Responsible hiking: “Leave no trace”

There are many reasons why responsible hikers find “leave no trace” an important principle. 

First, we want to avoid any damage to the nature we enjoy so much. This is why I think “bushcraft” is mostly useless and harmful  – we shouldn’t encourage people to chop down trees to create temporary “shelters” or make fires wherever.  

Second, we want other hikers to enjoy the outdoors as much as we do and they won’t if they encounter debris or traces left by other hikers.  

Third, we want to protect the wildlife. For them any waste we might leave behind could be dangerous, even lethal.

So how do you “leave no trace”?

Here are some of the most important things to consider. 

Avoid making a fire

Hiking stove and hiking cooking food

Making a fire should be avoided when possible – use a hiking stove to boil water and prepare your meals.

Only make a fire at a campsite where it is allowed by the authorities and that has a fire ring.

Keep the fire small, have water at hand to put it out and make sure you completely extinguish it before going to sleep or leaving your campsite. 

By the way, I have a blog post about what to eat while hiking that you might like and another blog post about purifying water which I think is pretty useful to read as well.

In case you need to make a fire, we’ve written a great blog post with step-by-step instructions, pictures and video that teaches you how to make a fire when hiking in a safe and responsible way.

Don’t leave any waste in the woods

You should bring two plastic bags to store your waste such as hiking food packaging or even leftovers.

One bag can rip and contaminate your backpack.

Take all your waste with you and don’t leave anything in the outdoors. 

Don’t leave food leftovers or even bio-waste such as a banana or orange peels lying around in the woods because they can take a long time to decompose.

Leftover food for humans can be unhealthy for wild animals – for instance bread should not be fed to birds, because it contains too much salt.

Going to the “toilet” while hiking

Trovel for digging catholes when hiking

When you need to use the bathroom, pick a place that is 100-200m away from the hiking trail, campsites and water sources (like rivers, lakes, streams). If the campsite has an outdoor toilet, please use it.

Solid human waste should be deposed in a hole (sometimes referred to as a “cathole”) at least 15-20 cm deep well away from water sources, campsites or trails and covered.

Toilet paper should also be placed in a separate double bag and taken out of the woods or buried in the whole.

Especially problematic are “washing machine proof” tissues.

You should bring a small trowel to dig the cathole, or use a stick or the heel of your hiking boot. 

By the way, I have a separate blog post about hiking and hygiene which I hope you will like.

Don’t break trees and scare animals

Don’t break trees to build a shelter. Bring a tent or a tarp and use trekking poles to set up your tarp.

If you encounter animals, avoid scaring or disturbing them.

Observe quietly, back away if necessary.

Bears and other bigger animals can be very dangerous when scared.

Remember that they are home, you are just visiting. 

Keep your dog on a leash at all times to avoid it attacking or scaring wildlife.

Especially in the winter, even chasing animals can have fatal consequences for them. Please don’t let your pet kill a cute Bambi.

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