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Ethics & Low Impact Camping

On The Trail
Domestic Pets (Dogs)
Selecting a Campsite
Animals & Your Food
Protect Streams & Lakes
In General
To ensure that we, as well as generations that follow, have the opportunity to enjoy quality outdoor experiences, each one of us must share the responsibility of making it so.

Each of us must adopt a personal code of conduct for the backcountry and try to live by it. The rules and suggestions below (mostly "Do's" and "Do-Nots"), are, for the most part, versions of commonly agreed upon practices employed to achieve minimum impact outdoor activities.


  • Related To The Trail:

    • As much as possible, stay on the trail. Since many trails aren't properly maintained, nowadays, they can get pretty mucky. Try to stay on the trail, anyway. That's why we have waterproof hiking boots. Every time we leave the trail to avoid the muck, we contribute to further erosion and degradation of the trail. Volunteers will have to come along, eventually, and fix it. However, on those occasions when we do need to leave the established trail, in order to avoid "excessive muck", we need to be careful of the vegetation and try to walk where others have walked, in order to minimize and isolate the impact.

    • Do not litter. Whatever we pack in, we must pack out. Especially in the alpine country, many years are required for "biodegradable" refuse to decompose.

    • If you can, pick up refuse that you find which someone else has left behind.

    • Do not cut new switchbacks or shortcut existing switchbacks.

    • Right of Way:

      • Give "Right of Way" to uphill packers--they (we) appreciate being able to maintain rhythm.

      • Give "Right of Way" to pack animals & wild animals.

      • Give "Right of Way" to motorized vehicles (for your own safety).


  • Your Domesticated Pets (Dogs):

    • We are primarily talking dogs here. Certainly beasts of burden--llamas, horses, donkeys--need to be under control when in the backcountry, and I've seen pet cats and a pet goat (on a leash), but it's mainly dogs that create problems. We see, much too frequently, persons who take their "best friend" with them, unrestrained. Back in the city, the pet may be lovable and well-behaved, and allowed to roam, unfettered. But in the backcountry, things are much different.

      A dog's bark in the backcountry is out of place, startling and even frightening both man and wild animals. Dogs unleashed and walking in advance of their master will frequently attempt to "protect" their master from oncoming hikers--this may be a growl or, as I have encountered, a violent knashing of teeth. A dog crashing thru the underbrush startles and frightens all animals--including me. Dogs poop everywhere and anywhere. Masters typically don't clean it up. Stepping in dog poop is considerably different than stepping on llama, deer, elk, goat pebbles and bear scat--and much more offensive. Dogs fight each other and they don't care where. It's happened to me (more than once). In the middle of a narrow trail, my dog was on a short leash, at my side, the other dog was running loose and attacked my dog. The owner said, sorry, I don't know what got into him, he's not normally like this ! On another occasion, the owner just laughed.

    • Always keep dogs leashed, on trail, and tied up, in camp. Most all State & National Parks don't even allow dogs, or if they do, the critters must be on a leash (it's the law!). If you don't like seeing your dogs fettered, then don't bring them !

    • Bury the evidence of your dog's defecation, the same as for your own.

    • Yes, I, personally, own four dogs. Yes, my hiking companion is a 100 lb Alaskan Malamute & he carries his own pack & food. He's got a 24" leash for the trail and a 25 foot cable for camp (he carries it--I figure if he wants to come along, he's got to carry his own gear).


  • Selecting a Camp Site:

    • Take the time to seek out natural camp sites:

      • Significant distances (at least 200 feet) from established campsites. Generally speaking, established campsites are convenient and strategically placed next to trails and water sources, but there are numerous undesirable, unhealthful attributes about these sites that make the backcountry experience seem more like a campout in your neighbor's back yard, next to his outhouse, garbage can, and grey-water sump.

        Undesirable attributes, such as:

        • dirty, dusty, humus-void, ash-blackened ground--which embeds itself in your tent, gear, and clothing (if you have a nexus-lined, single-wall tent, be especially concerned--nexus sucks up the ash/dirt and it won't come out--I know !)

        • bits of food & garbage left behind by others

        • ants, flies, mosquitoes, rodents, bears seem to "hang-around" these sites--they're not stupid, they know the value of a good, consistent food source

        • surrounding grounds soaked with human urine and decaying feces--folks generally don't go far from the campsite, the feces does not decay rapidly in higher altitudes and over time, it accumulates--especially in more popular areas. It's typical to find toilet paper hanging in the bushes or laying on the ground. Be careful where you walk and sit. Be careful when picking up large rocks--you might find a smelly surprise under it.

        • garbage, food, and soap residue in the water. Don't be surprised, many people know the proper thing to do but are lazy and don't want to take the extra time to do it. They wash their dirty pots and pans--with soap-- in the lakes and streams that they camp right next to. The results are a questionable and esthetically unpleasing water source.

    • Camp 200 feet or more, away from water sources--draw your water for cooking, drinking, and bathing and carry it to your cooking & camping areas.

    • Honor designated low-use or no-use areas. Especially, ones where revegetation efforts are underway. Don't Camp There !

    • Camp on well-drained sandy or rocky sites, or on vegetation that is heavily-laden with soft humus. Never camp on fragile alpine meadow vegetation (which takes many years to recover).

    • Do not establish camp on high ridges that are exposed to wild weather--cold, high winds and lightening. Camp at lower elevations that are protected by surrounding rocks, trees, and brush. Avoid camping in basins because cold, damp air collects and you'll probably awake, well, cold and damp.

