“Take only pictures and leave only footprints.” When camping in the wilderness, many places apply so-called “Leave no trace” rules. The details vary from place to place, but the basics are always the same: To leave the land no different from how you found it. There are seven “Leave No Trace” principles:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Those basic principles, should overlay a philosophy of respecting the land. The first thing you should always do is check the specific rules for the area you are traveling in. For example, on my last trip to the Sierra Nevada, I discovered they had a rule about human waste – at least 100 feet from trails or water sources, buried in a cat-hole or latrine, as should dog waste. 200 feet is better if you can manage it. Another thing to check is campfire regulations. You may find there are areas (or times) when fires are not permitted. Regulations may require that you use permanent fire rings where they exist. If there are no permanent fire rings, dig a fire pit instead, rather than creating a new one, and fill in the pit afterwards. Use local firewood.
Trash is an important consideration. Nobody wants to see litter in the backcountry. Food waste can even put people and wildlife in danger. A bear that becomes a nuisance may injure somebody and in severe circumstances may need to be shot. Food waste should be packed out, in bear proof containers if necessary, or burned in the campfire (to ash). Never keep food in your tent. Clean up your campsite thoroughly and use marked campsites. You want your campsite to look like nobody was using it afterwards. Other trash should be packed out in plastic, sealable bags. Reduce waste in the first place by only bringing what you need.
Stay on marked trails when possible. If you have to leave the trail to avoid an obstacle, such as a downed tree, walk on the most durable surface or follow a trail left by others. When you return, report the obstacle to the rangers so a trail crew can repair it. Keep to the middle of the trail and walk single file. If you must leave the trail to allow other hikers to pass, then try not to step on plants.
Respect wildlife by not disturbing it if possible. If hunting, take clean shots and retrieve game promptly. Stay within your bag limits and never hunt out of season. Even in the “front country,” never feed the wildlife. Habituated wildlife may attempt to approach you. If so, try to minimize the amount of disturbance and never feed or touch wildlife. If taking a dog, keep them on a leash and only take dogs on trails that allow them.
Finally, be considerate of other campers. Avoid loud noises. You can ruin someone’s camping experience by insisting on listening to music at your campsite; sound travels easily in the outdoors. Use earbuds or keep the volume low. When on the trail, give right of way to saddle and pack stock, as they often cannot leave the trail or may do a lot of damage if they have to do so. Step to the downhill side of the trail, as appearing suddenly above a horse or mule can cause them to spook. If hunting, make sure others are aware you are carrying a firearm and check your field of fire carefully. Remember that most people in the backcountry are not wearing blaze, so act with caution.
When in the wilderness you should respect the land, the wildlife, and others. Remember “pack in, pack out” and “take only pictures, leave only footprints.”