How to Recreate Responsibly in the Backcountry

by Ann Harrison Photo by Carol Waller

More people than ever are getting out to spend time outdoors. While it’s wonderful to see so many people discovering the joys of nature, this influx inevitably leads to a few growing pains. Here are a few tips on how to recreate like a pro.

Know before you go

Check the status of where you are headed for weather and permitting restrictions. For the Wood River Valley, that means checking the Sawtooth National Recreation Area website. A quick Google search will get you right to their website or visit The mountains may be calling but they can be a beast. Make sure you have a backup plan and know your limits.

Plan and Prepare

Playing in the mountains requires a little extra planning. Tell someone (other than your hiking buddy) where you’re headed. Pack plenty of food and water, a first-aid kit, extra gear for weather changes (they happen on a dime up here), and supplies for a responsible potty break—keep reading for more on that. 

How to Poo in the wilderness

Ew! Gross. Whatever. We all do it. BUT, if you leave toilet paper behind—or worse, a pile of poo on the trail—you’re doing it wrong. Be prepared to pack it out (the t.p., not the poo; dig a cat hole and bury that sh*t). Hike about 70 paces off-trail, away from water or camp, and dig a little hole, cover it up and you are good to go.  

Respect Wildlife

This one seems obvious but is worth repeating: you should never, under any circumstances, feed the wildlife. Even if an animal appears to be begging, or looks underweight, feeding is still off limits (although underweight animals can and should be reported to a park ranger). This includes “accidentally” feeding the wildlife by having a messy campsite, not using wildlife-proof containers while backpacking, and littering.

Pack it in, Pack it out

This one is pretty easy to grasp. If it’s not a natural part of the environment (food, trash, dog poop, etc.), then take it out. Yes, it’s okay to fill your backpack with stuff you “find” on the trail from other adventurers who don’t know any better. In fact, tuck an extra bag for trash into your pack and become a steward of the environment. 

Respect other Recreators

Wilderness areas are meant to be places where visitors can “get away from it all” and can enjoy quiet time in nature. Being respectful can be as simple as yielding to uphill hikers and knowing and respecting the rules for motorized recreation. 

Take Charge of your Safety

Practice these tips and you’ll never find yourself out without a headlamp after dark or a map to get you home safely. Leave your ego at the trailhead and be prepared to abort if you get beyond your ability or run into inclement weather. Nothing is worth risking your own or your group’s safety or wasting local search and rescue resources if it could have been easily avoided. We get it, accidents happen, but take responsibility to reduce your risk.

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