Low Impact Camping

The authors recommend a number of low impact camping techniques hikers and backpackers should follow to do the least possible damage during a wilderness journey.

| July/August 1980

064 low impact camping

Practicing low impact camping techniques will limit the ecological damage may you do to land, water, and living things.


In the course of leading backpacking trips for Yosemite Mountaineering and Sonoma State College, we get to see a lot of wilderness country. Unfortunately, we also often see such areas abused ... by hikers, who probably have the best intentions in the world. Too many folks are repaying our beautiful forests for the inspiration and personal renewal that the outdoors can provide by leaving these areas somewhat the worse for wear.

The great increase over the past few years in the numbers of people who use our state and national forests has made this problem all the more serious. It's very important that hikers and campers learn the techniques of "low impact camping"... methods that help us backpacking folk leave the outdoors as "wild" as it was when we entered it.

Any wilderness, you see, is an extremely delicate ecosystem. And, unless all hikers learn to "walk lightly on the earth," it will probably become necessary to regiment and/or deny the use of such areas. Therefore, to protect our freedom to enjoy nature at its best, we'd like to show you the right way to conduct some of the camping activities we most often see done wrong.

Campsite Locations

Try to locate your camp in a spot that won't be easily damaged. For instance, stop at an already-used site if one exists in your chosen location. And if you can't find an established camp to occupy, at least choose an area that's free of vegetation. A soft meadow may look inviting, but—aside from finding yourself soaked in the morning—you'll probably crush a number of delicate wild plants. Moreover, don't camp on the edge of a stream or lake (as some scenic posters show). The banks of such bodies of water break down easily . . . and that can result in the disruption of natural currents and channels.

The Camp Kitchen

If you pack in a stove and fuel, you'll eliminate the need to make a campfire that would leave an ugly black stain on the earth for years. Furthermore, regulations prohibit fires in many wild lands where wood grows slowly or dry weather raises the risk of a forest-wide conflagration. Be sure to check the rules before you set out.

And always pack out all your garbage, plus any other litter you find. After all, should you accidentally leave some trash behind, another hiker may have to do the same for you.

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