Summer is finally here, which means its time to pull the camping equipment out of storage and spend some time in the outdoors. Before you pick your destination and make a packing list, take a moment to consider how you can tread lightly on your favorite outdoor spots while also being kind to your fellow adventurers. Leave No Trace principles provide an excellent guide to how humans can enjoy nature while also being respectful stewards of the land. Whether you're planning a day trip or trekking for an extended period, keep in mind a few simple tips to ensure you leave as little evidence of your movements as possible.
Whether you are headed to the tops of a mountain or the edge of the shore, make sure to research all of the rules, regulations, and weather conditions for your trip. Be prepared with adequate outerwear, first aid supplies, and trail maps. Bring gear that has multiple functions, like multi-tools, convertible clothing, and possibly a smartphone loaded with maps and guides. Schedule your visit for times that do not coincide with peak use.
Campers in Tent, Shutterstock
When possible, visit in small groups or break up large parties. Fewer feet on the trail at one time not only helps relieve congestion, but also diminishes damage to the ecosystem. Manageable numbers of campers also means less trash to deal with, quieter and more intimate experiences with nature, and fewer resources needed to be used and possibly left behind. Yield to those on the trail, and take breaks away from others.
Correct Tent Placement, Shutterstock
When pitching a tent, try and camp on durable surfaces, including established trails, campsites, rock, gravel, and snow. Keep sites small and pick spots where vegetation is absent. Set up at least 200 feet from streams and rivers to protect riparian areas. When walking on trails, move single file and resist straying from your route. In unmaintained wilderness, disperse in order to prevent creating impacted soil or creating new trails. If you spot an animal, do your best to remain quiet and hidden from view.
Digital Photographer, Shutterstock
Taking little souvenirs from your trip may seem tempting, but each rock, twig, and shell is a part of an ecosystem and should be left where it was found. Similarly, engaging with the local wildlife can at first strike you as a good idea, but could either desensitize animals to a human presence or be outright dangerous. Carry along a camera to snap photos of your experiences and use a smartphone to chronicle notable events.
Picking Up Trash, Shutterstock
Stash the Trash
One of the main mottoes of Leave No Trace Camping is “If you pack it in, pack it out.” Whatever your bring with you should also return home with you. Food packaging can be reused as garbage bags. Make sure to collect all spilled food, bury feces, and disperse of dish suds at least 200 feet away from any body of water. Wash yourself and belongings with as little biodegradable soap as possible.
Cat Hole, Shutterstock
If you are traveling with your favorite canine companion, make sure that all waste is either bagged and thrown out back at the campsite, or buried. As for human poop, bring along a trowel to dig a “cat hole” that is at least 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 yards from water. Cover and disguise the hole when finished. Sanitary products and toilet paper should not be left behind, but instead bagged and packed out. Urinate at least a few dozen feet away from trails, and avoid contaminating riparian habitats.
Camping meals, Shutterstock
Cook simple meals that do not require a long ingredient list, or huge amounts of fuel to boil or heat. Pre-packaged camping meals can help cut down on overall packaging and containers. A little preparation before leaving your home can help to make sure that snacks and meals take as little effort to complete while on the trail. Pack out all leftovers, including biodegradable items such as orange and banana peels. Use bear canisters when necessary, and do not leave food lying out where animals can take advantage of an easy bite. Choose instant coffees and teas so you don’t have to deal with disposing of grounds, and bring along canteens instead of single-use plastic bottles.
Camping Stove, Shutterstock
While we all enjoy a great sing-along around a campfire, most sites without established pits could do with less activity from firewood collection, soot, and char. Building a fire safe zone, tromping off into the bush for kindling, and rearranging a campsite all alter the space significantly. Instead, opt either for a small fuel-powered stove for cooking, lanterns and headlamps for lighting, and well-insulated clothing to keep you warm.
Lead image via Shutterstock