How to ‘leave no trace’ while exploring the great outdoors
One of the joys of camping, fishing and hiking is experiencing the great outdoors in an undisturbed, pristine state. This is only possible if we're all mindful of 'treading lightly' on this earth and looking after it as though looking after ourselves.
To make sure others get to enjoy the same connection to the environment as you - and can do so for generations to come - the seven Leave No Trace principles are an excellent guide to follow for maintaining the great outdoors as Mother Nature intended.
1. Plan ahead and prepare
Before you head off, some basic planning and preparation for your particular destination will ensure you're not camping in an area that's beyond your expertise levels, and consequently minimise that chance of doing anything that's going to adversely affect the local environment.
Take some time to familiarise yourself with all of the regulations and guidelines for where you plan on camping, and make sure you're aware of the facilities that are available. Additionally, ensure you're equipped with a first aid kit in your pack, an extra day's food supply, plenty of water and a power bank to charge phones. Having the right equipment means you won't have to disrupt the natural environment if you find yourself in an emergency situation.
"Be prepared to sit tight or turn back if you sense danger or sustain an injury. That way, you won't have to abandon Leave No Trace techniques for the sake of safety. For instance, poor planning or disregard for weather conditions can transform an easy bushwalk into a risky encounter with extremes in temperatures. Cold and wet or suffering from heat stress, it's tempting to think that the impacts of cutting branches for shade or shelters are justifiable."
Leave No Trace Australia
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
When bushwalking or hiking, always use established tracks and walk in single-file to minimise your impact on the environment. Choose sturdy surfaces - like rock, sand, dry grass, snow or compacted dirt - and don't venture where there are soft plants, muddy sites and fragile soil layers. Travel in smaller groups to reduce the pressure and impact on the area whenever you can.
When it comes to setting up a campsite, always use the existing sites where possible, and stay within the boundaries of areas set aside specifically for camping.
Similar to hiking, set up your camp on durable surfaces - rock, sand, dry grass, snow or compacted dirt. In pristine areas, camp around 50 metres away from rivers, streams and lakes so the local wildlife can access water sources without getting frightened. It goes without saying but always leave your campsite as clean, if not cleaner, than you found it.
3. Dispose of waste properly
There's a simple rule to remember when it comes to disposing of your waste properly: if you bring it in, you take it out. And that means EVERYTHING.
Stow all your rubbish in leak-proof disposable bags, and then dispose of that rubbish responsibly when you get home. Spare wheel storage bags are great for keeping local wildlife away from any rubbish and discarded food, so it doesn't get accidentally dragged and scattered across the area.
If you don't have access to flushing or long-drop toilets, your toilet waste needs to be disposed of properly too. If you're using a portable camp toilet, you should only get rid of waste at a designated waste dump point. If you don't have access to toilet facilities, a pocket trowel or fold up shovel is all that's required to dig a hole and take care of business the way our ancestors did.
When you need to go, dig a 20 - 25 centimetre-deep hole that's around 50 to 60 metres away from a water source, your campsite or a walking trail. To truly 'leave no trace' it's always best practice to store your used toilet paper and hygiene products in a ziplock bag until it can be disposed of properly, however, if you do need to bury toilet paper, ensure you use biodegradable, scent free toilet tissue. Once you've finished your business, fill in the hole and cover with organic materials (dirt, leaves, branches, etc.) to mask the scent and cover the area.
If you need to wash dishes, use small amounts of biodegradable soap or a biodegradable dishwashing detergent. Use a strainer to catch food scraps and - like your toilet - make sure you scatter your used dishwashing water around 50 metres or more from a water source.
Always perform a final check for rubbish, food scraps and packaging offcuts before leaving your campsite.
4. Leave what you find
It's essential to preserve what's already there so, when you're out hiking or bushwalking, you can look but never touch. Leave rocks, plants and other objects as you find them, and always clean mud from the soles of your shoes or the tyres of your bikes if you've been mountain biking, so you do not potentially transport invasive flora species to other locations.
Importantly, be mindful and respectful of cultural sites or places of cultural significance. It's totally fine to examine these important artefacts or markers with your eyes, just as long as you keep curious fingers to yourself.
5. Minimise campfire impacts
There's something special about starting a campfire at the end of a long day of hiking, mountain-biking or fishing. But it's important to minimise the impacts of your campfire on the local environment.
Bringing a lantern and a fuel stove is the easiest way to adhere to the Leave No Trace principles, and is often the preferred cooking and heating source in national and state parks around Australia. Unfortunately, there's a long list of bushfires that can be traced back to escaped campfires so being vigilant in this regard is necessary.
Where it's allowed, you must only light fires within a designated area using a fire ring or pit. Additionally, keep the fire as small as possible. You should always bring your own firewood with you and, if you can use eco-friendly wood purpose-produced as campfire fuel, that's even better. Only use sticks that can be broken by hand if you need some kindling, and don't even think about a campfire on a Total Fire Ban day.
6. Respect wildlife
Finding yourself nose-to-nose with a wombat or facing off with a kangaroo can be an unforgettable experience but you should keep your distance from native animals as much as possible. You may not be scared but your presence could be disturbing and causing them needless stress.
Don't feed any animals you come across while hiking and camping. Feeding them can turn them into pests and/or make them sick and/or cause them to rely on food from campers at the expense of their hunting skills.
Be careful to keep your food supplies and rubbish sealed and, if you're camping at a site that allows you to bring pets from home, make sure they're under control and within eyeshot at all times.
7. Be considerate of your hosts and other visitors
Your behaviour can adversely affect the quality of someone else's camping experience, so doing your bit to treat other campers the way you want to be treated is an important part of the Leave No Trace principles.
People are drawn to camping and hiking for different reasons. No matter what you want from a camping experience, though, you should be respectful and considerate of your hosts, local wildlife and other campers. In other words, keep partying and noise at night to a minimum, and drink alcohol responsibly.
In reducing noise disturbance, try not to fire up your generator at night or in the early hours of the morning when other campers - and the local wildlife - are likely to be keen on getting some quality sleep.
Keep your campsite clean and leave plenty of space for other campers. If you have pets with you, make sure they're controlled at all times and they're as respectful and well-behaved as you.
How lucky we are to have some of the world's most remarkable camping and outdoor adventure opportunities right here on Australian soil! All of us should show our appreciation for the beautiful wilderness on our doorsteps by going that extra mile to look after it.
But it doesn't have to be a chore. By adhering to the principles of Leave No Trace and making these principles a holiday habit, we'll not only enjoy our adventures in the great outdoors today but we'll be able to repeat them for years, even generations, to come.