How To Be A Zero-Impact Wild Camper | Leave No Trace
In the UK, we’re fortunate to be able to wild camp freely in places like the Scottish Highlands and Dartmoor. Even though it’s technically restricted, we’re also able to get away with wild camping in many of our national parks thanks to the authorities often turning a blind eye to it.
The thing is, with social media luring more and more people to our wild spaces, we’re seeing some instances where new restrictions on wild camping are being put in place. Bye-laws, for instance, have been introduced in areas of Scotland to prohibit it, and some national park authorities are becoming increasingly frustrated by rule breakers and in turn more vigilant.
Spreading the messages of Leave No Trace has therefore become so important. If we’re not all wild camping as respectfully as we possibly can, there’s a risk that our ability to do it will be taken away from us altogether.
“Alongside following the main principles of Leave No Trace, there are some more specific things you can do…”
Teaming up with Fjällräven, a brand that have always had sustainable enjoyment of the outdoors at the heart of what they do, we’ve launched a new campaign to spread awareness of the ways we can all carry on exploring our wild spaces with as little impact as possible.
We’ve produced a two-part series highlighting useful approaches that can often be overlooked. First up was our advice on how to minimise our impact while hiking. Here in Part Two, we’re looking at low-impact camping.
Watch: How To Leave No Trace While Camping
We sent bushcraft and sustainable living expert Andrew Price out on a walk across Dartmoor and asked him to show the different techniques he has for making sure he sticks to the principles of Leave No Trace along the way.
What Is Leave No Trace?
Leave No Trace is a universal set of ethics to guide those venturing into the outdoors. It consists of seven principles:
Plan ahead and prepare.
Travel and camp on durable surfaces
Dispose of waste properly
Leave what you find
Minimise campfire impacts (be careful with fire)
Be considerate of other visitors.
Extra Advice For Leaving No Trace While Camping
Alongside following the main principles of Leave No Trace, there are some more specific things you can do to ensure your wild camping doesn’t affect other people and the surrounding environment.
OM editor Will Renwick, who’s hiked trails like the Wales Coast Path, the Cambrian Way and West Highland Way end-to-end, has chipped in here with a few methods he’d recommend…
Choose Your Spot Carefully
Even in places where wild camping is permitted, it’s respectful to the landowner and to other people who are living in the area or passing through it to camp in an unobtrusive spot. Ideally, I’ll look to choose somewhere that is unenclosed, or that at least appears so, and that’s out of view of any houses or busy roads.
“Try to remove other people’s litter as well. Who else is going to clear it?”
I’ll also consider the ground underfoot. If the grass is short and a healthy-looking green I know I’m likely to be in a farmer’s field, which isn’t ideal. It’s called wild camping for a reason, so I try to choose a spot that actually looks wild – areas like thick woodland, hilltops or moorland for instance. Small and narrow valleys with streams running through can also be useful places to pitch but just be mindful of the risk of flooding due to sudden rainfall overnight.
It’s important to be considerate of surrounding plant and animal life when choosing a spot to sleep as well, so check you’re not pitching your tent on any precious flowers or vegetation and try to avoid disturbing any nesting birds.
Keep Noise To a Minimum
Alongside keeping my visual impact to a minimum, I’ll also try to be as quiet as I possibly can, being mindful of local people, other campers and the local wildlife.
It might sound a bit boring, but if you’re hiking with a large group of people try to split up and camp a distance apart from each other, and leave behind the guitars and ‘kumbayas’ – embrace the peace and quiet instead.
Pitch Late And Leave Early
If a farmer or warden came across me and my tent in the afternoon or late morning, I know I’ll probably get asked to move on. To avoid this and to minimise my impact on the surrounding wildlife, I try to pitch just before sunset and I’ll leave just after sunrise. During midsummer when the sunrise is very early, instead of being up ridiculously early with the sun I’ll just try and be up and off before 7am.
Avoid Lighting Fires
Everyone loves a campfire for a bit of ambience and back-to-basics reconnection. ‘Jungle TV’, that’s what they call it. However, without the right approach, a fire will nearly always leave a mark on the ground which can remain for some time, and then there’s also the risk of the fire spreading. I’ll instead bring a portable camping stove – less risk to the environment and a faster brew. Win-win.
There are of course ways of having a safe fire with minimal environmental impact – just ask Ray Mears about that – but the way I see it, it’s best to avoid lighting a fire altogether, especially when there’s even the slightest bit of risk of it spreading.
Avoid Contaminating Water Sources
It’s easy to assume that tossing a few uneaten noodles into a pond won’t do any harm, but in somewhere like the UK, where certain spots can be popular with wild campers, if each visitor did the same thing then a source could quickly become unhealthy and a danger to other people, wildlife, and the creatures within it. To avoid becoming part of that problem, I try to bag up as much leftover food from my pots and pans as possible, then I’ll scoop water into them and scrub them at least 10 metres away from any water sources. If it’s unrealistic to carry my food waste with me, then as a second resort, I’ll lift a bit of turf up, bury the food underneath and replace the turf back on top, and I’ll make sure I’m doing this as far away from a water source as possible.
As for, um, going about my business, first of all I’ll try my hardest to make use of any toilet facilities that might be on the trail (if anything, it’s a good excuse to stop at a pub), and when there’s nothing available I’ll just make sure that whatever I’m doing isn’t going to cause any water contamination, spread infection, or cause an eye sore!
So, when nature calls, I’ll make sure I’m at least 30 metres from a water source and down river from my own camp or anyone else’s. It’s the same for the number 2 variety, but I’ll also make sure to make my deposit in a hole, lifting a layer of turf off first and replacing it when I’m done.
And don’t just hide your dirty deed with a stone! On a wild camp on Skye once, I remember grabbing a loose rock to anchor a guyline on my tent, and to my horror, found the underside covered in tissue.
As for using tissues for your number 1’s, once your done, stick them in a resealable bag and carry them home or to a bin rather than leaving them on the ground. I hiked the Camino de Santiago a few years ago and I remember the whole trail being lined with used tissues. Not nice.
Leave The Spot As You Found It
During my stay, I’ll make sure nothing is damaged around me, and when I’m about to leave, I’ll do a thorough scan of the area to check I’m not leaving any litter or food waste behind.
A lot of litter on trails is left by accident, so I often try and do a #2minutelitterpick (at camp and on the trail) to remove other people’s litter as well. If not, who else is going to clear it?
Help The Leave No Trace Cause
We’d love you to help us with this campaign. All we’re asking is that you pass this article on to your friends, share some of the advice on verbally while you’re out and about, or even just give the Youtube video a thumbs up.
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