Responsible Hiking: Leave no trace

leave no trace

Responsible hiking: Leave no trace

Responsible hiking: Leave no trace is an outdoor ethic we all should follow, if we enjoy and love a clean and healthy environment.

We all go out there because we Love Nature right? Love should always base on respect, so let’s show mother nature our respect too!

Leave no trace is more than just not leaving any trash behind. Nowadays where we share everything on social media, and hunting for likes, more and more people are looking for the best and most beautiful photo spots.
Sadly a lot of them are not on a trail but off trail.
Or if influencer and blogger with a great amount of follower tag beautiful remote places, these could be swarmed with a lot of people soon. And with a lot of people, more litter and impact is coming too…

Impact in times of social media and travel hypes

We need to remember we are causing impact with everything we do. So if you have secret places that are relatively untouched keep them for yourself 🙂 No need to share just for the one picture to get the most likes!

In many nature reserves/national parks in Africa it’s actually prohibited to share and tag or geotag places or photos with wild animals because illegal hunter could use them to shoot endangered animals. If this doesn’t show our responsibility I don’t know what does.

When it comes to leave no trace I would even go one step further and say: even if we buy new gear or clothing we should think about where it comes from, how it is made, because unsustainable production leaves a lot of traces behind…. And in our daily life at home, let’s think about the food we eat (pesticides), plastic packaging, single use plastic trash (coffee to go etc.)

But today I will focus on the trail. How to “Leave no trace” on trails, in the backcountry, on beaches, etc.

The seven principles of “Leave no trace” are the spine of the Leave no trace program.
It is a guideline on how to enjoy our natural world in a sustainable way that avoids human-created impacts.

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Photo by John Matychuk on Unsplash

Before you go

Plan and prepare

Before you head out into an area make sure to plan and prepare. This is the first step to minimize your impact.

So before you go check for special regulations or concerns like: no open fire allowed, no swimming, no wild camping, etc… Get prepared for any extreme situation like weather (snow, wind, flooding or hazards like fires, snakes, ticks, bears, etc.) and emergencies. Remember to bring a good trail map, GPS or compass, to eliminate the need of marking paint, plastic flags or rock cairns.

Try to avoid big travel groups. Bigger groups have bigger impact. Easily to witness on sightseeing spots all around the world. If you are a guide, try to split big groups into smaller ones. If you are a visitor, avoid mass tourism places and tours.

Plan your meals and repack your food. If you bring less trash, there is a smaller risk that something get’s left behind.
Repack your food into reusables like: silicone bags**, cotton bulk bags**, beeswax sandwich bags**, stainless steel container** or foldable silicone container**, etc..

 

On the trail

If you like to leave no trace while traveling through nature it is important to understand how travel can cause an impact.

Damage can occur when the surface vegetation or organisms are getting trampled down beyond recovery. This will lead to soil erosion and will eventually develope unattractive trails, and keep away plants and wild life.

To avoid all of that make sure to only travel/walk on established trails.

You should only camp on durable surfaces and established campsites. If wild camping is not allowed, don’t do it.

In case  you camp close to streams, lakes, please protect the riparian areas (between land and rivers and streams) and camp at least 200 feet away from wild waters.

Good campsites are found and not made, and kept small… Please don’t alter a site in anyway just to camp more comfortable. And please focus your activity in areas where there is no vegetation.

Avoid places where you can see impacts are already beginning.

Trash disposal

Littered trash is already a huge problem nowadays. Mostly non biodegradable trash is left behind (plastic, cans, etc.), human made food can be dangerous for wild life it can make them sick. And any kind of left over food and peels can cause big problems if they attract wild life to campsites. I heard a story about a campsite in a forest where they first attracted and fed squirrels, and then because people got annoyed about the amount of squirrels they attracted they started to poison them, and now there are no squirrels left in the area 🙁

Pack it in, Pack it out!!! 

If you don’t want to carry trash, don’t make any! Pack out all trash you make, including leftover food, litter, tampons (maybe try a menstrual cup** to avoid carrying the tampon trash), etc…

Solid human waste 

should be dug in cat-holes (6-8 inches deep, 200feet away from water/camp/trails). The proper disposal of human trash is important to avoid water pollution, minimize the possibility of spreading diseases and maximize the rate of decomposition.

