How do you keep the wilderness wild when millions of outdoor enthusiasts visit state and national parks each year? The Center for Outdoor Ethics created a solution to this problem with their national educational program, Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace program promotes and inspires good ethical practice when in the backcountry. By following these guidelines, you ensure a gratifying and lasting outdoor experience for all.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
Like any trip, planning before you arrive at your destination is key.
- Acquaint yourself with park regulations. You can easily access this information through any of our free Pocket Ranger® apps.
- Be prepared for extreme weather and emergencies. Pack a first aid kit and a survival kit that includes a flashlight with extra batteries, whistle, multi-tool pocket knife, maps, lighter, fire starters, and iodine tablets.
- Respect the physical limits of your hiking group by planning a trip that’s compatible with the group’s skill level.
- Careful meal planning and packaging is so important when out in the backcountry. Pack only the food you need to minimize waste while you’re out on the trail.
- Try to visit the outdoors in small groups. This is especially applicable to backpacking trips. If you are a larger group heading into the wilderness, break off into smaller groups to reduce impact on the environment. Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use on the trail.
- Refrain from marking your trail with paint, cairns or flagging, and instead use a map, compass or your Pocket Ranger® app. In addition to a compass feature, the Pocket Ranger® apps offer users advanced GPS features that can even be used offline!
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Trampling down an area’s vegetation can result in some undesirable results, such as barren areas and soil erosion. Help preserve the environment by following these tips:
- In wilderness areas of high use, stick to established trails and campsites. Established campsites can come in a few different forms, such as raised wooden platforms, rock, gravel, dry grasses and snow. Walk single-file on trails and try to stick to the center of these trails. This prevents the trail from further eroding the surrounding landscape.
- However, when camping and hiking through pristine or fragile environments, the opposite is true. Avoid making established trails or campsites by dispersing your impact on the environment. Do not camp or travel in places where impacts are just beginning to show.
- Whether in high use or low use areas, always make sure to camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams. This protects the waterbody and riparian areas (the land near a waterbody) from damage and contamination.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
This principle could be the golden rule of the backcountry: Whatever you pack in, you must pack out! This includes all trash, leftover food, toilet paper (both used and unused), and hygiene products.
- Before leaving a campsite or rest area, check around for any trash or spilled food you may have missed.
- Solid human waste should be deposited in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep. These catholes must be at least 200 feet from water, campsite and trails. After use, cover and disguise catholes.
- Got dishes? Need a shower? To clean either yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lake, and use only small amounts of biodegradable soap. When finished cleaning or bathing, do not dump this dirty water back into the stream or lake! Doing so would contaminate the natural water source. Instead, strain and then scatter the water at least 200 feet (or 80 to 100 strides) from its source.
4. Leave What You Find
Look, but don’t touch! Preserve the past by leaving natural and historic structures and artifacts as they are. This ensures that other visitors to the area will have the same sense of discovery.
- Leave rocks, plants, feathers and other natural objects just as you find them.
- Don’t transport non-native species with you! Non-native species frequently become invasive. These invasive species can critically damage the ecosystem.
- A good campsite is found, not made. Do not dig trenches or build structures, such as lean-tos, tables or chairs.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
While many believe that a roaring campfire is essential to a great camping trip, fire is not always permitted in backcountry area. Before lighting a fire, always check with park regulations.
- If fires are allowed, use only established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires. Keep your campfire small and manageable.
- Hold off on the huge logs! The Center for Outdoor Ethics recommends using sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all the wood and coals in your campfire to ash and put out the fire completely. Then scatter the cool ashes.
- As for cooking outdoors, use a lightweight camp stove. A lightweight camp stove (rather than a bulky camp stove) will also be a blessing for your back!
6. Respect Wildlife
It’s certainly exhilarating to come across wildlife when outdoors. For everyone’s safety and enjoyment, follow these guidelines for wildlife sightings:
- Always observe wildlife from a distance. Never approach or follow wildlife.
- Never feed wildlife! Feeding wildlife can make wild animals dependent on humans, creating opportunities for potentially dangerous encounters.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing food rations and securely.
- If you bring pets with you, make sure you have control of them at all times. In many places, leashes are required.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
While you may head into the backcountry to be alone in the great outdoors, chances are you may come across a few other outdoor enthusiasts.
- Respect other visitors to the area. Be courteous and yield to other hikers on the trail.
- Take breaks and camp away from the trails and other visitors. Avoid making loud noises or speaking in loud voices when in the backcountry. Keeping your voice low not only helps others enjoy their time in the wilderness, but also increases your chances of seeing wildlife.
- If you encounter pack stock in the backcountry, step to the downhill side of the trail.
Any adventure in the outdoors is going to require some quality gear. By taking the Pocket Ranger® State Park Visitor Survey you could win a $350 gift certificate to Backcountry.com!