Leave No Trace: 7 Principles … for Bikepackers.

These 7 ethical principles for bikepackers aren’t rules; they are a sound combination of common sense and widespread backcountry wisdom…

Bikepacking is all about finding adventure by using a bicycle to escape into a wild or foreign place via tracks less traveled. And with that comes the responsibility of having zero to minimal impact on the landscape (as well as the people living in it). For those unfamiliar with the original Leave No Trace Seven Principles, here’s a very unofficial and abbreviated bikepackers version. And for those who are patrons of LNT, it might be worth a re-read. These aren’t rules. They are a sound combination of common sense and widespread backcountry wisdom.

1. Plan and prepare before your trip.

Know as much as you can about the area(s) you’ll be visiting. Are there any specific environmental impact concerns that may affect where you should camp? Private property issues? To lessen the impact, is there a less crowded time of week/month/year when you could do your trip? Plan with the weather; a bike on a muddy trail, especially in the east, can destroy a trail surface… try and minimize this by avoiding heavy rains, if possible. Plan your meals and prepackage food in a manner to reduce waste.

2. Travel and camp on intended and appropriate surfaces.

Use established trails and campsites to lessen your footprint on natural areas. Ride single file and stay within the worn line on singletrack… keep singletrack single. Keep campsites small. If you have to camp out of bounds, make sure it is on a surface where vegetation is absent, and make sure it can withstand the temporary impact; do your research on environmental impact zones, especially on National Forest land. If you are in the desert do your research and keep an eye out for Cryptobiotic soil.

2b. Respect trails. While this should be standard LNT common sense, it needs clarification and punctuation. Trails are here for you, me, other user groups, and future generations. Respect that fact. That means, stay on trails; don’t go off-trail to avoid an obstacle or a puddle. Don’t drag your brakes. And don’t purposefully skid, no matter how cool it might look. This erodes trails prematurely and angers trail managers and other user groups.

3. Dispose of and remove waste… properly.

We’ve all heard it… “pack it in, and pack it out”, so just do it. That means every last 5-hour Energy bottle, Gu tube, and corner of a granola bar wrapper. There is a reason bikepacking is also referred to as ‘self-supported’; there is no clean up crew. Crap in a ‘cathole’, a 6” hole a least 200 feet from water or trails. Carry a titanium shovel if need be. Cover it up, and make the ground look as it did before you were there. And, by all means, don’t shit on someone’s private property.

If it’s needed, use only biodegradable soap, and keep it well away from streams or rivers. 

4. Leave it as you found it, or better.

This is common sense; preserve the past. Whether you are on private or public property, it should look untouched when you leave it. It may seem that the impact from one person isn’t much, but keep in mind that hundreds or even thousands of people may follow. Strive to leave the situation better than when you found it (positive impact) by inspiring others.

5. Minimize campfires.

Whenever possible, use a lightweight stove for cooking and a lantern or headlamp for light. When you do have a campfire, use an established fire ring, and keep it modest. Use small sticks you can gather on the ground. NEVER cut down trees for firewood. Put the fire out completely before leaving the site.

6. Respect animals and plants.

Look, don’t touch, taunt, or feed. Store food and trash in a bear snag, when applicable. Don’t tread on vegetation. Respect migration, nesting, or rearing times. If an area or trail is seasonally off-limits, don’t try to make yourself the exception to the rule. 

7. Be considerate of others.

In most places, cyclists are required to yield to all other trail users. Be courteous to those who let you pass. If you encounter private property that requires passage, ask for permission. Be helpful and friendly to other trail users. And, most importantly, be a good steward of the environment. 

What spurred this post in the first place? Back in June of 2015, the Oregon Outback, an annually held and extremely popular multi-day group ride, was permanently cancelled after its second year. The ride’s founder, Donnie Kolb, decided it was time to lay the Outback to rest after the 2015 (literal) shitshow. Amongst other disrespectful, distasteful, and generally unacceptable happenings, an unknown participant decided it was OK to leave his or her unburied excrement along with a pile of mountain money on the private property of someone who was generous enough to entertain campers specifically for the event. As a consequence, the small town of Silver Lake has passed an ordinance that bans camping. Unfortunately, when shit happens as a result of some asshat, the cycling community at large is held responsible. 

Prior to hearing about this, I would have assumed that 99.99% of folks in the bikepacking community possess a satisfactory level of backcountry integrity; I thought that the Leave No Trace ethos was commonplace. But maybe people new to outdoor sports need guidance? Maybe younger, urban riders coming in to the sport aren’t acquainted with LNT? Maybe a race pace pushes disrespectful riders to do stupid things? I’m not accusing any particular group; who knows what breeds this kind of behavior. I’d like to assume it’s ignorance, not willful disregard.

This was originally a bit of a rant, but in all seriousness, if anyone has any suggestions or inclusions to add, get in touch. I think most of us are probably guilty of bending one of these guidelines at some point in time, but as the popularity of bikepacking grows, priority should be given to the sustainability of the sport. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to send a message that bikepacking fosters environmental stewardship and has a positive impact on landscapes and the people living within them. As with other outdoor sports that involve the use of public and private lands, importance should be placed in preserving and enabling access, which means maintaining integrity.


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