Leave No Trace: 7 Principles … for Bikepackers.

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

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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.

  • Angel and Michelle

    Thanks for this post, good read. It makes me sad when I see people not being considerate to others, and this includes nature.

  • Kurt Refsnider

    This is great info that needs to be communicated to everyone in the bikepacking community! Thanks for the post…

  • Thanks Kurt!

  • Thanks for reading!

  • David Saltzberg

    This may not be a very popular comment, but I believe the expanding interest may have surpassed planning of the event. As a promoter, we always plan for the lowest common denominator and skill level. I know that the honor system was employed, but what was the contingency plan for the outliers? I’m not blaming the organisers for the behavior of a few knuckleheads, but what was the plan for the additional pressure to limited resources for such a large turnout?

  • Thanks for the comment David. I see where you are coming from… it was a huge event, and maybe the quick growth spurt of bikepacking played a role in creating an unbalanced number of participants who were new to the concept of self-support. But the nature of bikepacking is ‘self-supported travel’, and individual responsibility is key. I think that’s where education should come in to play, in this case, maybe it could have been applied within the event format, or prior to.

  • VeloDirt


    To some extent you’re right. Based on other 300+ mile bikepacking events around the country, we anticipated 50-75 people showing up the first year. 400+ signed up within the first 3 weeks of announcing it, which came as a huge surprise. We tried our best to dissuade more folks from showing up primarily because we weren’t sure how the route could handle the environmental impact of that many riders (http://velodirt.com/a-healthy-rant/). Lots of folks ignored us and came anyways. Ultimately things went o.k. last year with about 100 people riding. This year 2-3 times as many showed up and the impact of that many people clearly was more than the route can handle. That’s why we’re trying to kill it. Yea, the route is there and we still encourage folks to come ride it, we just want to spread the impact and traffic over a greater time frame so we’re asking folks not to do any sort of mass start anymore. And to the rest of your comment, I’d reiterate Logan’s response. Self-supported rides are just that, self-supported. As a rider, you are expected to take 100% responsibility for yourself, as no one is there to clean up after you or rescue you if something goes wrong. That’s the only reasonable way these types of free, unsanctioned rides can happen. It’s also a huge part of the ethos behind bikepacking, something I think the new folks are still learning as bikepacking expands beyond the original core user group. Thanks!

  • Jake

    Wow. Farm animal stupid behavior. Kinda transmogrifies the notion of “off the beaten path” to “on the pummeled path.” So, other than the “promoter” cancelling future iterations of this event, has any effort been made by any of the participants to make amends to the communities that were impacted? Work parties? Cleanup crews? How about organizing an Oregon Outback Rehab ride? Cargo bikes, trash bags, tools, trailers? I didn’t ride in it, but I’ll bring my Yuba Mundo…….

  • Robert Kerner

    As someone just getting into bike packing (camper years ago), this is saddening. Your post, however, is a good reminder about backcountry civility, and civility in general. I’m guessing the person or people who ruined OO are cut from the same cloth as those who’d throw cigarette butts and gum on the ground, pee on the side of a building and act with general disregard for others around them. They are asshats whether in the wilderness or downtown NYC! Civility is taught/learned from an early age and some just don’t get it. The “problem” with large events like this is: as the population expands, you get more asshats per square foot (I’m going to trademark that!) , ruining it for the rest. That’s why I rarely do large organized group rides anymore. And let’s face it…with Instagram and other social media outlets, activities like Bike Packing are exploding in popularity and attracting people who really have no business engaging in the activity. Old Man rant complete. Thank you again for reminding us what LNT means.

  • Thanks for the comment Robert. You should definitely trademark ‘asshats per square foot’! ;)

  • Thank you. I will share this with the IMBA community. We cyclists need to not be our own worst enemies!

  • Absolutely… thanks for sharing!

  • I’ve noticed this lack of respect in the wilderness growing at a sickening rate during the past few years especially now that trail use has escalated. Trail time spent on cleaning up other user’s crap has increased lately. It’s pathetic knowing every time I hit the trail, I am going to carry out more than I brought in and have to bury some idiots shit. I’ll complain about it but I also realize how important it is for those of us that are appalled by these ignorant few to clean up after them. Which is maddening because that is what they seem to expect to happen.

  • Jonathan Hayward

    As one of this years participants in the Oregon Outback, I left the route after just over 3 days of riding feeling amazing about my experience, the route and the people I had met along the way. Days later when I saw the post on VeloDirt about how a few people had acted, I felt horrified that anybody would treat the route in such a way. It left me feeling like all participants in this years event were getting painted with the same brush, and I almost felt embarrassed to have been on the route at the same time as people who did not respect other peoples property and the route we rode. I met quite a few people who were there for the same reason I was, but there were others(a very small group) who seemed to be there for a party trip, and had not spent much time away from full service campgrounds and hotels. It’s too bad that the actions of a few end up ruining the fun for the rest of us.

  • Ross

    When I biked down in Patagonia the amount of human shit and used tissue paper was abhorrent! Especially the Siete Lagos region. It’s a shame but most people think it’s fine to do this and that tissue is biodegradable so who cares etc.

  • Ross

    Cycling on the Baja Divide decently it was hard not to be shocked by how the Baja 1000 had just left trash everywhere.

  • That sucks. I’ve heard that route gets pretty trashed…

  • From tourists, climbers/cyclists??

  • Pingback: Thirty three kilometres in Kyrgyzstan | Megan Jamer()

  • B-Rad

    Thanks for sharing the details & tips, Logan.

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