There are few things more disheartening than tramping for several days to a remote backcountry hut, only to find a heap of rubbish left by previous visitors. Chris North, founder of the New Zealand branch of Leave No Trace, says those who want to make their tramping more sustainable and eco-friendly, should follow these seven principles.
1. Plan ahead and prepare
“Think about where you’re going and what your food needs might be,” he says. “When you go to get your food, consider, ‘what are the most important things for me to do so I can have an ethical tramping trip?’.” North says that includes buying food with minimal packaging, and to aim to buy from local companies when possible. One way to minimise waste is to buy food from the bulk sections of the grocery store, North suggests.
2. Travel and camp on durable ground
When traveling through the backcountry, stick to tracks as often as possible in order to prevent additional erosion. Wet tracks are easily damaged, so avoid travelling by bike or in large groups in such conditions.
3. Dispose of waste properly
“Minimise waste at the source,” North recommends. “When you go shopping, you have opportunities to buy food that comes with more or less packaging.”
North says the best practice is to carry all your rubbish out with you; he recommends carrying a few zip-lock bags to separate your trash into compostables, recyclables, and general waste for ease of disposal when you get home.
4. Leave what you find
As tempting as it is to take home a wilderness token from your trip, don’t pocket that stone, leaf or shell. “Show a bit of restraint by not taking things from their natural environment,” says North. “Leave the things that are beautiful and special for the people who follow.”
5. Minimise the effects of fire
If you’re building a fire at your campsite, North recommends using pieces of wood that are wrist-sized or smaller. Larger pieces will take longer to burn, which may mean you end up leaving a partially scorched log when you move on from your campsite. He also says to keep fires small, scatter ashes, and make absolutely sure it’s extinguished before leaving.
It’s OK to dispose of paper rubbish in your fire, but not plastic, foil or glass.
6. Respect wildlife and farm animals
Understanding which wildlife is vulnerable and taking steps to protect those species is vital. For example, North recommends carefully removing all food from huts and campsites, as common predators such as rats and possums will happily feast and thrive on your cookie crumbs.
7. Be considerate of others
Pack it in, pack it out, and keep the backcountry as pristine as you (hopefully) found it. And, above all, make a good example for those who follow in your footsteps.
“It’s really important for this country’s future that New Zealanders model ethical tramping and outdoor recreation, because we’re getting more and more tourists arriving,” North says. “A lot of the conversations are about the impacts of tourism, but the reality is that New Zealanders aren’t 100 per cent pure themselves, and it’s something we can get better at.”