How to Keep the Trail Clean Without Getting Dirty

How to Keep the Trail Clean Without Getting Dirty

How to Keep the Trail Clean Without Getting Dirty


It’s safe to say that most backpackers have a general love for the environment, and care about it staying clean. Much more than just connecting with nature and being outdoors, avid hikers understand that if their “playground” isn’t kept clean, it could have bad results for them in the future. One of the most important things you can do to take care of the wilderness you’re hiking in is to treat it like you were never there. It’s all part of an initiative called Leave No Trace.  The trail should be the same as it was when you arrived, if not, better. However, cleaning up after yourself when you don’t really have easy access to trash cans or recycling can be hard. But, it’s something all of us need to strive our best to do.

Take Little, Leave Little

It’s no question that the less things you bring, the less trash you’re going to have to deal with. Take as little as possible with you. When it comes to food, bring just enough for your trip, and pack it in Ziploc bags. When you are done eating, you can reuse the Ziploc bags as trash bags. Though, it’s best to dispose of any wrappers immediately, so that they don’t blow away. If you can manage it, try to take things out of wrappers and boxes, and pack the same products in one bag to reduce both the space it takes up and the amount of trash it creates.

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Collect Food

Any remaining scraps of food you have should be collected in a bag like a compost. Do not bury it, as it can attract animals. One way to do this is by preparing just-add-water meals for the trail, where you can eat directly out of the bag and then use the bag for scraps for the rest of your trip. Of course, the best way to limit the amount of food scraps you have is by eating the last of everything you make!

Burn Paper and Cardboard

Any extra paper or cardboard you have can be used to add to your fire. This is a great way to kill two birds with one stone, and actually use the trash to your benefit instead of holding on to it for miles. Keep in mind that the whole Leave No Trace concept also applies to minimizing fires. Build your fire in existing fire rings, and make sure to clean up any remaining firewood and scraps when you finish. Put them out completely with water then scatter the ashes far from the campsite.

Bury Your Bathroom Business

Though food scraps should never be buried, human waste is another story. When you go number one, you can essentially relieve yourself anywhere, as long as you try not to go on any vegetation. Go near some rocks or dirt, and try not to concentrate all of it in one area. When it’s time for number two, dig yourself a little hole, go in there, and bury it. You should also bury toilet paper as well, however, it’s recommended to pack it out if it’s possible. This can be done by putting some kitty litter in a huge Ziploc bag, and putting all your “things” in there (including feminine waste products). Then, when you reach a toilet, get rid of everything appropriately.

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Keep Your Eye Out for Trash Bins

Don’t worry. Although you’re expected to carry your trash with you, it’s not going to be for your entire trek. As soon as you arrive at a more public area with trash bins, you can freely dispose of your waste, though you should always do so properly. Try your best to separate your recycling versus your waste.

Help Where You Can

Just because others didn’t do as good of a job as you cleaning up after themselves, doesn’t mean you should just walk by their trash. So, it might not be your direct responsibility to clean up after others, but if you see it, you should do something. Do your best to help clean up the environment that you love so much. Encourage others in your hiking group to do the same, and when telling others about your love for the backcountry, don’t forget to stress how important keeping the trail clean is.

It just takes a few more minutes of your time to keep the trail clean during your hike. The more everyone does their part, the longer we’ll be able to enjoy the outdoors to the fullest.

hanalarock I'm Hana- a freelance travel writer and teacher who currently lives in South Korea. I'm originally from New York, but have spent the last two years traveling and living abroad. My first time hiking in the US was when I traveled around the country as a teenager. Though, my first adult backpacking trip was a year ago, when I hiked from Thailand down to Singapore for a month. I'm looking forward to many more adventures in the future. Visit my site for more information.