Wild Country Companion – The Ultimate Guide to No-Trace Outdoor Recreation and Wilderness Safety

When I was in the military, I wanted to leave no trace for tactical reasons. This was especially true as a sniper. We wanted to go where no one would see us and leave without a trace. As a civilian, I still don’t want to leave a trace when I visit the woods. Now it’s not necessarily for tactical reasons, but just to preserve our wildlife. I live in Montana, and am fortunate to have plentiful wilderness areas at my disposal. It is always a bit sad when I’m on a hike with my family and we run across someone’s garbage. I’m teaching my little girl that we want to leave the woods the same, or better when we pack other’s garbage out, as when we went in.

That’s why I’m glad Will Harmon wrote “Wild Country Companion: The Ultimate Guide to No-trace Outdoor Recreation and Wilderness Safety.” This book is full of advice from top experts on how you can make choices that best suit your surroundings, skills, and modes of travel to reduce your impact to our wild lands. There are many no-trace outdoor recreation and wilderness safety options in this guide, including ideas for building campfires, selecting campsites, travel routes, protecting your food from bears and other wildlife, staying found, staying healthy, avoiding conflicts with other outdoor users, and more.

The book is divided into six main chapters, The first chapter is on the history of the leave-no-trace concept. It’s a short chapter to get you thinking about being conscious and ethical regarding our wildlife. The second chapter continues regarding leave no trace ethics or ethos. Very short chapter, but makes you think a little. The third chapter gets to the meat of the book and discusses leave no trace techniques. This chapter covers a lot of areas all divided into short parts with subheadings, so you can go right to the part you are interested in. Things such as planning, selecting footwear, keeping noise to a minimum, the backcountry kitchen, campsites and fires, waste disposal, and more are covered in short little segments that get the point across.

Chapter four covers different modes of travel to leave no trace. This is the chapter that also covers conflicts with others, as well as mountain bicycles, skiing and snowshoeing and more. Chapter five discusses safety. This section is about 75 pages long. (The entire book is only 195 pages) There is some good advice here, but it really doesn’t focus on leaving no trace. It is basic safety and first aid information. So while it is not bad information, I’d rather Harmon had stayed focused on the no-trace topic and people could get their safety and first aid information from a book such as “Wilderness 911.”

The final chapters provides some additional information regarding special environments such as deserts, alpine and arctic tundra, and snow and ice and other places that might need special attention. This chapter adds to the rest of the book and was a good addition.

Overall, I liked this book, especially because I think it is important for us to enjoy the outdoors and leave it the same for others to enjoy. Like I said about chapter five, I think that chapter is covered more completely elsewhere, and what I wanted most from this book was no-trace ideas. It did provide those, and having the safety information didn’t hurt. I think it’s a good book to have in your outdoor library and I hope more people will use Harmon’s tips and suggestions to reduce the impact on our wild lands when enjoying them for recreation. Anyone interested in getting out into nature while preserving and protecting our wild country will most likely enjoy this book.

The Rising Cost of Outdoor Recreation

I leaned over the counter at the local sporting goods store and poured over the watercraft registration and invasive species sticker regulations for Idaho watercraft. The question we were trying to answer was if a 9′ inflatable pontoon boat equipped with a small electric trolling motor needs to be registered as a watercraft in the State of Idaho. One clerk said that any type of boat under power needs to be registered, while the other thought the float tube exception covered the craft in question. What started the discussion was my futile attempt to purchase an invasive species sticker for my canoe and pontoon boat. The discussion ended with me leaving the store with a sticker for only my canoe. The frustrated clerks advised me to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles, and Parks and Recreation, or possibly the Department of Fish & Game to answer the question of the pontoon boat registration.

The watercraft registration issue was frustrating at best, and I started thinking about how significantly things have changed. When I was a kid, camping, fishing, and hunting were considered sports that any family could experience, regardless of their social class. A family could actually enjoy a weekend camping trip with minimal expense, and efficiently feed their family with the fish they caught. Over the past few decades, licenses, fees, permits, tags, and registrations have established class-based entitlement to Idaho outdoor recreation. Nowadays, it is cheaper to buy fish from the grocery store than to legally catch them. And if you don’t have a computer with high-speed internet and a credit card, it’s likely you won’t be able to camp at Redfish Lake – ever. Most premium camp sites are filled with reservations by the middle of January.

