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Leaving No Trace

By Dave Roberts   

on November 24, 2014    No ratings yet.

Leaving No Trace

While we all know not to leave our litter on the hill (hopefully!) what else do we need to be aware of? Here are a few points to consider if you want to leave no trace when you’re in the wilds. It’s by no means comprehensive and we recommend the links at the end of the article for more information. Basically, if you bring it in, carry it out.



It’s far too often that we come across the remains of an open fire at prime wild camping spots. They’re the sign of an utter amateur for a couple of reasons. The first is that anyone who respects the outdoors would just not be leaving scars like this. The second is that there’s usually a great big log sticking out that they never managed to get going, which would burn on any campfire worth its salt.


The only place you really can get away with it is on a commercial camp site, which really doesn’t appeal to us. It doesn’t really count if you can still see your car!

The only way you’re going to get a proper fire going is with a fire bowl, and even then with extreme care not to scorch the grass underneath. The only way we’d be happy using this is on a gravel lake or river shore where you can’t cause damage. You’ll still need to get rid of the ashes the following morning – which you can scatter in the undergrowth or bury, but would again be better off carrying out if you can.


A firebowl needn’t cost much as you can make your own from a salad drainer or buy a commercially made one.


The same usage is true for portable barbecues that are commonly seen dumped on the hill. We’ve used them, with legs and only over rocks, and they’re a pain. They rarely burn through and are messy to carry out. We swear by our Grilliput BBQ and firebowl, just wish we used them a bit more!

Going Potty 

For the full information – we’ve an article on how to S*** in the wilds already prepared! For now – here’s the basics.

  • At least 30m away from running water
  • Choose somewhere discreet! The drainage ditches beside the Miner’s Path are not acceptable – you know who you are!
  • Bury any solids
  • Use sphagnum moss as a biodegradable ‘wipe’ or carry all other hygiene products out with you. Do not bury them, or just throw them in the corner!

sphagnum moss

Banana Skins, Apple Cores and Oranges…

It seems that some think it’s acceptable to leave these sort of waste food behind on the mountain – “something’ll eat it” is one excuse I’ve heard. Apple cores, maybe, but banana skin and orange peel shoved between rocks just rots slowly in the summit shelter.


Apparently, you’re more likely to be leaving no trace by littering paper bags than fruit. Here’s an idea of how long each item takes (taken from – link)

  • Paper bags – 1 month
  • Apple Cores – 8 weeks
  • Orange peel / banana skin – 2 years
  • Cigarette Butt – 18 months to 500 years
  • Plastic Bag – 10 to 20 years
  • Plastic Bottles – 450 years
  • Chewing Gum – 1 million years

The plastic doesn’t surprise us – but the durability of chewing gum defies all belief! Again – if you take it in, bring it back.

Washing up.

So you’ve had your all-day breakfast, just don’t get up and swill the pot out in the lake! I’ve seen this done, quite incredulously as we needed water from the lake! Our tips for this is to use wipes or similar to remove the excess food. If you ensure you’ve got some decent food, this should be nothing more than some sauce. What’s left should be OK to swill with some water and deposited over 30m from the water source.


Taking any sort of detergent complicates things further – so we choose not to! If you do – consider how you dispose of the waste water afterwards. If it’s an environmentally friendly product it’s generally acceptable to dispose by scattering at least 30m from water sources. The same goes for any clothing that you may need to wash on long trips.


Washing yourself.

This one’s difficult. Wipes won’t work here, so you will need some soap and water. The given wisdom is to dispose of this wash water by scattering at least 30m from water sources. Don’t find a nice pool in the stream and treat it like a whirlpool bath. Alternatively, you can use products like Muc Off. You’re also highly unlikely to be away from facilities in the UK for longer than a few days unless you’re really trying.


Waste Food

First tip here is portion control! Contrary to usual practice, don’t eat till you’re full but until you’ve finished your food. It’s easier to carry back out that way! Again – if you carry it in then you carry it out again. Dehydrated food is great as there’s usually enough food, and you can zip it back up when you’ve finished. Find one you like, and after a hard mountain day you’ll never have waste!


This goes for teabags, which contrary to the belief of some, do not add an ambience to mountain shelters. I have difficulty with coffee grounds as I like a strong coffee in the morning and would rather drink ditch water than instant. The only way around this is to tip the grounds into a zip-loc and use a wipe to get the rest out. A messy job, but essential.

Wild Camping

Try and camp in less popular spots and never for a prolonged period of time.


The following morning, it should be almost impossible to see where you were camping bar a bit of flattened grass. It’s a good idea to scout around the tent area after breaking camp, picking up any stray bit of paper or any tent peg you may well have missed out.

Group Size and Environment.

A lot of what’s been mentioned above assumes you’re not a scout troupe. If a handful of friends were to wild camp in one large location, then they’re probably OK to scatter some dishwater well out of the way. Start bringing a large group into the hills, and quite quickly that’s a lot of dirty water and a lot of cat holes that need digging. That’s why it’s generally essential to boil water in any location that’s known as a popular wild camping spot.


Keeping to the Path

Finally – many of us are guilty of this one – that is walking off the path and causing further erosion. Sometimes, it’s just safer to avoid the path – I’ve done this on a few paths where I couldn’t be safe of my footing and had to walk beside the path instead. If you can, keep to the path – especially if it’s a manufactured path in popular areas as it prevents further footpath erosion.


If in doubt – here are a few useful sources on leaving no trace:

Mountaineering Council of Scotland’s Wild Camping – A Guide to Good Practice

Leave No Trace – https://lnt.org/

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Dave Roberts

siDave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader. Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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