Leave No Trace
Ethics for Outdoor Enthusiasts
Exploring the outdoors can be intriguing for many, but for many environmental conservation is not at the top of their minds. Every person that spends time exploring and enjoying the outdoor world has a responsibility to preserve and protect it. As travelers we need to make every effort to preserve and protect the world we are so enthralled to explore.
The Leave No Trace Philosophy
Leave No Trace is an organization that promotes the protection of the natural environment while exploring the outdoors. Leave No Trace leads research and initiatives while providing education to the public on the importance of maintaining the environment.
1.) Plan Ahead and Prepare
Preparing for your adventure can help maintain the safety of travelers as well as protect the environment. Research the area you will be visiting including any alerts, restrictions, and bans. Leave No Trace recommends several steps that should be taken when planning a trip, including identifying and recording the goals of the trip, identifying the skill and ability of the participants, gaining knowledge of the area you are planning on visiting, choosing the right equipment and clothing, and planning your trip activities based on the above. Being prepared helps with keeping yourself and the environment safe.
2.) Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Stick to the trails. Walking through untraveled areas can cause damage to the environment, including damage to vegetation and communities of organisms. If you must go off the trail or are in an area that does not have a trail be sure to stay on durable surfaces, such as rock, sand, and gravel. Also be cautious of vegetation and living soil. When camping try to find durable surfaces or pick an area that has been frequently used in the past and that you are not likely to do any further harm to.
3.) Dispose of Waste Properly
Before visiting a location be sure to research the guidelines for disposal of human waste. In some cases, cat holes may be acceptable and in others it may expected that it is carried out. If burying you should ensure you are at least 200 ft. from a water source, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep, and be sure to fill it back in and cover it with natural items such as branches and pinecones. Never leave toilet paper behind, be sure to carry it out with you.
In regards to other forms of waste, be sure to carry all trash out with you. Plan meals so that you don’t have a ton of strong smelling garbage that may attract wildlife. Avoid use of single use items, bring reusable items whenever possible.
4.) Leave What You Find
Leave natural items where you find them, including rocks, plants, shells, and other items. In many national parks it is actually illegal to remove items. In the past I have been attempted to take souvenirs from the natural world, but have since learned of the damaging effects that can have. Leave camp sites as you found them, don’t alter them. Don’t dig trenches for tent placement. Do not damage trees-do not carve initials into them! Do not pick wildflowers.
5.) Minimize Campfire Impacts
When thinking about starting a fire be sure to consider what damage it may do to the environment. Be careful about where you start the fire and if camping be sure to use only the designated areas. A great alternative to a fire is a portable stove, which are quickly becoming more popular. They are easy to use and eliminate the need for wood, therefore lessening the effect that has on the environment.
6.) Respect Wildlife
Do not disturb wildlife to get up close to them. Observe them quietly from a distance. Do not make excessive noise that will frighten the wildlife, (traveling in smaller groups helps), feed them , or touch them. Touching animals, especially young animals, can cause their parents to abandon them due to the smell, leaving them at risk. Keep your food secure and garbage put away. Camp at least 200 ft. away from water sources to ensure the wildlife is comfortable with reaching it.
7.) Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Be aware of other visitors exploring the same trails/location as you. Don’t be overly noisy, know generally expected rules about yielding the trail (e.g. mountain bikers, group tours, etc.), clean up after your animals, and keep your pets in line.
Tips On How Can You Contribute to Protecting the Environment While Exploring the Outdoors
1.) Bring a reusable water bottle
Water is essential when hiking and participating in strenuous outdoor activities, but bringing (and leaving behind) plastic water bottles can be harmful to the environment, ocean, and wildlife. Bringing a reusable water bottle can meet your hydration needs and help preserve the environment.
2.) If you see trash, pick it up!
If you see trash lining the trails don’t be afraid to take one for the team and pick it up. If you are visiting a beach and see trash lining the sand, pick it up! While it is not your fault/your trash, picking it up can do wonders for the environment and wildlife. Bring a pair of gloves (reusable) and help keep the environment clean so that we can continue to enjoy the natural world.
3.) Keep Your Fires Small
While having a fire while camping can be enjoyable they can be very dangerous and harmful to the environment. Keep them small and manageable and start them only in designated areas. Always be sure to check for any location specific restrictions or bans.
4.) Minimize the use of single use items
Minimizing the use of single use items can reduce the amount of waste going back into the environment. Use biodegradable items to avoid leaving behind substances and chemicals that can be damaging to the environment (such as toothpaste, soap, and toilet paper).
5.) Be mindful of what you burn
If you have to have a fire, be careful of what you are burning, stick to dry wood//branches. Do not burn aluminum cans or other trash that may release harmful chemicals/pollutants into the environment.
6.) Replace commonly used items with natural products
Avoid the use of lotions, suntan oils, and make-up that can pollute the water sources. Replace commonly used items such as bug repellent with natural products, such as lemon eucalyptus. Do some research and find natural replacements for potentially harmful items.
What Should You Look For in a Company When Buying Eco-Friendly Gear?
When considering what company to buy from, some things to consider include:
- the company’s mission and commitment to sustainability (what steps have they implemented to contribute to a healthier environment: use of renewable energy, installation of solar panels, production process, etc)
- the company’s use of recycled materials
- certifications: Does the company have any certifications that demonstrate it’s commitment to sustainability?
- How are shipments packaged? Are they ecofriendly or is excessive plastic used?
- The company’s commitment to animal welfare
Hiking Gear that is Eco-Friendly
Avoid the use of plastic bags that can be harmful to the environment and replace them with reusable silicone bags. These bags are recyclable and create nonhazardous waste and be used multiple times.
Purchasing a reusable purifier water bottle will reduce the use of plastic water bottles, which are horrible for the environment. A reusable water bottle with a filter will provide you with protection against potentially harmful bacteria/microorganisms in the water and will eliminate the need for you to use plastic bottles.
The million mile light is an LED light that does not require batteries and will never die. It does require fast movement to work, so it may be better suited for runners, but certainly may come in handy while hiking depending on your speed. It can be purchased for $20, but can last for years.
4.) Eco-Friendly Sleeping Bags
There are plenty of options for sleeping bags that take into consideration the welfare of animals in the making of the sleeping bags as well as use recycled materials with minimal harm to the environment.
Patagonia follows the BlueSign Standard in producing eco-friendly sleeping bags. They are also comitted to animal welfare in the creation of their sleeping bags.
MEC is another eco-friendly brand that follows the Blue Sign standard in the creation of their products. MEC has developed hyperloft Eco technology insulation which is produced from 50% recycled materials.
Find a eco-friendly backpack from Eco-Gear, a company that is committed to creating gear that has low impact on the environment and is made from recycled fibers from plastic bottles. Ecogear offers a variety of options, including backpacks, hiking packs, hip packs, and rolling bags.
Purchase eco-friendly hiking clothing for your adventures and contribute to protecting the environment. Patagonia has a line of clothing that is produced from recycled polyester and the company is committed to producing products that minimize harm to the environment.
Purchase reusable, foldable dishes and titanium cookware and avoid the use of plastic/paper that will be thrown away. Avoiding the use of plastic utensils that will be thrown away will also prove beneficial for the environment.
For a durable, eco friendly ravel set check out this portable utensil set by DINNA.
Check out Earth Hero for a variety of Eco-friendly products.
***Note: These are not affiliate links and I have not been asked by the companies to include them. These are recommendations ONLY based off of personal experience.****