Carefully designing your trip to match your expectations and outdoor skill level is the first step in being prepared. If you do not have a tent, stove or proper clothing to stay warm and comfortable in unexpected poor weather, you may be forced to build fire inappropriately over crowd shelters, or disregard fragile vegetation while setting up camp to get out of the elements. While impact concerns are clearly secondary to visitor safety, careful planning can go a long way toward ensuring that trade-offs between these two are unnecessary.
Know the area and what to expect. Consult guidebooks, local land managers, owners or outing clubs about the character and popularity of your intended destination. Many wildland areas suffer from overuse-visiting alternative locations can often provide a better backcountry experience. Obtain any appropriate permits or landowner permission before your trip begins. For safety’s sake, know emergency phone numbers and tell someone back home where you’re going and when you’ll return.
If the area you plan to visit is popular, expect to see other hikers along your route. Plan to camp in properly located campsites or in established lean-to or cabin-style shelters. Keep in mind that shelters and campsites are usually offered On a first-come, first served basis, so always carry your own shelter just in case, and know how or where to locate other appropriate campsites. Check for any helpful information posted at the trailhead.
Only venture off-trail if you are prepared to practice stringent Leave No Trace techniques. On some public and private lands, camping outside of designated campsites is not allowed.
Keep group size to ten or less to reduce impact and super vision needs of group leaders. Consider splitting into hiking groups of four to six people by day, taking different routes during the hike. If group sites or facilities are available in any backcountry area, use them. Leave smaller camps and less frequented areas for smaller parties seeking solitude and a more primitive experience. Noise, visibility and the imposing feeling imparted by large groups are all impacts that can be reduced.
Try to plan your trip to avoid wet and muddy conditions, when trails are fragile and rapidly impacted by hikers. Use extra care in alpine zones by staying on the trail, and never build fires or camp there.
Select appropriate equipment. Lightweight stoves, free standing tents and collapsible water carriers allow the flexibility to camp on the most impact-resistant sites available. Gaiters that protect your feet and boots enable you to hike.within the tread-way of the trail even when it’s wet or muddy. A small garden trowel is almost indispensable for digging a minimum impact cathole to bury human waste.
Bright!y colored tents, packs and clothing may look attractive, but stand out in the backcountry, thus contributing to a crowded feeling. To minimize your visual impact, select earth-toned clothes and equipment (during hunting season, blaze orange is a safety related exception to this). Carry binoculars and high-powered camera lenses to observe or photograph wildlife from an unobtrusive distance.
Ski poles, walking sticks, ice axes and crampons can all be useful aids on Northeastern trails, but can contribute to trail widening and degradation if used outside the trail, or when not needed. Axes, hatchets and saws are not needed for Leave No Trace camping in the backcountry.
Repackage food. Plan your meals carefully and repackage foods from boxes, glass containers and cans into reusable, unbreakable containers or plastic bags. In addition to saving weight and space, this will reduce the amount of potential litter you bring into the backcountry.