Alright. Let’s get this out of the way. I’m not a prude. I like to have fun. And I like to think of myself as someone who has fun. A lot. Maybe too much for a 36 year old parent of two.
But . . . and a huge but . . . I’ve gotten old. It could be wisdom but the more likely scenario is my old age is making me more timid, reserved, and dare I say responsible. Kids will do this to you as well. Ask any parent. Between these two I’ve become quite a different person over the last 15 years. And hopefully for the better.
In all of my “growing up” I’ve found myself thinking twice about doing lots of things that I used to do all the time. Some of these things are mistakes that can be chalked up to youthful hubris and some are just things we all do because we haven’t been educated on the implications.
If you’re doing the things below, this isn’t us judging you. It’s just that we are finally learning that some of these things have consequences and we wish someone would have given us a heads up sooner.
So without further ado, here is our list of The Seven Things That You Want To Do Outdoors But You Probably Shouldn’t.
Don’t Park Your Car In A River Crossing So You Can Get A Picture.
River crossings are exactly that . . . crossings. They are meant to be crossed. Many of them are strategically and carefully built by very smart people who maintain the forest. They put them where they are for a reason . . . to help you get from Point A to Point B so that you can responsibly enjoy all there is to enjoy at Point B. So there isn’t anything wrong with you driving through these crossings. Hell, feel free to take a photo or video as you’re actively driving across. Whatever you do though, just don’t park in the middle for photos. Even newer cars have the potential for oil leaks or other fluids that openly drip or seep into the water. Our creaks and streams already are in a delicate balance with humans. This just gives them one less thing to have to worry about and recover from.
Don’t Build Cairns.
We could write a novel on this. We’re actually waiting on our friend to do it (hint, hint Sarah). But the gist of it is this. River rocks are an integral piece of river ecology that are necessary to the health and safety of many organisms. But namely, the salamanders. Salamanders use the rocks for protection year round, but particularly when they lay their eggs. I made this mistake one time as I turned over a huge rock to find dozens and dozens of salamander eggs staring back at me. While cairns are cool looking and can bring you a little slice of zen, the more zen-like thing is to keep balance with yourself and your environment. So the next time you’re in nature and need a little reflective contemplation look up to the swaying tree tops or into the gentle streams that spill and pool at your feet and leave the rocks where they’re at.
Don’t Bring Glass Bottles Camping When You Could Bring Cans.
Nothing is more frustrating than being at a campsite and having to dig broken glass out of a fire pit. Or to watch your kid like a hawk to make to sure they don’t kick off their sandals in the wrong place and end up needing stitches. Some of you are non-drinkers so the good news is you already have a leg up on us beer lovers. But for those of you who enjoy a cold beverage while sitting around a fire, please consider bringing cans with you when and where you can. This should be an easy one for most folks because through extensive research and taste testing we have found that beer in cans taste just likes beer in glass and whiskey tastes amazing out of a flask. We hope you’ll agree.
Don’t Leave Your Trash For Someone Else To Clean Up.
This is the most common mistake a lot of us make. We don’t do it in purpose but we’re packing up and in a rush. Or in our case, have a crazy four year old talking our ear off distracting us. But when you’re packing up camp, go overboard with cleaning up. Plan on taking 10-15 minutes and walking the campsite three or four times to make sure you get everything. Try and leave the place a little better than you found it. If you’re on a day hike, double check and make sure you didn’t leave any wrappers or bottle tops from where you stopped to take a breather. In the parking lot, make sure all of your trash makes it’s way fully into the trash can and doesn’t get left beside it where a hungry or curious animal can drag it away. Please consider being part of our Bring A Bag Challenge and picking up the slack for others who have left a mess behind.
Don’t Go Off Trail.
The next two go hand in hand. There is nothing more tempting for us than the lure of unspoiled woods off the main trail. In our youth, and especially when we were just getting into the outdoors, we were incredibly guilty of this. We would constantly be jumping off switchbacks trying to find a short cut. Or we would want to sneak around or under or on top of a waterfall beyond the viewing area that was provided to us (again by people smarter than us who built them in specific spots for a reason). Going off trail, especially if enough people start to do it in the same spot, can cause massive erosion problems. Nature will usually heal these scars, but she won’t be happy about it in the interim.
Don’t Ignore Signs and Rules.
This is paired with Don’t Go Off The Trail because to go off trail, you usually have to walk past a sign that tells you not to. Look. I get it. You like living on the edge. Danger is your middle name and all. But I have a rule of thumb that says if “Smart people who know more about something than I do ask me not to do it, I should probably not do it.” Have you noticed a theme where I keep mentioning smart people knowing better than me? You see, I like to think I’m smart in some categories or topics. But the environment and wildlife management and conservation are not topics that I have expertise in. So when somebody who has gone to school for eight years and studied and read hundreds of books and written papers on a topic says I shouldn’t do something, I try to defer to them. So if you see a sign that says no jumping or to stay on trail or to not feed the alligators (wait that might be South Alabama) please consider that it might be for a reason. There are lots of ways to have fun in the mountains without ignoring really smart and sound advice from the people who it matters to most.
Don’t Use An Axe To Take Down Trees.
Axes. They’re pretty badass right? I mean as a bearded guy who wears lots of red flannel, a good axe is sort of my favorite accessory. But unless you’re splitting dry wood you honestly don’t need one with you when you’re camping. I don’t want to flaunt my axe cred, BUT when we first moved to North Georgia we didn’t have central heating or air for the first 6 months so I had to cut down a tree in my yard and split wood every morning for our wood burning stove to keep my family warm. And I can unequivocally say that splitting wood for warmth is the only time I needed it. However, when I was a beginner camper, I’d bring a Wal-Mart grade hatchet or axe with me into the woods and go to town on a tree that was still alive. I learned something very quickly from that experience, trees that are still alive don’t burn and to provide any warmth, I would need a tree thicker than I could chop. Don’t let that tempt you to bring a chain saw either because the first rule still applies . . . green trees don’t burn. No amount of chopping, chain sawing or lighter fluid is going to change that. Bring you a couple of fire starters, learn how to build a basic teepee fire starting with small kindling and build layers of larger twigs and sticks until you have it going. Your fire will last longer, you’ll do less work, and you’ll stay twice as warm.
These are some basics. There are no doubt more. We have all made some of these mistakes in the past so no judgement here. We just ask that you when you go out into nature (or anywhere) you seek to put more back into the place than you take out. That’s going to look different for all of us, but together if we move in concert together, we can make some a big difference.
For more friendly suggestions on what not to do, check out our article How To Go Camping Without Being An Asshole.