Photographer: Katie Botwin
It happens to all of us. You’re hiking along a remote trail and look down to find a bright green plastic bag filled with something that rhymes with “log goop.” You drove for hours to a famous field of blooming wild flowers only to find those very flowers have been trampled and picked. You’re eating breakfast on a log when you start to smell something, only to discover you tracked something that rhymes with “Blueman Group” across that very same log and then proceeded to sit in it (oh yes, this actually happened).
If you’ve spent any time outside recreating, you’ve most likely come to realize that people can have quite the effect on this pristine world of ours. Whether it’s picking wild flowers or deciding not to bury their number 2, it would seem that many don’t care much about the impact they’re leaving behind— and this might leave you a little disheartened. However, according to Leave No Trace, an organization that educates others on protecting the natural world from humans, 9 out of 10 people in the outdoors are simply uninformed about their impact. Here at Wolf and Grizzly, we’re outdoor lovers, and we want to change that statistic.
The Leave No Trace Principles
Damaged trails, polluted waters, destructive fires— these are just a few of the issues these simple and easy to remember 7 Leave No Trace principles help solve. Read on to discover a few ways that you can minimize your impact on nature.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Planning ahead and preparing for a trip sounds easy enough, but the great number of unprepared or unqualified hikers, climbers, and backpackers who get lost in the backcountry state otherwise. Trip planning isn’t just for the sake of saving natural resources, but for ensuring your group has a fun adventure in the outdoors. When planning a trip, make sure to thoroughly consider all group members and the elements you may interact with including weather, equipment, wildlife, plant life, goals, abilities, and terrain. For instance, staying on the correct course for a backcountry backpacking trip is much easier when all group members have studied the trail. Another example is understanding the specific regulations for necessary equipment like bear canisters. This can help save a bears life by keeping food inaccessible to bears (and other animals) and therefore preventing “repeat offenders,” or bears who know which areas to scavenge for food because of frequent campers who leave food left out. Not only will these types of preparation ensure you have an enjoyable and safe trip, they’ll also help you minimize natural resource damage.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
When going into nature, whether hiking or camping, the key is to make it seem like you were never there. Try to stay on trail, and keep in mind that any activity off trail— like looking for a place to go to the bathroom— can lead to detrimental effects for the flora and fauna around you. Though some surfaces like rock, sand, and gravel are much more resilient to human traffic, others, like crypto(biotic soil??)— living soil often found in desert environments— take years to develop and are extremely fragile (so fragile a single footprint will destroy it). Similar care needs to be taken when choosing a campsite. If staying in a campground, always obey the local rules and camp only in designated sites. When camping in remote areas, spread out tents, avoid repeatedly traveling the same paths, and camp a minimum of 200 feet away from water.
Dispose of Waste Properly
We all hate that occasional dog droppings bag on the trail, energy bar rapper in a parking lot, and plastic bottles speckled along otherwise pristine beaches. “Pack it in, pack it out”is the go-to phrase for any wild place. This doesn’t just mean wrappers and cans—spilled food, scraps (like apple cores or nut shells), and kitchen waste like bacon grease also need to be packed out. And when it comes to human waste, the best mantra is still pack it in, pack it out. Though this system is required in some areas like river canyons, a cat hole is an acceptable form of waste removal in others. A cat hole is a 6-8 inch deep and 4-6 inch wide hole located at least 200 feet from water bodies, trails, and campsites for you to bury that burrito you ate for lunch. As always, make sure that you plan well and understand the necessary methods of human waste disposal in your specific area of adventure.
Leave What you Find
Ever hear of the saying “leave only footprints, take only photos?” Try your best to minimize any type of alteration in the environment, whether that’s taking a small, interesting rock or carving your initials into a tree trunk. Before you pick a small bouquet of wildflowers, think about all the others behind you who won’t be able to enjoy them. If everyone picked a few flowers, there wouldn’t be any left for others to delight in. Photos, sketches, and paintings are all ways you can closely observe these wild beauties, while leaving them for others to appreciate. Altering nature can also have a negative impact on the wildlife as well. For instance, if you chop down firewood in a scarcely vegetated area, you might be chopping down much needed habitat and food for local fauna.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
When deciding whether or not to build a fire, your first and foremost thought should be “how will this affect the environment.” Yes, we all love a warm, gooey s’more after a long day of hiking— but if it’s the dead of summer in a dry pine forest, it’s probably not a great idea. Stoves are a great, lightweight way of eliminating firewood use while decreasing your trace— and you can still cook s’mores over them! If you are building a fire, there are a variety of ways to minimize the impact you have on the environment. Whenever possible, use an existing fire ring, only collect wood in areas where it is abundant, and learn specific fire-building techniques like how to create a mound fire or how to use a fire pan, both of which can help craft a Leave No Trace fire (maybe add links for mound fire and link to W and G fire pan). And maybe most importantly, never leave a fire unattended and always make sure your fire is completely dead out. Not smoldering, not smoking, but 100% out.
Our commitment to the environment is why we engineered the Wolf and Grizzly Fire Safe for this exact reason. The Fire Safe fosters campfire and cooking experiences on any any trip while minimizing the environmental footprint campfires leave behind. Not only does it pack down slimmer than 1”, it also works with wood or charcoal.
Yes—that fluffy bear is really great and you’d love to see him closer up. Sure, that squirrel is the cutest and you’d love to give her a bite of your PB&J. Just think of the Instagram photo you’ll get! But hey, we are followers of the Leave No Trace principles and we know these types of actions compromise the safety of these wild animals. Never feed or approach wildlife, and travel quietly so as not to scare away or startle animals (unless traveling in bear country in which a low amount of noise helps alert them to your presence). Camping 200 feet from water sources and ensuring waste is buried at least 200 feet from water sources helps prevent water pollution and ensures animal have safe access to drinking water. In short, don’t approach the fluffy animals (or the not fluffy), don’t feed the cute animals (or the scary animals), and try to make your presence have as little of an impact on their homes as possible—you don’t see bears charging into your bedroom and bothering you, do you?
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Yes, there are other people out adventuring in nature! Not everyone wants to pet your dog (I mean, I do, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants to!). Not everyone wants to hear your really, really great music. And nobody (really, nobody) wants to see your initials carved into the beautiful slot canyon walls they’re hiking through. We all want to experience the outdoors differently, so be mindful of others. Be sure to study rules for travel in specific areas. It’s courteous to yield to uphill travelers, and many recreational spaces expect hikers to yield to equestrians, and bikers to yield to both hikers and equestrians. Always obey the rules of a specific area, and make sure to practice the Leave No Trace principles not just for the land, but as a courtesy to others— i.e. take your dog’s poop bag with you, even if you vow to take it back to the car with you on your way out. Be kind out there, be thoughtful, and a friendly smile never hurt anyone!
We hope that this breakdown of the 7 Leave No Trace principles helps shed some light on the different ways you can minimize your impact on the wild places of the world. When adventuring into the any natural space, follow the age old phrase “leave it better than you found it.” Always stay on the path, share your knowledge for different ways to build a Leave No Trace fire, and maybe even pack out that energy wrapper you found on the trail. We’re lucky to have such a big, beautiful world. Let’s all work together to leave it a little cleaner, a little friendlier, and to Leave No Trace.