Wilderness Camping Etiquette or How to win friends in the bush! (The Official List)

I remember when I went on my first trip with the Sydney Bushwalkers Club, (an adventure down the full length of Ettrema Creek from Bullfrog Creek to Coolendel in 4 days… um,

Setting up a Campsite
Think of your fellow campers when setting up your tent (Snowy Mts NP, NSW)

make that 5) I was so exhausted upon reaching camp on the first night, that my only thought was being horizontal. If someone had mentioned ‘jobs’ or ‘chores’ to me, I would’ve used a few choice four letter words in their direction before promptly falling asleep.

It was only after I settled into the routine of the first couple of days that I realised there’s a bit to do at camp when you arrive and it’s so much easier and quicker if everyone pitches in – essentially camping etiquette. (Remember: I was still pretty clueless – think “cauliflower” episode).

So here’s the top 5 things I discovered that need to be done (in order) when you get to camp: [or here’s 5 reasons for your fellow campers to get pissed off with you if you simply put up your own tent and disappear inside.]

  1. View from my tent
    Don’t pitch your tent too close (it can be creepy!)

    Selecting your spot: Depending on your shelter of choice, your needs will be different. For Tent-ers, all you want is that perfectly flat spot with soft grass, the Fly-ers have got their eyes out for the same flat spot but also want the magic two trees in perfect proximity, whereas the Hammock-ers couldn’t care less what the ground looks like, as long as the trees are solid. So when choosing your spot, just spare a thought for your fellow campers. If you don’t have a fly or hammock, don’t nab the flat spot between the two perfect trees! Oh, and now isn’t the time to put up your shelter (unless it’s raining or about to). Just drop your pack and start the other jobs. TIP: Spread out across the area. It’s kinda creepy if someone sets up real close when there’s lots of space! And if you know you’re a snorer, please set up on the outer extremes of the site.

  2. Collecting Firewood: If you’re going to be having a cooking fire (after checking there’s no Fire Ban in place and they’re allowed in the area) now is the time to get some firewood. (Watch out for an upcoming video on lighting a cooking fire). This is the hardest task to do in the dark, so do it first before the sun goes down. You can even start gathering it on your way into camp. This is especially helpful if you know you’re staying in an area where firewood is scarce. If there’s enough people, get one person to be the fire lighter/timber sorter, whilst the others are still bringing the timber in. TIP: Don’t forget to stash a small amount of kindling and small sticks inside your shelter at night, to protect from dew/rain if you want a breakfast fire.

    Warming up – Dexs Creek (Kanangra to Katoomba)… just before it snowed.
  3. Gather water: Generally speaking, you’ll always be aiming to set up camp near to a water source. If the sun has gone down, it’s an easier task to do by head-torch as opposed to gathering firewood, dependent on the terrain. Also, if you’re going to be having a bit of an APC** splash n’ dash down near the creek or river, you might appreciate the cover of darkness! If there’s enough people in the party, split the jobs so those getting firewood give their water bottles/bladders/wine bags to those getting water. TIP: Take an empty backpack with you to carry back all the water bottles and take a cup with you in case the water level isn’t deep enough to get the bottles in.
  4. Put up your shelter: OK, so now all the group jobs are done, it’s time to look to creating your own home for the night (unless it’s raining and then this is the first thing you do). If you’re not sure if your spot is exactly flat, lie down on the ground and give it a test drive. If you wake up in the night with a headache and blocked nose, you can pretty much be sure that you’re sleeping with your head below your body. If that happens to you, just spin around inside your tent for the rest of the night. Ah – home sweet home.
  5. Bring something to share: If you thought Happy Hour at your local was a treat, then just wait for Happy Hour around the fire. Bring some nibbles to share with the party as an entree for dinner. Quite often this means that there’s no room for dinner!
Think before you drink… or wash… or pee (Sassafras Creek, Blue Mts NSW)

So that’s the ‘official’ tips on etiquette during setup at camp, checkout the ‘unofficial’ list (coming soon!).

** Arm pits and crotch

Writer, producer and content creator by trade, search and rescue volunteer by passion, Caro Ryan started LotsaFreshAir.com to inspire, teach and encourage people to get into hiking and the outdoors safely.

It’s all about connecting people to wild places in meaningful ways, so they can look after themselves, their mates and these precious places we visit.

She teaches wilderness navigation, authored the book, ‘How to Navigate’ and hosts, ‘Rescued - an Outdoor Podcast for Hikers and Adventurers.

In the bottom of her pack you'll find coffee grounds, instant noodles past their used by date and an insatiable curiosity.

Bushwalking & Hiking Tips from an Unexpected Outdoors Chick

Join my eNewsletter and get the latest articles, videos, pics and inspiration.
No charge. No spam. Only love.