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When practicing Leave No Trace camping (which I am sure we all do), which camp spot should I choose, assuming there is not an obvious well-impacted "sacrifice site" nearby to concentrate my impact in:

  • A slightly worn site, showing the beginning signs of impact
  • A fresh, un-camped spot that can likely suffer a little abuse

Would it make a difference if the area were a popular place likely to be visited again the next week or so?

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Do the right thing even if it is likely that the next person will do the wrong thing. –  Russell Steen Jan 26 '12 at 3:41
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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

This is a classic Leave-no-trace (LNT) case study.

  1. If the site you are considering is in a pristine wilderness area, and it is not a designated campsite, you should locate your campsite away from the impacted area to allow it to regrow.

  2. However if the site is in a popular area, and will be used often (10+) times per year by anyone else, you should locate your camp on the previously impacted area to concentrate the impact rather then to spread it over the area.

From Leave-no-trace

Generally, it is best to camp on sites that are so highly impacted that further careful use will cause no noticeable impact. In popular areas, these sites are obvious because they have already lost their vegetation cover. Also, it is often possible to find a site which naturally lacks vegetation, such as exposed bedrock or sandy areas.

On high-impact sites, tents, traffic routes, and kitchen areas should be concentrated on already impacted areas. The objective is to confine impact to places which already show use and avoid enlarging the area of disturbance. When leaving camp, make sure that it is clean, attractive, and appealing to other campers who follow.

Exceptions to the popular site rule are:

  1. If the popular site is next to a water source (< 250 ft)
  2. If the popular site is directly on the travel path.
  3. If the popular site is a heritage location.
    • Example: Native american historical location.

Exceptions to the pristine site rule are:

  1. If an appropriate campsite can be found on a durable surface such as rock, snow, or a sand bar which experiences periodic floods to wash away evidence of impact.

Following these guidelines and the other principles of LNT will lead to a very sustainable camping area.

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate to other visitors

For more information visit Leave No Trace - principles

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Following Leave No Trace principles, which the previous party obviously didn't do, it would be better to camp in the new spot, and upon leaving, removing traces that you were there.

We've personally replaced leaved that we had brushed aside to make space for tents to make it look like no camper had ever been there, in addition to carrying out all trash.

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You move leaves to put your tent down ? O.o (+1 though, good answer, just surprised me with the leaves bit) –  Russell Steen Jan 26 '12 at 3:40
    
Well, leaves and branches. No one likes to sleep on a branch. –  Reverend Gonzo Jan 26 '12 at 3:44
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