The short phrase of "tread lightly", is high on the code of ethics of veteran hikers and backpackers. Nothing is more discouraging for a hiker or backpacker than to arrive at a designated campsite and find it trashed or mistreated by the last visitor. It's a goal and often a seldom spoken rule to leave a campsite and trail as you found it — if not better. The fact is, the trash (wrappers, cans, bottles) weighs much less than it did when packed in, so why not pack it out?
Several rules for treading lightly can make the trip more enjoyable for yourself and the next visitor. Consider the following rules of treading lightly on your next backpacking excursion.
Remain on the trail for the entire trip. Choosing to take, or create a shortcut, will lead to trampled vegetation or even becoming lost. If a following hiker sees an exit off of the main trail, they may follow the trail jumper's lead and add to the damage. Always use existing campsites to avoid additional destruction of the natural environment you're there to enjoy. When tent camping, pitch tent on the designated spot. Not only will pitching a tent in an unwanted place create problems for the next camper, unprepared ground can lead to problems of unevenness and water leaks.
Camp cooking is a treat even if only using a tiny backpack stove. After a day on trail, it's amazing how tasty a rehydrated entreé tastes. The ugly side to camp cooking is that most beginners believe that a roaring wood fire must be the source of energy to cook over. Not that a campfire is a bad thing, but for treading lightly around the camp kitchen, a small camp stove should be used. Benefits being, little smoke, no wood needed, and no burnt ash pile left behind.
Washing camp wares in creeks, streams and lakes will have a devastating effect on the aquatic life. Bathing in these waters with soaps and shampoo will do the same. Dispose of waste water in a marked in-ground filter or away from surface water and water routes.
As for human waste, always use a latrine if provided, if not, it must be buried. The universal recommendation is to bury human waste in a shallow hole (5-10 inches deep), at least 200 feet away from water sources, campsites or trails. Each area may have specific restrictions so be sure to ask the land manager.
For many hikers and backpackers, the practice of treading lightly is not only an ethical way to treat the location, but it's also a pleasure to do. Turning to look over your shoulder at the campsite as you are leaving and to observe a beautiful scene offers a pleasant feeling of pride and eagerness to encourage others to do the same.