By Chase Berenson
- Leave No Trace
Arguably the most important thing to remember when spending any time in nature are the principles of “leave no trace,” which can be summed up in the old cliché, “Leave only footprints and take only photographs.”
The simplest way to not leave a trace is to ensure that you carry out everything you carry in (including snack wrappers, disposable water bottles, and all your trash) and that you don’t carry out things you didn’t carry in (such as wildflowers, seashells, and colorful pebbles).
There are many reasons to not leave a trace, but the two biggest ones are that you don’t want to negatively impact wildlife and that you want the area to be as pristine for the next visitors as it was for you.
- Hydrate or Die
As you are well aware, it can get oppressively hot in Louisiana. Hydration is very important, especially when having adventures outdoors. When venturing into nature, make sure you and your hiking buddies are all carrying enough water.
You don’t want to hope you’ll find a water fountain a few miles from a trailhead, and you never want to drink from natural water sources, such as rivers or streams, without filtering it or knowing in advance that it is clean water.
Carrying an adequately sized water bottle is necessary to avoid dehydration and to ensure you make it back to the trailhead.
- Tell Someone Your Plan
Always tell a responsible friend or neighbor your plan when heading out hiking or camping, and tell them when you expect to be back; if you’re not back by a certain time, someone will be able to alert authorities for you.
If something were to go wrong, you wouldn’t want to be out somewhere wondering how long it will take for someone to find you. Ninety-nine percent of all hiking trips end without incident, but you always want to be prepared just in case.
Important reminder: Don’t forget to touch base with your friend when you’re back, or they might be worrying for no reason!
- Don’t Rely on GPS (especially phones)
It’s always a good idea to try to obtain a paper map of where you’re going to be hiking and be able to read it. GPS is an awesome technology, but sometimes batteries die or handheld electronics can get sand, silt, or water inside their casing.
If you’re using your phone rather than a handheld hiking GPS unit, you also have to worry about cell phone reception as well as the fact that phone GPS was designed for drivers to focus on roads rather than for hikers to look at trails.
- Put Your Phone Away
In today’s world people are constantly surrounded by screens, beeps, and notifications. Let nature be your escape from technology! Let your time outside be a time to truly focus on you as well as the world that surrounds you.
If you use your phone as your camera, feel free to whip it out occasionally to capture the beautiful scenery you find, but try to put it away again as soon you take the photo.
I promise, you really can wait until you’re back in the car to pick out the perfect #Instagram filter for that picture.
- Be Aware of Your Four-Legged Friends
It has been proven time and again that dogs are some of the best adventure buddies in the world, but you can’t just bring them out with you without taking some special precautions ahead of time.
First, make sure you know whether dogs are allowed where you’re going. Remember to keep your dog on a leash for the sake of wildlife, other hikers, and other dogs on the trail.
If you’re camping, Fido should be with you at all times. Do not leave him sitting at the campsite barking all day while you’re out adventuring.
- Be Aware of Unfriendly Animals
As fantastic as it is to see unique animals in their natural habitat, it’s important to remember that they are truly wild and can potentially ruin your day.
It’s easy to forget when living in a city (or on a campus where we casually walk past a tiger every day), but animals such as the Louisiana black bear or alligators demand a certain respect.
Less exciting, but more common, hikers could encounter snakes or spiders, and sometimes nothing more than persistent mosquitoes could be enough to change your mood while hiking. Be aware of what animals are commonly found in the area of your trail, and know how to respond to them or how to prevent encountering them.
- Know the Rules
Louisiana features a patchwork of different types of wilderness areas, including national parks, national forests, state parks, national wildlife refuges, state wildlife preserves, and more.
A quick Google search before heading out can tell you whether campfires are allowed, whether you can bring alcohol (if over 21), or whether you have to camp in designated campgrounds, for a start.
If even a few hikers disobey the rules the authorities operating the land may punish everyone by closing down access to everyone. Don’t ruin something good for everyone else.
- No Trespassing
Unless you have explicit permission from the property owner, never hike or camp on private property. Parks and wilderness areas are usually surrounded by private property, so it’s important to have an idea of where you are in the park and to keep an eye out for signs signifying park boundaries and private property.
By crossing property lines you might encounter oil field workers (with oil company lawyers), a large farm spraying chemicals on crops or even just a cranky old man with a shotgun who really doesn’t like trespassers. It’s best to just avoid all of those situations altogether.
- Leave No Trace
Yes, this one’s important enough that it’s on the list twice. By now you may realize that many other of the items on the list broadly fall into the “leave no trace” category, and “leave no trace” can be summarized with the word “respect.”
Have respect for nature, for wildlife, for other hikers and campers and for the authorities who operate our natural areas. By working together, all of us who enjoy the outdoors can continue to keep outdoor recreation alive and thriving long into the future!