Going camping this summer? If so, now’s the time to review the principles of No Trace Camping: a loose set of guidelines to help you keep wildlife and the natural environment safe, healthy, and preserved for future generations. While it’s as simple as ensuring that you leave the trails and rivers of Canada exactly as you found them, it still deserves repeating, especially if this is your first time heading into the bush.
Before heading into the backcountry (or front-country — we’re talking about any walk, hike, or outdoor excursion), it’s important to take a minute to remind ourselves about our responsibilities.
As visitors passing through the wilderness, lucky enough to experience what nature has given us, we are responsible for maintaining and caring for the land: leaving it just as it is. As Canadians (and specifically, Ontarians!), we are privileged to have vast amounts of pristine wilderness at our fingertips. This is our wilderness to take care of: our natural playground, our backyard, our home.
And this wilderness didn’t come with toilet paper, granola bar wrappers, and empty juice boxes scattered around. It comes to us pristine, in all its natural glory, waiting to be enjoyed. So, when we are done enjoying, we should leave no trace.
What Is No Trace Camping?
No trace camping refers to a basic framework for making responsible decisions in the backcountry. It is not a strict set of rules, per se, but rather a state of mind, an ethic or belief that ensures we do everything in our power to minimize our personal and collective impact on the environment.
The concept is simple. Enjoy nature, but when you leave, there should be zero indication that you were ever there. Leave everything exactly as you found it. Take out everything you brought in with you. Sometimes, this involves carrying a week’s worth of garbage on your back until you can dispose of it responsibly — but that’s just doing what’s right.
According to Leave No Trace Canada, a national not-for-profit organization, there are seven principles that form the framework of the Leave No Trace message:
The Seven Guiding Principals for Leave No Trace
1) Plan Ahead and Prepare
Although principal #1 isn’t entirely waste-related, it emphasizes minimizing our impact on the environment through the act of preparedness. Know the rules and regulations of where you are going. Plan your route in advance. Prepare for emergencies, extreme weather, and other hazards. Package your food appropriately to minimize waste. Travelling with an emergency satellite phone, making sure you’ve packed weather appropriate clothing and supplies, and packing your food out in an animal proof food barrel are good starting points.
2) Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Stick to the trails. Camp on established campsites. If there aren’t any campsites, camp where vegetation is minimal.
3) Dispose of Waste Properly
Take ALL garbage out with you: toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, wrappers, the little plastic pieces from the ends of bread bags, even compostables such as apple cores or orange peels.
(“But this peel is compostable, an animal will just eat it!” No! Think: If it wasn’t there as a part of the natural habitat before you got there, it should not be left there. Introducing new things — even an apple core — to the wild can cause damage and interrupt the natural habitat. Take it with you.).
If there is a thunder box, kybo, or poo box, use it. If not, dig a hole 15–20cm deep at least 70 meters from the water. Remember, in most cases, you’re relying on that water for drinking, so take care.
4) Leave What You Find
Do not remove plants, rocks, etc. Do not build anything or move things around. Take a picture, and then leave it. Introducing non-native plants into a new area can accidentally cause the spread of damaging diseases and have a devastating impact.
5) Minimize Campfire Impacts
Ensure fires are contained in the specified area or pit. Do not cut down trees for firewood — use what you can find on the ground. Never leave a fire until it is fully out, and this means you would comfortably stick your hand directly into the centre of the pit. If it’s not safe to do that, the fire isn’t out properly. This is critically important in the prevention of subterranean root fires, which are fires that spread underground and can resurface months later. Read more about root fires here!
6) Respect Wildlife
This isn’t all about plant-life and vegetation; no trace camping is also about forming an ethical relationship to animals around you. Observe wildlife from a safe distance. Never feed wild animals. Feeding wild animals has a large number of adverse effects, which you can read about on the PAWS, or Progressive Animal Welfare Society website. Contain your pet to avoid disturbing wildlife.Protect wildlife by responsibly storing your food (this includes garbage and food waste). Animal-proof barrels or hanging food packs are good options.
Check out the Algonquin Provincial Park website for tips on black bear safety, which emphasizes the need to respect wildlife not only for the preservation of these amazing animals, but also for our own safety.
7) Be Considerate of Others
Respect others. Noise travels shockingly well over water, so be aware of your volume and cognizant of the fact that most people are in nature to enjoy the solitude and quiet time. Lend a hand on a portage trail. We’re all friends.
Now you’re equipped to responsibly enjoy your time in the backcountry, so go enjoy! And remember to pay it forward, as well. Maybe you’re on a portage carrying a canoe on your neck, a pack on your shoulders, and two paddles in each hand and you walk by a granola bar wrapper that someone (accidentally) left behind … you’ve got this! Summon your inner beast, squat down, and pick up that wrapper. Leave the land clean. Protect the natural environment. You’ll be happy you did.
— Post (and photos!) by Program Manager Lani Warsh