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Winter Leave No Trace Tips

Winter Leave No Trace Tips

By Amy Harff, 2018 ADK Fall Education Intern

Whether you are winter camping, snowshoeing or skiing, Leave No Trace principles can help keep you safe and minimize your impact on the wilderness. Cold temperatures and snow make preparing for your next adventure even more imperative. Here are the seven principles to know before you go!


Most search and rescues are due to lack of preparation. Check weather reports and monitor snow conditions frequently. Pay special attention to avalanche warnings, and be prepared to change hiking plans accordingly. Prepare for the worst weather conditions by bringing extra layers, batteries and food.

If recreating in avalanche terrain, pack an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel and have the knowledge on how to use them. Always bring a map and compass so that you don’t have to rely on tree markings, rock cairns or flagging that might be covered in snow. Leave your itinerary with someone and travel in small groups, but don’t go alone.

If you would like to learn more about Winter LNT principles, take a course with the Adirondack Mountain Club.


Whenever possible, stay on deep snow cover. In muddy spring conditions, walk on the snow or in the middle of the path. This will keep you from creating new trails and potentially damaging trail side plants. If you are hiking and camping near cornices, beware of the avalanche paths, unstable snow and steep slopes.

Camp on snow, rock or mineral soil instead of on tundra or fragile vegetation. Avoid camping on heavily traveled routes and trails and stay at least 200 feet (70 adult steps) from recognizable lakes and streams to keep pollutants out of water sources. Remember that, in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, camping is not allowed over 4000 feet, and backpackers need to use designated, marked tent sites.


Pack it in, pack it out. Pick up all food scraps, wax shavings and pieces of litter, even if they aren’t yours. Before leaving your campsite, naturalize the area by dismantling all snow shelters, igloos or wind breaks. Frozen ground and snow make digging catholes quite challenging in winter.

If there is not an outhouse or thunderbox nearby, it is best to pack out all human solid waste and toilet paper with products like the WAG Bag or Biffy Bag which eliminate odors. For more details, check out this great article from last week about these backcountry waste management tools.


Respect nature by leaving all plants, animals, rocks and archaeological artifacts as you find them for others to enjoy. Leave what you find, take a picture instead. But also be mindful of how you share your experiences with others.

If you post a photo to social media, consider using a general geotag, like “Adirondack Mountains”, instead of a specific one, like “Mt. Marcy”, to help preserve the sense of discovery for others. Additionally, consider what your posts portray; are they in keeping with Leave No Trace principles, or could they accidentally reinforce detrimental habits?


Campfires cause lasting impacts in the back country. If building a fire, use dead and down wood. Do not cut or break limbs off live trees. Put out all fires completely and scatter ashes that are cold to the touch. Consider bringing a lightweight camp stove for cooking as an alternative to cooking over a fire. If visiting the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, be aware that campfires are prohibited at all times of year.


Animals are particularly vulnerable in winter so it is best to observe them from a distance; do not follow or approach them. A good rule to follow is the “rule of thumb”: if you hold up your thumb at arms length, and it doesn’t cover the entire animal in your field of view, you are too close. Although animals may act like they want your food, don’t feed them. Human food can make them sick, so protect your food by storing it securely and by picking up all crumbs.


Share the trail and yield to downhill or faster traffic. Move off the trail if you are stopped. Avoid hiking on ski or snowshoe tracks, and separate ski and snowshoe tracks whenever possible. Keep noise to a minimum so that you can enjoy the sounds of nature and respect other people. If bringing a dog, keep it on a leash and pack out your pet’s feces.

For more information about Leave No Trace, visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics’ website.

Amy Harff interned with the Adirondack Mountain Club in Fall 2018. She attended Hamilton College where she double majored in Environmental Studies and Studio Art. When not working, Amy can be found in the art studio or outside hiking, skiing and slacklining.


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