Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Don’t be “that guy”.  Learn how to properly Leave No Trace on the Appalachian Trail.

“Travel and camp on durable surfaces” on the Appalachian Trail means choose carefully where you put your feet, your tent, your pack and your trekking poles. Impacts from these sources are easily avoidable.

Trekking poles have become very popular, though I wonder how much help they really are on flat sections of trail. Apparently many are using them just for the upper body workout. As a result, millions of pinholes are created by trekking poles, which are causing the soil to be loosened and more easily eroded. If we all used rubber stoppers on the bottoms of their trekking poles, the soil would be better off – and so would the rocks (as they wouldn’t show a bunch of scratch marks).

The bare ground along the trail’s edge expands when we place backpacks on plants rather than on rock or on existing bare ground. The same can be said of tents and boots – the best places to walk, drop a pack, and pitch a tent is on already-disturbed ground, not on vegetation. The affect may not be immediately noticeable, but with thousands of hikers using the A.T., the affects add up. Try to step off the trail and rest your pack on bare ground, a log, or a rock. Use the core area of existing campsites, rather than pitching your tent on the grassy edge – which makes the campsite sprawl outward.

Limiting the widening of the trail by choosing to walk within the established trail rather than on the margins – particularly when there is a puddle in the middle – takes practice. There are areas, admittedly, where the trail is poorly situated and big, deep puddles lay in the middle of the trail. These areas call out for puncheon bridges or a redesign. But in most parts of the trail, a simple determination to walk within the established trail, even through mud, sometimes aided by the use of gaiters (in wet areas), is all that’s needed to keep plants from being trampled and the trail from widening and becoming an eyesore.

Last tip: whenever possible when you encounter a branch across the trail, remove it rather than walking around and creating new trails. Detours often get created because of a branch that’s across the trail that, with minimal effort, could be flung to the side. This is an easy fix, and a good way to “give back” to the trail.

Tom Banks started the Appalachian Trail Leave No Trace Initiative in 2010.