Camping - leaving only footprints in the sand

Posted By: Doug Cooper Published: 25/05/2022

There is nothing like pulling ashore on a white sandy beach at the end of a day sea kayaking knowing that this is going to be your home for the night. That feeling of escaping from it all and connecting to the nature that surrounds is what inspires so many of us; in particular when out on camping trips. Landing in a remote location with only the wildlife for company so often conveys that feeling that you are the first person to have stepped ashore. To spend a night in this pristine environment is not only going to be a magical experience but it is also a privilege we must never take for granted. Finding a flat patch of ground overlooking the beach to set up camp and take in all that surrounds is perhaps the ‘Shangri-La’ so many of us quest for when out exploring in sea kayaks.

Campsite on Ross of Mull
I am sure we can all relate to the above, but how often is reality a bit different. That pristine environment and feeling that no one has been there before is sadly replaced with the all to familiar evidence of previous visitors, whether that be rubbish left behind, evidence of a fire, tent pegs or stones that were used to anchor tents. As the great outdoors gets ever more popular, sadly evidence of this is becoming more and more obvious. So how can we make a difference and ensure when we are out sea kayaking and camping, we leave only footprints in the sand that will wash away once we have departed.

Campsite on Harris, west coast Rum

Leave No Trace is a well-known ethos that is core to much outdoor and adventure education around the world. The concept being if all those venturing into the outdoors did their bit by following seven core principles, then those pristine natural environments will remain intact for everyone to visit and all feel they are the first person to ever be there. Here’s a quick introduction to the seven Principles of Leave No Trace and how we can consider interpreting them as sea kayakers, all doing our bit to look after the places we love to visit.

Protecting the grass at Ardnamurchan

Plan Ahead and Prepare – Be informed about the area you are visiting, how to access the sea responsibly, where to park and how to support the local community and not upset it. Consider the size of the group and the abilities, again to not impact on the area unduly or disturb others and the wildlife that may already be there. Plan to avoid popular areas at peak times, perhaps go to less popular areas and spread the load. Plan to take food so there is no excess waste and equipment to ensure no impact on the environment or others.

Be Considerate of Others – Respect the local communities visited being aware of their needs and your potential impact. Be mindful of those earning their livelihood from the sea or adjacent land, ensuring not to disrupt them in their work. Many locations we use are remote and on small roads so drive with care and ensure vehicles are left responsibly. Choose to maintain a co-operative spirit with all others who are enjoying, living or working in the environments we visit; aiming to keep as lower profile both from a visual and noise perspective.

Respect Wildlife – The sea environment is rich in wildlife and for many is the reason we visit. Get to know your wildlife to avoid sensitive times and habitats (seals, birds, dolphins etc), then when observing do so from a distance so as not to disturb. Be mindful that wildlife may well make its home out at sea, on cliffs or on the shore where we land; be observant and respectful in all these places. Never feed wildlife and store all food/rubbish securely so it does not end up being an animal’s inadvertent lunch.

Durable ground in Greenland

Camp & Travel on Durable Ground – Choose a camp spot on ground where the vegetation will be least effected and avoid staying too many nights without moving the tent. If using communal areas, do so on rocks, sand or areas where vegetation will not get worn. Try not to use the same route all the time to the kayaks or water, again spread the load on vegetation and don’t create tracks. Protect water sources by not camping too close. When breaking camp check no rocks/wood have been moved, replace if they have and consider fluffing up grass that has be camped on and re-covering scuffed up areas with natural materials.

Leave What you Find – Leave natural objects undisturbed, don’t move rocks to create seats or stones to weigh down a tent. Fallen trees are a valuable wildlife habitat, again don’t move for seating or firewood. If you find ‘souvenirs’ (antlers, shells, historical artifacts) then perhaps load up your camera as opposed to your boat – leave them where they are!

Protecting the Arctic Tundra in Greenland

Dispose of Waste Properly – Take everything out that you take in, rubbish and food waste alike. If washing pots, take the water away from the stream/sea and ensure any food residue is picked up and packed out. Human waste – when you have to go you have to go, but how! Take a trowel and dig a ‘cat hole’ 20cm deep to make use of, burying it all afterwards. Take all toilet paper home in a sealed bag/container or carefully burn the paper in the cathole if appropriate. If there’s nowhere to dig, then go directly into the sea or below the high tide mark and bury in amongst rocks, again removing all toilet paper. For all washing use biodegradable soap/liquid if it is required; taking water away from the water source to wash, discarding it to be filtered through the land.

Minimise the Effects of Fire – or don’t have fires! Use a stove for all cooking and think long and hard if a fire is really necessary. Even when using stoves ensure they are on a rock or something to protect any vegetation beneath them. If a fire is necessary then consider using a fire pan (metal tin/grate in which the fire is lit), ensuring all ashes etc are taken home. If not using a fire pan then go below the high tide mark in a shallow fire pit; again, removing all unburnt material afterwards. Only use driftwood on fires and manage it carefully to ensure everything gets burnt – don’t go too big with the fire!

Camping at Port Ruadh, Ceann Ear; Monach Islands
By considering the above in all we do when out sea kayaking, then we will leave the coastal environment pristine and its wildlife undisturbed for all whose paddle stokes follow us. Remember – leave only footprints in the sand…

For a wealth of information on sea kayaking in Scotland check out Doug and Lara's website: