You’ve heard the saying before: when you’re in the great outdoors, take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints.
It’s a little cheesy and a lot overdone, but it’s true; the reason we love to escape to the outdoors is because it’s wild. There aren’t many places to explore that humans haven’t left their mark on—and frankly, we’d like to keep it that way.
Every person who ventures into the backcountry has a responsibility to do their part to preserve it. Whether you’re new to the trails or a seasoned pro, here are some key points to remember on your next outdoor adventure.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
Garbage and nature simply don’t mix. Whatever you bring with you into the great outdoors absolutely, positively has to come back with you when you leave.
Minimize your waste to start with by removing excess packaging or choosing low—(or no-) packaging goods. Carry an extra garbage bag to pick up after others who have been less than courteous. Make sure your pockets and packs are properly zipped to avoid accidentally leaving something behind on the trail.
Stick to the Trail
In many ways, nature is incredibly powerful—but it can also be very fragile. You never know how long in took that piece of vegetation to grow or how sensitive this ecosystem is—so keep disruptions to an absolute minimum.
This means sticking to the designated trail and not forging your own. It also means pitching your tent in an area where you won’t disturb your surroundings. It can even involve planning your trip at a time where other human traffic is low (bonus—this means a more peaceful trip for you!)
Admire It…Then Let It Go
One of the best parts about heading outdoors is taking in everything that Mother Nature has to offer. You’re bound to see some incredible things—vibrant wildflowers, funky fossils, maybe even some historic artifacts—but avoid the temptation to make these items your personal souvenirs.
Okay, you don’t always have to abandon your dream of s’mores altogether (although do keep an eye out for fire bans)—but the reality is that making fires in the backcountry can cause plenty of damage. Aside from the obvious—wildfires—taking firewood can negatively impact the local ecology. Use portable camping stoves when you can for cooking. If a fire is a must, keep it small and ensure it is properly put out. Clean the area entirely before you take off—if you look back at the area and can’t tell that you ever had a campfire, then you’ve done a good job.
Don’t Tempt the Wildlife
Although you may feel all alone in the great outdoors, you’re not. Plenty of wildlife species call this place home, and while the occasional sighting can be a highlight, it’s best to leave these critters alone.
Securing your food is arguably the best way to prevent interactions. This isn’t only to keep you safe—it’s also to protect the animals, whose lives may be at risk if they become too comfortable around humans.
Do your research so that you’ll know what to do if you do happen to encounter the local fauna. Generally speaking, the best thing you can do is to leave them alone. Trying to attract animals for a killer Instagram shot may very well make you a contender for the Darwin Awards.
One of the most effective ways to minimize your impact is to be prepared. Pack only what you need; know your route; understand the local ecosystems; and take the time to develop the skills needed to interact with nature without damaging it. We’ve only got one planet; it’s our job to make sure that we aren’t the last ones who get to enjoy it.