Cannabis in the great outdoors: Tips, tricks, and advice for hiking, backpacking, and more

Published on June 5, 2021 · Last updated July 7, 2022
camping with cannabis illustration
(Sasha Beck/Leafly)

The seasons are changing, which means more people are dusting off their hiking boots and setting off for adventures in nature. Cannabis is a natural companion for explorers of the great outdoors – there’s something about imbibing between breaths of fresh air that makes us feel more connected to these organic landscapes.

Before shoving off on your journey, make sure you’re equipped with the knowledge you need to be both safe and considerate with your cannabis use. We surveyed a large group of hikers with an affinity for cannabis to determine what tips to keep top-of-mind while outside, so let this be your map to positive experiences in nature.

Camping with weed? 4 things you need to know

Safety and etiquette for outdoor cannabis consumption

Woman smoking cannabis joint in mountains

Safety is paramount to having a good experience, and etiquette is paramount to others having a good experience, so be sure to practice both when you hit the trail.

  • Be respectful of other hikers. This piece of etiquette was offered by nearly every hiker interviewed – not because cannabis is something that should be kept secret, but because, as one hiker put it, “Just like cigarettes, not everyone likes it, and everyone should be able to enjoy the trail.” This is especially important around crowds and children.
  • Leave no trace. This is the golden rule for all hikers – no one is an exception. When it comes to enjoying cannabis on the trail, it may seem like no big deal to toss an extinguished roach. (“It’s okay, the crutch is hemp paper!”) No. No one wants to see cannabis or cigarette butts on the trailside, and even if it seems too small to make any big impact, get in the habit of packing out all trash no matter how small.
  • Be conscientious of your use of heat and fire. This is particularly true in dry areas and seasons. Tossing a roach you thought was out could have devastating effects on a dry ecosystem and ruin areas that were once near and dear to many other hikers. And, as always, be smart with your use of campfires (in other words, don’t be a stoned idiot), and adhere to the conditional fire laws in your area.
  • Bring extra water. You should always bring more water than you think you’ll need in the event of an emergency, but this is especially true for those of us who like to pair our adventures with cannabis. As you may have noticed with the dry mouth phenomenon, cannabis dehydrates you, so be sure to pack and drink a lot of water. I always bring a water filtration pump with me, because unexpected things can happen.
  • Know your route. Some trails are obvious and easy to locate. Other are not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed a switchback or had to retrace steps looking for familiar signs – it can happen to anyone, and being high while trying to navigate can make it even more challenging if you’re not an accustomed user. It may sound dorky, but bring a topography map or a GPS system, pay close attention to natural landmarks, and track your mileage.
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Best cannabis pieces to bring hiking and camping

Woman holding up lit cannabis joint in forest

What’s your favorite piece to bring while hiking? We asked our local hikers what they preferred, and here’s what we learned.

  • Joints. My personal favorite method for the great outdoors is the classic joint. Roll several before hitting the trail, and you’re good to go. I also like to throw the occasional spliff in the mix for that little kick of energy.

The upsides to joints: they stay lit even in windy weather, they’re easy to share with friends, they’re lightweight, and they pack a big punch. The downsides: they can be hard to light in the wind, you have to pack out roaches (bring an extra baggie, otherwise they make your backpack smell bad), they require a lot of bud, and a strong breeze makes them burn faster.

  • Portable vaporizers. A lot of hikers are loving their portable vaporizers and oil pens for use on the trail. Some allow you to fill them with your favorite flower, and many oil pens offer strain-specific cartridges so you can bring your favorite variety of cannabis with you on the trail.

The upsides to vaporizers: no lighter is required, they are discreet with minimal odor, and they allow you to take as few puffs as you’d like at a time. The downsides: oil cartridges provide a fairly different high from flower that some do not prefer, and their batteries can run out and leave you cannabis-less.

9 smoking accessories for the outdoorsy toker
  • Pipes. The tried and true method of consumption favored by many hikers. As one Washington hiker said, “On busier trails I prefer to use a pipe. They’re easier to put out when other people are passing by.” Almost all hikers surveyed cited pipes and one-hitters as their go-to pieces, so there’s something to be said about this classic companion.

The upsides: pipes are lightweight, they’re easy to put out, and they’re easy to share. The downsides: they’re breakable, they can be difficult to light with a breeze, and it’s hard to hit them while walking.

  • Travel water pipes. For the hiker dedicated to cumbersome apparatuses that use water, bongs and bubblers are still a possibility. The good news is you don’t necessarily need to pack your most extravagant glass piece to enjoy the luxury of a water pipe. Small bubblers are easy enough to bring, and lightweight bongs are also available (like this silicone bong that folds up).

The upsides: water pipes provide extra cooling and filtration of smoke, and bongs can provide heavier effects than a pipe. The downsides: they can be heavy, they take up a lot of space, and they are not always discreet.

  • Edibles and tinctures. Although considered too heavy for many hikers, edibles can be an excellent smoke-free way to enjoy your time outdoors. Small doses are your best bet for a long-lasting mellow, gentle high that still allows you to be active. Tinctures have a faster onset and tend to be less intense than edibles due to the way they’re metabolized.

The upsides: edibles last longer than inhaled methods, they provide a good body high for relaxing muscles, and they’re small and lightweight. Sublingual tinctures are easier to dose than edibles and tend to offer more mild effects. The downsides: edibles can cause an overly intense high with sedating effects. Dose responsibly!

Man smoking cannabis joint outdoors

There are differences in marijuana policy and tolerances depending on which area of wilderness you’re visiting. Federal land like national parks can cite you for using marijuana, and technically you can still be fined for public consumption outside national parks even in legal states. State fines tend to be significantly lower than federal ones, but it’s still something to consider. Fees vary from state to state, so be sure to research your relevant laws if this is a concern.

We all see hikers cracking a well-deserved beer at a mountain peak despite consumption laws, so of course you’d expect to see others lighting up an equally well-deserved joint. So to wrap this point up, be educated about the laws and be respectful of those around you.

What happens if you get caught with cannabis in a national park?

If a cigarette can be enjoyed out in nature, why on earth can’t cannabis – especially if it enables those with pain, chronic nausea, and other ailments enjoy a happy and active lifestyle? One hiker I spoke to mentioned that cannabis allowed him to hike without his heavy painkiller prescription, enabling him to stay pain-free and active as opposed to sedated and lethargic. Another hiker noted, “Cannabis helps quiet my mind so I can really enjoy the nature and its serenity.” A third said it allowed her to focus on the persistence in climbing, turning off the “I can’t do this” thinking.

Cannabis, in my experience, is one of the best available conduits between the mind and nature. It allows connection, appreciation, and access to peace during intense physical and mental exertion. We hope that lawmakers will soon see the ways that cannabis can encourage wanderers to protect the ground they walk on, as well as the benefits it extends medical patients who might otherwise be unable to be active and enjoy all the beauty nature has to offer. So speak up, citizens, and let your state representatives know why these laws should be changed.

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Bailey Rahn
Bailey Rahn
Bailey is a senior content manager at Leafly, specializing in strains and health. She's spent 7+ years researching cannabis products, spreading patients’ stories, and exploring healthy ways of integrating cannabis into daily life.
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