7 Ways to Leave No Trace
Please do your part to preserve nature for yourself and for future generations. After all, everyone wants to go outdoors to experience a clean untouched natural environment. Below we describe seven excellent ways to minimize your impact on the outdoors. Following these leave no trace principles is easier than you think.
Plan and prepare
Even if you are well-intentioned, poor planning may result in leaving behind unnecessary waste or disrupting wildlife. Therefore, make sure to familiarize yourself with local regulations and pack the proper gear for the area you plan to visit. For example, if you're headed to the Sierras, you'll need a bear canister. At the Grand Canyon, you may consider a rat sack. If you're going to the desert or alpine environment, should you bring a trowel or wag bags? Does the region you'll visit allow campfires and, if so, where can you get firewood?
Knowing the regulations before arriving helps you decide what items to bring and how to prepare.
Travel and camp on durable surfaces
According to the national park service, "durable surfaces include maintained trails, designated campsites, rock, gravel, sand, dry grass, and snow." Whether you're hiking, biking, or driving, stay on established trails.
In forested areas, step over or under branches blocking the path. Walking around obstacles such as mud and fallen branches only widens the trail and destroys more of the environment than necessary. Be mindful of the impacts of social trails.
When practicing dispersed camping, look for signs of previous use such as area clearing and fire rings. Avoid areas that still show many signs of vegetation, even if it looks like someone else had been there. There are enough durable surfaces out there that you do not need to create new ones.
This is especially important in the American Southwest to protect the cryptobiotic soil, which is a fragile desert environment. At the Fiery Furnace of Arches National Park, for example, you learn to hop from rock to rock so as not to disturb hidden life under the soil crust.
On a different note, hammocks are a great way to camp because they don’t touch the ground. For best practices, always use a minimum of 1" wide nylon/polyester webbing. Also never hammer a hammock into trees.
Dispose of waste properly
Human waste is a big problem in the outdoors. In the Southwest, there are two ways to dispose of human dung: Catholes and WAG bags. In forested areas with moist soil, use a trowel to dig a cathole about 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet away from water, camp, and trails. This hides your business and helps it decompose. In desert and alpine environments, use WAG bags and throw them in a dumpster when back in civilization.
Whatever you do, DO NOT burn your toilet paper. This is the cause of many wildfires in the southwest. Instead, put used toilet paper in a dark plastic bag (so you don't need to see its contents) and carry it out with you.
Also avoid using soap in or near water sources. Even biodegradable soap can harm life in the streams. Read our tips and tricks for washing your dishes outside. Take about 70 big steps away from stream and lakes for any such cleaning. Throw any food scraps in your trash and carry it out with you so as not to attract wildlife.
Our aim is to reduce waste and limit our impact on the environment. If you notice any areas with excessive waste or other environmental problems, snap a picture and report it to your local rangers. You can also report it at https://www.citsci.org/ which collects info on environmental hazards.
Leave what you find
In many places, it is illegal to remove natural objects. Taking little mementos like leaves from the environment can do more than barren the landscape. Some types of leaves can provide important vitamin D for pregnant deer. Picking flowers stops seeds from pollinating. Twigs are needed for birds to build nests. And the list goes on.
Another important note: Do not move or create new rock stacks. They may be historical artifacts or they may be cairns, which are trail markers that help hikers to stay on the correct trail.
Be careful with fire
Check current conditions and local regulations regarding campfires. Only build a campfire if you are confident it is legal and you can control it. If not, consider using a gas camping stove or pre-established grills at your campsite.
Bringing in wood from a different region can transport and introduce new diseases to the area. Therefore, buy firewood locally or, if allowed, collect dead wood from the ground. Don’t cut down any trees!
Remember to completely extinguish your fire before leaving it unattended. Educate yourself by reading the National Park Service’s guide to campfire safety to learn more about being responsible outdoors.
Don’t disturb wildlife! Don't feed wild animals, don't try to pet them, and don't trample their homes. Even fishing has a list of best practices. Only observe animals from a safe distance. Getting too close can result in injuries and illnesses to you from bites, kicks, and headbutts.
Clean up your area after eating. Food scraps left behind will attract wildlife and will teach animals bad habits (read more about habituation here). Squirrels at the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks have become notorious aggressors, as have the Steller's Jays at Bryce Canyon National Park.
Be considerate of other visitors
At campgrounds, give other campers some distance, keep your voices low, and your music to a minimum. Everyone is out there to enjoy the fresh air and no one wants to feel crowded or bothered.
If you must listen to music, please use earbuds instead of loud external speakers so other around you can enjoy some peace and quiet. Also, turn down your headphones to a level that allows you to hear others behind you. This is especially important for injury prevention when bikers try to pass you on the trail.
The yielding system: Unspoken yielding rules help trail users navigate awkward situations. Downhill hikers must step aside to allow an uphill hiker to pass. Hikers also must yield to horse riders. Bicyclists yield to both hikers and equestrians on trails. Take special note if you're mountain biking fast down the trail. People get nervous when you zip by them, especially on a narrow trail, so slow down a little around others.
Ryan Pratschner is the founder and writer at outsideboogie.com. We cover many topics, from camping and hiking to backpacking and more. Let us research so you can start packing and go boogie!
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