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A Newcomer’s Guide to Experiencing the Outdoors during Covid

COVID-19 protection mask hung over a branch in a tree along a forest hiking trail in California

Photo Credit: Kadir Celep


As the dark cloud of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to linger over society and compromise many of our traditional forms of recreation, people are heading out into the great outdoors in record numbers as a means of physical and mental escape.

The sheer number of new campers and hikers, coupled with high winds and weather conditions that lead to high risk for wildfires and other catastrophes, makes it all the more important that people inform themselves prior to getting outdoors in terms of how to keep both themselves and their environs safe. Some states, such as Colorado, are making concerted efforts to reach out to this audience with campaigns designed to educate and inform regarding site and trail etiquette. The United States Forest Service also offers plenty of advice for dispersed camping and the like. Pathloom has previously published an article on recreating safely during the pandemic. . The resources are out there, and the effort is being made to welcome newcomers to the great outdoors and get this information into the hands of the people who need it, but there remain countless examples of negligent behavior on the part of those escaping to the wilderness, exacerbated by sheer numbers.

Potted plant, wrappers, plastic, and other outdoor litter spilled into muddied river alongside a mossy riverbank

Photo Credit: Lisa Fotios

The communities that surround these campsites have been hard at work seeking solutions to this influx of campers in their areas. Some have proven effective, others - not so much. In some cases, efforts to prevent this careless destruction have only made things worse, perpetuating a vicious cycle that serves neither the land nor the people who care for it. Rangers in the Boise National Forest in Idaho are looking into shutting regular and dispersed campsites down to give the grounds time to rehab. But that often leads to campers just pulling off and setting up on the side of the road when they are unable to find a proper site. And as officials on California’s Mendocino coast have found, that can lead to “unsafe and unsanitary conditions” on the side of the road when campers, especially those with RV’s, dump their waste (both organic and non-organic) on the roadside since they are unable to utilize the proper facilities found at the designated areas they’re accustomed to. Closing sites also has an immense impact on the revenue generated by local businesses as well as the towns themselves on the taxes from such properties, which has already and will continue to have a serious impact on local and regional budgeting. For many of these rural areas, the revenue generated from outdoor activities is one of the primary drivers for their regional economies, making it imperative that some sort of solution be found sooner rather than later.

Several large Recreational Vehicles (RVs) parked in a route 1 oceanside pullout in California

Photo Credit: Barbara Burke

So it starts with the campers, the hikers, the people who love the outdoors to show that love, to avoid negligence, to take care of the land that has taken care of them time and time again. We need to be responsible if we are to sustain the natural beauty that surrounds us, so that future generations can continue to enjoy nature the way we can today.

Young woman casts large, long shadow as she collects trash with a trashbag in hand along an Oregon hiking trail

What can you do to help? While it may seem like a daunting task to “save the world”, the first step is to just to maintain a sense of personal responsibility in your outdoor activities - and maybe take it a bit further if and when you are able to.

  • Are you a camper? Make sure you add a shovel to your kit - bury your human waste deep enough so it won’t be unearthed, and use it to thoroughly smother your fire when you depart from your site. Unburied waste can easily contaminate local water sources, and nobody wants to be the one responsible for the next massive wildfire that obliterates hundreds of thousands of acres.

  • Are you a hiker? Not littering will obviously help - but maybe bring a trash bag (or even just a coffee bean bag!) with you, perhaps a set of rubber gloves, and pick up trash along the trail as you see it. September is Clean Trails Month, after all!

  • Walking your dog? Keep them on a leash, to minimize any potential interaction with wildlife. Bring poop bags, and don’t just leave the bags after bagging it up. They’d take care of it themselves if they only had thumbs.

  • Just want to get out into nature to have a few socially-distant drinks with some friends? Consider cans instead of bottles. Accidents happen, and it’s much easier to pick up a can off the ground than shattered glass. Plus, crushed empty cans take up a lot less room in your trash bag and are a lighter haul for your trek back into civilization.

  • Pay attention to posted signs, read the notice boards at trailheads - the rangers and land management officials have more experience than anyone else tending to their respective lands, and have devoted significant amounts of their time learning how best to sustain them.

We did a comprehensive piece on the seven Leave No Trace principles in our blog a few weeks ago. It’s a quick and easy list of ways to ensure you preserve the land when you’re out enjoying all that it has to offer. Give it a read here, and if you’d like more information check out the Leave No Trace homepage here.

Check out these other articles by Pathloom which you may find helpful:

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Pathloom is a Bay Area-based technology startup on a mission to get more people outdoors, more often by reimagining the way people discover the outdoors.

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