    • Do not sleep laterally on a slope or you will awaken--assuming you even get to sleep--with sore muscles where you've been attempting (consciously and unconsciously) to compensate for the downhill pull of gravity.

    • Seek out slightly sloped areas to ensure that you don't awaken in the middle of a puddle of water when that late-evening rain shower occurs. Whether you sleep with your head or your feet on the upside of the slope is up to you. I feel more comfortable with my head on the upside, others feel more comfortable, relaxed and better the next day by putting feet on the upside. Decide for yourself.

    • When smoothing out your bedsite, be gentle. Don't carry out excavation beyond what you can fully repair, afterward. My suggestion is to, first, pick out the obvious larger sticks, stones, and pinecones, then, lightly, run your hand over the area brushing aside other obstacles that might poke you (or your mattress). Do not, under any circumstance, uproot vegetation. Consider what the ground looks like where a deer or goat has bedded for the night. Your bedsite should not look worse than that, when you're finished using that space.

    • Avoid digging holes, trenches, and, otherwise rearranging fragile terrain (it took me a while to unlearn some of the old, undesirable habits that I learned long ago in the Boy Scouts and Military Training--e.g., trenches around tents).

      Related NOTE: It has been brought to my attention on a couple occasions that the Boy Scouts organization is now emphasizing low-impact camping behavior. I have talked with Scout Leaders on the trail and by their own admission, change is ocurring, but some old habits die slowly, and, of course, kids will be kids. Anyway, it's great news that the Scouts have taken that direction. Hurray !


  • Animals & Your Food:

    • Typically, it is recommended that you don't store your food in your tent. Rodents don't mind chewing holes in your tent and pack, in order to get to it. Plus, in bear country, you might end up being the food. On occasion, being the fastidiously clean camper that I am, I sleep with my food. It depends on where I am and the kind of food I'm carrying. If all I have is freeze-dried stuff, and the area is mostly void of wildlife--e.g., high alpine areas--I might sleep with the food. But, generally speaking, I do not.

    • If you insist on leaving your food inside your pack, at least leave it (the pack) open so the rodents won't chew holes in it.

    • Hang food high above the ground using a proven technique or use a bear-proof container--a considerable distance from where you are sleeping.

    • In general, keep food away from your sleeping quarters--tent, sleeping bag--and anything else you keep inside your tent--clothes. Just remember, if you spill that delicious pot of spaghetti on your sleeping bag, you might end up being the meatball ! Bears love Italian.

    • In bear country, it is advisable to store, cook, and eat food 200 feet or so from where you sleep and avoid getting it on your clothes that will be getting into the tent with you.


  • Take Care of Our Streams and Lakes:

    • Camp, at least, 200 feet away from streams and lakes, in order to minimize water pollution.

    • Do not urinate in and around streams and lakes.

    • Do not dispose of fish entrails in streams and lakes.

    • Wash yourself and dirty cookware a reasonable distance from fresh water sources.

    • Do not dump soap suds into streams and lakes.


  • Sanitation

    • Bury human waste and fish entrails at least 6 inches deep .

    • Toilet Paper

      • Definitely take some--overestimate quanity. Nettles and Poison Oak are not good alternatives--stranger things happen.

      • Carry out your tp. Don't bury it. It's biodegradable, allright, but not fast enough. When buried, animals can dig it up, weather can unearth it, and its a gross-out to see it along the trails and hanging from bushes.

      • If going quick overnight, take along a one-gallon, heavy-duty freezer bag for tp (and other garbage).

      • If going multi-day, carry it in freezer bag until you get opportunity to burn it in established fire pits.

    • Don't dump soap suds from bathing or dishwashing into the water. For bathing, take along a few "handi-wipes" and draw a pot of water for rinsing. Do this 200 feet away from water sources. A little biodegradable soap dumped on the ground is okay, but never dump it in water sources--it takes much longer to degrade and someone else might want to use the water source after you leave. Or, in the case of a stream, someone might be downstream drawing water for cooking or drinking purposes.

    • Cleanup your campsite before you leave. Food refuse, pieces of paper, unburnt garbage, pet dung, etc. Leave a sanitary and esthetically pleasing campsite for the next person.


  • In General:

    • In general, vociferous, rowdy behavior is especially obnoxious in the outdoors--be quiet, reflect, and enjoy.)

    • We should try to outfit ourselves (tent, pack, clothes, etc.) with subdued colors that blend with the (wilderness) environment--we should consider ourselves as humble visitors.

      A practical note here, related to colors: for general purpose, three season use, choose tents with light colors (light blue, green, yellow) for increased light inside your tent--particularly nice when you're hunkered down in a storm--and also to reflect sunlight so that your tent stays cooler in warm weather. Darker colors absorb sunlight and heat, as well as make it darker inside the tent.

    • Do not pick, cut, chop, smash, carve, stab, or otherwise offend living plants (that includes trees).

    • Cook meals using a small backpacking stove--wood resources are scarce and getting scarcer, along trails.


  • If You Must Have A Fire:

    • Use only downed dead or dying trees (never take from live ones).

    • Use existing fire rings, where possible.

    • Do not leave fire unattended. Make sure fire is completely out before you leave the campsite.
      If possible, remove all traces of the fire.

    • Do not leave unburned trash in the fire pit. Carry it out !

    • Create only small fires in safe areas.

    • Be sensitive of others around you. (e.g., smoke from wet wood is very offensive & a health hazard).

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