When in popular or high-use areas, concentrate your activity within established campsites and trails to prevent impact to the surrounding area. These areas have been “hardened”-have already lost their vegetation cover-and continued use causes little additional impact.
Stay on trails. Hiking outside of the established treadway tramples plants, contributes to erosion, and creates wide or multiple paths. In muddy or wet stretches, stay on exposed rocks or wooden planking where possible. Wearing gaiters over boots helps keep mud out, allowing you to walk through wet places when there are no planks. Do not shortcut, switchbacks-it saves little time and causes gully formation and erosion.
In alpine areas walk only on the trail or on exposed rock. Many types of alpine vegetation are extremely fragile, and damage is usually long-term. Harsh growing conditions and thin soils provide challenge enough for alpine plants. In the Northeast, almost without exception, it is never appropriate to camp in alpine zones. These beautiful, scarce and heavily traveled areas need our care if they are to remain healthy.
Take rest breaks on durable surfaces, such as rock or bare ground. This will enable you to get out of the way of other hikers without causing impact. If the vegetation around you is thick or easily crushed, take your break at a wide spot in the trail. This courtesy also lessens the feeling of crowding on the trail.
Choose an established campsite away from trails and water. Since recommended distances vary, use 200 feet as a guideline. For most adults this is 70-80 normal walking steps. Most backcountry areas have “established” campsites that should be used, but only if properly located. Be aware that camping may be excluded in some areas, or allowed only at campsites “designated” to be used by the local land manager or owner.
Sometimes even designated sites or shelters are located inappropriately close to trails or water. This is usually because of terrain limitations or simply because they’ve been there for a long time, are well-known and frequently used. They often have features that mitigate impacts of concentrated use such as pit or composting toilets, wooden tent platforms and permanent fire pits. Though these may not be ideal sites in a minimum-impact sense, use them to prevent additional impact.
Local guidelines may ask you to camp at an even greater distance-sometimes as much as 1/4 mile-from road, trailheads or private property. These guidelines aid in maintaining a feeling of solitude, help distribute impacts occurring to vegetation, water, and wildlife, and reduce other effects of overcrowding. Please follow them. Remember that scenic vistas, lakeshores and riverbanks can be enjoyed anytime by walking a short distance to them from your camp.