Any time you are out hiking or camping, you can minimize your negative human impact on the land by traveling and camping on durable surfaces.
But first, what is a durable surface?
A durable surface is somewhere we can hike and camp without causing damage to the area - like trampling out plants, causing erosion and creating unnecessary side trails.
Traveling on durable surfaces
The most obvious durable surface is the trail itself!
When you're hiking through out the day, please, please, please, stay on designated trails.
These designated trails have been intentionally created by land managers, almost as a sacrifice, for users. They're saying, hey, we're going to kill off all the vegetation over the course of this path so hikers can travel here, and enjoy all the other land surrounding the trail, without having a negative impact on that surrounding land.
When we walk off the trail, on a non-durable surface like plants, vegetation, and the forest floor, we risk trampling out and destroying that vegetation. Then future visitors wouldn't be able to enjoy that area as much, if there just a bunch of dirt and dead plants lying around.
Also, those plants provide valuable food and resources to other life in the woods, like deer, insects, and snails and bacteria on the forest floor.
All those plants and vegetation, especially near creeks, rivers, and lakes, are helping to hold everything together and allow rain water (or snow melt) to flow through the ground properly. When we hike off trail, and create undesignated side trails, we can also cause irreparable erosion to the area.
So, again, please, please, please stay on the trail.
Some other durable surfaces to walk on include rocky outcroppings, sand, gravel, or snow.
But.... what if you have to go off trail? To use the bathroom or find camp in a wilderness area?
Then practice Leave No Trace by:
- Walking in a slight zig zag to prevent a visible trail from being formed.
- Take a slightly different route back and forth when walking off trail, so you aren't taking the exact same path and creating a side trail.
- If you're in a group, spread out 10-15 apart. Don't walk in a line or right next to each other, as this causes more concentrated damage which is hard for the forest to recover from.
Camping on durable surfaces
The best place to camp to minimize your impact is in designated campsites.
Most designated campsites are already highly impacted. There usually already big clearings for your tent. So you're not going to create more damage or more of an impacted by using these sites.
But... what if there are no designated or impacted campsites around?
Practice Leave No Trace by:
- Camping 200 feet (or 80 adult steps) away from the trail and 200 feet away from water sources.
- Pick a spot where you won't have kill or cut down any live plants, bushes, saplings, branches, etc. It's ok to move a few rocks or downed branches to be more comfortable, but you should never have to saw off branches or trees to make a campsite.
- When traveling around camp - like from your tent to your kitchen area, or your tent to the bathroom, or to the water source - prevent making your own trails by zig zagging between these spots, and taking a slightly different route each time.
- After you pack up your gear to leave, naturalize the campsite again. If you brushed away rocks and twigs to put your tent up, spread some rocks, twigs, and leaf litter over the site again to disguise it. No one else should be able to tell where you camped.
Check out these other Leave No Trace inspired posts:
- How To Poop In The Woods
- How To Have Your Period On The Trail
- How To Plan Ahead and Prepare, Leave No Trace Style
Let me know if you have any questions about Leave No Trace in the comments below!
Free 7-Day Leave No Trace
Learn the seven Leave No Trace principles, inside and out, with this free online workshop.
I'll cover everything you need to know so you and your hiking partners can enjoy the trail responsibly without leaving harmful, human impacts behind.