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Outdoor Ethics for Winter Activities

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Winter opens up a wealth of outdoor activities for the adventurous outdoorsman. Snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice fishing, and cold weather camping are all great opportunities to test our outdoor skill.  They also challenge us to think about how we can stay true to our outdoor ethics while surviving and thriving in cold conditions.

For each of the 7 Leave No Trace principles, I've gathered a few thoughts about special challenges that winter conditions present and some ideas for how scouts and scouters can integrate Leave No Trace into their winter activities.  I'd love to hear more ideas and thoughts!

Winter weather can quickly change for the worse. Be prepared for it. Check local weather forecasts before you go and make sure that clothing and sleeping bags are going to be warm enough to handle the lowest expected temperature range. Pack an extra fleece blanket too, and remember to bring a sleeping pad.

Areas with melting ice or snowpack can be particularly vulnerable to impacts from hikers straying off the trail and forming new cutbacks or parallel tracks. Wear appropriate boots and walk down the middle of the established trail even if it's wet or muddy.

In snow-covered areas, it's best to travel or camp in deeper snow where impacts on underlying vegetation are minimized.  Snow and ice can be generally regarded as a "durable surface"  --- it's okay to walk or camp in a snow-covered field. Don't try to clear away snow to make an area to setup a tent:  just setup the tent on top of the snow (it's softer than the ground anyway). 

Pack it out is the way to go during the winter. 

Do not bury any waste under snow. 

If you build snow shelters, break them down before you leave.

Remember that winter is a vulnerable time for many species. Be particularly careful to avoid damaging resources that might be needed for food, water, or shelter. 

Crowds are less likely to be a problem in winter than summer, but there's less vegetation to hide your activities and sounds tend to travel further in the winter.  Be aware of it.


As you probably noticed, I skipped a couple LNT guidelines. That's because those seem to apply to winter camping or hiking pretty much the same as they would to summer camping or hiking.  Of course, you might think of a wrinkle I overlooked.  If so, shout it out!

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"Packing out personal waste is not a new concept. Climbers on Mt. Rainier started using "blue bags" in the early 1980s, and mandatory carry-everything-out programs later spread to popular peaks like Shasta and Denali, as well as to environmentally sensitive Utah canyons like Buckskin Gulch and the Virgin River Narrows. But the addition of Mt. Whitney to that list signals a new willingness by land managers to use this tactic on trails where backcountry toilets are impractical to build, and the routes are too trafficked or rocky to absorb the impact of numerous cat holes...."



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Nope. Not a new concept....but it might be a radical idea for scouters accustomed to warm weather camping in state parks with flush toilets and other luxuries.

"Pack it out" is definitely the rule among climbers....and among whitewater rafters too where nobody really wants to go overboard in a river you've been dumping waste in.

For weekend activities, I can "pack it out" using zip-loc plastic bags.  Outdoor stores smell profits in human waste, so they offer lots of stuff you can buy, like disposal bottles, deodorizers, enzymes to break down waste, etc.  REI sells a bunch of things with names like Biffy-Bag, Pocket Loo, etc.  IMHO, a regular Zip-Loc works fine and costs far less.  By the way, getting back to the winter-specific theme, enzymes don't break down bio-matter as quickly in cold weather as they do in warm weather. Just sayin'....

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