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 Living on the Road :: Articles :: Campimg etiquette

I've been bushwalking for years and, hopefully, have picked up how to do things in that time so I decided to write a short article detailing some of the do's and dont's for camping.

Note that the camping I'm talking about here is wilderness camping when backpacking in wilderness areas and national parks.

Don't camp at the focal point of a scene. There are few things more frustrating than trudging up a hill to get a better vantage point for a photo only to find a bright orange tent smack in the middle of the scene. Try to camp far enough from the lake, beach or whatever so your camp doesn't show in any photo of the area. The photo you save may be your own.

Fires. There's nothing I like better than sitting around a camp fire, bottle of port in one hand, chocolate bar in the other and my friends all around. It's amazing how many of the world's problems are solved as the night progresses. Sadly, I no longer believe that campfires are appropriate, at least not in the kind of wilderness areas I frequent.

If you are camped in a high-use maintained campsite with fire wood supplied and long-drop dunnies, then fires are fine. But if you are in the bush then it's not on. Even if there are signs of previous fires, don't compound the problem.

And don't just say, "It'll grow back in a few months". Firstly, if everyone says that then of course it will never get a chance. Secondly, when you light a fire on the ground you not only kill any surface grasses but all the micro-organisms in the soil. This is what makes the damage so long lasting: it won't grow back in a few months.

Don't dig trenches. It used to be common practice to dig a drainage ditch around a tent to stop water from entering under the side walls. I've seen examples of this behaviour in Hidden Valley (Budawang Ranges) and the Grand Canyon (Blue Mountains). In both cases the trench not only left lasting scars but cut, and exposed, hundreds of tree roots.

"But I don't want water washing through my tent", you say. There's a simple answer. Get rid of your old canvas "A" frame tent and buy a new one with a tub floor that is totally waterproof.

Check drainage. Tub floors or not, you'll be more comfortable if you allow for any rain water to drain from your camp site. In theory you will be dry inside the tent. However it's common to leave many items under the fly but outside the protection of the inner tent. You don't want your boots swimming in 6 inches of water in the morning.

Don't scavenge for bedding material. I remember arriving at a favourite lunch spot of mine not far from the Green Room in Monolith Valley. This is both a very delicate and very popular area, so I always try to be more careful than usual. Imagine my surprise to find that, not only had someone been camping right next to the creek, but that they had scavenged moss to create a "bed".

I returned a year or so later to find a mound of dead moss and no discernible regrowth. It is inexcusable to strip the countryside just to increase your comfort level. Buy a proper sleeping mat.

Watch for widow makers. It's usually more pleasant and more comfortable to sleep in the shelter of trees. They provide a measure of warmth by reducing wind and heat loss through radiation, not to mention shade when it's hot. They can also make the most eerie, groaning sounds as boughs rub together in the wind which is great in the middle of the night.

Speaking of boughs, before you erect your tent have a good look above. If there are any branches move to a different site. Branches are prone to fall in high winds or even for no apparent reason. They are known as "widow makers". Enough said I think.

Look for drip line in overhangs. When camping under a rock overhang it's nice to know which areas will remain dry if it rains half way through the night. Look at the ground. Most overhangs have sandy floors and water falling from the rocks above will form a drip line in the sand. Stay inside this line and you will stay dry. That is of course unless your night is windy as well as wet. If there is a wind blowing towards the overhang then all bets are off.

Don't feed animals. When camping, it's quite common to be approached by the local wildlife. You should never feed a wild animal or bird. They can become dependant on the handouts and have a rough time during seasons of low bushwalker traffic. Quite apart from that their metabolism is not designed for dehydrated meals and Scroggin. Come to think of it, I'm not sure ours is either.

Don't wash dishes with detergent. In fact, on a two day walk don't wash the dishes at all. Just pack everything up, gunge and all, and wash up when you get home. However on longer walks you do have to clean eating utensils.

There's no need to scrub them to within an inch of their lives with detergent that you will throw away when finished and, bio degradable or not, detergent is no good for whatever you throw it on. I use Teflon coated bowls. Simply heating some water in them and wiping with a sponge does the trick.

If you carried it in, you carry it out. The old days of disposing of cans with the bash-n-burn technique are long gone. Anyway, if you don't light fires, you don't have the option to burn rubbish. If you organise your food properly there should be almost no packaging to create rubbish. The little that there is should be carried out.

Leave a pristine camp site. When you leave your camp site there should be almost no evidence that you were ever there: a little flattened grass and some footprints perhaps, but nothing else.

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