What is Low Impact Camping?
Low impact camping is also called Leave No Trace or minimum impact camping. The fundamentals all lead to the same place—spending time in nature without damaging the environment.
The concept seems simple enough, but there is more to low-impact camping than removing trash and not disturbing wildlife. Campers need to be consistently aware that their actions can alter the ecosystems that they visit.
Low-impact camping means having as minimal impact on plants, animals, soil, and water as possible. Then, once leaving a space, there remains little to no evidence of the visit. Leave No Trace (LNT) has set the ground rules for what low-impact camping is and how campers can achieve this goal.
The 7 Principles of Low Impact Camping (LNT)
There are seven principles of LNT outdoor activities. Apply these principles during any interaction with the natural world, whether it’s camping, hiking, or spending time at a local park.
1. Preparation and Planning
Preparation is more than simply packing and prepping for your trip. In the context of low-impact camping, it means understanding the area being visited. Low impact campers study the terrain, know local ordinances, and choose a campsite before they pack a single item.
When backpacking and low-impact camping, keep packs lightweight and avoid bringing in anything you can’t take out when you leave.
2. Use Durable Surfaces
It may seem counterintuitive to the idea of spending time in the wilderness, but it’s far better to use established campsites and trails than to venture into unprotected wild areas. Hiking and camping on vegetation damages the ecosystem and risks disturbing wildlife. It’s impossible to visit natural areas without moving around, but doing so on trails decreases additional damage.
Setting up a campsite is a challenge for every camper, but using an established camping area well away from water sources drastically reduces the ecological footprint of visitors.
Gravel, sand, and rock are all durable surfaces that are more resistant to damage than vegetation or bare soil. Occasionally it will be necessary to travel off-trail, in which cases it should be done in small groups and without repeatedly traversing the same area.
3. Waste Disposal
If food or beverages are brought into an area in wrappers, those wrappers need to go back out when visitors leave. Experienced minimum-impact campers will repack as much as possible into lightweight reusable containers during preparation to reduce the waste they produce.
In a similar fashion, dispose of human waste according to the rules of the natural area. Visitors should use bathroom facilities if they are provided. If there are no facilities, make plans to bury waste in catholes or pack it out when leaving. Good preparation helps avoid uncomfortable surprises.
4. Careful Campfires
Another benefit of using established campsites is access to campfire rings or pits. Campfires should be kept small and controlled and using an available pit eliminates disturbing the area for a new one. Use only locally and responsibly sourced wood for campfires to eliminate the introduction of pests and to reduce habitat destruction caused by careless wood collection.
Carefully monitor fires when burning, and thoroughly extinguish them when you’re done. Some areas require that campers remove campfire ashes like any other waste, so get to know area regulations. Not all areas or seasons even allow for fires, and low-impact campers may forgo a campfire entirely if it isn’t needed for warmth or cooking.
5. Leave Nature in Nature
It’s tempting to pick up rocks or flowers during a visit to the wilderness. But everything in a natural area serves a purpose in that ecosystem. Disturbing or removing even small items unnecessarily is the type of damage that adds up over time, changing habitats and leaving an area permanently altered by human behavior.
If you want to remove something from a natural area, let it be litter left behind by people that came before you. Follow the classic adage to leave it better than you found it!
6. Respect Wildlife
Wild animals are not pets. Campers and other wilderness visitors should not approach them, try to take pictures with them, or interact with them in any way. To do so is invasive and dangerous.
Respecting the local wildlife also includes preparing campsites that properly protect and store food and other items that may tempt animals to approach. People and animals are safer when humans recognize that they are visitors in someone else’s home.
7. Be Considerate
The last principle is about people respecting each other. Low-impact campers are careful to move quietly, choose campsites away from others if possible, and maintain the integrity of the outdoor space by limiting unnecessary noise so that others can enjoy the area as well.
Why is Low Impact Camping Important?
Perhaps some of the tenets of low-impact camping or LNT feel extreme. But the effects of human visitors on natural areas can be devastating. Trash left at campsites or recreational areas makes its way into local water supplies and endangers wildlife and causes soil erosion from off-trail hiking can destroy habitats.
By practicing low-impact camping, more people can spend time in unspoiled natural places. More children can be introduced to the wonders of the natural world, and future generations learn to protect wild spaces.
Well-prepared, minimum-impact or leave no trace camping can also help reduce the incidence of destructive, out-of-control fires as climate change induced drought leaves natural areas dry and unprotected.
Low Impact Camping Tips and Hints
- Plan, plan, plan. Doing as much research as possible before departure avoids unpleasant surprises.
- Have maps! Cell phones are great, but not for finding trails in the wilderness.
- Do not bury human waste within 200 feet of a campsite, trail, or water source.
- Keep groups small and make sure everyone is well-informed to limit environmental impact and reduce the chance of accidents.
- Take pictures of wildlife from afar, it’s safer and less intrusive.
- Shhhhhhh. Visitors disturb an area in many ways, enjoying the outdoors peacefully respects fellow campers as well as the local ecosystem.
- Preparation leads to relaxation. Making careful plans in advance for activities, campsites, trails, and more eases stress on groups and allows campers greater enjoyment of the natural world.
Getting outside and enjoying nature is something people crave. It’s a soothing balm in a sometimes overwhelming world. Low impact camping and visiting is the best way to ensure that those respites remain available and unspoiled.