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5 Essential Rules for Low-Impact Hiking

Hiking Camping
by Megan Hill Apr 19, 2010
If you’re like me, spring has you ready to hit the trails with a backpack and a notebook. Check out these five tips for low-impact hiking and camping before you go:
1. Stay on the trail.

Especially when mud puddles or photographs are involved, it’s sometimes tempting to wander off the trail. The long term effect is to create new paths that carve up formerly pristine areas. Not only does this look ugly, but it can hurt fragile plants and, over time, denude landscapes. Better to get your shoes a little dirty or sacrifice that perfect photo.

2. Camp in designated areas.

Some predetermined tent sites are poorly chosen, and some plants won’t be affected if you sleep on them. Unless you’re a botanist or an expert in Leave No Trace principles, it’s best to stick to the rule that you shouldn’t make camp where camp hasn’t already been made.

3. Don’t build campfires.

I’m a bit of a pyro, so I’m bummed I can’t build huge bonfires everywhere I go. Still, the truth is that fire rings damage landscapes.

There are exceptions: if you’re in a campsite with established fire pits or rings, either buy wood or use very little dead wood gathered from a wide area without trampling, and don’t leave singed trash behind, you should be OK.

Pay attention to rules that outlaw burns in certain ecosystems or during certain times of the year, and never collect rotting logs: they’re an important part of the forest habitat.

4. Pack out trash.

This one’s pretty obvious with respect to things like plastic bags or granola bar wrappers, but don’t go tossing your orange peels into the forest. They’re biodegradable, sure, but they’re not a part of that ecosystem and food scraps can condition bears and other critters to human food. This is bad news for both animals and hikers.

5. Don’t wash dishes in streams.

For the most part, you should avoid rinsing your cookware in water. The best way to deal with your dinner is to eat everything on your plate, wipe the dishes clean, and rinse utensils with bottled water far downwind from your campsite, using minimal amounts of biodegradable soap. Make sure to pack out any food waste or leftovers.

For more details on minimizing your impact in the wilderness, order a copy of the Sierra Club’s Walking Softly in the Wilderness or check out the Leave No Trace website.

Community Connection

Matador Change has more articles and tips on going green.

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