Tp and tissues

Don’t leave any extremely bleached and tear resistant tissues or toilet paper behind. They need a long time to break down eventually. If you don’t like to carry your used toilet paper with you, use natural paper like leaves, or very natural toilet paper and bury it properly.

Soap

If you need to use soap to wash yourself or dishes, don’t use it directly in any streams!!! Use only small amounts natural, bio-degradable soap** and wash yourself and dishes 200 feet away from streams and lakes! Dishwater and shower water belongs into bushes, not into wild waters! Biodegradable soap is made with natural oils and they are degradable but only if they have contact with soil! If you wash them out into wild streams directly they will pollute and could cause harm to wild life and plants. (source: wisegeek.com)

Autumn hike in Algonquin Park in Canada

Minimize the impact of camp fires

Campfires can become very dangerous and have longterm impacts. So be very careful with fire in the wilderness. The use of a stove** is a great idea, and for light at night you could use a candle lantern or a solar powered candle**. Whenever fires are permitted just don’t make a fire. There is a good reason if they are permitted. If you do make a fire keep them small, use only small wood sticks that you can easily break by hand and burn all of it to ash. Make sure to put a fire out completely and scatter the cool ashes.

Don’t take anything but photos

Don’t take any souvenirs with you (not from mountains, and not from beaches) Leave rocks and plants as you find them. I know it is a hip thing to build stone towers now and then, but if you want to leave no trace you shouldn’t do so. It has an impact on micro organism and insects.

Make sure to check your shoes if they are clean before you go on a backcountry trip. Non-native species can become a great problem because they easily take over native species because they don’t have any enemies. Don’t build anything like furniture etc, and don’t dig any trenches.

We are visitors in the wild, so we need to show respect. It is not the other way round..

And if you take photos don’t go off trail just to get the best Instagram worthy Shot! Don’t geo tag the special place where you take photos. Be mindful with sharing secret places if you have a huge account.
But sure, promote the park itself. The way is the goal! Let people explore and find their own favorite places (without leaving a trace for sure;)

Respect wildlife

I don’t know how often I’ve seen tourist feeding squirrels and other wildlife just beside a sign saying: Respect wildlife, please don’t feed them. 

It is all about the one souvenir photo and then off they go, not thinking about the consequences. If I see this, I try to approach them and telling them in a polite way not to do so. They mostly look at me like they don’t understand or get annoyed quickly….

In case you you see wildlife on your hikes, observe from a distance. Please don’t approach them or follow them.

Never ever feed wildlife!!

The wrong food can damage their health, can alter natural behaviors, expose them to predators and other dangers. Like if you feed animals in dry areas some salty snacks they can’t find enough water to drink it can cause huge problems…and cause death quickly.

In case you hike in bear country, use bear cans. If they smell your food it could become a deadly wildlife human meeting.

If you travel with a dog, control him all the time, don’t let him go without leash. If you don’t want that, leave him at home.

In sensitive times like winter, nesting season, mating season, try to avoid wildlife. They can get stressed very easily through these times…

Again, remember we are the visitors here. You would like the same amount of respect in your own home too.

If you see it, pick it up!

I always have a reusable bag with me so that I could take any trash littered on the trail, or beach with me (sadly sometimes it is too much to carry, but at least one bag of trash is out of nature when I am back home).

I support the movement: Pick it up if you see it! So if you see plastic trash/human trash on the trail, pick it up and dispose it properly. And no, I don’t do this for the people who leave it behind (I get this argument often from people not willing to pick up any trash), but for myself, mother nature and wildlife (they suffer the most and can’t help themselves).

In the end, it's all about respect:

A friend of mine just came back from a camping trip and came back more stressed than relaxed. They camped side by side to some party hikers. They were very noisy all night, drinking, playing the guitar. Then they burned plastic trash and left trash behind. That is just not the way how to do it. This behavior shows no kind of respect, neither to nature or other visitors. If you like to have a blowing party without taking responsibility and tidying up after you, please stay at home.

So try and be respectful, be courteous, step to the downhill side of the trail when you are encountering pack stock, take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors and avoid loud noises and voices. 

If you like to read more about the guidelines of Leave no trace, visit the Leave No Trace Organization website.

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