Here’s an exercise to prove my point. Last week, my family and I drove to Stanley and camped. I’ll break down the cost for our family of five:

Food for 4 days (5 family members): $200.00
Fuel round trip from Twin Falls to Stanley, ID $180.00
Forgotten items, extra ice & drinks purchased during trip $ 50.00
Sweat shirts, ball caps & souvenirs (this was our vacation) $200.00
Campground fees for 4 days $ 60.00
Day use fees for local recreation areas $ 20.00
Canoe & pontoon boat registration and/or IS sticker fees $ 37.00
Fishing licenses for 3 qualifying family members $ 60.00
Annual registration fees for 3 motorcycles $125.00
Extra fuel for motorcycles $ 30.00

Grand total $962.00

Anyone that has a family (especially with motorcycles) can understand my frustration. It is already expensive to travel with a family and the added expense of fees and permits create salt in the proverbial wound. $302.00, or roughly one third of the above expenses are State fees. If we had omitted the souvenirs and left the motorcycles at home, the ratio would have remained virtually unchanged. And to think, we have actually considered purchasing a camp trailer.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the fee-based system is that when you see a conservation officer, it makes your heart race as you mentally complete the required checklist. Does everyone have their fishing license on person? Are the stickers still affixed to the boats? Did I place them in the correct position? Are the bike registrations nearby? Did I put the new stickers on the motorcycle trailer? Is the day-use fee receipt still prominently displayed on the dashboard of the truck, or did it blow out when the kids opened the door?

I understand where the money goes. I don’t have a problem with doing my part to pay for the construction and maintenance of campgrounds, boat ramps, and trails. And I want to keep the Zebra Mussel (and any other invasive species) out of Idaho. But there has got to be a better way. Why are we spending millions of dollars to reestablish the wolf population in Idaho in tandem with creating social barriers for tax paying citizens to use our public lands? It seems to me that things are out of balance. Why are most the most beautiful and serene lakes covered shore to shore with reservation-only campgrounds? Last year we spent our vacation at Bull Trout Lake. We discovered that without a lakeside campground reservation, there was little access to the lake. A local conservation officer told us to park by the public restroom, and another scolded us for doing so explaining that erosion caused from our tires would destroy the lake’s ecosystem.

It is getting more and more difficult to find public land that is accessible and affordable for use by every class of Idaho citizen. I don’t have the answers, but I know there has to be a better way. It should start with more input from the people who use our public lands the most. Sportsmen and women need to have a bigger voice to direct the regulation and conservation of our natural resources. At the current rate of hunting, fishing, and camping fee inflation, outdoor recreation will become (this is already happening) an income-based entitlement.

Outdoor Recreation in a Recession

Times are tough. I know it… you know it… everyone knows it. Many people are no longer able or wanting to spend the big bucks that some outdoor sports require. Boating for example can be a very expensive outdoor recreational activity. Gas prices have sky-rocketed and storage fees are high. Fun and carefree days out on the motorboat are no longer a stress-free activity.

Outdoor recreation should not only be enjoyed by everyone but it should also cost very little if any money as well as be completely stress and worry free. There are enough things to be concerned with without having to worry about not being able to enjoy the great outdoors with our family and friends.

Luckily there are several fantastic activities that cost very little money, if any at all. The outdoor recreation activities below can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

Frisbee at the park
Hiking in the trails – if you have kids with you it can be really fun to do a treasure hunt (with a little pre-planning)
Riding bikes
Basketball or volleyball games

All of the above activities are freebies… meaning you don’t need to spend money to be able to enjoy them. One of my personal favorite all time outdoor activities happens to be kayaking. It can cost money to purchase a kayak of course or even to rent a kayak. If you are used to boating though I guarantee you the costs are minimal compared to running a gas-guzzling motorboat.

Kayaks are self-powered and eco-friendly. They do no harm to the environment and allow for some excellent exercise. I love the inflatable kayaks as they can be easily transported and taken anywhere.

In my opinion the days of big gas powered boats are numbered. The costs to run them are simply too high and the destruction they are doing to our waters and our shorelines are practically irreparable. Kayaking is the perfect outdoor activity while in a recession. The kayak business is booming and it is not necessary to spend a bundle. There are several great quality inflatable kayaks that can be purchased for a decent price and enjoyed by the whole family.

The point is that just because money is tight, do not allow it to keep you from enjoying the outdoors. We are so fortunate to have such a beautiful world to live in and getting out for a huge gulp of fresh air doesn’t cost a cent.