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9 Things to Know About Outdoor Ethics

When you’re outside, it’s your duty to make good decisions.

Whether you’re a member of a Cub Scout pack, a Scouts BSA troop, a Venturing crew or a Sea Scout ship, it’s your duty to be responsible outdoors. From the pristine backcountry to your own backyard, you should always strive to Leave No Trace and to leave the area in better shape than it was when you got there.

Many common outdoors mistakes happen not from being inconsiderate but from being unaware. Everyone knows not to litter. But does everyone know how to use soap in the outdoors? How can you take good care of the outdoors if you don’t know how?

Here are nine things you need to know about outdoor ethics.

#1. Everything Matters.

It might not seem like that big of a deal to discard a scrap of food in the woods. After all, it’s just going to biodegrade or be eaten by a critter, right? Now imagine if every single one of the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the area had the same attitude. As a Scout, it’s your job to set an example. Every bit of food you carry into the outdoors must be either consumed or carried out. With proper planning, you won’t have many leftovers to worry about. Pack the right amount of food, and eat everything off your plate.

#2. Know When to Spread Out and When to Stay Together.

A few dozen people stomping around on a compact campsite damages the vegetation and the soil. Now multiply that by all the people who came before and all the campers who will be there later. You’ll notice that some established campsites already have very little vegetation present. In these situations, it’s important for everyone to stick together and stay on the established site. In more remote, less-used areas, it’s a good idea to do the opposite: Spread out and minimize the damage.

#3. No Souvenirs.

It’s really, really tempting to grab that cool rock and bring it home with you. But, again, imagine if every single person who camped at that site took home a rock as a souvenir. The same is true for animals, no matter how tiny they might be. Even if that cute frog would make the perfect addition to your aquarium at home, it’s a much better idea to take a picture of it and leave it be.

#4. Be Considerate When it Comes to Campfires.

Everyone loves sitting by the campfire on a cool night. But the overuse of fires and the increasing demand for firewood puts unnecessary stress on the environment. Build a fire only in an established fire ring using a small amount of downed wood. Keep your fire small and burn all the wood to ash. Don’t leave the site until the fire is “dead out” — pour water on it and stir coals until it’s cool to the touch. For cooking, use camp stoves. They’re easy to carry and much easier on the environment.

#5. Shhhhhhh …

The only sounds campers want to hear are the sounds of nature. Bluetooth speakers are great for your home. Leave them there when you’re traveling outdoors. When the sun goes down, it’s time to quiet down. Camp far enough away from other groups that you won’t disturb them.

#6. Hike Responsibly.

A trail is a path that has already been beaten down by millions of people walking along the same route over and over again. Trails are great at showing the way, so stay on them. Walk single file to avoid widening them. If you come to, say, a nasty mud puddle in the middle of the trail, do your best to responsibly walk right through it. Walking around obstacles like puddles and fallen debris widens the trail and increases its impact on the environment.

#7. A Scout Is Clean.

Staying clean in the outdoors isn’t a luxury; it’s good for your health. Sweat, dirt and grime make it more likely for you to get sick and harder for you to stay cool in hot weather. But soap and toothpaste don’t always mix with nature. They harm fish and other aquatic life, so do not use them in streams or lakes. Instead, wash with biodegradable soap 200 feet away from bodies of water. Scatter wash water so it filters through the soil.

#8. Manage Human Waste.

Some areas have specific rules about pooping and peeing. Always review those rules before you head out. In areas without toilets, use a portable latrine if possible, and pack out your waste. Otherwise, human waste can be disposed of in a hole 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water sources, campsites or trails. Cover and disguise the hole with natural materials. Deciding what to do with toilet paper depends on the setting, but putting it in a self-sealing plastic bag and packing it out with you is always a good option. Otherwise, land managers can instruct your troop on the right methods for their area.

#9. Do the Sweep.

When you’re outdoors, there’s no such thing as “not my problem.” If you see trash on the ground, it’s your problem, no matter if it’s your trash or someone else’s. Before you leave any campsite, have everyone line up side by side, about arm’s length apart. Then slowly walk across the campsite — maintaining a straight line — picking up every morsel of trash along the way. When you’re done, inspect the area. If there’s still trash on the ground, repeat.


Know the Outdoor Code

How do BSA members maintain their outdoor ethics? By heeding the challenge in the Outdoor Code:

As an American, I will do my best to —
Be clean in my outdoor manners.
Be careful with fire.
Be considerate in the outdoors.
Be conservation-minded.

Learn more about outdoor ethics and Leave No Trace by exploring the Outdoor Ethics Awareness Award.

3 Comments on 9 Things to Know About Outdoor Ethics

  1. This is very helpful! Thanks for this!

  2. Just a small bit of a personal experience I had. Be sure to cover up any wounds because you can be used as a human hatchery for freshwater flies .They are carried to u buy fleas yivks and mosquitos. Rare in USA but happened to me . Horrible experience and furring Pandemic. Be safe.

  3. Outdoor Ethics Leader // April 16, 2020 at 7:08 pm // Reply

    Oh, you forgot the Tread Lightly! It is an advancement requirement also.

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