As much as getting in nature and taking in its greatness is a great thing for us humans, a very important factor to consider is how our time in nature is effecting the environment. Minimum impact camping / backpacking results from sensitizing ourselves to the natural environment and realizing that one persons activities may not be damaging itself but thousands or millions of people doing the same thing has a more obvious negative impact. When planning your trip in the outdoors, take into consideration your human imprint and use these tips and advise to have a minimal impact experience.
- Improper use of soap can alter plant, oxygen and fish populations of a lake or river. Use a biodegradable soap for washing bodies and dishes. Never wash in streams, instead collect water and take it at least 50 m away and wash up, then spread dirty water over the area, which will allow the water to filter through the earth before it eventually returns to the water source.
- Carving names in, breaking branches off of or peeling bark from trees can expose it to all sorts of fungal infestations or insect parasites than can eventually kill a tree. Be kind to our trees.
- Stay on designated trails. Going off the beaten path can result in destroying plant root systems, which results in further damage when organisms that depend in those plants are killed.
- Improper toilet procedures can contaminate a lake or river with giardia or coliform bacteria. If toilets exist, use them. If there is no toilet, then walk 100m away from water and trails, dig a 15cm hole and bury your waste and the toilet paper.
- Escaped campfires cause ecological damage and unsightly scars on the landscape. Collecting and burning wood can destroy homes for small plants and animals. For these reasons many camping areas will have bbq’s and fire sites provided for you to use. Don’t create new fire rings and obey any fire regulation signs that are displayed. There are times of high fire danger when weather is dry, so don’t light any fires during these times. Small fires have less impact than large fires, so resist the urge to have a scorching, big fire.
- Probably the most obvious minimal impact camping tip is to pick up after yourself. Signs are everywhere with the ‘Pack it in, Pack it out’ slogan to remind everyone that what you bring with you camping leaves with you, garbage and all. It’s probably one of the most ignored, too. A few guidelines about garbage: repackage food to burnable packaging or plastic bags that are easy to pack away; it’s OK to burn cans to get rid of food residue but pack out the remains; don’t bring along any glass which you won’t want to pack out if it breaks; bring along a few heavy duty large Ziploc bags to pack away garbage. One last important note – try to leave your camping area a little cleaner than when you found it!
Backwoods camping techniques can also be applied to the ‘front woods’ where most organized camp activities take place. Wherever you are in nature you can reduce the effects that people have on the environment. Minimal impact camping allows campers to enjoy the natural surroundings without causing too much environmental degradation. Nature needs our tender, loving care.