Just like in summer, practicing Leave No Trace outdoor ethics in winter protects land and wildlife

Forget what you’ve been told. Baking your poo on a rock is not proper Leave No Trace (LNT) for winter. That’s right, no matter how cold and snowy it is, adventurers still need to practice good LNT in order to protect the land and wildlife. 

“In the winter, the places that we’re outside enjoying can be more susceptible to … negative impacts of our recreation,” says Faith Overall, an Education & Outreach Coordinator with Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

Read on to learn how you can up your LNT game this winter, including what to do with your number two. 

Give Wildlife Their Space

Animals are more vulnerable during winter as it requires extra energy to survive in cold temperatures with fewer food sources. Don’t approach, follow or chase wildlife (that goes for your doggo, too). It should also go without saying: respect seasonal wildlife closures. 

Tread on Durable Surfaces
When possible, avoid walking on non-durable surfaces like exposed vegetation and tundra. Stick to durable surfaces like snow or rock.Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

While deep snow can be a durable surface to travel on, thin sun-baked areas can be more fragile in winter than summer. Overall says that in places like Colorado where a big snowstorm is followed by a warm, sunny day, it’s important to avoid traveling on areas that are beginning to melt. 

“Wet grass is a lot more susceptible to erosion,” she says. 

Muddy trails can also be easily damaged by foot and bike traffic. If it’s unavoidable, walk down the center of the trail to avoid widening it or creating new ones. If you’re camping, select a site on snow, rock or mineral soil that’s at least 200 feet from all water sources. Pitching a tent on tundra is particularly damaging. 

Reduce the Impact of Campfires
winter camping
To reduce their impact, winter campers should pitch their tent on a durable surface like snow as opposed to fragile tundra.Photo courtesy of M.K. Gunn with the San Juan Mountains Association

If you need to build a fire, avoid cutting branches from living or dead trees. Try to find downed wood and scatter your ashes when done. 

Pack It Out

That goes for trash and human waste. The aforementioned method of leaving your droppings on a rock was fashionable once upon a time, but is strongly discouraged these days. Overall says you should plan ahead by including a wag bag with your other necessities. Be sure to bring one along for your dog as well; because springtime shouldn’t smell like melting excrement. 

Plan and Prepare
be prepared
Traveling in the backcountry this winter? Faith Overall with Leave No Trace emphasizes the importance of planning ahead and being prepared.Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

“Winter can be a little bit more extreme, especially if you’re in the backcountry,” Overall says. “You’ve got to step it up a notch during the winter.”

As with any backcountry excursion, make sure you have adequate gear (and know how to use it), check the weather, have a plan, tell someone where you’re going and know how to travel in avalanche terrain. 

Need a LNT refresher? Check out their website for a complete list of summer and winter practices.