7 Leave No Trace Hacks

Leave No Trace is an outdoor philosophy made up of seven principles:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

None of this is especially complicated, but it can be tricky sometimes to keep these principles in mind and actually practise them when we’re in the outdoors. Here are seven Leave No Trace hacks to make it a little easier to be a responsible visitor in nature.

1. Make Your Gear Do Double Duty

There are quite a few good reasons to plan ahead before an outdoor adventure, not least of which is your personal safety. But good planning also helps us to minimize our impact on nature. For example, if you plan a manageable itinerary, you will never need to improvise a campsite when the sun begins to set—with all the harm to nature that entails.

Packing light makes it less likely that you will accidentally leave anything behind after your visit. Find creative ways to reduce what you pack on a backcountry adventure. A large mug can double as a bowl—and do you even need to pack a plate? Why pack a fork and a spoon when a spork can do the job of both? Share toothpaste and bug repellent; there’s no need for everyone to bring their own. There are many more ways to reduce what you pack in on an adventure—be creative when you plan!

2. Deadman Your Tent

Camping on durable surfaces is a good way to minimize your impact on nature, but it does pose a challenge to campers: how do you drive your tent stakes on hard-packed ground, or even bare rock?  Deadmen are improvised anchors that can do the work of tent stakes when the ground is too hard to drive them in. There are a few creative ways to deadman your tent. If your site is particularly windy and exposed, you may want to start by gathering four large rocks and putting them inside your tent at the corners. To pull out the walls of your tent and to secure your fly, use the guylines—you can run them to nearby trees (standing or fallen), roots jutting out from the ground, or tie loops around rocks. If you can’t find large enough rocks, you can collect smaller rocks in a stuff sack and use that as your deadman.

Bonus hack: Use reflective guylines so that nobody trips in your campsite at night!

3. Deal With Excess Packaging Before You Go

It’s generally easier to dispose of waste properly in civilization than it is in the wilderness. Take advantage of this fact and reduce your waste before you even hit the trail. Bringing granola bars on your outing? Recycle the box before you go—it’s one less thing to pack out.

4. Upgrade Your Memory

The best way to do away with the temptation to take away a souvenir on an adventure is to take a picture instead. Set yourself up to take as many pictures as you like by upgrading your digital camera’s SD card, or simply by packing a spare. Be prepared with spare batteries, too.

5. Build a Mound Fire

Poorly located campfires can have a negative impact on the natural environment. You can minimize the impact of your campfire in just about any location by building a mound fire. On a fire-proof blanket, build a mound of mineral soil. Your mound should be at least forty centimetres tall and twice as wide. This mound will help to protect the earth from the heat of your fire. Make a depression in the top of your mound for your fire; your mound should look like a squat model volcano. Enjoy your fire in the evening, and extinguish when you’re done so that it’s dead out. In the morning, ensure the ash from your fire is cold to the touch. Scatter the ashes and mineral soil to leave your site as natural-looking as you found it.

6. Pack Binoculars

Respecting wildlife means keeping quiet and far enough away that the animals you see do not feel threatened. However, enjoying nature often means making the most of spotting wildlife—especially since some sightings can be so rare.

Be prepared to make the most of a wildlife encounter by packing a good pair of binoculars. Keep them someplace handy, like the top of your backpack or in the pocket of your jacket.

A good zoom lens on a camera is another good way to take in wildlife from a distance—and you can capture the moment at the same time!

7. Think Earth Tones

Being considerate of other visitors involves more than simply keeping your volume down. You can also minimize the visual impact you have on others by using gear that blends in with your natural surroundings. Most of the time, people would prefer not to see your bright orange tent from across a lake or your fluorescent backpack from the other side of the valley.

Of course, bright colours can save a life in an emergency, so be prepared with an orange emergency shelter, signal mirror and flares should you need them. And never forget to bring a whistle! Just don’t blow it unless you really need to.

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