Our Explorer Stuart Nicol hits us up with some thought-provokers to help us all consider our outdoor ethics.

When we go into wild places, we go on adventures and see and do wild new things. For many of us, it’s a spiritual activity. Naturally, we often want to share that with others, to inspire them.

Being ethical outdoors means thinking about what we value about our own experience, both physical and spiritual, and how we can act in a way that lets other people have an equally magical experience.

Outdoor Ethics, Stuart Nicol, river, glassy, mirror, water, trees, reflection

Ecological Ethics (try saying that ten times with a mouthful of marshmallows) takes this even further to include our impact on the entire ecosystem; plants, animals, rocks, the whole glorious mix of everything. So if we really want to take an ethical approach to being outdoors we need to be thoughtful about our behaviour in the wild and choose to act in ways that make everything more awesome, or at least leave things unchanged.

Here’s some inspo to get your ethics brain pondering how you might want to behave in the outdoors.

Leave No Trace

The field of ethics is a famously sticky web of grey areas and interpretation. But not to worry! When it comes to adventuring, the Leave No Trace people have done a lot of the thinking for you and come up with 7 principles which will ensure you leave things as you found them for the next person, as well as for the non-humanoid locals.

They are:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimise campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Far from being buzz-killers, these guidelines can help us adventure in line with our own values of looking after the places we love.

While outdoor ethics isn’t always straightforward, we’ve taken a look at some of the trickier grey areas below, to help you keep it minimal on your next adventure.

Plan Ahead And Camp In Designated Campsites

If you do it this way you’ll have a space to sleep and reduce your impact on the environment. I’ve been to some campsites, the only suitable campsite within a day’s walk, where 30 people tried to fit into an area suitable for 5 people. Not pretty, and a few fights followed!

Doing this right will often mean paying a small fee to camp in a National Parks campsite or other managed campground, but you can feel great about this too! In the case of National Parks, this money goes towards caring for and maintaining the places you love to go adventuring.

Outdoor Ethics, Stuart Nicol, lake, mountains, bush, pristine

By using sites that aren’t designated, you’ll clear groundcover and damage the area, leaving holes in forests and other delicate (often slow growing) vegetation. This visually destroys the scenery that you enjoyed as well as habitat for other forms of life.

Also, if you’re caught in illegal campsites you will likely be fined. Now that is a buzzkill.

Here are links to info on National Parks passes and designated campsites for each state:

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Northern Territory



South Australia

Western Australia 


Don’t Modify The Walk You Do

Part of your adventure is the exploration, which can induce a state of relaxed concentration; what adventure professionals call ‘flow’.

Allowing others to experience this as well means ensuring you don’t modify the walk to make it ‘safer’ or ‘easier’ for them. These modifications can take away from a person’s sense of adventure, reducing their experience. A big part of the fun when doing adventurous activities is finding your own way by map or GPS.

An obvious example is the practice of ‘taping’ or ‘blazing’ a route. On some walks, people put a plastic tape (taping) or cut/burn trees (blazing) to mark where they have walked. These markers reduce the navigation someone does, degrade the scenery of the walk and damage the area.

However, the common practice of putting track blockers on footpads is generally seen as accepted by other bushwalkers. On some footpads, people repeatedly take the wrong turn in the same place, leading to two tracks. A track blocker is a collection of sticks that mark where not to walk. The advantage of the sticks is that they visually blend in with the environment for the next person who follows. Although this moves sticks in the environment, the payoff is that it allows the false trail to revegetate and recover.

Stick To The Track

Tracks are installed, not for navigation purposes, but for reducing your impact on the environment. National Parks typically perform track works to suit the number of visitors, as per scientific research, for everyone in the community. If there is a track in your area, please stay on it even when capturing your memories to share with others. To do otherwise is going to damage fragile plant life. Science knows best!

Outdoor Ethics, Stuart Nicol, lake, hikers, rocks, moss, trail

Sound Pollution

Even though you might feel like you’re alone when you’re out in the bush, there are hundreds of little critters within hearing distance, and probably a few other humans as well. Noise travels a long way in the relative quiet of the bush. Boom boxes are great for parties, but definitely not for bushwalks. Try and keep your noise to a minimum where possible and use headphones. You still get the music and others will get the quiet they want.

Toilet (T)issues

There is nothing worse than finding a poo or a poo hole dug up by animals for eating in the bush (mouth vomit anyone?). Here’s how to deal with your poo properly.

Think About How You Share Your Adventure
Outdoor Ethics, Stuart Nicol, rocks, bluff, red dirt, bushes, blue sky

Do you want to know, or do you just want to go?

This is a tricky one, but that’s no reason to give it no thought. What do you want to share about your adventure and what do you want to leave for others to discover themselves? Consider describing what’s needed (e.g. scrambles and creek crossings) rather than details on each and every challenge.


Check out your state’s rules on fires in wild places and check for fire bans. You’ll also need to check if the campsite you’re staying in allows campfires and plan alternative ways of cooking your food during a fire ban.

If you’ve brought your own firewood and you’re with a bunch of mates on a cold night, a campfire may be the best way to meet your needs in a given situation. Other times you may choose to reduce your carbon footprint and look at the stars instead.


Australian waterways in National Parks are among the cleanest in the world. It’s kept that way as the people before you didn’t toilet, dump food or clean dishes there. Not only does it damage the area, but your waste is visible to the next person who visits and changes the ecology of the waterway. It only takes a few people dumping curry in the creek to dramatically change the way that creek functions.


With rubbish, the ‘burn-bash-bury’ practice is so last century. These days, you should pack all your rubbish out with you on walks. Better yet, take a bag with you and ‘take three for the sea‘ or wherever else you find yourself.

Outdoor Ethics, Stuart Nicol, litter, metal, woods, bush, ground

We’re gonna need a bigger bag…

Ecological Ethics Is Good For Us All

Living ethically asks us to do the hard work of figuring out which actions best fit our own values and the effect we want to have on others. As lovers of the outdoors, we’re likely to want to consider the ecological ethics of how our actions affect everything else.

Aristotle called the sense of wellbeing we have when we’re acting in line with our values ‘Eudaimonia’. It’s not always the easiest, simplest or most pain-free way of life, but according to positive psychologists it might be better than happiness.

As Explorers, we don’t mind a bit of hardship if it’s to get to a greater reward. So next time you have a decision to make about how to behave in the outdoors, check in with your ethics for a sec and make the choice that’s the best you can for everyone, the environment, and ultimately, yourself.