More Accurate Testing for Lyme Disease on the Horizon

Nothing can describe the frustration and powerlessness of being sick and in pain with no clear reason why. Lyme disease is a debilitating and painful disease that all too often goes misdiagnosed or produces false negatives on the traditional Elisa and Western blot Lyme disease tests. However, there is hope. Envita has spent the last two decades perfecting Lyme disease treatment and detection as well as progressing a new diagnostic technique that allows for better and more accurate diagnoses of Lyme disease and its coinfections. This method, currently in development by our team, is connected to new genomics technology that may provide far more accurate diagnosing than older tests like Elisa and Western blot, along with providing more useful information than current PCR tests for infections. By looking at the particular genomic information of a patient we are not only able to identify more conclusively the presence of Lyme disease, but can also identify specific co-infections and secondary infections unique to each individual patient. Hopefully, when using this new testing method doctors will not only be able to conclusively identify the presence of the infection but also quantify the results so that a patient, for the first time, can track improvement with accuracy. This new test may also aid in selecting the best drugs to target each organism in a patient’s chronic Lyme disease complex, helping to streamline treatment for chronic Lyme disease patients. Genomic testing not only allows for a better diagnosis, but also paves the way for a personalized, comprehensive treatment plan and quantifies the amount of infections present. This new developmental test is a collaborative effort with Envita medical team and pathologists who specialize in infectious disease testing. More data and validation is still needed to bring this test to patients, but we hope it may become the gold standard for testing and treating tick-born infections and a powerful tool in helping patients and doctors with chronic Lyme disease treatment.

The problem in current testing for Lyme disease is the high likelihood of receiving a false negative. A false negative occurs when a test produces results indicating that a disease is not present when, in reality, it is. Western blot and Elisa are the standard testing methods used by conventional doctors to diagnose Lyme disease, but these older tests may have a high chance of producing false negatives because of the method they employ to produce their results. Western blot and Elisa, though old and outdated, are the only option for most doctors to test with and can be highly flawed. These older tests look for the presence of certain antibodies to produce a positive result when searching for Lyme disease, however, Lyme disease patients are often immune compromised and their bodies may not be producing the anti-bodies necessary for conventional medicine to conclusively identify the existence of Lyme disease. In addition, these tests do not quantify the results so patients and doctors can’t identify the number of copies each infection type present has produced, and therefore are unable to provide conclusive data for therapeutic removal of the infection. Lyme disease patients are often caught in a vicious cycle of immune depression that begins with initial infection. It is important to understand that when bitten by a tick with Lyme disease, co-infections that the tick may possess are also transferred with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterial spirochete known for causing Lyme disease. Once Borrelia and these co-infections enter the patient’s body they release a multitude of endotoxins, neurotoxins and biotoxins that, among many other negative actions, confuse the immune system and cause it to potentially attack its own cells resulting in autoimmune-like symptoms and chronic inflammation throughout the brain and body. The confusion caused by toxins, and other mechanics working to depress the immune system, makes the patient’s body more susceptible to opportunistic secondary fungal, viral, parasitic, and other bacterial infections which work to further impair the patient’s immune system. With the immune system severely impaired by Lyme and its co-infections, the traditional tests may not be accurate in diagnosing. To make matters worse the infection, coinfections, biotoxins, endotoxins, mycotoxins, neurotoxins, autoimmune attacks, and opportunistic secondary infections can produce a multitude of symptoms making it difficult for a doctor to recognize that Lyme may be a possibility. This all combines to make a very confusing and frustrating experience for the patient. However, with Envita’s potentially new testing method doctors can identifying the best treatment methodologies based on the infections that are present in each patient allowing for extreme personalization to care, and great improvement of doctor’s ability to diagnose and treat Lyme disease.

