If you are unfamiliar with the concept of no-trace camping, it is the philosophy of leaving no trace behind that you were there. It is a practice I learned from summer camps as a child and mindset I have carried with me every time I venture into the backcountry.
So why is No-Trace Camping and Hiking so important? Not only is it nice to leave the area looking as wild and pristine as you found it (no one likes finding garbage on their hike), but it is also imperative for the health of the wildlife. Across the Alberta and National parks in Canada there are signs that read “A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear” referring to the likelihood that a bear who has grown accustomed to human food will need to be put down for becoming a danger to the public. In order for the wild to stay wild, we need the animals to stay wary of humans. If they become too use to human presence, or begin to associate humans with food (especially high-calorie food), then the animals become dangerous to humans, and ultimately themselves. Leaving garbage behind can have an impact on the health and wellbeing of the animals in the area, as well as the environment.
Even organic materials, such as apple cores or orange peels should be packed out. I have met many other campers or hikers who don’t think that organic material has an impact on the wilderness, as it will decompose overtime. The time it takes to decompose, however, leaves these materials available to the animals in the area for quite some time before they disappear. Additionally, the food scraps left behind are usually foreign to the area, making this food source only available through humans. Any food that animals can get from you puts their lives at risk.
No-trace camping and hiking is also important because it reinforces the efforts to reduce human impact on these undeveloped areas. We have already taken so much of these animals habitat, we should treat what is left with the utmost respect. This includes staying on trails while hiking. Wandering off the trail can have a serious impact on the vegetation (it also increases your chances of getting lost). Bushwhacking through areas with designated trails is unnecessary and irresponsible.
In addition to respecting the space and environment, I think no-trace camping and hiking adds a level of mindfulness to your daily activities. You are forced to stop and think about the amount of waste you are creating as you have to pack everything out.
Though leave-no-trace is most important in the backcountry, it is good to think about it when front country camping as well. Make sure to dispose of your garbage in the provided bins and clean up your site before leaving. Do not have fires outside of the designated pits, and if burning food scraps, make sure all pieces of food have entirely disintegrated before putting out the fire. Douse the fire pit entirely to ensure not hot pockets or sparks are left that could start a fire. If you are in a backcountry area where fires are allowed but no designated pit is permitted, ensure your fire has been well soaked and stirred, and then scatter the ashes. This will reduce the impact of the fire on the landscape, and hopefully make it more difficult for other adventurers to notice your impact. Of course, avoid fires if there is a fire ban on the area, and do your research before heading out. Before leaving any campsite or lunch site, do a sweep of the area for any forgotten pieces of wrappers or food scraps. You may even find belongings you would have lost otherwise!
If you wish to be an extra Good Samaritan on your visits to the mountains, you could also bring a small bag in your pack for collecting any garbage you see on the trail. Some hikers can be careless, and sometimes even the most mindful people can lose a tissue or wrapper to the wind.