Preparation is the first of the seven principles of Leave No Trace for a reason. What you do before you head out into the wilderness sets the stage for what you will do when you are out there. This extends far beyond LNT. All aspects of an adventure are impacted greatly by what we have or haven’t done before we left home. Being prepared leads to having a better and safer experience so even if you aren’t that concerned about LNT it’s still a pretty good idea.
Preparation begins with knowing the area you will be traveling in. That knowledge needs to extend far beyond just the trail names or camp site locations. Only by knowing the details of the terrain, elevation and water courses can you determine what equipment will be needed, what pace can be expected along with primary and alternate camp sites. Being aware of who controls the area and what regulations are in place is a must.
Another very important feature of a location is its weather. While you can’t bank on a long range forecast studying up on what is considered normal and recent history will give you some insights into what you may run into. It is a good idea to also get some idea of the possible extremes because weather is rarely normal heh.
Knowing your gear on a detailed level is another cornerstone of preparation. It helps you decide what to bring on a trip and how to use it when you are out there. You don’t want surprises in the back country and certainly not in the form of broken gear or worse, injuries. Being very familiar with your gear has other benefits as well. If you read about my recent overnight in the snow you may have noticed that I made it through the entire night without breaking out my lantern. I knew where all of my gear was stored, how to unpack it and set up my camp and get ready for bed all pretty much by feel. When I go to get something out of my pack I rarely use my eyes even in daylight as my hands know where to “look”.
The semi-official Leave No Trace folks over at lnt.org include concepts like smaller group sizes and trying to travel during off season dates in their preparation focus. I don’t travel with large groups and am always trying to get away from where the people are so these don’t really come into play for me, but they may for you depending on who you go with and where you go. More people traveling the same area means not only more impact on the land but less time for it to recover.
One thing they don’t seem to stress enough I feel is fitness though they do mention assessing skills during planning. No amount of research and planning can make up for a body that isn’t up to the requirements of a trip. If you’ve got money to throw around you can always get better gear but that doesn’t work for fitness. The only way to be sure your body will be ready when you need it is to train it in measure with what you expect to ask of it. This becomes ever more important as you age, trust me heh.
Now other than the obvious part about group sizes you might be wondering what all of this preparation has to do with Leave No Trace. Yes, it is all good common sense advice but how does it lessen the impact we have on an area? By being prepared for what you encounter you greatly reduce the risks of making mistakes which can lead to damage to vegetation and terrain, injuries or perhaps worst of all a search and rescue operation.
When people are cold, wet and/or hungry they can make poor choices which can result in needless damage. Harming vegetation to create emergency shelter and fire damage are big noticeable forms of impact but there can be many smaller ones as well. Once people begin to lose control of their situation they are less likely to focus on their impact as survival becomes the imperative. Being prepared is a big help for both staying in control and surviving with the happy by product of helping us to keep our impact to a minimum on the path less traveled by.
I have added a “Leave No Trace” category to make it easier to locate posts in this series via the menu at the right.