Envita’s potential ground-breaking method of testing for Lyme disease is based on genomic information from the patient’s blood, urine, mucus, stool can provide important DNA information. By testing the genetic information inside the patient, Envita can see what kind of DNA and RNA may be present in the patient without having to synthetic amplify the genes for detection, like with PCR testing that is currently used by many integrative clinicians. Cross referencing the patient’s test with known data on the DNA and RNA sequences of diseases will reveal the existence of Lyme disease and its co-infections and more effectively aid with the developing of a treatment plan. By testing for the genes of infectious organisms and quantifying the data we hope to be able to gain a duel advantage in fighting against Lyme disease, better quality testing, better information on quantity, and better drug and non-drug targets for personalized treatment. Genetic testing can be much more accurate because it can tell more definitively if the patient has Lyme disease through the presence of Lyme DNA and plasmids, it is not reliant on detecting antibodies that may or may not be present. By looking at the quantity of infections present we can determine what infections are most prevalent; this information helps determine a treatment plan that is best suited to attack the infections specific to the patient and allows us to track improvement of the patient’s condition. Genomic testing permits for more accurate detection of Lyme disease, the ability to better identify and quantify coinfections to better treat patients, and the availability of quantified data for tracking improvement of the patient. Also, quantifiable data gives hard evidence of the existence of chronic Lyme disease aiding in spreading awareness, hopefully producing a better future for those who suffer from this debilitating disease. This new process for testing chronic Lyme disease is being developed by Envita medical team in conjunction with pathologists who specialize in infectious disease diagnostics, and though it is only in the beginning phases we will keep you up to date on the validation process as it progresses.

Western blot and Elisa testing can be unreliable and most physicians lack the clinical experience and are inadequately trained to properly diagnose and treat patients with chronic Lyme disease. However, this new genomic testing brings a better way to diagnose and treat Lyme disease and provides hard quantified data that will aid in targeted treatments, tracking improvement, and spreading awareness of chronic Lyme disease. After more than a decade of work it is our goal at Envita to bring our patients the best medical treatment possible, and we are working hard to validate this new testing process because we believe that genomic testing is the future of personalized medicine and offers hope for those suffering from chronic Lyme disease.

DEC Announces Completion of $48,000 Rehab of Hunter Mountain Fire Tower

Celebration Planned Saturday, August 19, for 100th Anniversary of Tower

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today announced the completion of $48,000 in improvements to the Hunter Mountain fire tower in the town of Hunter, Greene County. The improvements are part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Adventure NY initiative to connect more New Yorkers with nature. In honor of the 100-year anniversary of the fire tower, a celebration is planned for Saturday, August 19, at 12:00 p.m. at the tower atop Hunter Mountain. A plaque to commemorate the 100-year anniversary will be unveiled during the small ceremony.

“Fire towers not only represent the rich history and heritage within our forest preserves, but also offer great tourism potential and magnificent views of some of New York’s most prized natural areas and resources,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “These improvements, through Governor Cuomo’s Adventure NY initiative, are just a sample of the recreational upgrades that New York has underway to better serve everyone who wants to enjoy our state’s great outdoors.”

The rehabilitation of the tower included replacing the roof that was damaged by high winds over the winter, painting the entire tower, replacing the metal grates around fire tower landings, and repairing the tower windows.

At 4,040 feet, Hunter Mountain fire tower is the highest elevation fire tower in New York State. The original tower on Hunter Mountain-constructed of logs-was built in 1909, and was the first of three fire towers constructed in the Catskills that year. The original tower was replaced with the current steel tower in 1917.

“We are excited to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower,” said Gordon Hoekstra, Chairman of Friends of the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower. “With enthusiastic support from the DEC and the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, the Friends of the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower Committee runs the Volunteer Interpreter Program and performs minor maintenance on the tower and observer’s cabin. We are grateful to DEC for supporting and funding the Tower Rehab Project in time for today’s dedication. With continued cooperation we look forward to preserving this precious historic asset for visitors to enjoy for another 100 years.”

Under Governor Cuomo’s new Adventure NY initiative, DEC is making strategic investments to expand access to healthy, active outdoor recreation, connect more New Yorkers and visitors to nature and the outdoors, protect natural resources, and boost local economies. This initiative will support the completion of more than 75 projects over the next three years, ranging from improvements to youth camps and environmental education centers to new boat launches, duck blinds, and hiking trails. Read more about the Adventure NY initiative.

The Catskill Fire Tower Project is a joint initiative of The Catskill Center for Conservation & Development and DEC. Through the dedication of partner volunteers and DEC staff, the last of the five remaining Catskill towers was restored and reopened to the public in 2000. Since then, volunteer-based committees organized for each of the towers have continued to maintain the structures, and in many cases renovate the observers’ cabins as well. Today, a network of more than 100 volunteers also act as “summit stewards” by greeting visitors on weekends from May through October.

