Every hiker knows the disappointment of cresting that big, steep hill, discovering a life-changing view… and then seeing little fluffs of white under all the nearby bushes. Someone turned this bit of heaven into an outhouse.
But not to fear! There are guidelines to help even the most novice outdoors person learn how to leave the gentlest footprint on beautiful places. The Leave No Trace principles help us enjoy our time outside while making sure the surroundings, animals, and later visitors will too.
Pack It Out
“Pack It Out” is a phrase you’ll see at many trail heads. This means that all trash that goes in with you, should also come out. This means obvious things like trash – water bottles, wrappers, baggies – as well as the things that might seem okay, but really aren’t – orange peels, apple cores, and toilet paper. Yes, those last things might eventually decompose or end up as a snack for a squirrel, but it is our job as hikers and campers to leave places as we found them and leave it to the rangers to decide what the fauna should be eating for dinner.
The one exception you don’t have to bring out of most places is human waste. (Whew, am I right?) This we want to bury in a hole 6-8” deep. I recommend a designated zippered baggie for used toilet paper – that doesn’t go in the hole, it comes home with you.
Remembering our motto to leave a place as we found it, it’s important to camp only in designated areas. While backcountry camping, don’t try to “create” a new site unless absolutely necessary, but instead sleep on well-packed ground in already-clear areas so as to not further the deterioration of plant life.
If you need to cook or wash dishes, do it at least 200 feet from trails and water sources, and use only a little bit of natural soap for cleaning.
Protect plants and animals
The old adage “Take only memories, leave only footprints” is especially apt for this LNT principle. Avoiding picking flowers or gathering rocks, walking off trail to avoid getting muddy, or carving your name onto trees or rocks are examples of small ways visitors can ensure that those who follow them enjoy the same pristine experience that you did.
While animals are often the highlight of humans’ trips to the outdoors, there are many things we do unconsciously that hurt them. While admiring an animal, keep your distance. It is tempting to creep ever closer to get a better view, but it causes them a great deal of stress and could lead to them avoiding certain areas in the future.
Also, by no means, should you ever feed animals in the wild. This habit by humans has led to animals losing the ability to feed themselves, being put down by authorities for acquiring dangerous familiarity with humans, and throws off the balance of their life in the wild. Equally important to keeping animals safe from our food, is how we store supplies while camping. Store food in a locked car or in a “bear bag” far from camp to keep yourself and the critters safe.
Respect other visitors
Help others enjoy their visit to the outdoors by maintaining the serenity of nature – keep voices down and music in your headphones. Keep the trail clear and be patient and friendly as you pass people. Rule of thumb: the person going uphill has the right-of-way.
The Golden Rule
Again, if there was one takeaway from the Leave No Trace principles, it would be to do whatever you can to keep the beautiful spots we visit as enjoyable for the next person as it was for us. If we do this, our natural treasures will be secure for a very long time to come. Now go out there and enjoy some nature – responsibly!