Hiking is one of the best ways to appreciate the outdoors and soak up the shifting seasons. Can’t you just hear that satisfying crunch of fallen leaves under your feet? While we all spend time being nourished by mother nature, it’s imperative that we stay committed to leaving no trace. According to the National Parks Foundation, “Over 300 million people visit the national parks each year, bringing in and generating millions of tons of trash. From plastic to food waste to discarded clothing, the waste brought into national parks can pollute our nation’s most pristine wilderness and wildlife. Together, we must all work to reduce our waste impact while enjoying our remarkable national parks.” We second this commitment and are here to help by outlining some helpful guidelines.
Here are the basic Leave No Trace principles we can all commit to:
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
Leave No Trace: Daytime Adventures
If you’re planning a fun hike, picnic, river rafting, boating trip, (or something else we’re jealous you’re invited to) and it’s just for the day, we’ve got some helpful tips for you.
Recycle, please! If you must use disposable items, ensure that they are recyclable. Have a plan to hold on to them until you either come upon a recycling bin, or get home! This is called “pack it in, pack it out”. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack food ahead of time in silicon bags like these ones from our friends at stasher!
Rock a reusable water bottle. With so many stylish and practical options out there these days, we probably don’t have to remind you to choose a reusable water bottle instead of plastic. But we are here to do it anyways! And hey-- if you really dig the park you’re at, maybe buy a sticker to slap on your canteen as a souvenir.
Pack your lunch. Instead of buying something along the way (which is sure to be packaged in single-use materials), opt for something in a metal lunchbox or reusable container from home.
Clean up the trail! (Not all heroes wear capes). Unfortunately, plenty of our fellow humans still litter like they’re hanging in their own basement. We can help out by cleaning up what is felt behind! Bring a reusable tote or paper bag to pick up trash you see while you’re in the park, then dispose of it when you leave! Always leave a place cleaner than you found it.
Leave No Trace: Overnight Camping
Gosh-- how wonderful is it to fall asleep under the stars? Camping is a fantastic way to really immerse yourself in the outdoors and create incredible memories with the ones you love. Just make sure that you’re loving on the planet, too.
Do your duty. Bring a small collapsible shovel and dig a hole for your…. Deposits. Solid human waste must be buried in holes dug 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover when finished. (Some highly impacted areas, like Muir Base Camp on Mount Rainier or riverside campsites in the Grand Canyon, require human waste to be packed out, too.)
Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. Splurge a bit on biodegradable toilet paper. The earth will thank you!
Wash up responsibly. To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. It’s best to scatter strained dishwater as well, so you don’t create a soapy puddle in one concentrated area. If you’re planning on using a lake or stream to wash yourself, bring water-safe soap and shampoo.
Bring a bear can for your food. This tip is more to protect you than the earth, as you don't want tomorrow's lunch to disappear! Bears will often rummage through food at campgrounds, and leave quite a mess in doing so. Most guest services will have bear-proof containers for you to borrow or rent, but if you’re an avid camper it might be great to invest in your own!
Go zero-waste with your ice. We know that it may feel most convenient to grab a bag of ice at the gas station to fill your cooler with before you leave. But there are tons of ways to bring your own ice, and not have a plastic bag to contend with. Consider non-toxic freezable gel packs, freeze water in water bottles, freeze meals you plan to eat while camping and use them as ice while they thaw out, and/or seek out an ice machine that allows you to catch the ice it dispenses in your own container. To keep it cold for as long as possible, get a good quality cooler, keep the cooler box in the shade, or insulate your cooler using something like a car sun shade.
Burn baby, burn! Waste free. Accomplishing a zero-waste campfire isn’t as hard as you might think! There are a few ways in which you can lessen the impact of your campfire if you decide to light one, according to Leave No Trace: Camp in areas where wood is abundant if building a fire, build the fire within an existing fire ring in a well-placed campsite, keep the fire small, and allow wood to burn completely to ash.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to limiting your waste. We hope you found these ideas empowering, and that you’ll keep them in mind when planning your next outdoor adventure! This planet is home to all of us. Let’s keep it gleaming!