Are you planning to go hiking and you wonder how you can protect the nature? Leave no trace hiking is the answer.
Imagine getting out of bed, putting on your hiking boots, and hitting the trails. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the views are gorgeous. Sounds nice, right?
Until you run across trash left by other hikers.
Nothing ruins a nice walk in the woods like finding beverage cans or candy wrappers were strewn across nature’s beauty, but unfortunately, this is a reality many hikers face. It’s even gotten so bad that these hikers packed 1,000 lbs of trash off of the Appalachian trail in 2015!
Luckily, there’s a hiking movement known as “leave no trace”. The idea behind it is that hikers leave the trail with everything they entered with, effectively leaving no trace that they were ever there.
Interested in learning some simple ways to “leave no trace” on your own hikes? Let’s check them out below!
1. Pack Out Your Trash
The most noticeable problem on the trail is hikers simply tossing or leaving their trash. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to this problem—if you pack it in, pack it out!
This applies to all of your items, even if it’s something as seemingly harmless as an orange peel. You never know how your trash will affect indigenous wildlife, so it’s important to make sure you pack out even biodegradable products.
Packing out your trash doesn’t mean you have to dirty up your backpack, however. Bringing a sealable bag or pouch, such as a Ziplock baggie, is a great way to keep your trash neat, contained, and off of the trail.
2. Dispose of waste
It’s a problem we all encounter at some point—sometimes you’ve just got to go and there isn’t a toilet for miles. Unfortunately, this leads to one of the main problems with hiking on trails. People simply don’t know how to dispose of their waste properly.
The most commonly accepted method of disposing of the waste is by digging a small hole 6-8 inches deep and making sure that all waste is thoroughly buried. Holes should be at least 200 feet from sensitive areas on the trail such as water, campsites, and the trail itself.
Of course, there are toiletries to consider as well. The general rule of thumb is decomposable products can be buried in cat holes, but other products need to be packed and carried out.
3. Be Careful with campfires
There’s nothing like a good campfire when you’re out hiking, but the effects can be disastrous on the environment. Depending on the area you’re hiking in, you might not be allowed to start a fire in the area regardless of how careful you are.
If you happen to be in an area where campfires are allowed, however, stick to these guidelines:
● Only build fires using wood that is abundant in the area.
● Use existing fire rings when possible to avoid leaving a mark on the landscape.
● Keep fires away from rock outcrops or mountainsides, since the fire can leave scars.
● Only burn fires when necessary. If you’re not using it, put it out completely with water.
The ultimate goal is to leave the area as though a campfire had never been started. If that’s not possible, the next best goal is to make sure the fire is completely put out and the leftover fire ring is located in a safe place.
4. Don’t Take What Isn’t Yours
Whether it’s a pretty stone or a unique plant, “leave no trace” hiking advocates leaving what you find just the way you found it. Even though you might see cool items on the trail, the best course of action is to simply leave it as is.
Of course, sometimes you have no choice but to move things. If there are branches or leaves covering up what could be the perfect campsite, it’s okay to move them out of the way. However, once you’re packed and ready to leave the site, it’s best to place them back where they originally were.
5. Do No Damage
Travel of any kind has the potential to be harmful to natural wildlife. Even simply walking can kill delicate flora if you’re not careful.
With that in mind, you can reduce the impact you have by being aware of your actions while on the trail. Only traveling on durable surfaces, such as trails, is the best way to do this.
Sometimes, however, hiking requires leaving the beaten path and venturing into the wild backcountry. When there are no trails to follow, how can you travel without damaging nature?
Well, certain materials hold up better than others. The most durable include:
● Rocks and sand: Their solid nature helps make them resistant to repeated scuffs.
● Ice and snow: Because they are temporary, it doesn’t matter what damage is done on ice or snow—it will eventually go away.
● Dry vegetation: While wet vegetation damages easily, dry vegetation tends to resist trampling better.
As a general rule of thumb, try to stay in the path of other travelers as it limits the damage to fragile surfaces. This also has the added benefit of encouraging other travelers to also travel in your footsteps.
6. Camp Consciously
One of the hiking activities that has the largest impact on nature is camping. Depending on where you choose to pitch your tent, you could be exposing delicate wildlife to prolonged stress and damage.
That’s why it’s important to be conscious of where you camp. This can be done in two different ways:
1. The first method is high-impact camping. By choosing to camp in high-impact areas that are already in use, you confine any damage to an area already impacted.
2. The second method is called low-impact camping. This follows the principle that good camping spots are found, not made. By keeping your camping activities light, you can keep any damages done to a minimum.
Taking extra precautions such as wearing soft shoes around camp and spreading your movements around the campsite to avoid wear can also help reduce your camping footprint.
7. Come Prepared
Arguably the most important aspect of “leave no trace” hiking is to come prepared. By doing proper research and making sure to pack the proper hiking essentials, you’ll be better prepared to camp without leaving any lasting impact.
Some important factors to pay attention to include:
● Weather forecast: Depending on the weather, you may need to pack special equipment or clothing.
● Terrain: Knowledge of the terrain will help you plan out your hike so that you can avoid delicate vegetation.
● Group size: The larger your group, the more of an impact you’ll make. Be sure to make your plans with your group size in mind.
● Regulations and restrictions: Not knowing the regulations and restrictions of the area you’re hiking in can result in irreversible damage. In some cases, it can even result in you being banned from the trail.
Being prepared is especially important when cooking. Cooking meals is easily one of the messiest activities on the trail and if you’re not careful, you could leave traces of your meal long after you’re gone. However, by planning for one-pot meals and packable snacks, you can avoid much of the mess associated with traditional cooking.
In conclusion: key takeaways
The reasons people choose to hike vary, whether it’s for health benefits or simply to get out of the house, but there’s no denying that it’s a past time everybody could use a little more of. In order to keep enjoying the great outdoors, however, it’s crucial for hikers to take care of nature when they choose to spend time in it.
“Leave no trace” hiking is a philosophy embraced by millions of hikers around the world, and for good reason. The next time you’re out hiking, remember these key takeaways:
● The easiest way to practice “leave no trace” is by making sure that everything you take in with you, leaves with you. Whether its food products or plastics, stowing them away in a Ziplock baggie keeps everything looking beautiful.
● If you feel the “call of nature” while out in nature, don’t freak out! Simply remember to do your business 200 feet away from water, bury it thoroughly, and pack out your toiletries with you.
● Campfires are fun, but only when done right. Limit campfires to places where they won’t cause any lasting damage and pay attention to any relevant fire restrictions.
● If you find something on the trail, leave it on the trail. Nature is there for everyone to appreciate, but that isn’t possible if hikers don’t leave things as they are.
● Pay attention to what you travel on. Durable surfaces like rocks, snow, or dry vegetation tend to hold up better against roaming feet.
● The best campsites are found, not made, but if this isn’t possible then try to use sites that have already been impacted by other campers. This way, you reduce the overall damage to the surrounding area.
● Being prepared is key. By making sure you have the proper gear, you’ll be better equipped to leave no trace when you hike.
Author: David Hoyt