For more information on Fire Towers in the Catskills, visit DEC’s website.

Hikers & Campers Be Aware: High Bear Activity in Dix Mountain Wilderness


DEC has alerted hikers and campers of high bear activity in the Dix Mountain Wilderness. Running into wildlife is inevitable while hiking, but bears are nothing to mess around with. Learn more about bears so you can be prepared for any bear in the woods

Recent Bear Activity

Reports say black bears have been stealing food from hikers and campers, and have even been approaching humans in an attempt to get food.

Bears have approached hikers in the area around Gill Brook, Indian Pass, Mount Colvin, Elk Pass and Nippletop. Other bears have stolen food from campers and rock climbers in the Chapel Pond area.

As a result, the DEC has temporarily closed one of the Chapel Pond Outlet campsites while it attempts to capture the bears. Once the bears are captured and tagged, they will be released.

How To Avoid Conflict With Bears

The DEC reminds hikers and campers to keep all food, toiletries, and garbage in bear resistant canisters. Campers should prepare and eat food away from their tent sites and should not cook or eat after dark. Rock climbers should keep all food in their vehicle or carry it with them while climbing.

To report an encounter with a bear, call the DEC Regional Wildlife Office at 518-897-1291.

Black Bear Encounters

If you Encounter a Bear:

Never Approach, Surround, or Corner a Bear – Bears aggressively defend themselves when they feel threatened. Be especially cautious around cubs as mother bears are very protective.

Never Run from a Bear– stay calm, speak in a loud and calm voice, slowly back away and leave the area.

Use Noise to Scare away Bears from Your Campsite– yell, clap, or bang pots immediately upon sighting a bear near your campsite.

Do Not Throw Your Backpack or Food Bag at an Approaching Bear

  • Doing so will only encourage bears to approach and “bully” people to get food.
  • By teaching a bear to approach humans for food, you are endangering yourself, other campers/residents, and the bears.
A black bear in the forest.
Most black bears prefer to avoid humans.

In Your Yard:

  • From a safe distance, make loud noises by shouting or banging pots to scare the bear away.
  • Once the bear leaves, remove all attractants such as bird seed, garbage, and pet food.
  • Ask neighbors to remove attractants.

In a Building:

  • Give the bear a clear escape route.
  • Leave any doors open as you back away from the bear.
  • Do not lock the bear in a room.

If a Bear Becomes Aggressive and:

Approaches you:

  • Raise your arms and speak in a loud, calm voice while backing away.

Charges you:

  • Stand your ground.
  • If you have bear spray, dispense directly at the bear. Please follow the link leaving the DEC’s website to learn about the proper use of bear spray.

Follows you:

  • Stay together.
  • Do not run, but continue to back away while speaking loudly.
  • If the bear continues to follow you:
    • Stand your ground.
    • Intimidate by making yourself look bigger by waving arms, clapping, shouting, banging sticks.
    • Prepare to fight or use bear spray.
  • If the bear makes contact with you:
    • Fight back with anything at hand (knife, stick, rocks, fists).

Lyme Disease: Inside America’s Mysterious Epidemic

In 2004, Kelly Osbourne was bitten by a tick. Her dad burned it off with a match and that, she thought, was the end of that.

But in the years that followed, she suffered from persistent body aches, headaches, stomach pain and trouble sleeping. In 2013, she had a seizure on the set of her show, Fashion Police. As her symptoms piled up, so did the prescriptions: Ambien, Trazodone, anti-seizure medications, even painkillers, despite her past addiction issues. The pills robbed her of her energy and emotions. “You know in movies where a mental patient sits in a rocking chair in a cardigan and nightgown and stares at a wall all day?” Osbourne wrote in her new memoir, There Is No F*cking Secret: Letters From a Badass Bitch. “That was me.”

As a last resort, Osbourne consulted an alternative medicine practitioner and asked to be tested for Lyme disease. The test came back positive: she had stage III neurological Lyme. Osbourne immediately flew to Germany to receive stem cell therapy. She kept her diagnosis private, she writes, “not only for fear of pharmaceutical companies coming after me because of the cure I found in Germany but also because it seems like the trendy disease to have right now.”

As unlikely as it seems that a tick-borne illness could ever be deemed “trendy,” Osbourne is right: Lyme disease is having a moment.

