While most hikers certainly don’t intentionally throw litter around, some do carelessly leave behind such things as tissues or candy wrappers or cigarette butts. It’s essential while we’re out hiking that we try to be as diligent as possible with regard to every bit of trash. Everything we bring in MUST be carried out when we leave (even toilet paper, which doesn't decompose very well in hot, dry Southern California soil).
Picking up litter left by others will also help.
Leftover food, including such things as apple cores and orange or banana peels, should be carried out as well. Most of us certainly don't want to sit down at a lovely spot next to decaying food scraps, plus they have an effect on the local ecology and essentially don't belong there. Bring an extra plastic bag for litter or leftovers.
For the sake of the wilder places as well as those who will follow us, when we’re hiking we need to leave no sign that we’ve been there.
When an outhouse or bathroom is available it’s probably best to use it. Most of the time, however, hiking entails using the “natural facilities,” taking care of our needs in the woods. In some fragile areas special regulations apply (including occasionally the requirement to carry out human waste in plastic bags in some heavily-used national parks and fragile areas). In most wild natural areas there are just a couple of important guidelines. First, before taking care of business, it’s necessary to get well away from any water sources, preferably 150 feet or more. Second, solid waste must be buried. Dig a hole four to six inches deep, if possible, and cover it over afterwards.In areas where the earth is moist, a stick will usually suffice as a digging tool, or a small trowel may be carried for this purpose. If the soil is rocky or hard, dig as much of a hole as possible and rake some extra leaves or other organic matter over it. Unburied waste can wash downhill a considerable distance in heavy rain and end up in a stream or lake. Failing to follow the proper methods may mean harm to the natural world and wildlife -- and indirectly to ourselves as well.
Water is vital to all forms of life. Pure clean water in the wild is a delicious and precious gift, and unpolluted water is sadly becoming more scarce. Some water sources are pristine, but people can get sick from Giardia and other parasites. While not necessarily life-threatening, the effects of contracting a parasite or ingesting harmful bacteria can make you very sick and should be avoided if at all possible.
On a day hike the easiest things to do is bring water from home for the whole time when we're in the wilderness. It’s also possible but less convenient to purify water while on some hiking trips, and usually essential to do if you’re camping overnight. Boiling water will destroy bacteria or parasites, but requires a stove or campfire. Iodine or other purification tablets added to water may do the trick, but do not kill Giardia and other harmful parasites. Lightweight “water purifiers” (filtration systems that sometimes include a hand pump) that are rated to purify down to .1 (not "1") microns do the job quite well. The only source of water that may be considered reasonably safe without treatment is that flowing out of the ground from a high mountain spring. If you get the water directly as it emerges from the ground high in a mountain wilderness, and you’re certain there’s no development or potential source of pollution within many miles or at a higher elevation, the chances of contamination are almost nil.
When you’re hiking near a lake or pond in warm weather, you may want to stop for a refreshing swim. Its important to avoid ever using soap or any other substance that doesn’t belong there. Biodegradable soaps will still contaminate the water. Any cleaning with soap should be done on land at least 100 feet away (you can carry water from the lake or stream for this purpose). No dishes or food containers should ever be washed in a wild stream or lake, with or without soap. Food scraps that end up in the water will probably rot and increase the bacterial count, contributing to the deterioration of the water quality.
Sound tends to travel a good distance in the natural world. Shouting may sometimes be heard from as much as several miles away. Noise greatly reduces your chances of seeing wildlife. Practicing “quiet time” in the woods will be appreciated by others, and has many beneficial effects to anyone who engages in it.
STAYING ON THE TRAIL
Hiking in areas of heavy trail use and/or fragile terrain, try to stay on the trail as much as possible (unless you’re deliberately bushwhacking). Sometimes mud or water will force you off to the side, but walking unnecessarily alongside a trail will help to wide it and increase erosion. Likewise, cutting across switchbacks (the zigzags in some trails that climb mountainsides, which are created to reduce erosion as well as the difficulty of a climb) is bad form. Taking a shortcut between switchbacks creates a steeper trail that will probably funnel rainfall and quickly erode. By watching where you’re walking, you’ll avoid creating more work for trail maintainers or otherwise impacting negatively on the trail environment.
Some of the treasures to be found in the wilderness are the archaeologically significant ruins of first peoples and pioneers. These resources and artifacts littering these sites are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. In short, DO NOT ALTER OR TAKE ANYTHING FROM ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES.
The Archaeological Protection Act of 1979 requires a permit to excavate, remove or collect archaeological resources. Native American tribes must be notified in advance. Collections must be curated in museums or similar institutions. It is a felony to remove artifacts from the land for your personal collection. Fines are exorbitant and can accompany imprisonment. The Act also forbids the interstate or foreign trade, sale or exchange of objects in violation of state or local law. This is no joke. Don't remove arrowheads, pottery, tin cans...anything from the land when you are out on a hike.
Also, when examining images that have been painted or carved into rocks by prehistoric people, DO NOT TOUCH! The oils from your hand destroy the images, even carved images.
Do not climb on or rearrange anything you find at an archaeological site.
This is no joke. The law is very clear about how such sites must be experienced and the land managers take violations very seriously.
Take only photos. Leave only footprints.
LEAVE NO TRACE
Leave No Trace ethics are built on seven core principles that are used to communicate the best available minimum impact guidance for enjoying the outdoors responsibly. The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace were developed to help educate and guide recreationists in sustainable minimum impact practices that mitigate or avoid recreation-related impacts. These Principles are the most robust and widely utilized minimum impact outdoor practices. Although Leave No Trace has its roots in backcountry and wilderness, the practices have been adapted so that they can be applied anywhere - from the backcountry, to local parks, to your backyard - and for any recreational activity. Each Principle covers a specific topic and provides detailed information for minimizing impacts.