I recently went backpacking above treeline in Colorado. It was in a National Wilderness and there were no designated camping areas. Finding a flat enough spot for 3 tents proved to be difficult at best. While respecting the rule of camping at least 100 ft from the trail and water bodies we ended up walking off trail more that I'd like.

Given that a group of 2-6 people can, unfortunately, do a lot of stomping while

  • finding a camp site that is 100+ ft from trail
  • finding a camp site that is 100+ ft from water
  • walking 100+ ft to the food cooking area
  • walking another direction to a waste area (and digging holes)
  • tying food up in a tree

What are some way to minimize our impact on the terrain while following all the other guidelines?

3 Answers 3


Interesting question. Some suggestions:

  • In bear country many trekkers cook their evening meal by the trail, then walk on to camp. This reduces the need to move around your campsite.
  • Again, you could cut down trips to your latrine area by seeing to your needs before you reach the camp.
  • You could try to narrow down campsite selection before you go, using large-scale maps, satellite maps, and asking the locals. Or check out the terrain from above as you walk. This would reduce the need for recces off the trail.
  • If you wear boots, you could walk around camp in bare feet or use a lightweight foot-covering to reduce erosion a little.

I agree with all of the tactics mentioned by @Tullochgorum, except for the bare feet -- Ouch! However, the terrain and your feet will thank you for wearing light weight camp shoes. As for looking for a suitable campsite, one or two people can do that -- six people do not have to go out scouting in all directions.

Another way to reduce your impact in some circumstances is to remember that guidelines are just that -- guidelines -- not rules that must never be bent. If you are above timberline on an unfrequented trail, and especially if you are going to decamp early next morning, it may be better to camp on a sandy spot less than 100 feet from the trail than tromp down the wildflowers making an extensive search. Also a group of six well above timberline has little to fear from a black bear by cooking at their campsite. And bear canisters, while they should be placed outside the perimeter of the campsite, need not be placed 100 feet away.

The rules that can't be broken have to do with waste, garbage, cooking scraps, washing up and litter.

Please note that I am not recommending bending guidelines merely because one is tired or it is getting dark, or because one is dismissive of rules or thinks that one party doesn't make a difference.


Kudos to you for at least trying to follow the LNT guidelines. You certainly see a LOT of well-used sites in designated Wilderness areas that do not meet the distance from trail/water criteria. Saw many of those sites last week in the Lost Creek Wilderness, including several that had significant trash issues, too. :(

In addition to the other suggestions offered, try to not follow in others' footsteps through the vegetation so as to not form a "path". It will recover quicker. I also try to walk on whatever durable surfaces (i.e., rocks) that are available.

  • 2
    I'm conflicted about walking on rocks. If there is lichen on the rocks and is rubbed away with your boots that lichen can take a very long time to regrow.
    – Brad
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 18:14
  • 1
    @Brad I agree. Decide which is the lesser of 2 evils in that case.
    – topshot
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 16:19

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