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Posted on June 21, 2016 in Articles

How to Camp Without Leaving a Trace

Those who once were Boy Scouts may be familiar with the slogan “Leave No Trace”. These are a set of principles taught to protect the backcountry for future users and wildlife. While this may seem like a noble notion, practicing these principles are in fact a meaningful way one can show respect for nature and those who wish to contemplate it. People with a mind to explore the outdoors increasingly patronize state and national parks to be among the animals, the trees and the stars. The increase in visitors in turn strains natural resources and slowly erodes the natural beauty that these parks are trying to preserve. With little or no guidance, many visitors improperly leave their campsites in a disheveled state and litter the spaces around them in the belief tat one person’s actions will not bring consequences.

However, there are those who are conscious of just how this line of thinking from thousands of users can damage the landscape in the long run. In response, the Leave No Trace concept has expanded beyond the scouting movement and into the consciousness of visitors at these parks. While the Boy Scouts provide a more comprehensive guide in applying Leave No Trace principles, campers who want to be eco-friendly can view the seven overall principles below and examples on how to follow them.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Do your best in bringing only what you reasonably need to the campsite. If you plan to hike afterwards, set aside the items you will need for the hike.
  • In both instances mentioned above, bring bags for disposing trash.
  • Research your hiking routes beforehand and learn about trail conditions and snow levels. Pay particular attention to picnic areas and hiking campsites where you may have opportunities to dispose of any trash and relax without disturbing the environment.
  • Bring catholing tools for attending to your human needs. Leaving human waste in the open is wholly unsanitary to both those hiking behind you and the local wildlife. Catholes must be dug at least 6 to 8 inches deep and must be located at least 200 feet away from water.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Set camp at existing sites. Never level a wooded area to create a new one for yourself.
  • To avoid a situation where few campsites are available, consider traveling during off-peak dates or using less popular campsites.

Dispose of Waste Properly (Pack It In, Pack It Out)

  • When no trash cans are available, use the bags you previously brought and store all trash inside.
  • If trash containers are available, continue using your bags until they are either full or you are about to depart the campsite, tie them at the top and dispose in the container.
  • For washing dishes, bring a container to transport water until you are at least 200 feet away from any body of water, then wash with biodegradable soap. Bring a strainer to collect food bits. When done, spread the water around and place the food bits in your trash bag so that they do not attract wildlife.
  • The sites you use must be left in exactly the same state as when you first found them.

Leave What You Find

  • Never take any natural or archeological items you may find at the campsite or along any trails.
  • If you cleared a campsite of objects, replace these before leaving.
  • Do not alter the campsite in an attempt to make your stay more convenient for use. This includes digging trenches or installing equipment that would notably impact the site.
  • Do not detour from established hiking routes.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Use existing campfire rings; never create one for yourself.
  • Fuel your campfire with dead or downed wood. Never down trees and shrubs for kindle. Keep the fire small.
  • When done, extinguish the fire with water, scour and then water the ashes until there are no lit embers left.
  • Do not light campfires if wood is scarce. Instead, consider bringing a lightweight stove to provide your heating needs.

Respect Wildlife

  • Avoid shouting or producing loud noises, as this can agitate animals.
  • Do your best to observe wildlife from a distance. If you see wildlife, avoid sudden movements.
  • Never give animals food, as they become accustomed to humans feeding them over time. It helps to prepare only the food you plan to eat at a given time. Food waste should be disposed either in a trash bag or the appropriate container if provided.
  • Avoid coming in contact with animals if they are breeding, nesting and birthing.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Travel in small groups when hiking. Remember that hikers going uphill have the right of way.
  • Respect the privacy of other campers. Make an effort to pick campsites that are away from others to preserve said privacy.
  • Do not make loud sounds or play loud music. You’re in the middle of nature, so enjoy listening to the sounds of wind-rustled trees and ever-present creatures instead.
  • Wear clothing that is appropriate to the environment, and avoid overly bright colors that can attract needless attention.

The sights of nature are something that we can certainly enjoy now, but it gives more meaning to preserve the area for the next visitor, in the short and long term. Practicing Leave No Trace principles will allow you to be environmentally responsible, respectful to wildlife and mindful of future generations who want to enjoy their experience.

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