White Mountains Online

Back-Country Ethics


Poor camping practices can destroy the natural character of the back country. We must all learn to use the back country wisely or be faced with more restrictions if heavy use and resource damage increases.

When planning and starting your back-country trip:

  • Check at a Forest Service office for information about the area, including weather, fire restrictions, maps, camp locations, drinking water and if a permit is needed.
  • Keep your party small. Group size may be limited
  • Take a gas stove to help conserve firewood
  • Bring sacks to carry out your trash.
  • Take a light shovel or trowel to help with personal sanitation.
  • Carry a light basin or collapsible bucket for washing.
  • If you take horses or mules, pack plenty of processed feed for them.
  • Let someone know of your trip plans.

Setting Up Camp: Select a well-drained site. Drier sites are warmer, have fewer insects, and normally have less vegetation to damage. Select a camp site where you don't need to clear away vegetation or level a tent site. Avoid trenching around tents which can start soil erosion. The most appropriate campsites are on durable surfaces such as rock and gravel, or on sites which have been previously impacted. Do not cut trees, limbs or brush to make camp improvements. Carry your own tent poles.

Camp 200 feet or more from meadows, trails, lakes, streams or springs to prevent interfering with other trail users and to prevent polluting streams or springs.

Campfires: Use a lightweight stove when possible for cooking. If you need to build a fire, use an existing campfire site when available. If you need to clear a new fire site, select a safe spot where it will leave no trace and where it would not be a fire hazard. Clear a circle of all burnable materials. Don't build a ring with rocks. Dig a shallow pit for the fire. Keep the sod intact.

Use only down and dead material for firewood. Even standing dead trees are part of the beauty of the wilderness, and are important to wildlife. Never Leave a Fire Unattended. Put your fire Out Cold before leaving by mixing the coals with dirt and water. Feel it with your hand. If it's cold, cover the ashes in the pit with dirt, replace the sod, and naturalize the disturbed area.

Pack it In ~ Pack it Out: Bring trash bags to carry out all trash that cannot be completely burned. Aluminum foil and aluminum-lined packages won't burn in your fire. Compact it and put it in your trash bag. Cigarette butts, gum wrappers and orange peels are litter too. They can spoil a campsite. Don't bury trash! Animals dig it up. Try to pack out trash left by others. Your good example may catch on and is much appreciated!

Pack and Saddle Stock: Stock can seriously damage soil and vegetation if not properly cared for. Camp in areas with enough space to picket your stock away from trails, established campsites and water sources. Use light, compact equipment and food to reduce the number of pack stock needed. Forage is scarce at most campsites in the Southwest's back country. Avoid grazing your stock of turning them loose at night. Instead, string a pack rope between two trees, away from water sources. One or several animals can be tied to this hitchline, spaced far enough not to become entangled, and tied short enough not to wrap a leg in the lead rope. Don't tie stock to trees! Stock tied to trees and brush for extended periods may paw up roots or strip the bark by gnawing and fighting the ropes. This can kill brush and trees. Pack in a good supply of processed feed. Don't use whole grains, which sprout if spilled and compete with natural vegetation.

Sanitation: Wash your self, your dishes and your clothes in a container, away from water sources. Pour wash water on rocks or the ground away from streams and springs. Food scraps, toothpaste, even biodegradable soap will pollute streams and springs. Remember, it's your drinking water too!

Bury Human Waste: When nature calls, select a suitable spot at least 200 feet from open water, campsites, trails and dry drainages. Dig a hole 6 - 8 inches deep. Try to keep the sod intact. After each use, cover with dirt to discourage flies. Fill in the hole completely, burying waste and toilet paper; then tramp in the sod and cover with natural materials before heading home.

Breaking Camp: Before leaving camp, naturalize the area. Replace rocks and wood, and scatter needles, leaves and twigs on the campsite. Scout the area to be sure you've left nothing behind. Everything you packed into your camp should be packed out. Try to make it appear as if no one has been there. Scatter manure piles to aid decomposition. Areas trampled or dug up by animals hooves will need to be filled and made to look natural.

Stay on the Trail System: Trails are designed and maintained to prevent erosion. Leave flowers, branches of trees, and plants alone so that others can see and enjoy them. Cutting across switchbacks and trampling meadows can create a confusing maze of unsightly trails.

Help preserve Our Historic and Prehistoric Cultural Heritage: Prehistoric or historic archeological sites, structures and objects are part of our cultural heritage. Federal law prohibits the removal or disturbances of any cultural resources on public lands. Many sites have already been disturbed in intentional vandalism. Avoid further impacts to out cultural heritage by camping away from historic or prehistoric sites. Please leave artifacts on the ground where you find them so that others can enjoy and view them. Report any recent vandalism of ruins or structures to a Forest Service employee.

In the Back country you are on your own. Be prepared to take care of yourself and the back country environment.

This information prepared by the U.S.D.A Forest Service Southwest region.
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
309 South Mountain Avenue, U.S. Highway 180
P.O. Box 640
Springerville, AZ 85938
Phone: (928) 333-4301
TTY: (928) 333-6292

Alpine Ranger District, Alpine, AZ (928) 339-4384
Clifton Ranger District, Duncan Az (928) 687-1301
Chevelon Ranger District, Winslow, AZ (928) 289-2471
Heber Ranger District, Overgaard, AZ (928)535-4481
Springerville Ranger District, Springerville, AZ (928) 333-4372
Lakeside Ranger District, Pinetop-Lakeside, AZ (928) 368-5111

White Mountains Online wishes to express our appreciation to the USDA Forest Service, Alpine District for granting permission to present this information! Page Design & Graphics by White Mountains Online. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.