Tread Lightly

Being sustainable on the trail and in camp.

Words and photos by Courtney Cordaro

In a world filled with “perfect” Instagram photos, it’s not much of a surprise the lengths some people will go to snap their perfect photos. Veering off the marked trail, hopping fences to get closer to dangerous National Park wonders, and even creating their own artwork on historic rock structures are just some of the ways humans are harming nature and forgetting the “Leave No Trace” principles. Below are a couple of these practices that will help us keep nature Instagram-beautiful.

Hike and Camp in Designated Areas

It might be enticing to hop off the trail to catch a slightly different view than what everyone else is seeing. Trekking in areas that aren’t part of the trail can compromise the surrounding vegetation and cause unnatural erosion, in addition to bringing about landslides and other issues for vegetation that can result in trail closures. Our impact, multiplied by hundreds or even thousands of other hikers who may take that same shortcut, can cause detrimental issues for Mother Nature.


Shelters, fire rings, and picnic tables are all man-made items, which signify that we should camp in these areas. Utilizing these pre-existing campsites helps reduce the impact of over-camping. Restricting activities to designated areas allows them to be more easily maintained, which is especially important for restricting campfires—containing them to help avoid forest fires. This practice also helps to not char many different patches of earth, which take a long time to heal (up to 10 years). Keeping our activities contained to designated campsites will keep the landscape beautiful for everyone to view and enjoy.

Pack it In, Pack it Out

No one likes to see trash along the trail. By taking out the items we bring in with us—from single-use plastic bags to beer cans—we can leave the area better for the next person and help avoid attracting curious animals into camp. If we come across someone else’s trash, there’s no shame in picking it up and packing it out. By doing so, we help make the area look nicer than it was before.

The best way to clean up the trail is to not create any trash in the first place. Opt for reusable items. Ditch bulky cases of plastic water bottles and bring a water bladder or reusable metal water bottle instead. Make your own freeze-dried or dehydrated meals instead of shelling out big bucks for pre-made ones. By investing in high-quality gear first, you won’t send as much poor-quality gear to the landfill.

We should all consider the sustainability of our actions before we act on them. Always ask yourself if what you are about to do will leave that space just as beautiful as when you arrived. Being sustainable on the trail is just as important as being sustainable in your daily life, and can be just as easy, too.