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.


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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