What Leave No Trace practices should backpackers do that they don't do?

The most important thing that we’d like to see more backpackers do is better pre-trip planning, i.e. making sure they know about the area they plan on visiting, the local regulations/conditions (particularly regarding to human waste disposal, food/trash storage, fires/stoves, etc.), any special concerns such as terrain, weather hazards, local wildlife concerns and group size limits. The better prepared a backpacker is, the safer his/her trip will be, the lighter his/her pack will be, and his/her overall impact can be greatly reduced.

What is the official stance of the Center on when to dismantle fire rings, and how to dismantle them when you do?

While it is preferable in many areas to remove old fire rings and consolidate to either one central fire ring or a few well designed and located fire rings, we always recommend checking with the local land management agency before removing any structures such as fire rings. It’s possible that the managing agency would like to have the older or excessive fire rings removed but you should give them a call first.

Should I not wear brightly colored clothing while recreating or use brightly colored tents while camping?

One aspect of outdoor recreation that some people seek is solitude – the feeling that you’re the only one there. In order to help protect the solitude of our wildest places, we recommend considering if brightly colored gear is necessary. In certain circumstances such as mountaineering, climbing or hiking, backpacking and mountain biking during hunting season, etc., it is absolutely necessary for safety. However, there are locations where brightly colored equipment can detract, sometimes substantially, from the experience.

Can I leave biodegradable waste (e.g. an apple core or banana peel) in the woods, as long as I hide or burry it?

Most items thought of as biodegradable, such as apples and apple cores, orange peels, banana peels, nuts, candy, etc., aren't native to most natural environments, and generally aren’t thought of as suitable food for wildlife. Anything that we carry into the woods should come out of the woods with us. Otherwise it's simply trash. One apple core will not completely disrupt the local ecosystem, but litter is litter. The biggest problem with improperly disposing of food waste, e.g. tossing apple cores into the woods, is that it is ultimately harmful to wildlife.

Can I urinate or put wastewater directly into a water source?

Generally speaking, no urine or wastewater should ever go into a water source. Both kinds of liquid waste should be disposed of a minimum of 200 ft. from any water source. However, there is one environment where disposal of liquid waste into a water source may be acceptable and/or required by the land management agency: arid, silt laden, high-volume western rivers such as the Colorado and the Green. The idea is that “dilution is the solution” in these unique environments.

How should I deal with my human waste in snow/alpine environments?

Winter conditions present special challenges. Water is everywhere—it just happens to be frozen—and the soil may be several feet out of reach and as hard as a rock. Poop tubes, bag systems or other “packing out” solutions may be the best disposal option unless you can locate a patch of bare ground, usually under a tree where a trowel can penetrate the duff. Because waste generally freezes in the winter, packing it out is not as distasteful as you may think.

What about ocean disposal?

Although ocean disposal has been suggested in the past, it is no longer recommended for disposing of human waste. While anecdotal information has suggested that the ocean environment readily breaks down human feces and related pathogens, there is no concrete biological research backing the practice of ocean disposal. Furthermore, in many popular paddling regions depositing human waste in near-shore waters is a violation of state laws. Be sure to check with local land management agencies for the best disposal method for the area you plan to visit.

What's the best way to dispose of human waste in coastal environments?

The absolute best way to dispose of human waste in costal environments is to pack the waste out using either a bag-type system or a reusable, washable toilet. Other options include using provided facilities – flush toilets, outhouses, privies, etc. – when available. If no other options are available consider using a cathole dug 6-8 inches deep at least 200 ft. from any water source.

What's best for managing pack stock at camp: pickets, highlines, portable electric fencing or hobbles?

While there is no one right answer, the Center encourages all stock users to inquire with the land management agency about the preferred method of managing stock in the areas they plan to visit. All four of these methods – pickets, highlines, portable electric fencing and hobbles – are acceptable for managing stock but the most appropriate method should be determined by the land management agency. Additionally, many areas have facilities built for managing stock in a backcountry and frontcountry campsites and points of interest. Where these exist, the Center recommends their use.

Will hanging my food in the Sierra's provide sufficient protection from bears?

Generally speaking, no. Bears in the Sierra’s (and other places) are quite crafty and have managed to obtain food from even the best bear bag hang. In many locations, bear-proof canisters are required by the land management agencies and should be used at all times to store food, trash and “smellables” such as sunscreen, bug repellent, toothpaste, etc. when in the backcountry. It is strongly recommended that you practice packing your food and smellables into the bear canister before your trip to ensure everything will fit.

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