, Colorado a few years back. The siblings O’Connell were all clothed. The pot-bellied Santa Claus lookalike was not. Now, I am not squeamish about nudity. But my brow furrows a bit when a nude, fuzzy white-furred senior reenacts ski technique as his plums dangle in and out of 110-degree water. Just sayin’.

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Showing 21 comments
  • Lee
    Reply

    You forgot let your children roam around the campground unattended and ask other campers for their breakfast while you, the parents, sleep in.

    Also, bring extra lights so now one has to sleep in the dark.

  • jim
    Reply

    so going shirtless is not ok? i don’t think I’m following that paragraph correctly. public nudity can be uncomfortable for many. I really don’t care what someone else is wearing. I do care about the loud campers though. have some consideration maybe?

  • morbore
    Reply

    not sure if it’s just my OCD talking, but….keep a clean campsite. there’s no reason to take every single thing out of your car and lay it around the campsite, or leave garbage and food out everywhere.

    • Nate Ptacek
      Reply

      Agree 100%. Nothing irks me more than junkshow campsites, whether in a wilderness setting or in a crowded campground. From unexpected wind and rain to scavenging animals or unexpected visitors getting into your food and beverages… it’s just a good idea to keep a clean camp. It only takes a few minutes to batten down the hatches before you go to bed.

  • Greg
    Reply

    I like it when my neighbor puts their generator at the edge of my campsite. Why should they be bothered by their generator?

  • Erik
    Reply

    Don’t forget the barking dog…everybody loves dogs, right?

    • Fido
      Reply

      Haha! I hope every dog barks at you.

  • No Pants Fridays
    Reply

    Huh? Nudity bugs you? Is it not natural enough for you in the wilderness?

    You need to get over it – you feeling uncomfortable because somebody else shows some skin is on you, not them.

    • Joe
      Reply

      The whole point of this is being courteous to people in a shared public space. There’s nothing inherently wrong with waking up at 5am and making a cup of coffee, but it’s rude when you have other people next to you who might want to sleep. Ditto for drinking and laughing and joking around until 1 am. There are places where these things are totally acceptable, but you extend some courtesy to the people around you in this context. “You need to get over” the idea that everyone should just accept you doing whatever you want.

  • km
    Reply

    yes barking dogs. remember folks, NO ONE loves your dog as much as you do.

  • Keystone
    Reply

    Noise is #1.
    Light is #2: shade your damn lanterns and spotlights.

  • Robi
    Reply

    Even in Utah people drop trou for hot springs.
    Or they did; RIP Pah Tempe HS.

  • JJ
    Reply

    And guns. I love hearing my camping neighbors firing off their guns after dark. Especially when I drove by earlier and saw them trying to finish of a case of Budwiser.

  • Sharon
    Reply

    It’s about those poorly-lit-then-abandoned campfires that folks start when they arrive or get up in the morning, just because you’re supposed to have a campfire when you’re camping. What? Make a nice crackler when you are ready to hang and poke it, not a smolderer while you’re inside your RV watching TV.

    • Nate Ptacek
      Reply

      Amen. Or worse… one that’s still going long after the folks that started it have packed up and left…

  • Robi
    Reply

    This article and comments read like a top ten list of why I love backpacking or my Sportsmobile.

    • Ally
      Reply

      “…why I love backpacking or my Sportsmobile.” Agree whole-heartedly, except in my case it’s a 1981 Westfalia camper bus. Van-essa & I have found boondocking spots that even Mother Nature hasn’t discovered yet. 🙂

  • Katie Thornes
    Reply

    What does lack of estrogen have to do with anything? Sorry I am so clued out … women of all ages work in the bush for weeks on end after all?

  • Matt
    Reply

    Haha I love the comments! Here’s one… “Just toss it in the fire” I witnessed people attempting to burn anything they were too lazy to deal with appropriately, and others burning everything for dimwitted entertainment. The worst ever… having a great campsite, settling in, then realizing the previous tenants left a 1/3 semi burned diaper.

  • Craig
    Reply

    I will remove my shirt anytime I wish. The feel I get reading this article is that although the person who wrote it is likely a camper, and a decent one, they don’t quite get the outdoor, or nature.

  • asdf
    Reply

    “I’m not squeamish about nudity”

    Yes you are. Especially because that paragraph reads like you think only attractive people can be naked.

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