Minimal-Impact Camping and Hiking: Go Gently Into That Good Land

To preserve America’s wilderness, it is important for campers and hikers to avoid disturbing the land and the wildlife. Following these practices for low-impact hiking, campsite selection, and waste disposal is a good place to start.

| July/August 1990

  • Silhouette of Climbers
    America is still a land of beautiful wilderness areas, but if we are to maintain the ecological integrity of such areas, it's imperative that visitors tread lightly.
    PHOTO: SUPERSTOCK
  • Man on Horse
    Should you meet horses on the trail, move aside and allow them plenty of room to pass.
    SUSAN LAPIDES
  • Hikers and rocks
    When climbing steep and unstable slopes, avoid treading on wet soil; if possible, walk on rocks, uncrusted sand, and snow.
    SUSAN LAPIDES
  • backpacker at waterfall
    When group hiking off-trail, spread out rather than walking in single file.
    SUPERSTOCK
  • hiker in shorts
    Move quietly in the wilderness. Grant those who come after you a sense of discovery by leaving rocks, plants and other natural objects as you found them.
    SUSAN LAPIDES
  • Hikers Resting
    When taking a break, move off the trail and look for a durable rest area.
    SUSAN LAPIDES
  • 124-036-05.jpg
    The best sign that you have been in a wild place is to leave no sign at all.
    KATHLEEN NORRIS COOK
  • 124-036-03.jpg
    In searching for a campsite, your goal is to find an area that will not be damaged by your stay.
    KATHLEEN NORRIS COOK
  • 124-036-02.jpg
    Established—that is, regularly used—campsites are preferable to pristine sites for large groups, for multi-day stays, or for when you wish to build a ground fire. Keep your tents, kitchen area, fires and movements within the bounds of the existing trampled area. When breaking camp, leave the site clean and attractive for the next group that uses it—even if you didn't find it that way.
    KATHLEEN NORRIS COOK

  • Silhouette of Climbers
  • Man on Horse
  • Hikers and rocks
  • backpacker at waterfall
  • hiker in shorts
  • Hikers Resting
  • 124-036-05.jpg
  • 124-036-03.jpg
  • 124-036-02.jpg

America is still a land of undeniably beautiful wilderness areas, providing quality recreational experiences. But if we are to maintain the ecological integrity of such areas, it's imperative that every visitor tread lightly. As an introductory guide to minimal-impact camping and backcountry travel, we recommend the following practices.

Minimal-Impact Hiking

1. Move quietly in the wilderness. By doing so, you'll be more aware of the environment, wildlife will be less disturbed and other visitors will appreciate your courtesy.

2. When traveling with a large party, split up and hike in groups of no more than six. Four is the optimum number, especially for cross-country travel.

3. If possible, visit popular areas at times when use levels are lowest—during the off-season and on weekdays. However, avoid wilderness travel at times when the environment is particularly fragile: during spring snowmelt, for example, when the soil is muddy and easily imprinted.



4. Pack out every scrap of your own litter plus as much of that left by others as you can find room for (litter attracts more litter). Spruce up the wilderness on the way out, when your pack is light.

5. Grant those who come after you a sense of discovery by leaving rocks, plants and other natural objects as you found them. Enjoy an occasional edible plant, if you choose, but be careful not to deplete the vegetation in any one area, or to disturb plants that are rare or don't reproduce in abundance (such as many edible lilies).






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