It’s time to get outdoors and cure the cabin fever. Whether you plan to trek along the Appalachian Trail for weeks at a time, or simply take a daytrip to soak up some rays at the beach, you should ensure that you experience nature responsibly.
The best way to have fun outdoors without harming your surroundings is to apply seven Leave No Trace principles. These principles were scientifically developed to promote ethical outdoor behaviors and practices.
1. Plan and Prepare for the Outdoors
Only fools rush in, right? When you spend time facing the elements, get to know the rules and regulations of your destination. If possible, avoid holidays or other times with expected congestion.
Small groups also make less of an impact, so break it up. You can form teams of roughly four people while outdoors and then reconvene as a larger group later on at a nearby restaurant or bar.
Find out if there are any safety precautions you should take by checking the weather and the local species of wild animals, insects and poisonous plants. Bring the appropriate first aid supplies and tools to remain safe in case of unexpected accidents or inclement weather.
Disturb the surroundings as little as possible by repackaging your food and using maps and compasses to navigate rather than paint, markers or balloons.
2. Choose your campsite wisely
There is no need to clear and prepare a new campsite in nature. To choose an optimal spot, find a place with a hard surface such as compact dirt or rock and avoid sites very close to rivers, lakes, and streams. Use the 200 feet distance rule to protect the vulnerable edges of natural waterways.
3. Manage your waste like a pro
Pack litter home with you. Yes, this includes toilet paper. Yest, this includes food waste, Yes, this includes the waste that other campers left behind. Trash and nature do not mix.
That said, you should also plan ahead by bringing biodegradable soap to wash your dishes and a small shovel to dig a hole in the ground, if no outhouses are available. Apply the 200-feet distance rule from streams or lakes when washing dishes or going to the bathroom.
4. Don’t disturb the area
It can be tempting to pick wildflowers, carve our initials into a tree, dig fire pits or collect pretty rocks on our trips to nature. But nature is more complex and sensitive than first meets the eye.
You might be kicking over an anthill or destroying the home of a snake. If you take out natural plants or materials, you can inadvertently transport the seeds or eggs of non-native plant or insect species.
Curb these impulses and appreciate nature for its pristine state without tampering. Remember that when you spend time in nature, you’re a guest in someone else’s home.
5. Use caution with campfires
After the last few seasons of hellish forest fires in the western states, this one cannot be emphasized enough. Avoid campfires when possible by using flashlights and camp stoves. Build fires only when permitted to do so and keep them small. Put out campfires completely and scatter the ash before leaving your campsite.
6. Treat wildlife with respect
Wildlife sightings give us memorable experiences that we hope to share. But we have to remember that our way of life competes with theirs. We can harm animal diets by exposing them to our food and we can disrupt their life cycle by interfering with their mating or nesting seasons.
Inform yourself about the local wildlife and keep these animals safe by storing food properly and out of reach, observing wildlife from a distance and refraining from approaching or interacting with animals.
7. Maintain a peaceful atmosphere
When we spend time outdoors, we are sharing a public space that should be enjoyed by all. For this reason, allow hikers to pass easily on the trail and keep the noise down.
For detailed information on these principles and more, visit the Leave No Trace outdoor ethics site.