Are you planning your next hiking trip in the back-country? The Leave No Trace Principles will teach you 7 important principles in order to ensure your safety and to reduce your impact on the environment.
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LEAVE NO TRACE: THE 7 PRINCIPLES
PRINCIPLE 1: PLAN AHEAD AND PREPARE
How do you plan ahead and prepare before heading out into the wilderness?
- Print out a map of the location/park as well as the detailed descriptions of the trails
- Check the weather conditions prior to leaving
- Wear the proper gear
- Pack the 10 essentials (You can view the blog here: “The 10 Essentials that you need to bring with you hiking.”)
- Check regulations/restrictions as well as parking directions/rules
MEAL PLANNING TIPS
In addition to planning your meals meals ahead of time, here are some tips to help you pack lighter and minimize garbage.
- Plan for a one pot/one dish meal
- Pack snacks that are lightweight
- Remove food from its original packaging and place it in sealable bags
Using sealable bags is a great way to reduce garbage. Simply pack them inside one another when empty and dispose of them properly. With that being said, don’t leave any garbage behind.
PRINCIPLE 2: TRAVEL AND CAMP ON DURABLE SURFACES
Most importantly, you need to be aware of the differences between durable and vulnerable surfaces not to damage our surroundings. Irreversible damage occurs when vegetation has been stepped on too often, where the ground can no longer recover. This leads to the development of new trails caused by soil erosion. Moreover, it affects species and our ecosystem in a negative way.
Traveling on trail
traveling off trail
Trails were created in order to avoid damaging its surroundings and to allow us to walk through the back-country. With that being said, having one trail that we can all use is a lot better than having a bunch of paths where we’d be continuously damaging our environment. It’s encouraged to stay on the proper trails and to avoid the surrounding trails that often look like shortcuts. You should only be off trail if you’re taking a break and you’re making room for others to pass by.
Additionally, you should only travel off trail if you’re looking for bathroom privacy or if you’re looking for an area to camp out.
Backpacking/camping in the wild
If you’re planning a hiking or camping trip, it’s important to understand which surfaces are durable and which are vulnerable in order to know where to place your tent, where to sit as well as where to step.
What are durable surfaces?
The most durable surfaces are rock, sand and gravel. This means that you can sit and step on these surfaces without leaving a negative impact (apart from the lichens on the rocks). Ice and snow are temporary therefore they’re also durable (unless of course the snow isn’t very thick and you are touching the ground/land). Vegetation is fragile and is NOT durable therefore you shouldn’t touch, sit or step on any vegetation.
TIPS ON CHOOSING WHERE TO CAMP in the back-country
- Always camp on durable surfaces and find a spot that will not disturb wildlife
- Tents, backpacks and cooking areas should be located on durable surfaces such as rock, sand or gravel
- Don’t camp close to water (to allow passage for wildlife)
- Follow the camping regulations that are set in place for that area
- Don’t camp close to trails (select a spot to camp that is not visible to others)
You should only camp in undisturbed remote areas if you’re skilled and experienced in the Leave No Trace principles. If you’re not, it is recommended to go with someone who is such as a camping guide.
CAMPING IN THE DESERT
If you’re planning a camping trip in the desert, it’s important to avoid passing through mud-holes or puddles of water. The desert also has a surface called Cryptobiotic Crust or Crypto. This crust acts as protective layer over the desert and is very fragile and should never be stepped on. Please make sure you’re well-informed if you’re planning a camping adventure out in the desert. Hiring a camping guide is always a great idea.
PRINCIPLE 3: DISPOSE OF WASTE PROPERLY: minimize human impact
It’s important to understand how to dispose of human waste effectively to avoid pollution, the spread of disease as well as negative impacts. How do we dispose of human waste out in the wilderness when we need to use the bathroom?
CATHOLES OR CAT HOLES
The most common and effective way to dispose of human waste is by digging a Cathole or Cat Hole. A Cathole is a hole that you dig in order to dispose your feces (yes, your poop). You’ll need to do this at least 200 feet (about 70 adult steps) from trails, water, and camp. Keep in mind that you’ll need to walk on durable surfaces. You can use a small hand trowel to dig up your Cathole and it should be covered with organic materials when you’re done. Toilet paper can be buried in the Cathole as well. Tampons should NOT be buried in the Cathole. A hand trowel can also come in handy when starting a campfire.
PRINCIPLE 4: LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND
This includes cultural artifacts, rocks, flowers and plants. No one is permitted to tamper with fire rings/fire pits or anything that doesn’t belong to us. Damaging trees or using knives to carve into them is not permitted (carving your initials into a tree is unacceptable).
Please note that in some National Parks as well as other parks/areas it is illegal to remove any organic objects.
PRINCIPLE 5: MINIMIZE CAMPFIRE IMPACTS
You’ll need fire for cooking and to stay warm. A camping fire stove is a great alternative to minimize campfire impacts and Leave No Trace.
TIPS ON MINIMIZING CAMPFIRE IMPACTS
- Pack a camping fire stove with you (stoves can be used in almost any weather)
- Avoid damaging vulnerable surfaces when finding a area to camp
- Double check the fire restrictions for that area
- Start a fire within existing fire rings (if you are not using a camping fire stove)
- Put out fires with water
- Never leave a fire unattended
- Leave trees as they are. Do not pick at them or break branches off of any tree whether it is standing or on the ground, alive or dead.
- Use small pieces of wood (for firewood) that can be easily broken with your hand
- When you are leaving the campsite, leave no trace behind
Most importantly, if you don’t have the skill to start a campfire it is recommended to bring someone who is experienced and skilled in the Leave No Trace principles.
PRINCIPLE 6: RESPECT WILDLIFE
It’s important to remember that we’re visitors in the back-country. Wildlife should always be respected and should never be disturbed. Wildlife should also be observed from a distance. Loud noises are to be avoided because they’re very stressful on wildlife (the only exception is if you see a bear, in that case you should make some noise not to startle the bear). It’s not permitted (it’s also illegal in most parks) to follow wildlife, to feed wildlife, to touch wildlife, to pick up wildlife or to force them to flee. This could be harmful for the animals and for your safety. For these reasons, always respect wildlife and nature.
PRINCIPLE 7: BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS
Lastly, in order for all of us to have an enjoyable experience in the back-country it’s important to be respectful of each other. We can do this by bringing a pair of headphones when listening to music as well as understanding the trail etiquette (including the dog trail etiquette).
LEAVE NO TRACE: THE 7 PRINCIPLES
Thank you so much for reading this blog! To summarize, plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find behind, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife and last but not least be considerate of others.
For additional information on the Leave No Trace Principles please visit www.leavenotrace.ca.
Let the adventures begin!
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