In recent years, a growing list of celebrities have gone public with their Lyme diagnoses. In the 2013 documentary The Punk Singer, Kathleen Hanna emerged from a nearly decade-long hiatus to reveal her excruciating battle with Lyme disease. “I didn’t want to face the fact that I was really sick,” she told the camera, tearing up. “I wanted to tell everybody I chose to stop [performing], but I didn’t choose.” Then there was Avril Lavigne on the cover of People magazine in 2015, gazing out pensively over the headline, “I thought I was dying.” In 2016, there was the news that Kris Kristofferson’s tragic memory loss wasn’t due to Alzheimer’s after all; it was Lyme. There was the multiple season storyline on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills about Yolanda Hadid’s battle with Lyme, the accusations she was faking it, and then the shocking news that her supermodel daughter Bella and son Anwar had Lyme, too.

Lyme has been a known disease for several decades, but only in the past five years has it forced its way into cultural and medical relevance and become something that’s widely discussed. Lyme is now the focus of A-list fundraising galas and E! News headlines. Unfortunately, the increased attention hasn’t translated to a more hopeful prognosis for Lyme sufferers. Roughly 329,000 new infections occur annually, and scientists are projecting a historic spike in infections around the country this summer. For a disease that’s been studied for 40 years, with many prominent people pushing for answers, the truly shocking thing about Lyme disease is how much of a mystery it still is.

“There’s an incredible amount of detail and nuance to the Lyme disease story,” says Taal Levi, assistant professor of quantitative wildlife ecology at Oregon State University. “Anyone who tells you there’s a simple answer is lying to you.”

The history of Lyme disease in the United States is as eerie as it is complicated. In 1975, something strange started happening to people in the town of Lyme, Connecticut. Children and adults reported skin rashes, swollen joints, severe fatigue and even partial paralysis. Health officials suspected the disease was caused by a biting insect due to the frequency of infections appearing in the summer months and the locations of the victims. “Cases tended to occur among persons living near heavily wooded and sparsely settled areas,” Connecticut’s commissioner of health wrote in a letter to state health directors a year after the initial outbreak. “On some roads as many as one in 10 children were affected.”

Despite health officials’ suspicions, the first group of Lyme disease sufferers went years without concrete answers about their illness. Finally, in 1981, a scientist named Willy Burgdorfer discovered that Lyme was caused by bacteria carried in mice and deer and transmitted by deer ticks. The spirochete bacteria in question, borrelia burgdorferi, was named in his honor. Once it was established that Lyme disease was a bacterial infection, the course of treatment seemed obvious: antibiotics. Doctors began treating patients with a six- or 12-week dose. Some people got better, but not all of them. Cut to 36 years later, and not much has changed.

When patients go to the doctor immediately after infection, most of them (about 80 percent) fully recover. For the people who don’t get immediate treatment or don’t respond well to the antibiotics, the prognosis can be much more grim. In these patients, a range of horrific symptoms – muscle aches, fatigue, fever, malaise, joint pain, digestive problems, foggy brain, anxiety, headaches, twitching, memory loss, seizures, depression and paranoia, among many, many others – can persist for a lifetime. The split is so dramatic that Lyme researchers and patient advocates began differentiating between two types of Lyme disease: acute and chronic.

“Acute Lyme refers to the disease that occurs right after initial exposure. That’s when people show up with a fever, muscle pain, rash, flu-like symptoms,” says Mark Soloski, co-director of research at Johns Hopkins’ Lyme Disease Research Center. Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, more commonly known as “chronic Lyme,” is different. “We define it as a set of persistent symptoms that are happening six to 12 months after their acute disease. These are folks who have not only symptoms, but loss of functioning. In simple terms, you can’t get out of bed in the morning.”

Of the celebrities who have gone public with their Lyme diagnosis, most fall into the chronic Lyme category: persistent, debilitating symptoms that last for years and are extremely difficult to treat effectively, let alone cure. Still, the CDC has been hesitant to embrace the popular narrative about chronic Lyme. “There’s been some antagonism between the Center for Disease Control and advocacy groups,” says Levi, “particularly in regards to chronic Lyme and if it even exists.”

