Leave No Trace Principles
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- the basics:
· Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites,
rock, gravel, dry grasses
· Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from
lakes and streams.
· Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is
· In popular areas:
o Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
o Walk single file in the middle of the trail,
even when wet or muddy.
o Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas
where vegetation is absent.
· In pristine areas:
o Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites
o Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Travel on Durable Surfaces: The goal
of backcountry travel is to move through the backcountry while
avoiding damage to the land. Understanding how travel causes impacts
is necessary to accomplish this goal.
Travel damage occurs when surface vegetation
or communities of organisms are trampled beyond recovery. The
resulting barren area leads to soil erosion and the development
of undesirable trails. Backcountry travel may involve travel over
both trails and off-trail areas.
Travel on Trails
Concentrate Activities When Traveling in Heavily Used Areas Land
management agencies construct trails in backcountry areas to provide
identifiable routes that concentrate foot and stock traffic. Constructed
trails are themselves an impact on the land; however, they are
a necessary response to the fact that people travel in the back
country. Concentrating travel on trails reduces the likelihood
that multiple routes will develop and scar the landscape. It is
better to have one well-designed route than many poorly chosen
Trail use is recommended whenever possible.
Encourage travelers to stay within the width of the trail and
not short cut trail switchbacks (trail zigzags that climb hill
sides). Travelers should provide space for other hikers if taking
breaks along the trail. The principles of off-trail travel should
be practiced if the decision is made to move off-trail for breaks.
(Hikers in the same group should periodically stop to rest and
talk. Avoid shouting to communicate while hiking. Loud noises
usually are not welcome in natural areas.)
Spread Use and Impact in Pristine Areas (except in some desert
areas) All travel that does not utilize a designed trail such
as travel to remote areas, searches for bathroom privacy, and
explorations near and around campsites is defined as off-trail.
Two primary factors increase how off-trail travel affects the
land: durability of surfaces and vegetation, and frequency of
travel (or group size).
Durability refers to the ability of surfaces or vegetation to
withstand wear or remain in a stable condition.
Frequency of use and large group size increase the like hood that
a large area will be trampled, or that a small area will be tram
pled multiple times.
The concept of durability is an important one for all backcountry
travelers to understand. The following natural surfaces respond
differently to backcountry travel.
· Rock, sand and gravel: These surfaces
are highly durable and can tolerate repeated trampling and scuffing.
(However, lichens that grow on rocks are vulnerable to repeated
· Ice and snow: The effect of travel across
these surfaces is temporary, making them good choices for travel
assuming good safety precautions are followed and the snow layer
is of sufficient depth to prevent vegetation damage.
· Vegetation: The resistance of vegetation
to trampling varies. Careful decisions must be made when traveling
across vegetation. Select areas of durable vegetation, or sparse
vegetation that is easily avoided. Dry grasses tend to be resistant
to trampling. Wet meadows and other fragile vegetation quickly
show the effects of trampling. Trampling ensures new travelers
to take the same route and leads to undesirable trail derailment.
As a general rule, travelers who must venture off-trail should
spread out to avoid creating paths that encourage others to follow.
Avoid vegetation whenever possible, especially on steep slopes
where the effects of off-trail travel are magnified.
· Cryptobiotic crust: Cryptobiotic crust,
found in desert environments, is extremely vulnerable to foot
traffic. Cryptobiotic crust consists of tiny communities of organisms
that appear as a blackish and irregular raised crust upon the
sand. This crust retains moisture in desert climates and provides
a protective layer preventing erosion. One footstep can destroy
crypic crust. It is important to use developed trails in these
areas. Travel across crypic crust should only be used when absolutely
necessary. Walk on rocks or other durable surfaces if you must
travel off-trail. In broad areas of crypic crust, where damage
is unable, it is best to follow in one another six foot steps
so the smallest area of crust is affected exactly the opposite
rule from travel through vegetation. (Cryptobiotic crust is also
extremely vulnerable to mountain bicycle travel.)
· Desert puddles and mud holes: Water
is a preciously scarce resource for all living things in the desert.
Don't walk through desert puddles, mud holes, or disturb surface
water in any way. Potholes are also home to tiny desert animals.
