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Mind Your Manners: Trail Ethics Basics

Mind Your Manners: Trail Ethics Basics | Wild Rock Outfitters

Mom was right - be kind and pick up after yourself. Here’s a quick primer on how to play nice in the great outdoors.

As interest in outdoor recreation grows (especially when people are looking for fun things to do without the crowds), the impacts on our natural spaces grow as well. From litter, invasive species, to landscape erosion and habituated wildlife, the impacts of more people enjoying our natural spaces can be disastrous.

Our mission at Wild Rock Outfitters is to encourage our community to experience the joy of spending time outdoors. To ensure that the outdoors are there to enjoy for our and future generations, we have to treat it carefully.

Most people are not intentionally trying to do harm to our environment, but some simply lack the education or information to help preserve it. The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace are an easy-to-understand framework of personal practices to protect our natural spaces.

Whether you’re taking a morning hike on a popular trail, spending the day cross country skiing in the forest, or embarking on a week-long back-country camping trip, bring these 7 basic principles with you to be a thoughtful and respectful outdoorsperson.

1. Plan ahead and prepare
You’re probably familiar with being prepared as a matter of safety. If you don’t have the right equipment, know the terrain or conditions, or know what to do in an emergency, you could find yourself in trouble. But being unprepared can affect other people, creatures, and surroundings as well. Aside from planning your route and checking conditions, this can be as simple as bringing along a bag or container to pack out any waste you or your pets create on the trail (yes, this includes toilet paper). Bonus points for picking up trash left behind by others.

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
A durable surface is one that can withstand consistent and repeated trampling and scuffing. Official trails and campsites, rock, sand and gravel are all durable surfaces, appropriate for your outdoor adventures. Whenever possible, refrain from travelling or camping over vegetation or soil - these areas are impacted by trampling with far reaching effects like soil erosion, development of undesirable trails, and destruction of entire communities of organisms. This principle also applies to the conditions of a particular trail or area. At some times of year, normally durable surfaces (for example, a well-used mountain bike trail), can be irreparably damaged if used when it is soft or muddy, such as during the spring melt.

3. Dispose of waste properly.
You’ve definitely heard “pack it in, pack it out” before - and it applies to more than your food wrappers. Most things you bring into nature should be packed out to be disposed of when you arrive home or get to a designated waste receptacle. This includes trash, food scraps, and cigarette butts. If nature calls while you’re in the outdoors, know that you can bury human waste in most places (check this Journal post to learn how), but you’ll need to pack out your toilet paper.

4. Leave what you find.
Organic materials including leaves, dead wood and pinecones offer food and safe homes to all kinds of insects, birds and wildlife, as well as rich compost to the landscape as it breaks down. You might think picking a wildflower bouquet or making a campfire with the dead tree near your campsite is no big deal, but when many people think the same way, it can have disastrous effects on the ecosystem of an area. Take a picture and bring a lightweight camp stove instead - no waste, easy to pack, and less work for you!

5. Minimize campfire impacts.
Everyone enjoys a hot drink or meal in the backcountry, but it’s important to consider how you can create the smallest possible impact on the environment. A lightweight camp stove is the best choice - they are easy to pack in and out, don’t require you to disturb your surroundings by gathering firewood, and work quickly in all weather conditions. If you must build a campfire, do so only in an area where wood is abundant (thus creating less of an impact by collecting firewood), when the conditions present little risk of forest fire, and make sure you have the skills to build a campfire that shows no evidence of having been constructed.

6. Respect wildlife.
If you’ve ever had the good luck to observe birds or animals in the wild, you’ll know how important it is to be still and quiet. One move and you’ll scare them away. Human contact is stressful to wildlife, driving them away from water and food sources, and can be dangerous to you as well, if the animal is sick. Make sure to keep your groups small, admire wildlife from afar, secure food and scraps securely, and give other species a wide berth. This applies to animals, birds, trees, plants and aquatic life as well.

7. Be considerate of other visitors.
We all have our own reasons for wanting to spend time in nature, and with a little care and consideration, the experience can be enjoyable for everyone. Keep the music off and loud talking to a minimum, give others plenty of space (try stepping off trails to a durable surface if you need a rest), travel in small groups, keep your pets close and keep the views wild by packing out trash and leaving natural treasures where they are.


There you have it - seven common-sense principles to help you consider your impacts on the  environment, wildlife and people we share the great outdoors with, so we can all enjoy it for years to come.

To learn more about Leave No Trace principles and how you can have a positive impact on the environment where you live and play, check out the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

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