Minimal Impact Hiking

morning in the mountains
fall on the trail

I'm a firm believer (and follower) of the "Leave No Trace" ethic. I've spent enough time way out in the bush to have a sincere appreciation of "the way it was [before I came along] and the way it should be [after I'm gone]." So when I'm out in the bush enjoying that feeling of freedom that comes with being in a "Wilderness Area," there's certain things that I just do to make my hike more enjoyable and safe (remember: it doesn't count if you don't make it back alive).

Step #1: I travel as quietly as possible. And (except during hunting season when I tend to wear some bright orange) I usually wear earth tones so I'm not so visible. I like coming across elk and deer grazing in the meadows. I like seeing a mother bear and her cubs playing. But I also like being able to quietly back up and not get anyone's attention, too.

Step #2: If there's a trail, I'm going to be on it. Hiking on a ready-made trail allows me to be a lot quieter than I am when bushwhacking through dense underbrush... and I don't like the mud but I'd rather be on a good muddy path than trying to pick my way through a bunch of eroded, braided paths that might not get me where I want to go. I don't short-cut switchbacks, I don't like creating more erosion, I don't like damaging the tundra, and I just don't like walking on the plants and wildflowers. I'll stay on the rocks and the snow (if I can), that way I leave much less trace. If there's people with me and we're not on a trail, I'll ask them to spread out and not follow in my footsteps: following in my footsteps crushes the plants and soil and causes irreparable damage.

Step #3: I carry a GPS and a compass. I also carry survey tape but I don't use it unless I plan to come back the same way I'm going. And on my way back I remove all my "markers."

There's never more than 3 or 4 people in my group (that way we don't damage trails or campsites with heavy usage). There's almost never a dog along. I try to pick up any trash I find along the way (I even carry a separate bag for that purpose). I don't pick up any rocks, flowers, artifacts, antlers or skulls I find.

If I'm camping, I use a spot that's been used before, except I won't camp on the tundra, in lush, grassy meadows or on stream banks or lake shores. I don't even use old fire rings because I carry a small propane cooker that I have complete control over (and when the fire is out, it's really out). My tent is completely self-contained and needs nothing added to it (no boughs, poles, stakes, etc.)

I carry a collapsible spade, really handy for digging catholes... and I try to always be aware of other people I might be sharing the trail with today... especially if they're on horseback. At the end of the day, I figure it's been a good day if I was able to leave no trace by which someone could follow and find me...

autumn camping logo
These 3 photos of northern New Mexico in the fall are from my good friend Brinn Colenda
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