Leave No Trace - Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces - Part 2

You're on the trail and it's time to find a campsite for the night! You've seen a few great looking choices and you're excited to settle in for the sunset. 

Let's talk about the selection of an appropriate campsite before you pitch that tent. You need to make sure that your chosen campsite is a 'durable surface' to avoid unnecessary impact on the environment. Remember that the best campsites are found - not made.

Dirt campsite surrounded by trees.

The second principle of Leave No Trace is Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. This is an important principle of the Leave No Trace ethics and the key to maintaining the beauty of our wilderness environments. 

We are exploring this principle throughout the month of August. 

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Durable Surfaces

What is a durable surface anyway? Great question! A durable surface is roughly defined as any natural surface that is resistant to damage caused by human travel.

Damage to natural surfaces may occur through soil compaction caused by human feet and/or tents, erosion caused by damage to vegetation, pollution of natural water sources, and other impacts. We cover this topic in depth in part one of our 'Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces' series. 

Let's talk about how to find and select a great Leave No Trace campsite location.

Elements of a Great Campsite

  1. Existing Durable Surface - Preferred: Your campsite is preferably located on an existing durable surface. This may mean a marked and established campsite, tent platform, bare dirt patch, or rock surface. (solid or gravel) Avoid camping on meadows and/or vegetation if at all possible.
  2. If You Have No Choice - Vegetation: If you must camp on vegetation avoid sites that show signs of previous use. (ex. matted vegetation / plants ) The continued use of the same area will cause long-term damage, destroy existing vegetation, and create new bare dirt patches. This is bad.
  3. Water Sources - 200 ft. Minimum Buffer: Select sites that are a minimum of 200 feet away from natural water sources. This includes lakes, ponds, river, and streams. The 200-foot buffer minimizes the chance of food, soap, waste, chemicals, and other human-borne contaminants from polluting natural water sources. 
  4. Avoid Moving / Disturbing Organic Material: Never clean sites of existing organic litter like leaves and always minimize the removal of rocks and gravel. The existing organic materials help to cushion trampling forces, limit the compaction of soil, release plant nutrients, and reduce erosion. And, once disturbed, certain lichens and habitats can take decades to restore. 

Always select the most durable surfaces for your wilderness adventures and avoid creating new impacts. The preservation of our beautiful shared natural resources and the plants and animals that rely on them depend on us.

 A smart approach to this key concept can make all the difference for you, your group, and our shared wilderness resources. 


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