Pack It In - Pack It Out

After a long day of hiking, it is always nice to sit and relax in camp. You get to look at the mountain tops, smell the forests and enjoy sunsets. There are no signs of civilization, until you find a cigarette butt lying on the ground! Yes, the mood has been shattered by finding trash on the ground, but there are steps to prevent this. It is a way of backpacking called no trace camping.

The first and easiest way to practice no trace camping is to pick up garbage. Many trail heads have a sign that says "Pack it in -- Pack it out". This is the basic motto for picking up trash. Make sure you pack an extra trashbag when you go in the woods. This way you can pack out all your trash and even pick up any trash that was there when you arrived. Another motto that describes this is "Keep it cleaner than when you arrived".

Fires are a part of camping. The unique smell of a campfire just stirs that wilderness feeling in all of us. But fires can also dirty up a campsite very quickly. First off, if there is an established campfire ring, us it. You don't want to have three black fire pits cluttering up a campsite. Some people think that a fire pit is the wilderness's version of a garbage can. That is totally wrong. The more you burn in a fire the more ash forms, and the more ugliness prevails. If you are going to burn your trash, remember to only burn paper items. Plastics and metals will not burn and they will remain in the fire pit. Then that leaves more work for someone to come along and pick your trash out of the fire pit.

Setting up your tents causes more damage than you might think. If you are on an trail and see an established campsite use it. This way only one area will get run down. When choosing a tent site, of course follow your preferred guidelines (flat land, smooth, etc.) but also look for a site with little undergrowth on it. By putting your tent on top of plants, you hurt them and if hurt enough, they might not recover. Another tip on undergrowth in camp is to wear tennis shoes or sandals while in camp. This way your heavy boots will not trample down the ground. Alpine tundra is more fragile than normal dirt, so pay special attention to not smash it down with your heavy boots.

Now that the major areas are covered, here are just a few tid-bits to keep in mind. When nature calls, dig a hole, do your business and burn the toilet paper. I know this sounds grotesque at first, but there is a good reason. If you go backpacking on a popular trail that does not have latrines, everyone will have to go to the bathroom out in the woods. The last thing you want to find when you go off for some alone time is soiled toilet paper lying on the ground. Plus, toilet paper takes a while to decompose and burning speeds up this process.

As a kid, walking in the woods I loved to pull leaves off trees. This is one of the worse things you can do in the woods. Not only does it hurt the tree, but it also looks bad to see a tree with half of its leaves pulled off. So try to keep your hands off the scenery. Another good tip about trails is to walk in the middle of the trail. If lots of people walk on the side of a trail, soon it will become a wide, eroded road. By walking in the middle, the trail remains somewhat the same size.

Don't get scared, you do not have to pass a no trace test in order to go camping. These are just a few tips on how we can keep the wilderness wild and clean. This is our land, we are the ones who make it dirty. So we are also the ones who can clean it up.

About the Author

Matt Johnston ( is the creator of "" web site.