You’ve probably seen the signs or posters at campgrounds and National Forest areas that advise campers to “leave no trace.” But what does this mean in practice? Here are five quick tips to minimize your camping footprint.

1. Set your tent on a durable surface. In areas where there are no designated campsites, avoid pitching your tent on top of vegetation, particularly for trips lasting more than a single night. Find a clear spot with dry leaves or pine straw and you’ll be comfortable while minimizing your impact on nature. Avoid trampling vegetation while walking around your campsite as well – stick to established paths whenever possible.

2. Clear all traces of your campfire when you leave. One of the easiest ways to tell if someone has camped in an area is to look for a fire ring. While it’s important to line your fire ring with rocks or logs, consider dispersing your fire liner when you break camp. Scatter cool ashes to minimize traces of your fire and always make sure your fire is completely extinguished before leaving the area.

3. Pack out and dispose of waste properly. Sure, everyone knows it’s important to pack out trash but it’s also important to bury (or in some cases remove) human waste as well. Even smells can alert folks to the fact that someone camped in an area – proper waste disposal ensures that no trace is left.

4. Don’t take anything with you but take everything you brought. In most areas it’s illegal to remove any plants or minerals but even if it isn’t, removing natural items can have a big impact. On a related note, when gathering firewood it’s important to only use dead materials. Cutting down live plants and trees certainly leaves signs of human activity and it’s unfair to future campers.

5. Don’t feed wildlife. You may not realize it but feeding wildlife (either intentionally or unintentionally) leaves a huge impact on your natural surroundings. Animals used to human handouts become less wild and often evolve into nuisances.

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has even more tips and principles for being good environmental stewards while enjoying nature. The next time you’re out, try to view your campsite like a detective might and ask yourself: could anyone tell I camped here? Hopefully the answer is no…

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