According to a CDC spokesperson, “the term ‘chronic Lyme disease’ is confusing and misleading because it is used to describe patients with and without Lyme disease.” Instead, the CDC makes a distinction between Lyme disease and Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), which they describe as “a condition of persistent symptoms that exists in some patients with Lyme disease after treatment.” In other words, if you were bitten by a tick, exhibited symptoms of Lyme disease (including the telltale bull’s-eye rash), received treatment, and didn’t get better, your condition would match the CDC’s description of PTLDS. If you went to the doctor reporting lingering symptoms consistent with Lyme (like fatigue and muscle aches) but hadn’t been diagnosed with Lyme in the past, you could be diagnosed with “chronic Lyme,” and that’s what the CDC takes issue with. Says the spokesperson: “While the term [chronic Lyme] is sometimes used to describe patients with PTLDS, in many occasions it has been used to describe symptoms in people who have no evidence of a current or past infection with Lyme disease. People who have an illness with symptoms compatible with Lyme disease need to be diagnosed correctly and treated properly as quickly as possible. We want people to get the right diagnosis and the appropriate care.”

Unfortunately, getting the right diagnosis can be extremely difficult. Borrelia burgdorferi is nearly impossible to detect in the bloodstream. Without evidence of a tick bite or rash in the days following initial infection, there is still not a reliable diagnostic test for Lyme. The CDC’s definition of PTLDS hinges on a Lyme diagnosis – and for good reason – but without a direct way to test for infection, many patients suffering from lingering Lyme symptoms are left in the medical lurch.

The CDC counts “the need for improved diagnostic tests” among its goals for addressing the growing Lyme disease problem, but researchers on the ground say the government has been loath to support its promises with resources. “It’s a difficult thing to study,” says Levi. “It takes a lot of money and there’s very little money for Lyme disease research, which means there’s a lot of competition. You’ve got to keep money flowing for researchers to remain engaged. We need more field studies, more data, but who’s going to fund a 10-year field project?”

The answer to that question may lie at the curious intersection of celebrity and Lyme disease. Celebrities using their platform to raise funds and awareness for Lyme is “essential,” says Scott Santarella, CEO of the Global Lyme Alliance, a private nonprofit that has partnered with Yolanda and Bella Hadid, Ally Hilfiger and Rob Thomas, whose wife Marisol suffers from Lyme, for fundraising galas, auctions and education initiatives. With government funding for Lyme research nearly nonexistent, private organizations like the GLA are tasked with raising massive amounts of money to fill the gaps. Famous people and their wealthy social circles are a crucial part of that equation. Kelly Osbourne may have been hesitant to join the ranks of those suffering from a “trendy” disease, but there are many people working hard around the clock to keep Lyme culturally relevant.

“We are a society built around celebrity and entertainment,” says Santarella. “When you have someone like Yolanda or Bella Hadid out there talking about the disease and putting a face to it, you tend to have a bump up in understanding and acceptance. As people become more aware of the disease and become more connected to people who have the disease, fundraising increases.”

Glamorous spokespeople get more press, and lavish fundraisers with A-list red carpets bring in serious money, but relying on celebrities to tell the story of a complex disease has its downsides. Most of the celebrities who have been vocal about their chronic Lyme disease diagnoses (or at least the voices that have been most amplified) are rich white women. With public perception of the disease still relatively malleable, organizations like the GLA must be careful not to pigeonhole chronic Lyme as a plight of the wealthy. “We’re incredibly conscious of the messaging around it and try to work with individuals to tell their story in a way that people can relate,” says Santarella. “We take great pains and strategic thought in how we present things and promote things.”

No matter how hard celebrities work to be relatable, the fact is their experiences don’t accurately portray the reality of a disease that’s spreading rapidly and affecting all demographics. For every Avril, Bella, and Kelly, there are thousands of Lyme sufferers who don’t have access to basic healthcare, let alone the financial means to take months off work and fly to Europe to try new treatments.

“What I say to that is when you have people who have the means to get themselves better and they can’t, they become a loud voice for change,” says Santarella. “At the end of the day, many will benefit from wealthy people who can’t get themselves or their children better. Anyone and everyone can get Lyme. No one is immune. If people knew that, they’d be much more willing to accept and support the efforts of people who are suffering from it and organizations like ours trying to solve the problem.”

Ask researchers for their outlook on the future of Lyme, and you’ll get a wide array of answers, ranging from “dire” to “cautious optimism.” Most agree, however, that many more people are going to get sick before things get better.

