Ten Ways to Keep Your Campsite Clean (and why you should)
by Estar H
If you are prepping packs or vehicles to bug out, where are you planning to go? Will you seek refuge in a rural area, maybe even in the wilderness? Whether you retreat to a fully stocked off-the-grid hideaway, set up camp on private acreage, or wing it on public lands, everyone in your circle should be committed to keeping the area clean and safe. Your methods will vary according to location and duration.
This article focuses on activities related to eating. Thoughtfully managing the food cycle will deter pests, preserve the food supply, and help you keep a low profile. Failing to keep your area clean may wreak havoc in the camp, especially if you attract a bear. Then you could end up with a hole like the one in the accompanying photo in your camp.
When living in the wild there are no guarantees. But here are 10 things I do that usually work.
- Pack all food in solid metal or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids.
Start collecting containers of various sizes and storing food in them now. When you arrive at your destination, stash these containers in a secure area. This could be a cabin, cellar, vehicle, cache box, or a sack hung high in a tree.
- Don’t bring food in cardboard or paper containers.
It always amazes me when people bring sacks of sugar and flour to camp in the wilds. Such containers are easily chewed and clawed through. When they get wet you’ll have a mess on your hands. No boxes of crackers, mac, and cheese, or cookies in paper wrappers. Your food won’t be safe in cellophane or Styrofoam either.
- Leave plastic bags in civilization
Ziplock plastic bags can be washed out with soap and hot water and remain useful for a while. It’s nice that they’re waterproof, but they tend to retain food odors. They also fall apart. It’s better to bring containers that will last a long time. Besides, plastic is out of place in the wild.
- Don’t bring sweet condiments into nature
You may yearn to satisfy your sweet tooth, but so do all sorts of critters, from ants and Yellow Jackets to bears. Bring dried fruits and berries in canisters. Leave sweet sauces, syrups, and condiments behind. Pack hard candy sparingly. Nobody wants to suffer through an extended emergency with cavities.
- Clean up your food scraps
If you are fortunate to have any fresh fruits and vegetables there will be food scraps to deal with. If you are near a working compost pile, put your vegetable and fruit scraps there. It helps to cut them into small pieces. In a remote undeveloped area, rather than try to start a compost pile, the best bet is to bury those scraps a safe distance from camp.
Thoroughly dispose of meat and fish scraps, fats, and bones you don’t use. The most efficient way is to burn them. If you are trying to lay low, however, a fire will disclose your location. Rocket stoves are efficient and cause much less smoke, so check them out.
- Clear your plate
Like mom’s of old said, “Clear your plate!”. Leftovers are a liability where there is no refrigerator or ice, and they will attract animals in the wilderness. Before you head for the hills, practice cooking only as much as can be consumed in one meal. Train everybody you plan to retreat with to clear their plates.
- Washing the dishes
This is where you will be really glad to be camped near water. If you have a fire, wash and rinse dishes in water that is as hot as you can bear. Items used closest to the mouth get washed and rinsed first, in descending order.
What about soap? You may be intending to bring a stash, then make some as time goes by. Some folks like to use baking soda instead. Bicarbonate of soda offers an advantage in that it is versatile. In addition to washing dishes, it can be used as an anti-acid, toothpaste, foot powder, ant deterrent, and more.
For safety sake, assume all surface water contains something that can make you sick. It’s good to bring the water to a boil. This becomes a problem when fuel is scarce. Maybe you only have enough to boil the rinse water. If not, you will have to use cold water. Shake the excess off the dishes and, if there is sun, lay them in it to dry.
If you’re purifying potable water, decide whether you have enough to give implements destined for mouths a final rinse. Don’t worry so much about the pots and pans because high temperatures kill most pathogens. Rainwater is handy, but not ideal due to atmospheric pollution.
Did you bring food in tin cans? These will have to be washed out. Be really careful not to cut your fingers on the sharp edges. Take extra care with cans that contained fish because the strong odor will likely attract critters. Cleaning cans that contained fish packed in oil requires more hot water and soap than those canned in water. Fill used cans with water immediately so they can soak before getting crusty.
You may be tempted to flush waste away by simply discarding it into moving water. It’s not a healthy or aesthetic practice, especially if a lot of people are doing it.
- Bury the garbage
Limit the amount of garbage you bring with you. For example, what will you do with the cans once they’re clean? They will either pile up or you will have to bury them. (This goes for all your trash). If you think you can bury cans without cleaning them, you’d better dig down at least a good three feet if your hole is near camp.
The picture accompanying this article was taken the morning after a bear visited one of my camps. Some leftovers a fellow camper had buried about a foot in the ground attracted the bear. The hole is about 18 inches down.
- Managing the gray water
Gray water is what you get when you wash things, including yourself. During a SHTF scenario, gray water may no longer be flushed away through pipes. You’re going to have to collect it and do something with it.
If you will be stationary for a season, you might plant seeds. If water is scarce, you may consider applying gray water to the plants. Check out the pros and cons at oasisdesign.net. Does your gray water contain little scraps of food or oils? Think about insects and animals that may be attracted to it.
- What goes down must come out
Your destination probably won’t include toilet facilities managed by authorities. Therefore, you will have to take responsibility for your own excrement.
A preplanned refuge should include a composting system or outhouse. If you are escaping in an RV, better not rely on its toilet in case the emergency doesn’t pass before the collection tank is full. The same goes for chemical camping toilets that will have to be emptied somewhere.
On undeveloped acreage, you will either have to relieve yourself in small holes that are covered after each use, or you might dig a latrine, which you may prefer when bad weather hits. A tarp can be strung over the pit to get out of the weather and for privacy. In some cases, it may be practical to build a hut over the hole. Each deposit in the pit should also be covered after use. Ashes make an excellent covering that eliminates odor and flies. Just make sure any coals are cold. If your pit is at a temporary remote camp, fill it with dirt and restore ground cover before moving on.
If you flee to an undeveloped area in winter, with snow and frozen ground, hole digging will be severely limited. If you have a bonfire, burn things that will be completely consumed. Don’t leave half burned garbage lying around on the ground. When the fire is out, you may be able to dig there. If you have to store trash until spring, remove all food residues. Do everything in your power now to arrange for a safe and comfortable place to hole up, in case winter retreat becomes necessary.
Each person should consider it his or her responsibility to maintain a clean camp. Methods will vary according to location and circumstance. One thing is certain: strategies for keeping the camp clean are a crucial part of any bug out plan.