How to Have Low Impact on the Trails

How to Have Low Impact on the Trails
Hiking is one of the best ways to get back to nature. Taking a good walk in the wilderness refreshes the mind, renews the spirit and exercises the body. When walking in the wilderness, always be conscious of your surroundings and be especially aware of the impact you have on the earth. Because trails are delineated on maps, human traffic is often concentrated on these areas and erosion is exacerbated. These simple tips will help you minimize your impact on the natural world while hiking on designated rights of way.


Difficulty: Easy

Step 1
Be mindful. Before you start out, remember the adage "Take nothing but memories, kill nothing but time, leave nothing but goodwill." You should seek to leave no evidence you passed by, other than a few footprints here and there.
Step 2
Minimize your impact. While it is important to stay on the trails, it is also important to spread out your impact. Trails are essentially compacted soil. Walking on fresh soil will collapse soil structure and increase impermeability. Runoff exacerbates erosion. Try to stay on the designated trails as much as possible, while walking lightly. At the same time, be prepared to walk around the edges of the trail. Walk on grasses rather than bare soil, if you can.
Step 3
Avoid mountain bikes. Mountain bikes are notoriously bad for trails. The width of the tires, the speed of travel and the mass of the cyclist all increase pressure at the juncture of the ground and the tire. Mountain biking also exacerbates erosion, so if you are concerned about impacting the trails, travel by foot.
Step 4
Be aware of where you're walking. Don't stomp blindly along the trail, but be attentive to each footfall. Try not to step on small trees, sprouts or even bugs; walk gently. Before the age of sneakers and hiking boots, hunters used to walk toe to heel, not heel to toe. Try this, as it creates a much more delicate gait, and requires attention to each stride. It's also interesting to walk barefoot for a ways, as this helps increase awareness of every step.
Step 5
Always keep your trash. Never litter because it is both ugly and disrespectful. Additionally, plastics don't decompose and can present a hazard to certain species. Whatever you bring with you, be prepared to bring out. If you are bringing beer or other beverages, collapse the empties and put them in your backpack. Don't bring glass, instead bring plastic bottles or cans (these are more easily compressed).
Step 6
Work against gravity. When walking downhill, take smaller strides with more frequent footfalls. This will increase your purchase while lessening your impact. Try not to kick stones. Use rocks as stepping stones when available.
Step 7
Try to follow animal trails when walking off the trails. These are easily discerned through the underbrush. Scat, thin trails, browse lines, and animal tracks are all signs of animal trails. Don't stray too far and always keep an eye on your direction as you don't want to get lost.
Step 8
Don't scare the birds. If you're hiking with the right mindset, you should be able to walk by birds without them flying away. This is a great way to gauge your effectiveness in "conscious" hiking. You are invisible, yet passing with enough goodwill that the earth is enriched by your passage.

Article Written By Benjamin Williams

Ben Williams is an award-winning reporter and freelance writer based out of Colorado. He has written for conglomerates of newspapers and magazines, supplying news, features, editorial and opinion. While running an Energy Services and Consulting firm, he now writes for multiple websites including the news site,

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