Do you know your durable surfaces?

La Crosse, WI: Do you know what a durable surface is, or why durable surfaces are an important factor to enjoying the outdoors?


Durability refers to the ability of surfaces or vegetation to withstand wear or remain in a stable conditions.


Rock, sand and gravel: These surfaces are highly durable and can tolerate repeated trampling and scuffing.

Ice and snow: The effect of travel across these surfaces is temporary, making them good choices for travel assuming good safety precautions are followed and the snow layer is of sufficient depth to prevent vegetation damage.

Vegetation: The resistance of vegetation to trampling varies.  Dry grasses tend to be resistant to trampling. Wet meadows and other fragile vegetation quickly show the effects of trampling. Trampling ensures new travelers to take the same route and leads to undesirable trail derailment. As a general rule, travelers who must venture off-trail should spread out to avoid creating paths that encourage others to follow. 

Living soil is found in desert environments, is extremely vulnerable to foot traffic. Living soil consists of tiny communities of organisms that appear as a blackish and irregular raised crust upon the sand. This soil retains moisture in desert climates and provides a protective layer, preventing erosion. One footstep can destroy this soil. 


Here are some general tips for traveling and camping on durable surfaces:


  • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.

In popular areas:

  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.

In pristine areas:

  • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
  • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

Travel Well,

Amanda and Greg - Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Team East Central

Leave No Trace’s Amanda Neiman and Greg Smith are part of the 2016 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Fjall Raven, ENO, Deuter, Thule, Taxa Outdoors and SmartWool.