Do You Know Your Winter Leave No Trace?

By Molly Herber

Dec 31, 2015

NOLS participant backcountry skis as the sun sets over snowy mountains
Photo by Lindsay Yost.

We know you’re a pro at cleaning up after yourself when it’s warm out, but do you know what to do when the temperatures drop?

Here are a few reminders about leaving no trace before heading out into that winter wonderland. Check out NOLS Winter Camping for more information.

Traveling on Snow

Snow is a very durable surface, so you should travel and camp on it as much as possible! Be aware, however, that many animals survive the winter by burrowing under the snowpack, and this can become difficult if skis or snowshoes compress the snowpack. It’s tough to avoid, but be mindful of where you’re traveling and stick to trails when they’re available.

Also be aware that snow insulates the ground, preventing those critters—as well as tree roots—from freezing. If you remove snow down to the ground for some reason, make sure to cover it again before you leave.

Trash Disposal

Burying garbage in the snow is not appropriate waste disposal.All of that stuff will show up again when the snow melts in a few months. If you bring it with you, pack it out!

Human Waste Disposal

Use backcountry toilets when they’re available. If they aren't, make sure to urinate all in one area (no yellow pee spots all over the place!) and far from water sources. Defecate near trees, with holes as close to (or in) the ground as possible. If you must bury your feces in snow, bury it shallowly so that the sun can help it decompose. Ideally, you can let the feces freeze and pack it out quite easily.

Keep in mind that snow is great for wiping, too!

Respect Wildlife

Wild animals are weaker and less well fed in the winter than in warmer months, so human contact can be much more harmful. Disturbing an animal (by trying to get close for a photo, for example), can stress it out and consume much of the energy it stored to survive the winter. If you want to observe wildlife, do so quietly and from a distance.

Don’t Feed Hungry Animals

Even if the animal is staring at you with big, adorable eyes, do not feed it. Feeding animals conditions them to treat humans as a source of food, turning them into a nuisance and altering their natural behavior.

Be Polite

You love playing outside in the winter, and so do lots of other people. Help other folks have an equally amazing day by being considerate on trails and making way for fellow visitors. Give camps their space and respect their privacy—and help out if they need it!

skiing a ridge in the Absaroka Range
Photo by Tim Doyle.

Hone your minimum impact camping skills on a Leave No Trace Master Educator course

[Editor's Note: Blog post updated 1/25/19]

Written By

Molly Herber

Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram @mgherber

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