Camping 101

Camping, glamping or whatever, these basic rules will not fail 

By Craig Smith

Northern New Mexico is a camper’s paradise. Whether you use an RV, car or tent, camping is a great way to discover Taos and its beautiful surroundings. But — plan ahead. 


Decide where you’re going and tell someone. Check the weather forecast, as our temperatures can change quickly and dramatically. Next, make an inventory of appropriate clothing, gear and food supplies. Don’t forget the first aid kit. 

Learn about the regulations, fire restrictions and required permits for any campground or lands administered by the U.S Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. 

Find a level space not under a dead tree for your vehicle or tent. Rain? Coat your tent with a silicone sealant or secure a tarp over it. Position its smallest section into the wind. 

You can camp by a lake, river or stream — but not too close. Retired Taos judge Peggy Nelson, a veteran camper, allows at least 300 feet between her campsite and water to prevent contamination. Bring extra water.

If you do plan to use natural water, have a purifier or filter. Don’t wash anything directly in a natural water source.

Regarding human waste, the new norm is to use a WAG bag or sealable container and pack out all waste and paper.

Cooking with a camp stove is easier and safer than a fire. If campfires are permitted at your site, use extreme caution when building one and use only designated fire rings, grills or fireplaces. 

In the backcountry, use an existing fire ring, if possible, as gathering stones for a new one negatively impacts the ecosystem. Keep a 15-foot clearance from flammable vegetation on all sides and be alert to wind direction. Have water and a shovel at hand to douse the fire.

Never leave a fire unattended, and when you are finished with it, check it twice to make sure it is completely out. 

For light, use camp lanterns and other sources instead of a fire. Cook downwind at a safe distance from your tent or vehicle. You don’t want to attract critters. Don’t interact with animals at all, as it could harm them. Even if you eat everything you cook, aromas linger. 

Remember: bears have an extraordinary sense of smell. They also climb trees — so rather than hanging food and anything fragrant, store your supplies in a Bear Canister, which they can’t open, away from your tent. Store trash in bags that won’t blow away.

Take everything with you when you leave. Enjoy the place but leave no trace.

Talk with the friendly folks at any of our outdoor stores for advice and recommendations. When you plan properly and practice precaution, good things come to those who camp.

Now: go out and find in our beautiful New Mexico mountains what renowned conservationist John Muir found in the outdoors: “vast, calm, measureless mountain days . . . true freedom.”

U.S Forest Service 

Bureau of Land Management 

Taos Search & Rescue