Let’s talk about your poop…and what you do with it while in the outdoors. While we are at it lets talk about your trash, food waste, grey water, and campfire ash too. With camping season approaching quickly I think it is important to remind everyone what Leave No Trace really means.
Having grown up camping and adventuring in the outdoors I have seen some of my favorite places, beautiful, breathtaking places ruined and trashed by other visitors. More and more people continue to discover the outdoors and every weekend they pour into national and state parks, front country and backcountry campsites all in search of getting away from the sardine can we call city life and out into nature. I think that is great, really, I do but, if you are headed into nature without a plan to minimize your impact there, then you are part of a growing problem that could lead to some of your favorite public lands being closed off to visitors. So, let’s arm you with the information so that you don’t look like a complete Jerry when you are out enjoying the great outdoors.
Leave No Trace:
Be prepared, plan ahead:
- Know the regulations and special permits you may need for the area you are visiting.
- Prepare for extreme weather conditions. Just because the weather is supposed to be nice or act a certain way does not mean things can’t change.
- Visit areas in small groups to minimize impact, even go as far as to split up your larger group into smaller ones.
- Repackage your food to cut down on waste.
- Always bring a leash for your pet and plastic bags to dispose of their waste.
- ACTUALLY PICK UP YOUR PET’S WASTE, even when you are camping. After you pack up camp you should do a wide sweep of the area around your campsite and pick up ALL of the pet waste you see.
- Use a map and compass and GPS to minimize the need for cairns and trail flagging. Safety thing here guys, don’t even go without map and compass even with a GPS because if that GPS dies in the backcountry and you don’t have a back up you could be in a lot of trouble.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces:
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites. Avoid walking on living plants and grasses.
- Walk single file on trails even when muddy and wet.
- Good campsites are found not made. Altering a site is usually not necessary and if you do be sure to only use dead or dying areas and items.
- Protect water sources by camping at least 200 feet away from lakes, streams, and rivers.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
Dispose of Waste Properly:
- Pack it in pack it out. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Burning any trash is not recommended and is usually bad for your health.
- Consider packing out solid human waste using an approved method.
- If allowed deposit human waste in catholes dug down 6 to 8 inches and at least 200 feet from water sources, campsites, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Recently while in Moab climbing at Wall Street I noticed piles and piles of human feces just across the road ON THE BANK OF THE COLORADO RIVER. This can lead to toxins seeping into our waterways and the repercussions of that are disgusting. Make your way to a nearby toilet when in a front country situation such as this.
- Ladies, pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. A simple way to do this is by simply bringing a small plastic baggie with you.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from water sources and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
Leave What You Find:
- Preserve the past, observe, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
Minimize Campfire Impacts:
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the environment. Consider using a lightweight stove for cooking and bring headlamps and lanterns for light.
- If you do use a campfire to cook, use established campfire rings and grates.
- Keep fires small. Use only wood bought locally and sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. (Bringing wood from home especially to other states can contain tree-killing bugs or diseases that can be released into local fauna when burned. Those local trees do not likely have immunities to fight off said bugs and diseases.)
- Burn all wood to coals and ash. Put out campfires completely any time you leave your site. When leaving for good scatter cool ash 200 feet away from water sources, campsites, and trails.
- Wildlife is just that…WILD. Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them. This should be done by experienced trackers and outdoorsmen only.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife puts them in danger, damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely. Bear canisters or bags are recommended and often required in backcountry areas. If a bear gets to your human food it will likely be put down, please remember this.
- Control pets at all times or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife at all costs during sensitive times like mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
Be Considerate of other users:
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- This includes playing music while camping, climbing, hiking. If you do play music keep the volume low but it is even better to listen to nature.
- This also includes drones. Drones are cool and the pictures you can get are awesome, but they are also typically quite loud. Use them sparingly and always ask your neighbors before flying.
- Be courteous. Yield to others on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
Most of these principles have been tried and true for 50+ years but as our modern world develops so should our best practices in the outdoors. It also seems to me that many of us out there have forgotten or simply don’t know these principles. It can be tempting to take the easy route or leave unwanted items behind but, when one person does it another does and another and soon once beautiful wilderness areas look like trash cans and toilets.
Remember you aren’t the only one out there and public lands are for all to use. Be respectful of others and more importantly of nature. Doing so sets the example for others in the wilderness and for future generations of enjoyment. -MU