The recent surge of Lyme cases and this summer’s predicted outbreak represent a confluence of factors, many of which are manmade. Forest fragmentation is often cited as a primary reason. “A lot of houses and schools and athletic facilities are being built in places that are surrounded by woods,” says Soloski. “That interface between grassy areas, like a manicured lawn, and the forest is a great tick habitat.” As suburban neighborhoods continue to creep into rural environments, the increased mingling of ticks and humans means more Lyme disease.

Fragmentation also interrupts fragile ecosystems, says Levi, which “makes it difficult for some of the predators of these [Lyme-carrying] animals to persist.” Cougar, bear and bobcat numbers have plummeted, while deer and rodent populations have exploded. “The host species we most care about are rodents and deer,” says Levi. “That’s what we need to keep at low levels to see fewer ticks.” In fact, the most ominous predictor of this summer’s imminent outbreak is the widespread mouse infestation that struck the Hudson River Valley last year. Mice are such effective Lyme carriers that scientists have been able to accurately forecast Lyme cases by tracking their populations.

And of course, climate change plays a role. “Any insect-borne disease is very sensitive to climate conditions,” says Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute University of Wisconsin. “Warmer temperatures speed up the development of tick larvae and nymphs, and that can influence transmission dynamics. Modeling studies of climate change effects on Lyme disease show a northward expansion of the disease,” says Patz. “Lyme is already moving north into Canada.”

While President Trump and his closest advisors maintain that climate change is a myth, and science and research funding face massive cuts in the federal budget, people in the trenches of Lyme disease research struggle to garner a sense of urgency about their work. “Because it’s treatable by antibiotics and it doesn’t kill you, there’s a sense that it’s not as big as a problem as the people on the ground believe it is,” says Levi. “Nobody’s treating this like a really big problem.”

Meanwhile, advocacy groups like the GLA will continue raising funds and awareness through every possible avenue. Despite the obstacles, advancements are being made (including promising immunotherapy research), and Santarella says the disease’s current place in pop culture is an achievement in itself. “It’s a good thing in that people are aware, but it’s much more of an epidemic than we realized. Lyme is very real and very scary – and not going away anytime soon.”


Hiking is a beloved activity in many places around the world and can be enjoyed by all ages, given a certain level of fitness. The problem is that hiking trails these days are being inundated by assholes, which in this case is a designation made for the users of shared outdoor spaces who betray the unspoken contract between all users of the outdoors. Not only are these assholes unpleasant to other hikers, they put the sustainability of trails at risk in the future and can affect ecosystems and wildlife for generations to come.

Recently in Colorado, the Hanging Lake Trail has received an unusual amount of attention because of the amount of abuse it has taken from hikers disobeying signs and defacing natural rocks. These are asshole hikers. The infamous @trailtrashco, an instagram vigilante shaming hikers who abuse the outdoors (read the 303 Magazine article here) is purely dedicated to calling out assholes like those on the trails. The unspoken contract has always been fairly simple but since it seems to be necessary, it has been written out in many places. 303 decided to outline the contract in five short sections, explained below.

Stay Safe

Personal safety is an essential aspect of avoiding the “asshole hiker” designation. If each hiker takes on his or her own responsibility in preparing for a hike, the chances of endangering themselves or others is greatly reduced. This especially includes saving valuable time and resources from rescue crews who often volunteer for the positions and put their lives at risk to save people in the backcountry. Even if a situation does not warrant a rescue crew, someone who is unprepared may have to rely on other hikers, putting unnecessary and unexpected strain on their journey and supplies.

Staying safe is primarily about being prepared. Hiking is a fun activity, but it is also one to participate in with an understanding of the possible risks. Especially in Colorado, packing for various weather, conditions and situations should always be part of the adventure and adequate footwear is a must. An ideal daypack for a half or full day hike should consist of: a rain coat, hat, lighter or matches, compass (or fully charged phone with a compass app), plenty of water, tissues, a basic first aid kit with some kind of water filtration, snacks, sunscreen or sunglasses and a flashlight. These items might feel cumbersome — especially when a hike goes uneventfully — but in the event that something goes wrong, these items are usually the bottom line for survival.

