Trail Cooking: The Low-Impact Kitchen - Backpacker

Trail Cooking: The Low-Impact Kitchen

9 tips for Leave No Trace dining

It wasn't long ago that many campers thought nothing of burying leftover stroganoff or soaping up dishes in the creek. Today, though, only the uninformed leave a mark. Practice these Leave No Trace (LNT) methods in your camp kitchen to keep the backcountry pristine.


Repackage foods in zipper-lock bags to minimize trash. Once empty, the bags can serve as trash bags, ditty bags, or waterproof socks.

Making camp

» Form a large triangle with your sleeping area, kitchen, and food cache in the corners about 100 yards apart, and make sure your tent is in the upwind corner. That way, if an animal hits one corner, it won't necessarily get to the others, and food smells won't lead it past your tent.

» Hang your food even when you're not in bear country; squirrels, mice, and other varmints can be peskier than bears. Ideally, food should hang 12 feet off the ground and 4 feet from a tree limb or trunk. You'll need about 50 feet of cord to do the job. And be sure to hang other odorous items like soap, trash, and toothpaste so they don't attract unwanted visitors to your tent.


» Use a stove instead of a campfire; stoves don't leave ashes, soot, and black scars.

» Minimize waste by paying attention to portion size. Cook only what you can eat. If there are leftovers, reheat them at the next meal. And monitor your cooking carefully so you don't burn dinner-and thus want to toss it.

» Use your cooking water to rinse dishes, fill a bottle to heat up your sleeping bag, or if you're brave, make a carb-rich cup of hot chocolate.

Cleaning up

» Wash dishes away from streams and ponds--by at least 200 feet.

» Scatter fish bones and skin, cooking water, and dishwater away from camp. Pack out food scraps and other trash in double freezer-weight zipper-lock bags.

» Use a sponge or snow to scour pots. Only really greasy meals or long trips require soap; boiling water is enough to disinfect. If soap is absolutely necessary, always use a biodegradable type, and then just a drop.