Know How

Campcraft Basics : Waste Management, LNT Principles and Camp Ethics

Sarthak Madan

Last updated: 18-12-2018

Bikat's CAMPCRAFT series provides instruction on the fundamental aspects of camping in the Himalayan wilderness. The outdoors are a major source of recreation and livelihood for all of us at Bikat Adventures, local communities and everyone who accompanies us on our trips. These wild places that we love and frequent are also extremely sensitive to human impact. To minimise this impact, we follow a set of waste management policies detailed below that follow Leave No Trace Principles, and pay specific attention to layout, safety and hygiene at our campsites. This article aims to provide guidelines for everyone who accompanies us on our trips as well as self sufficient trekking/camping groups.

Waste Management Policy

There are three types of waste that we manage :


First of all, this is minimised to the extent possible. Our team is aware of the importance of food and especially in regions that are difficult to approach. We sensitise all our participants as well on this point and fortunately this works best. We generate very less amounts of food waste due to the responsible behaviour of our participants and we are thankful to them. Whatever waste of this nature is generated, is collected in pits that are dug deep enough (at least 3 feet) and covered with earth. This waste degenerates fast and can enrich the nearby vegetation with the nutrients that are available in the food waste.


This is the most tricky waste to manage. We don’t have sufficient systems and processes in India as yet to collect such waste and deposit at suitable facilities. We have a two pronged approach to manage this:

1. Low altitude areas – In the areas that are low lying and we can find earth, we dig deep pits (4 X 2 X 1 ft) and cover the same with earth. This, we agree, is not the ideal solution but accepted by the mountaineering authorities (NIM & IMF) in India as of now. We are also exploring the possibility of carrying back the waste in biodegradable bags but the problem is that most towns in the Himalayan states do not have sewers developed and the bags available are not good enough to carry back for long durations.

2. High altitude areas – In the areas that are covered with extremely thick layers of snow, have rocky features or moraines, or have glacial ice, and where digging earth is not possible, we carry the waste back in disposal bags. The bags are finally disposed in earthen pits in the low lying areas or in to sewers wherever available.


This is the most damaging waste for any ecosystem and becomes the biggest threat when it comes to areas as inaccessible as the Himalayas. We avoid plastic waste generation to the extent possible by using reusable steel or aluminium utensils for eating and repackaging plastic wrapped food in reusable containers or bags. We also sensitise and encourage our participants to avoid usage of such material. Having said that, it’s not possible in today’s times to completely avoid plastic use, so we have a clear guideline on all our tours to carry back all plastic waste generated. We carry all waste of this nature back to civilisation and dispose it garbage collection sites meant for non biodegradable waste (at the nearest available site).


Our camps are carefully organised in order to keep the water sources free of contamination. Our team and participants are sensitised towards the precautions that are required while camping near the natural water sources. 3 major precautions, among others, that we take help us in maintaining the water sources clean:

•Toilet areas away from the water source - at least 200 ft or 70 adult steps.

•No littering or dish/utensils washing near the water source.

•Avoid any usage of soap or chemical cleaners in the water stream.

Leave No Trace Overview

Leave No Trace is built on seven core principles that are used to communicate the best available minimum impact guidance for enjoying the outdoors responsibly. The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace were developed to help educate and guide recreationists in sustainable minimum impact practices that mitigate or avoid recreation-related impacts. These Principles are the most robust and widely utilized minimum impact outdoor practices. Although Leave No Trace has its roots in backcountry and wilderness, the practices have been adapted so that they can be applied anywhere - from the backcountry, to local parks, to your backyard - and for any recreational activity. Each Principle covers a specific topic and provides detailed information for minimizing impacts.

The Principles are based not only on a respect for nature and other visitors, they are also based on and supported by scientific research. The majority of this research aligns with the fields of Recreation Ecology and Human Dimensions of Natural Resources. Recreation Ecology research informs us about recreation-related impacts and how they can be reduced by managers and visitors, while Human Dimensions research tells us about outdoor enthusiasts perceptions, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors regarding enjoyment of the outdoors.

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles

The following are a selection from the Leave No Trace Seven Principles. © 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:

Follow the link in the headings to get detailed information about each principle.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

•Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.

•Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.

•Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.

•Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.

•Repackage food to minimize waste.

•Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.


Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

•Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.

•Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.

•Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.

◦In popular areas:

▪Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.

▪Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.

▪Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.

In pristine areas:

▪Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.

▪Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.


Dispose of Waste Properly

•Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.

•Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.

•Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.

•To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.


Leave What You Find

•Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.

•Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.

•Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.

•Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.


Minimize Campfire Impacts

•Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the environment. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.

•Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.

•Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.

•Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.


Respect Wildlife

•Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.

•Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviours, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.

•Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.

•Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.

•Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.


Be Considerate of Other Visitors

•Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.

•Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.

•Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.

•Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.

•Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

Camp Ethics


  • Set up campsites at least 200 feet away from water sources. This reduces the possibility of pollution and allows access routes for wildlife.
  • When camping in river valleys and next to streams, kitchen areas should be most upstream, followed by camping areas and washing areas. Latrine areas should be downstream of all kitchen and camping areas, especially when camping at sites used by multiple groups.
  • Avoid depressions where water will be likely to collect in case of rain and areas with high wind exposure like ridge tops.
  • Orient your tents such that the doors open downwind of the prevailing wind direction.


  • Focus on preparation in advance. Create a camping checklist to ensure nothing vital gets left behind. Examine your gear before you leave and carry repair kits for your tents and stoves.
  • Do not leave food or burning fires unattended. Animals can strike swiftly and unattended fire can spread rapidly. Tent and other gear materials and generally very flammable.
  • Use bear canisters when traveling through bear country.
  • Do not camp near stagnant water in rainy season, it is breeding ground for mosquitos.
  • Do not camp on or near slopes that are prone to landslides or avalanches.
  • Make camp before sunset.
  • Do not light open flames or smoke inside tents.
  • Cook outside and away from tents. If traveling in monsoon, carry a tarp to provide shelter for kitchen areas. Tent materials are very flammable and cooking in enclosed spaces can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. 
  • Keep your campsite clean of dirt dishes and leftover food. This can attract animals. Manage waste responsibly, pack out all non biodegradable waste and bury biodegradable and food waste in a food pit.

Sarthak Madan

I work with Bikat Adventures as an expedition leader and technical content writer. Sometimes, I fly. Read more

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