Minimum Impact Camping
When camping in the backcountry, it is a wise idea to make sure that the footprint you leave is as minimal as possible. Experienced backcountry campers can spend a night at a location, and no one will ever know they were there. Minimum impact camping is a great skill to learn so that you leave wild spaces in pristine condition for others to enjoy. The following tips are ways you can enjoy the wilderness and respect it at the same time.
The Minimum-Impact Campsite:
- Find a flat spot the size of your tent, without too many rocks, roots, and bumps protruding. Try not to move rocks if possible.
- Consider the ground cover. Pine needles and thatch is best: It’s comfortable to sleep on, and you won’t be crushing vegetation. Sand and gravel are good too. Above tree line, look for barren ground to avoid damaging fragile alpine plants that take years to establish.
- Stay in the obvious tent sites that have already been established. Otherwise, camp 100 (or even better 200) feet away from the water supply. This helps prevent unwanted contaminates from washing into water source.
- Hide in a clump of trees or behind some boulders. You don’t want to be part of someone else’s view.
- Watch for obvious hazards. In forests, look up and watch for widow-makers.
- DO NOT WASH – yourself, your pots and pans, or your clothing, directly in a water source. In particular, avoid introducing soap to a water source: It may be biodegradable, but that doesn’t mean you want to drink it! Fill a pot or a water bag and rinse off away from the stream, lake or spring.
- Wear camp shoes in camp. Tromping around a site in sneakers or sandals has less impact than tromping around in your hiking boots. Plus they are more comfortable.
Minimum Impact Fire.
- “What will the effect of this fire be?” should be your first question. Make fires only in areas that can sustain the impact. Forests are better than meadows. There’s no place for fires above tree line, where timber is scarce and the vegetation is fragile.
- Fire rings serve a purpose in heavily used areas: They concentrate fires into one place. Always use existing fire rings, and avoid building new ones, especially in pristine sites.
- Fire makes scars. It’s best to make fires on mineral soil, or on gravel or sand. Otherwise, the National Outdoor Leadership School recommends making a pit fire by digging a hole about 12 inches around and 8 inches deep. In the morning, the ashes are covered with soil, and the top layer of sod is replaced.
- Use only loose, downed wood. Do not chop wood off trees – even if it’s dead.
- Walk a short distance away to locate wood to avoid stripping the ground cover from the area right around your campsite.
- Make sure the fire is completely out before you leave it. Do not just poor water on it and leave. It only takes one small spark to start a forest fire.