Coming into another Summer season, there is just so much joy in exploring our backyard. The overwhelming medicine of nature is truly something special and necessary to us all. In my experience as a guide for a short while of 20 years I have learnt so much about how to tread light, how to observe change, how to continue to learn, respect place, people, and the environment. By no means do I have all the answers. I have a growing perspective that has come from time spent outdoors.
I want to open the conversation of good practices in the outdoors to inform, bring discussion and to open the outdoor world to folks in a positive, empowered, and knowledgeable way. I do want to share that the reason I am motivated to put experience to paper is that in the last few Summers there has been an awesome influx of folks into the outdoors. Beyond the increase in volume, I have also noticed a subtle shift in culture around backcountry etiquette and would love to review with all who enjoy our great outdoors with a focus on British Columbia.
I want to also touch on that wilderness is not just wilderness here in B.C. but it is the long used, often cultivated, well known spaces that have been and are lived in, by various First Nations. Importantly, where we all explore, has deep connection, rooted history and an ever-changing living ecosystem that offers depth that deserved our deep care. We all have our own unique intertwined relationships with the spaces we travel, and so as we travel, let us honor ourselves in our experiences while being continually open to honoring the routes of others, of the environment, and how we want to continue this integrated web.
So to make this brief here, I will offer some resources, good practices and I would like to offer opportunities to continue dialogue in the comments. Let’s Review.
- Avoid taking home rocks, shells, bones etc. They serve a purpose such as the formation of a shell beach or giving nutrient to the soil.
- Leave any cultural First Nations materials alone. Avoid touching petroglyphs and pictographs, do not dig where it is possible that there is cultural significance or history such as a midden. Do not take anything, but rather bring awareness to the Nation if it appears to be easily removed by others. Learn more with B.C. Marine Trail on this and other codes of conduct.
- Be mindful of moving logs, shells, rocks as they have an ecological impact.
- Stay to used paths when possible. Walk thought the puddle on your path, if you have the right footwear. This helps to reduce dead spots where they are not needed. Many areas have slow growing ecosystems, especially the alpine or rocky paths that solely have moss or lichen growing on them.
- Do not leave flagging tape on trails if you are not returning that way, they often break free and become litter.
- If you come across an amazing old growth tree, do not stand on its large roots it can create entry points for pathogens leading to possible infection and reduction in water collection.
- Minimize the space you need for your group and consider that others may be coming after you, so leave a space for them. This minimizes that last group needing to sprawl between folks and crisscrossing everyone’s spaces.
- Choose previously used campsites first. Do not enlarge them.
- Pack it in, pack it out.
- Sift out all food bits from your grey water and pack it out.
- Grey water can be tossed to sea, or if you are inland, it is best to either spread it over a large area or bury it, 70 meters away from a water source.
- Avoid detergents if possible, or use biodegradable soap only in sparing amounts.
- Cook away from your camp
- If there is a food storage bin, store everything with odors including food, garbage, and toiletries.
- If you have a kayak, keep all food in fully sealed hatches.
- Hang your food. Here’s how!
- Respect and review fire bans.
- Candle wax is a newer trend with fire bans that lasts on sites and could be either better managed, removed or avoided.
- Beach campfires are easily left unseen after, if they are built below the hightide line and burnt to nothing. This requires a few sage proceedings. Keep fire logs to a smaller size. Think of your forearm size, especially as you think the night is winding down. Under a meter in diameter is plenty for a group of 10. Get close. Do not douse water on the fire and coals, (it leaves charred coal litters on the beach) and do not cover the coals with sand (it stays hot and could burn you or others the next day). Instead, get the fires to a coal bed that is small, with no flames and linger with its warmth a while. Leave the fire at this stage, and the final bits of coal will burn away and the ocean will come up to take the ash. This may seem backward to leave a fire unattended, but at this point it is very small, it has no ability to produce flames, or sparks and is on its final stage moving towards burning out. Again, you are below the hightide line of the ocean so you are away from the forest, you are in a sand bar and the ocean is on its way up.
- If your fire is anywhere else, it needs to be cold to touch and completely out when you leave it.