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace ideals are all about minimizing the impact a hiker has on the environment. @trailtrashco, the vigilante Instagrammer, consistently posts photos of assholes leaving trash on the trail — and it usually is in the form of dog poop in plastic bags. The main principles of Leave No Trace revolve around keeping the ecosystem healthy and in balance while maintaining the public space for the future. Part of the joy of hiking is escaping the impacts humans have on their surroundings, and that can only be enjoyed if humans are not negatively impacting the trails, open spaces and other wilderness areas. To ensure minimal impact, hikers need to always follow these guidelines:

  • Leave what you find. Even though rocks, flowers, pinecones and other items on hikes might seem like perfect souvenirs, those items belong in their natural environments.
  • Pack it in, pack it out. Anything that’s brought into wilderness areas needs to be taken back out. That especially means wrappers, water bottles, cigarette butts, beer cans and dog poop. Dog owners have extra responsibilities while hiking with their furry companions (see 303’s article about dog hiking etiquette here.)
  • Know where to pee. Though we pee in clean water at home in our toilets, in the backcountry any water source should be avoided by 200 feet while urinating. Keep this in mind for any furry companions as well.
  • Look but don’t touch. A common phrase in Leave No Trace literature is “take only pictures.” This encapsulates the idea that hikers do not need to make their own personal mark upon a place to prove they’ve been there. For instance, in many aspen tree groves in the mountains of Colorado, one can see the carved initials and markings of asshole hikers. Don’t be like those hikers.

Respect the Wildlife

Don’t feed the wildlife. Don’t touch the wildlife. Don’t aggravate the wildlife. Just don’t f*** with the wildlife. Hiking is not a trip to the zoo, and even then, animals deserve respect. Out on a hike in the wilderness, wildlife are more at home than a typical hiker, which also means that hikers are more often than not trespassing on wildlife territory. Some animals display warning signs — like rattlesnakes vibrating their tails before striking — while others may not display much aggression until the last minute — like moose who charge out of fear of sudden noise or movement.

The more popular trails are destined to have less animals, especially large animals, but lesser traveled trails should be used with more caution. In many places, hiking at dawn and dusk should be met with even more cautionbecause that is often the time for predatory animals to be out and about. Know what kind of animals might be encountered on a hike and know what kind of tactics are best to avoid them and avoid confrontation.

Respecting wildlife is a double responsibility for dog owners, who must keep tabs on their dogs interactions with wildlife as well as their own. Keeping a dog on leash, even if it is a long leash, is better than letting it off leash. Not only does it keep the owner closer to protect the dog, it keeps the dog closer to warn the owner of any unusual activity.

Respect Other Hikers

Asshole hikers are notorious for disrespecting other trail users. In order to have the best time and help others have a good time, hikers are encouraged to conduct themselves in ways that will not take away from other people’s experience. There are some basic guidelines that apply to any public shared space — like trying to keep your voice down when sharing the trail, not playing loud music and keeping it PG rated.

Some of the other etiquette tips are more particular. When hiking inclines, the person hiking downhill should yield to anyone coming uphill, unless the people coming uphill are wanting a break. When taking a break, move your belongings and yourself off the trail without putting yourself in danger — i.e. not stepping down a steep hill side. If someone is hiking faster than you from behind, stop and let them pass. If you are hiking faster than another person, do not try to take shortcuts or maneuver ahead of them without asking. This kind of behavior can have unintended consequences — like dislodging rocks or debris that can hit other people on the trail or abusing the structure of the trail itself.

Know the Trail

Before setting out on any hike, do some simple Google searching about the trail and the area around it. These kinds of searches can bring up information regarding wildlife danger, weather patterns, possible closures and other important tidbits regarding the hike. These are invaluable when looking to hike less-traveled routes, as they will usually explain areas where trail markers are sparse or a detour has been made that may go unnoticed otherwise. There are numerous sites and forums for hikers, like AllTrails and ProTrails, which have all the information about a given trail, as well as user reviews, photos and suggestions.

Knowing a trail before hiking it will prevent many hikers from being surprised about terrain or getting lost. In this day and age, not many hikers seem to be carrying around topographical maps, so at the very least looking before going will help with orientation. During the hike, know the trail refers, pay attention to all posted signs, follow the trail markers and have awareness to natural landmarks along the way.

Even though hiking can often feel like an activity that is separate from other people, the actions of every hiker affect the environment, wildlife and other hikers tremendously. Enjoying the activity comes hand-in-hand with understanding the possible risks and the recommended etiquette to participate.