Camp on Durable
Selecting an appropriate campsite is perhaps the most important
aspect of low-impact back try use. It requires the greatest use
of judgment and information and often involves making trade-offs
between minimizing ecological and social impacts. A decision about
where to camp should be based on information about the level and
type of use in the area, the fragility of vegetation and soil,
the likelihood of wildlife disturbance, an assessment of previous
impacts, and your party s potential to cause or avoid impact.
Choosing a Campsite
in High-Use Areas
Avoid camping close to water and trails and select a site which
is not visible to others. Even in popular areas the sense of solitude
can be enhanced by screening campsites and choosing an out-of-the-way
site. Camping away from the water's edge also allows access routes
for wild life. Be sure to obey regulations related to campsite
selection. Allow enough time and energy at the end of the day
to select an appropriate site. Fatigue, bad weather, and late
departure times are not acceptable excuses for choosing poor or
fragile camp sites.
Generally, it is best to camp on sites
that are so highly impacted that further careful use will cause
no noticeable impact. In popular areas, these sites are obvious
because they have already lost their vegetation cover. Also, it
is often possible to find a site which naturally lacks vegetation,
such as exposed bedrock or sandy areas.
On high-impact sites, tents, traffic routes, and kitchen areas
should be concentrated on already impacted areas. The objective
is to confine impact to places which already show use and avoid
enlarging the area of disturbance. When leaving camp, make sure
that it is clean, attractive, and appealing to other campers who
Camping in Undisturbed
Pristine areas are usually remote, see few visitors, and have
no obvious impacts. Visit these special places only if you are
committed to, and highly skilled in, Leave No Trace techniques.
In pristine sites it is best to spread
out tents, avoid repetitive traffic routes, and move camp every
night. The objective is to minimize the number of times any part
of the site is trampled. In setting up camp, disperse tents and
the kitchen on durable sites. Wear soft shoes around camp. Minimize
activity around the kitchen and places where packs are stashed.
The durable surfaces of large rock slabs make good kitchen sites.
Watch where you walk to avoid crushing vegetation and take alternate
paths to water. Minimize the number of trips to water by carrying
water containers. Check regulations, but camping 200 feet (70
adult steps) from water is a good rule of thumb.
When breaking camp, take time to naturalize
the site. Covering scuffed areas with native materials (such as
pine needles), brushing out footprints, and raking matted grassy
areas with a stick will help the site recover and make it less
obvious as a campsite. This extra effort will help hide any indication
where you camped and make it less likely that other back try travelers
will camp in the same spot. The less often a pristine campsite
is used the better chance it has of remaining pristine. Camping
in Arid Lands The most appropriate campsites in arid lands are
on durable surfaces, such as rock and gravel, or on sites that
have been so highly impacted further use will cause no additional
disturbance. Previously impacted sites are obvious because they
have already lost their vegetation cover or the rocky soils have
been visibly disturbed. If choosing this type of site, make sure
your spot is large enough to accommodate your entire group.
A pristine campsite, with no evidence
of previous use, is appropriate in arid lands provided it is on
a non-vegetated, highly resistant surface. Expanses of rock, gravel
or sand are all ex lent choices. It should never be necessary
to camp on cryptobiotic soil, islands of vegetation, or within
the precious green ribbons of desert creeks or streams. Beware
when camping on sandy river bottoms and areas susceptible to flash
Cooking areas, tents and backpacks
should be located on rock, sand, or gravel. Conscious y choose
durable routes of travel between parts of your camp so that connecting
trails do not develop. Vary your routes since the objective is
to minimize the amount of trampling and compaction on any specific
part of the campsite. Limit your stay to no more than two nights.
Never scrape away or clean sites of
organic litter like leaves, and always minimize the removal of
rocks and gravel. The organic litter will help to cushion trampling
forces, limit the compactability of soils, release plant nutrients,
and reduce the erosive forces of rainfall. Disturbing the lichen-coated
and varnished rocks known as desert pavement can leave a visible
impact for hundreds of years. Once overturned, these rocks are
difficult to replace and the lichens and varnish will not grow
back within our lifetime.
Camping in River
River corridors are narrow strips of land and water with
little room to disperse human activities. Campsites are often
designated. It is generally best to camp on established sites
located on beaches, sandbars, or non-vegetated sites below the