- Collecting driftwood is acceptable on the beach, not in the forest where it is decomposing or growing moss.
- Do not cut down a living tree or branch for firewood.
- Burning large driftwood that will leave a fire scar after, is not pleasant for the next visitors. It is one of the most common visible marks left by groups. It encourages others to follow suit. When a site looks relatively undisturbed, it is more likely for it to remain that way.
- Don’t flick your cigarette butt. It is a common source of human made fires and they contain plastic that does not break down.
Outhouses and Using Nature
- Create a toilet kit that includes toilet paper, a lighter, handsanitizer and a large ziplock that has a brown paper bag (lunch bag) inside of it.
- Used toilet paper can either easily get put into the brown paper bag, and when it is full, it can to be tossed into your main garbage, or tossed into your campfire if fire bans are not active .
- Or burn your toilet paper on the spot, you can loosen it from a clump of paper to let it burn faster, make sure you leave it as cold ash.
- Toilet paper, menstual products are easy to dispose of properly. It is gabage and rather disturbing to find.
- There are often outhouses at rec. and park sites for use. Some have composting toilets. If you see a big bag of saw dust or cedar chips, add a handful or two after your use. This helps the decomposition process. nothing but human waste and toielt paper allowed. Wipes and menstrual products have plastic in them that do not break down.
- If you are going to use nature, go 70 meters away from a water source and bury human waste 20 centimeters deep, ideally mixed with soil.
- Use the intertidal zone if you’re on the ocean, by making a dent in the sand and burying it lightly. The closer to the ocean you are the sooner it will be broken down as washed away. Ideally, have everyone in your camp area use the same general location.
- Avoid peeing right on vegetation.
- Drones are not allowed in B.C. Parks as of recently.
- Not everyone wants to hear music, so keep it to the groups space. Our world has so much stimulation, that it is a treat to experience silence, the sound of water, wind etc. Consider your neighbors, or engage them to see if they are also wanting the same experience.
- If you have kids in your group, consider camping near other groups with kids.
- In recent years B.C. has updated our marine wildlife viewing distances. If we find ourselves close to marine species, we need to respect spacing and our impacts especially if they are resting on rocks, feeding, hunting, or moving through an area that you are already in. You may need to adjust your course or retreat.
- On land mammals are a concern and have a variety of considerations. Here’s an article for how to respond to bears, wolves and cougars.
- Managing our food storage is a main component to avoid rodents getting into your supplies. Make sure to not leave any treats or toiletries in your tent or watercraft gear like lifejackets, spray skirts etc. is key.
- Do not camp or snoop anywhere that you see an animal carcass.
Be Prepared and Capable
- Gear and access to help has improved significantly. However, we need to rely first on our own skills, as if GPS, Rescue Services etc. were not reliable. Upscaling our adventures over time, is a technique that builds our own experience, awareness, skills, and abilities in a range that allows us to be more proactive. The beauty of the backcountry is that it offers something different each time and that it demands respect.
- Bring your essentials even if you’re just going on a good day’s hike.
- Be prepared and know what you need to know. Here is a blog I wrote about the Basic Tips and Checklist for your next adventure.
- Travel with others who also have experience to learn from or slowly adapt your trips to incorporate greater distances, challenges etc. rather than jumping into something big and bold whre the consequences could be greater than your own enhancement.
- Consider leadership, first aid, navigation, backcountry, survival, ecological, cultural courses to build your knowledge and skill base.
- Pack out trash that you find on route or at your campsite when possible!
- Break down sites that are unnecessary like built up beach kitchens, old firepits or rock stackings.
- Have discussions in your groups of what makes these places so special and how we can continue to mitigate our own impacts.
Let me know what you think, what we could add to the list, what you have alternatives to and any other thoughts.
And here are some other good resources for you:
B.C. Parks – Back Country Guide
Leave No Trace – Seven Principles
Parks and Pets
Gov. of Canada – Marine Wildlife Viewing
Marine Trail – Code of Conduct and Resources
Wild Root Journeys – Review and Checklist for your next day or multi day adventure