Backpacking and Camping Manners
Most camping and backpacking manners can be summarized by the seven principles of Leave No Trace. They might seem silly and obvious - Great! You should still follow them. While different areas have specific rules, the LNT (Leave no Trace) principles are applicable everywhere. Make sure if you are going on a backpacking trip or camping, even at a campground, that you check what the local regulations are. Generally speaking, these rules are in place to protect the environment and to ensure that you and other visitors have a wonderful experience. These local regulations have been put in place by a team of people with insights and knowledge about that region, so there is a good reason behind each and every one of them. The overall guiding principle of Leave no Trace is in its name: that the places you visit have no signs that you were ever there and people will be able to use them, as they are, for generations to come.
The 7 Principles of Leave no Trace
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare:
While this might seem easy and self-explanatory, it's also the easiest to forget. Make sure you have proper equipment to keep food away from animals, to dispose of waste (including human waste), to filter water, etc. One campground might have toilets and bear containers, while another one is less-used and requires that you bring your own. Pre-packing food and getting rid of all packaging beforehand reduces the weight you have to carry and helps consolidate waste before you even head out on the trail. Another part of planning and preparing is getting to know the regulations in your destination before you get there. If you are heading into a wilderness area (and are not just car camping at a big campground, you might also consider the size of your group and the impact - noise, walking, campsites - it will have on the areas you are visiting.
2. Camp and Walk on Durable Surfaces:
Many wilderness areas have designated trails and campsites. Use them! When you are traveling off-trail, do your absolute best not to make a new trail. The rule is that when walking on a designated trail, use it, otherwise, spread out to reduce your impact. Rock, gravel, dry grasses, and snow or ice are also considered durable surfaces. In choosing a campsite, always camp at least 200 feet from the nearest water source. While this might seem inconvenient, it keeps the water source clean for your group and for future users. Although privacy is a wonderful thing when you're trying to get away from it all, try to keep your camp compact and clean and pick camps where there is the least vegetation.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly:
This includes ALL waste, everything you bring in that was not previously there from food scraps to plastic to poop. The saying goes, "Pack it in, pack it out." Apple cores and raisins, while natural, are not part of most environments "naturally." Depending on the area, solid human waste can be left in a 6-8" deep hole at least 200 feet from the nearest water. Make sure to cover the hole and leave it looking like part of the environment and take the toilet paper and hygiene products with you. In high-impact, high-use areas, regulations sometimes require that you carry even solid human waste out. The best way to do this is in Wag Bags, or on a rafting trip in a portable toilet. Bathing and washing dishes can be tricky in the outdoors. The main thing to remember is that you actually need to wash away from the water source. Many people opt to simply stay dirty if their trip isn't too long. For those of you who absolutely must wash, first of all, your group will probably thank you, and second of all, take a bucket of water away from the stream, lake, or water source, and use a biodegradable soap. As for dishes, wash them in a soapy bucket, strain the water, pack out the pieces, and spray the soapy water over a large area.
4. Leave What You Find:
The saying goes, leave only footprints, take only photographs and that is pretty much the golden rule of spending time in the wilderness. The reason we enjoy excursions in nature is that it is natural and we can always expect it to smell clean and have beautiful trees, flowers, and wildlife, and be a quiet retreat from the craziness that "normal" life entails. The only possible way we can continue to enjoy these places in the state they are for years to come, is if we all leave them as we find them. That includes leaving flowers, rocks, sticks, sand, animals and anything else you might want to snatch and take home to your living room display cases. Imagine coming upon a beautiful field of flowers only to find that a small section of the field had been picked. Or turning a bend to find a structure of sticks and leaves. Neither of these scenarios is ideal. The only exception to this rule of building things is that you may reconstruct cairns (rock piles that tell you where the trail is) when they have toppled over or are unclear. Do not build cairns if you are lost or you will lead others astray as well!
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts:
Fire can be devastatingly destructive to a wilderness area. It is one of the most useful and most dangerous aspects of backpacking and wilderness camping. Make sure you a) know the fire restrictions where you are going and b) know how to use the equipment you bring. Keep your fires small, ensuring that you can control them. Yes, raging bonfires are fun to build but they are very difficult to control and should be left out of any wilderness or camping area. If you use sticks you can snap with your own hands and logs no bigger than your forearm, your fire should be easy to keep small. Once you are finished with your fire, burn everything in it to ash and depending on the area, either carry it out in an ash can or scatter the cool ashes. As for cooking, knowing how to use your stove in advance will help with any potential fire hazards.
6. Respect Wildlife:
There are many, many, many different types of mammals, insects, birds, reptiles, and other types of wildlife who call the areas we like to visit home. It's important that they are able to survive there and enjoy life as they know it when we leave, so never feed the wildlife. One small piece of bread from you, and another one from the next visitor, and suddenly they have learned that they can get food from people. Store your food so that they can't get to it and clean up all your scraps. If you are brining a dog or other animal on your hike, make sure they are not disrupting or endangering the wildlife either. The best thing is to look through binoculars or from a distance and be as unintrusive to their space as possible. For your own safety, remember that any animal with babies near it will be much more aggressive and protective, so keep a distance from them.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors (Including Animals):
The last thing anyone wants to hear in a serene and beautiful setting is loud voices breaking the silence. People head out into the wild to hear bird calls and enjoy the stillness of being away from civilization. Keep voices quiet so that only your own group can hear you. Trail etiquette is always a good thing to know before heading out on a hike or long backpacking trip. When you see another group approaching, move out of the way. Typically the uphill hikers or the smaller group moves aside, but it is nice to yield to any other trail users. Always move well out of the way if you see a pack of horses or mules coming. It is common courtesy to eat lunch and take any group breaks away from the main trail - even if the best spot is directly trailside.