Leave No Trace

Ask Liz / Do you sleep right by the trail or wander off for a good spot?

THE SIMPLE ANSWER: THE BEST PLACE TO SET UP CAMP IS WHERE YOU BELIEVE YOU'LL LEAVE THE LEAST AMOUNT OF IMPACT IN THAT AREA. 

It's very likely that you will not want to sleep right by the trail. Most people set up camp away from the trail for a few reasons: privacy, solitude, and safety. And depending on whether you're in a high-use or low-use area will determine how far you might wander off for a good camp spot.

Before I jump into a deeper dive, let me briefly touch on the safety note. As a woman, I'm not particularly interested in having random folks know where I'm sleeping. It's a vulnerable state so I like being tucked away sort of hidden somewhere. I've also noticed that sometimes wildlife will use trails. Makes sense, it's the path of least resistance. With that said, it's not like there's a line of wildlife on the trail, but it's not uncommon to come across a large pile of bear scat (aka: poop) in the middle of the trail in bear country. For those reasons, I'm not particularly keen on sleeping right next to a trail.

If you're in a high-use area...
It's best to camp where you can see someone else has already camped. These areas tend to be obvious because the ground has no vegetation and it's very impacted. If an area is high-use, you want to help by staying on those impacted areas instead of wandering off and impacting more of that environment. 

Sometimes you need to get a backcountry camping permit, which means it could come with a designated campsite for a designated day. You'll need to know and follow these regulations.

I was hiking in the Selway-Bitterroot up Mill Creek in search of places to camp. This area was particularly noticeable considering how large the impacted area was. If you're in a high-use area, consider using already impacted areas like this, so you don't cause anymore damage to surrounding areas.

I was hiking in the Selway-Bitterroot up Mill Creek in search of places to camp. This area was particularly noticeable considering how large the impacted area was. If you're in a high-use area, consider using already impacted areas like this, so you don't cause anymore damage to surrounding areas.

This is another campsite that's clearly frequently used. The area has no vegetation growing on it anymore and the dirt is quite impacted. It wasn't that far off from the trail (a con), but it had this amazing view (a huge pro)!

This is another campsite that's clearly frequently used. The area has no vegetation growing on it anymore and the dirt is quite impacted. It wasn't that far off from the trail (a con), but it had this amazing view (a huge pro)!

If you're in a low-use remote area...
You want to find a durable campsite where you won't be crushing vegetation and where your impact will be minimal. Think of it like this: "Where can I camp so someone wouldn't even be able to tell I camped here?" Basically, you want to minimize your mark in that space. This even applies to the route you take to go to your water source, and the route you take to get back to camp. The less you walk on the same path, the less it looks like a trail, which equals more impact.

And before you leave camp in a remote area, you'll want to cover your tracks so that your campsite doesn't look like a campsite. This isn't just to hide your secret spot, but it's so that someone won't impact the same spot and cause further damage. It's the repeated use with little recovery time that causes harm.

TIPS

  • Wear soft camp shoes to avoid trampling all over vegetation
  • Try to camp away from water's edge. The recommended distance is 200 feet (or 70 adult steps). This allows access for wild life.
  • Keep your campsite clean and leave it better than you found it for the next camper.
  • Choose to step on durable surfaces (a rock versus soft fragile vegetation).

Read more in depth info about Leave No Trace Principle 2: Traveling and camping on durable surfaces

Pooping in the Woods / How to dig a proper cat hole

I HAVE A CONFESSION

When I first started backpacking, I remember I'd dig a hole for my poop (aka: cat hole) that was just barely deep enough. I felt so EwwWwbbBBLAAaahh having to poo outside, I'd want to take care of business and get out of there as quickly as possible. So I'd put a rock over my not-deep-enough cat hole, dust my hands off, and walk away quickly. No one ever showed me what a good cat hole should look like, so I didn't really know. But if my guilty conscious is indicative of anything, I think I always knew I wasn't really doing my best to protect the environment. I'm sorry Sierras! I'm sorry Glacier! I'm sorry!!!

Let's all bury our poop properly so we can preserve the wilderness for the folks coming after us next weekend, next year, in the next 100 years...Agreed? 

HOW TO DIG A PROPER CAT HOLE 

I already covered what you should have in your poop kit and how to poop in the woods, but I wanted to demonstrate what a good looking cat hole should look like. Here's one I dug recently in a really rocky area.  It was super annoying because I kept hitting rocks, so it took me about 10 minutes to dig this one. (That's a lot of minutes if you need to poo baaaaaad. Plan ahead if you're the type that needs to GO when you need to GO.)

TIP: I dig my hole the night before because I usually wake up and have to poo immediately. 

THE DETAILED NOTES

  1. Seriously, look for a spot where someone won't spot you pooping. No one needs to see that. It should be at least 200 feet away from three important things: water sources, your tent, and the trail. (200 feet = ~70 steps)
  2. Dig a hole about 6-8" deep and at least 4" wide. You don't want it to overflow. Ew.
  3. Take your business call. 
  4. Put some dirt back in and stir it up with the poop. It'll help with the decomposition.
  5. Fill the rest of your cat hole with the dirt and try to put it back the way you found it. Make it a game: see if you can make it look like there isn't a pile of shit underneath. That is the gold standard!

*Don't forget that the best thing you can do for the environment is to pack out your soiled toilet paper. Don't just drop it in the hole. #LeaveNoTrace

*The trowel pictured above is the Big Dig, by QiWiz ($36). I used to use a rock or stick, but it's more efficient to dig using a trowel. Another one at the same weight but cheaper is the Deuce ($19.99). I haven't tried it, so I can't tell you if it works well. One other alternative is to use a tent stake to dig your hole. It's not as efficient, but it'll save you 0.6oz and one more thing to think organize. Up to you!

THE JOY OF POOPING IN THE WOODS

I've written about some pretty awesome toilet views, but more often than not we'll have to dig our own cat hole behind some trees. Cat hole views can vary widely, but I thought I'd share my most recent one. This photo was taken while I was in the squat position over my cat hole. The silver lining of having to squat and poo is that I get to enjoy this while I'm at it. Not too shabby huh? 

SQS-PoopyViews.jpg

FYI, The First 40 Miles Podcast just posted a fantastic toilet episode worth listening to with good advice and a helpful review on the two trowels I mentioned earlier. 

I hope this is helpful to you! If it was, please share the love.