Keep in mind that everything you leave behind in the woods will eventually get into the water system. So, hey, leave as little as possible and make it as difficult as possible for it to get into the water. The ground is the best filter available so use it by following these basic guidelines.
Selection of your campsite is critical. Real outdoors dudes don't just hike in, plop down their packs, and toss up a tent on the easiest spot they see. You should drop your pack and take 15 or 20 minutes to hike around the area looking for the best available spot. Here's some guidelines to remember for minimizing water pollution:
- Rule #1: Tent site at least 200 feet off the trail and at least 200 feet from water - I try to make it 100 paces just to be sure. You want easy access to water, but you don't want run-off from your campsite making its way directly into the water.
- Rule #2: Toilet site at least 200 feet from water, preferably even further away than your tent site.
- Rule #3: Kitchen site at least 200 feet from water. Do your dishes and dispose of water well away from your tents in case the waste attracts animals.
- Arrive with plenty of daylight to scout and set up. A rushed job is a poor job.
There is a lot more involved in choosing a good campsite. See the perfect campsite selection page at CampingDude.com for the long list.
Since human fecal waste is packed full of just the thing we don't want in our water or our bodies, disposing of it is extremely important for camping sanitation. Use these backcountry guidelines and you should be ok:
- If possible, make your toilet on soft soil so digging is easier. Also, choose a secluded area in trees or bushes, but watch out for poisonous plants and stickers.
- Take a cup or small pot of clean water, a bit of biodegradable soap, and some Purell hand sanitizer.
- Dig a hole at least 6 inches deep and aim well.
- Use as little toilet paper as you can.
- Use the soap and water to wash your hands having the water go into the hole.
- Use the Purell to kill off anything left on your hands. Remember, if you have a poop smear on your finger and go wash the dishes, you get it on everyone's plates.
- Completely cover the hole with the soil you removed and place the top layer back on carefully so it looks natural.
Some folks rely on the boiling of cooking water to make it potable. Smart dudes still filter all the water they use to actually remove stuff instead of just kill stuff. But, as long as you boil it long enough and add enough salt, it should be ok. Just make sure you are actually boiling it and not just heating dried food.
Wash your hands before doing anything around food. Use a hand sanitizer after washing off the dirt. Hand sanitizers by themselves don't clean your hands, they just kill germs.
After your meal (mmmmm, that was good!) you need to clean up which probably means using water to wash. Keep these things in mind to minimize your pollution and hassle:
- Lick plates and utensils clean.
- Wash dishes 50 feet or farther away from the tent sites and not towards the water. Animals are attracted to the smells left behind.
- Scrape leftovers from pots into a ziploc bag. Keep as much junk out of the water as possible.
- Use biodegradable soap, like Campsuds.
- Use filtered, boiled water to wash. If not, you may be putting crawlies all over your seemingly clean fork where they will wait for the next meal. Or, dip plates in boiling cooking water before a meal to kill off crawlies.
- Dump the dish water through a fine screen onto soft soil that will absorb it. Collect the bits on the screen into the ziploc garbage bag to haul out.
It would be way cool if you minimize the impact you have in the wilderness and these steps should help you do that. I'll sure appreciate your efforts the next time I hike through the same wilderness and I promise that I'll be doing what I can to make it nice for the dudes that come through after me.