When hiking in the backcountry, we should always set out with the goal of minimizing the impact of our travels. When hiking, skiing, or approaching a climb, this means aiming to travel on the most durable surface available.
What makes a surface durable?
Durable surfaces can withstand the traffic of backcountry users better than sensitive surfaces such as vegetation, meadows, and informal trails like herd paths (social trails). These include established trails, rocks, roots, and man-made objects such as bridges and stairs.
Is mud a durable surface?
If you’re hiking along an established trail and encounter a wet or muddy section, then yes! Since this is part of the intended trail, it’s better to continue straight through the mud than it is to trample vegetation or widen the trail by going around it.
What about snow?
Snow is considered a durable surface if it is at least six inches deep. At this depth, proper travel with snowshoes or skis is unlikely to affect the plants and dirt that lay beneath.
In the spring, or during low snow conditions, try to stay in the middle of the trail and on the snow as much as possible. This avoids traveling on surfaces that are currently more susceptible to erosion.
Follow the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace to maintain minimal impact on the environment and the natural resources.
Photo provided by DEC.