There are few places on Earth that have not been interrupted by humans. With over six billion people on this planet, those places are hard to find. The best way to curb that crowded feeling in nature is to take the time to make sure nothing is disrupted or left behind.
Leaving trash is the main concern when it comes to practicing “leave no trace” camping. But it’s an easy problem to fix—pick up all the trash in a campsite or on the trail, and not just your own trash. This simple task can eliminate hiking at dusk to a favorite view point, only to have your headlamp illuminate a Three Musketeers wrapper.
Campfires are a camping trademark, but throwing trash in the fire is not. Make sure all trash is toted away from the woods instead. Leftover soup cans and half-melted plasticware doesn’t just look bad—the jagged edges make the site hazardous for the next group of Cub Scouts cooking s’mores. Fires need to be extinguished completely before leaving, without any warmth around the ashes. Most campsites have designated areas to build fires. Campers and hikers should avoid building new fire pits. If you are backpacking and need a fire, use a stove rather than starting a fire pit. A burnt spot on the ground can stay blackened and charred for years.
The ground may not seem that important, but that is where all plant life begins. Protecting the ground and what flourishes in it allows plants to grow, nourish, and improve the forests we enjoy so much. Always try to set up tents in designated campsites if possible, and never trail blaze, or go off the beaten path, too much. If the ground is trampled on too much, it quickly becomes barren. If using a hammock, be sure and protect the bark of the trees from abrasion from straps. Also be sure the tree can support the weight of 1 or two people. One easy way to help support the cause of Leave no Trace is to purchase an ENO Doublenest Leave no Trace edition hammock. For each hammock purchased, $10 goes directly to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to help continue the work they do now and for years to come. For more, check out: LNT.org.
Plants are not the only wildlife to worry about around a campsite. It does not take long for a sly crow, raccoon, or even black bear to take the Twinkies out of a backpack and leave wrappers across a national forest’s floor. Never leave food unattended. You do not just lose a meal, but feeding wild animals will only encourage them to come back for other snacks. They take trash with them, and this can affect the look of the forest around you and the animals you want to admire from a distance. And those jagged tin cans and burnt plastic? Those are also hazardous to animals searching for a meal.
Humans will always have some sort of impact on the land. Leave no trace is about limiting that impact, or even making a positive impact on the outdoors by planting a tree or organizing a clean-up crew. The next time you venture into the great outdoors, look at leave no trace as a way to respect the outdoors you enjoy so much, rather than a set of rules you must follow. This respect for the outdoors will have lasting outcomes that many people will appreciate forever.