While the second LNT principle, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, seems straightforward and easy-to-follow, there are several factors to consider when you’re trying to leave little to no impact in the backcountry. It’s simple to advise adventurers to stay on the beaten path (the established trail), but what happens when one must venture off-trail or even set up camp for the night? Off-trail travel is inevitable, but by following the guidelines of LNT, everyone can help protect our natural areas.
According to the LNT organization, the two factors that should be taken into consideration when traveling off-trail include the durability of the surface one is traveling over and the frequency at which it will be traveled.
The durability of an off-trail surface can often be determined on-the-spot, with a bit of prior knowledge. Sure, rocks, sand and gravel are resilient, but be sure to avoid the lichens and other creatures that might be living there. Be able to identify living soil, which looks like black crust, irregularly distributed atop sand. This “soil” is actually made up of tiny organisms that are extremely fragile. Yes, ice and snow is just temporary, and therefore a good choice for an off-trail path, but be sure it is deep enough that you’re not damaging the land underneath. And, vegetation may seem like a bad choice for off-trail travel, and it can be. Keep in mind that dry vegetation usually recovers better than wet vegetation. Avoid water sources, even puddles, especially in the desert, where water is more precious.
The frequency at which a surface will be traveled depends on the surface’s size and the number of people in the group. It is best to minimize travel, no matter what. For areas like vegetation, that are easily trampled, it is best for a group to spread out, or a single person to choose multiple paths. This will decrease the effect on the vegetation and also decrease the likelihood that a future group will misidentifying it as a path. For extremely fragile areas, like living soil, it is best for a group (or a single person) to always use the same path when crossing this surface is unavoidable. This will minimize the damaged surface area.
The second part of this LNT principle is even more complicated. One must consider several factors when choosing a campsite (which is why its best to follow the first principle and plan ahead!). Always camp at least 200 feet away from a water source to allow for wildlife to pass through undisturbed. It is best to find a place that has obviously been used before, in order to lessen the impact on additional areas.
A previously-used sure will be harder to find in more remote areas that see fewer visitors. Choose a durable surface for your tent and your camp area and use multiple paths around camp when appropriate. If you have more than one tent in your group, spread them out so as to not cause too big of an impact on one area. Also, move your tent every night.
No matter where you camp, always leave the campsite as clean and undisturbed as it was when you found it. Brush out your footprints, take tall grasses with a stick to help them stand up again and disperse pine needles or leaves native to the area to cover areas where they were pushed away.
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