How to leave no trace

Leave No Trace vs Minimal Impact Bushwalking

The term Leave No Trace has become part of hiking lingo in the last couple of decades and although it is a trademarked brand name from the US, it’s now the short-hand way of referring to the ways we can tread lightly in the bush, ensuring that we love and leave nature in the best possible way. Here in Australia, the term Minimal Impact Bushwalking pre-dated Leave No Trace and although much more of a mouthful (and much less marketing-friendly), I feel it makes more sense in terms of the reality of how we experience wild places.

When you think about it, everything we do and everywhere we go, will always leave some trace. It might not be visible to us, but our movements on our incredible planet do leave a mark. It’s all in the choices we make that can make them as minimal as possible.

Lockdowns, restrictions and our cravings for calm have driven greater numbers of people to seek solace, exercise and a change of pace by entering the bush. In my local area, I’ve noticed an increase in rubbish and other impacts, even though visitor numbers are down. It feels like there are loads more new to bushwalking or hiking folk, so I hope that this summary and video will help us all do our bit for the places we love.

1. Leave No Trace

This is all about leaving our campsites and wild places better than we found them. Yep, pretty much what it says on the box and generally refers to the obvious things such as:

  • rubbish – pack it in… pack it out
  • food scraps – including fruit skins and organic waste
  • toileting
  • no soaps or detergents – even ‘bio’ friendly ones
  • cooking on fuel stoves or a minimal impact campfire
  • camp on durable surfaces

The old days of “bash, burn and bury” are long behind us! We can do better than that.

2. Protect biosecurity

Weeds, pathogens and other invasive species have the ability to ruin not only our enjoyment of wild places but also devastate our native fauna, flora, agricultural industries and the precious balance of nature. These simple steps can really help:

  1. Don’t disturb the wildlife or flora
  2. Clean our shoes and equipment (download my recipe card here!)
  3. Report any invasive species you see to the Land Manager (eg. National Parks) or other agricultural authority.

3. Be Self Reliant

We can reduce our impact from incidents or rescues in the bush by understanding risk and taking responsibility for ourselves. Gosh, this info kinda feels like the reason I started LotsaFreshAir! I reckon a good way of remembering the basics is with the acronym from the Think before you TREK campaign:

The 2nd part of this is doing a bit of homework before you head out by:

  1. checking weather forecast
  2. checking fire danger
  3. checking national park/state forest closures
  4. do a first aid course
  5. choose a hike that you (and your group) have the skills and experience to do and fitness to enjoy

4. Respecting Others

Ah, the peace and serenity of the bush. It’s one of the main reasons we go out there is to just chill out, slow down and get away from the noise of everyday life and those constantly pinging devices. Let’s share that gift of calm with everyone else by:

  • not playing music in the bush (it’s kinda illegal in NSW National Parks)
  • turning our phones to silent (or flick onto flight mode to save battery, yet still use nav apps)
  • help out any other people who might need a hand eg. with injury or navigation

5. Acknowledging the Traditional Owners

When I’m heading out into the bush, I love to find out whose Country I’m entering and begin the day by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land, paying my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. We can build on this respect by also:

  • not sleeping in caves with Aboriginal art sites
  • not disturbing any artefacts
  • seeking permission to enter a sensitive area

6. Respecting the Land Manager

A Land Manager is the person or organisation who is responsible for a particular bit of land. This could be National Parks, State Forest, Crown Land/Lands Department or private landowners. Just like when someone visits your house you like them to stick to your rules (toilet seat down anyone?), Land Managers have sets of rules (often called Plans of Management), which laydown the house rules, such as:

  • not entering closed areas or trespassing
  • leave gates as you find them
  • not taking pets into
  • keeping under maximum group sizes

7. Social Media Responsibility

It’s a bit of a new concept and certainly something that legendary bushwalkers like Dot Butler, Marie Byles and Myles Dunphy never had to deal with (back in the bash, burn, bury days), but with the rise of insta-famous tourism there’s a need for us to realise that everytime we share a photo on social media (even if it’s just to a handful of mates), what the implications of that might be. We can all think of places in National Parks or other public lands that have suffered from a massive rise in tourists who’ve been drawn to a spot because of a great photo they’ve seen on social media. The challenge comes when Land Managers haven’t had the lead-time to properly manage the sudden increase in traffic from feet, rubbish and vehicles, etc, let alone correctly plan and build the necessary infrastructure (tracks, fences, signage, parking) to handle all that human traffic… or even be able to run studies to see if the area can handle it due to the environmental impacts. So let’s have a think before we share things like:

  • waypoints and GPX files
  • Geotagged images

Thanks to Macpac for sponsoring this video and for helping us all share these important messages.

Research for this article and video was taken from the following organisations

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Writer, producer and content creator by trade, search and rescue volunteer by passion, Caro Ryan started to inspire, teach and encourage people to get into hiking and the outdoors safely.

It’s all about connecting people to wild places in meaningful ways, so they can look after themselves, their mates and these precious places we visit.

She teaches wilderness navigation, authored the book, ‘How to Navigate’ and hosts, ‘Rescued - an Outdoor Podcast for Hikers and Adventurers.

In the bottom of her pack you'll find coffee grounds, instant noodles past their used by date and an insatiable curiosity.

Bushwalking & Hiking Tips from an Unexpected Outdoors Chick

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