Leave No Trace

Travelling through remote and wild places is an amazing experience.  We want to leave the magical places as we found them, and Leave No Trace Principles is how we can do that.

1) Plan Ahead and Prepare

Being well prepared for your adventure is good for both you and the environment!

Good preparation looks like:

  • Planning for enough time to get to an established campsite, so we can avoid having to set up an improvised camp along the way.
  • Bringing enough fuel, so we don’t need campfires to cook.
  • Having the boots that can handle mud for spring hikes, so we can keep to trails and don’t tromp over vegetation to avoid puddles.
  • Cooking just the right size dinner, and not having to deal with leftovers

2) Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

“Take only pictures, leave only footprints” is a great start, but we can do even better.  If you can travel through the wilderness and not even leave lasting footprints, you are a true Leave No Trace master!

Trails help to reduce human impacts by concentrating our travel in one area, leaving the rest of the forest for the animals.  Whenever we can, we should keep to established trails.  

If you are travelling off trail, then try to step on gravel, rocks, snow, and dry grasses.  These surfaces can handle a bit of stomping on.  When in a group, travel in single file over the most durable path to minimize your impact.

When in pristine ares, like alpine meadows or unexplored forest, our strategy switches up.  If we have no choice but to step on vegetation, spread the group out so each plant only gets stepped on once.  This gives the vegetation a chance of growing back.

3) Dispose of Waste Properly

Bring along a sturdy ziploc bag to store your trash.  If you are worried about potential leaks, a plastic peanut butter jar can provide extra protection and it also keeps any smells down for very little weight.  Protip: the peanut butter jar also works well to securely store doogie poo bags on day hikes.

Pack out EVERYTHING that you pack in.  This includes food packaging, toilet paper, hygiene products, food waste, wrappers, used first aid supplies, and everything else you brought in.

If outhouses aren’t available, dig a hole 6 + inches deep and at least 60 meters from any water sources.  Pack your toilet paper to at least the next outhouse, or all the way out if needed.

4) Leave What You Find

There are so many beautiful things we find along our hikes, it is understandable why we would want to take a memento with us.  But we can fight that urge, and take a picture or memory instead.

We must never pick wild flowers, no matter how beautiful they are or how much your sweetheart would appreciate a wild bouquet.  When we pick wild flowers, we prevent that plant from pollinating it’s seeds and reproducing, so next year there will be fewer flowers.

5) Minimize Campfire Impacts

Best practice when hiking in the backcountry is to skip the campfire altogether and cook all our meals on efficient stoves when you can.  One side benefit is you’ll have fewer melted spark holes in your fancy Gortex jacket!

If you must have a campfire, think about the following:

  • What is the current fire danger rating, and are fires even allowed here?
  • Firewood should only be deadfall smaller in diameter than your wrist, collected from a wide area.  Standing & fallen dead trees are important habitat for birds, so leave them alone.
  • Fires should only be as big as needed for cooking/warmth
  • Build fires in existing fire rings, or make a mound fire.  In coastal areas, fires should be built below the high tide line.
  • When done, thoroughly soak your fire pit with water, and scatter the cold/damp ashes. 

6) Respect Wildlife

Keep your distance from wildlife.  More people are injured every year by elk than bears, and this is mostly because they are willing to get closer to an elk than they should.  Just because the elk doesn’t want to eat you, doesn’t mean you should get close to them.

If you want to be a wildlife photographer, invest in some good zoom lenses rather than getting too up close and personal with wildlife.

Another important part of respecting wildlife is to never feed wild animals, either on purpose or by accident.  While the desire to feel like a Disney princess surrounded by adoring birds and squirrels can be strong, it’s best for both animals and people if we don’t give them any of our lunches.  Small animals that become dependant on food from hikers will often starve once prime hiking season is over and that food source dries up.  Larger animals like bears and coyotes that get a taste for human food become aggressive to people will have to be put down by park wardens.

7) Be Considerate of Other Visitors

If you encounter a person riding a horse, they have the right of way.  Step off the trail (to the downhill side if possible), and calmly speak to the rider.  This will help the horse to not spook, because it will realize you are a human and not a predator.

If you encounter a mountain bike, the hiker has the right of way.  Some hikers will still choose to step off the trail to let a bike pass if it seems like that’s what will be best for everyone.

Hikers going uphill have the right of way over downhill hikers.  This is because they have a smaller field of view and downhill hikers can see what is coming better.  That said, many uphill hikers will take any chance they can for a break!

Regardless of who has the right of way, a friendly hello and quick chat will go a long way in ensuring we can all share the trails and enjoy our days out.

We have an impact wherever we go, sometimes even if small.  A good rule of thumb when deciding if something is ok or not, is to imagine a thousand people doing that same thing in that same place.  If that thought seems ok, great, go ahead!  If the thought of a thousand picked wildflowers, or a thousand trees cut down for firewood feels wrong, don’t do it.

Blog written by Susan Twitchwell – ACMG Hiking Guide