Category Archives: Environmental impacts/mitigations

Grand Huts Association, Colorado

Trail Tracks Editorial in “American Trails”, Fall 2017: Hut-to-Hut is growing

Editorial: Hut-to-Hut is growing: lets plan for it

Following is an invited editorial published in the Fall 2017 issue of American Trails.  It is a call to trails professionals, recreation planners, and land managers to acknowledge that hut systems are no longer just peripheral, “accepted anomalies” on the American recreational landscape.  There is a grass-roots movement that needs support and guidance.

Since writing this I’ve discovered even more hut systems under development.  It is time to turn attention to the research and planning necessary to support and guide this nascent movement as an effective approach to environmental education and stewardship.

Conducting a formal recreational ecology study of the environmental impacts of huts is a great place to start.

Sam, September 2017

Hut-to-Hut is growing

Sam Demas Editorial in American Trails Fall 2017

Hut-to-Hut is growing

Sam Demas Editorial in American Trails Fall 2017

Shelter system materials and techniques for design with minimal footprint

By Matt Reilly

[Editors note: the opinions are those of the author and he has taken responsibility for obtaining rights to the photographs used here.]

With the stress of daily routines, spending time in nature becomes an ultimate escape from the urban lifestyle. Being surrounded by peacefulness and stillness connects us to the environment and memorable experience of living according to it. The more time we spend in nature, the more we realize the significance of environmentally responsible behavior. Some people feel hostility about spending more than one afternoon without a comfortable couch and a TV. But does connecting with nature has to mean alienation from comfort? The answer is no: modern technology has the potential to bring comfortable camping to another level. However, how do we spend time in nature without harming it? We can decrease our impact on nature by using environmentally sensitive portable and non-portable shelters. This article represents helpful design ideas and shelter system materials for consideration by designers of overnight accommodations for  front-country environments.

Following are examples of accommodations which include convenience while leaving a minimal footprint. Suggested designs are not environmentally friendly solely for the material but for their functionality as well. They  can incorporate sustainable ways of water and power consumption through rain harvesting system,  portable shower systems, solar-powered technologies like portable solar panels and chargers, composting appliances (for instance outdoor composting bin), and promote modern waste reduction through practices like recycling, reusing waste material and utilizing biodegradable soaps and detergents.  This recommended set of ideas also takes into account positioning of accommodation which should be sited in such manner to capture enough sunlight in the winter and to lessen heat gain during summer.

The container shelter

The container shelter’s key features are that they are easy to transport and fix. This portable shelter solution is designed using burly shipping containers which can end up being commodious and useable living space simple to fabricate and transport anywhere. Standard shipping containers dimensions are W8m x L6m(20′) or 12m(40′) x H5.5m. This type of accommodation provides electricity, drinkable water, and sanitation. Those designing this shelter can also easily upgrade it with various green reinforcements such as with rainwater harvesting system, ceramic filtration system, and composting toilets.


The ekinoid shelter

The Ekinoid shelter is an innovative project that represents a self-sufficient and sustainable housing.  Spherical construction sits on stilts, and the elevation allows avoiding flood damage. Built strong enough to withstand intense storms and prefabricated, this ekinoid shelter also has incorporated the wind and solar power and rainwater harvesting model.


The buBbLe House

The buBble House project developed a portable housing that is a blend of simplicity, amenity, and environmental care. It is easily transportable wherever you go, and it provides inhabitants with all essentials for comfort. Aluminum frame is slab-sided with extremely lightweight bubble skin material, and it opens with a metal locker. It includes a small kitchen and lightning as well as eco-friendly laundry facilities. It is powered with an insulating chamber.


Straw bale homes

For those looking for a non-portable shelter that performs highly eco-friendly and is functional, straw bale house might be the best solution.  Hay bales serve to build house’s walls inside of the frame that should also be of a natural material such as wood. Straw bales can efficiently replace conventional building materials like plaster and concrete. They contribute to the functionality of your eco-friendly home by providing high insulation levels in a sustainable manner.


Bamboo Shelter

Bamboo is versatile. Its tensile strength and light weight make it the ultimate material for building both non-portable and transportable shelters.  The renewable character makes it even more desirable in an eco-friendly building.  Bamboo replaces bulky and costly materials and it perfect for constructing shelters for places hit by natural disaster since the building is fairly simple.



Tents made using natural and organic fabrics

Simplicity is never overrated. When terrain demands extremely easily transportable shelters so designers should take tents into account. The most environmentally sensitive tents are those made particularly from natural materials such as wool, hemp or cotton. Using these types of tents will leave minimal footprint behind in comparison to synthetic ones, however, they also require a significant financial investment.  Keep in mind that natural materials have to be additionally waterproofed in order to work well in wet weather conditions.



Tents made of  recycled and recyclable materials

Synthetically made tents continue to attract more buyers than those made of natural fabrics and materials. There are two crucial reasons why that is the case. Firstly, synthetic tents promise quality protection in wet conditions which natural shelters can’t guarantee and secondly, even though natural tents are lightweight, synthetic ones are even lighter and easier to transport. However, certain manufacturers and designers in the eco-friendly sector are adjusted to the market and launched tents made from recycled and recyclable materials. Creating alternative tents from recycled polyester and adding a waterproof solvent-free coating could motivate campers to purchase the green option.  Eliminating harmful and toxic dyes could also strengthen the green factor of these tents and tent designers could come up with a way to paint them in an eco-friendly manner.


Shelters using techniques  and materials like these, built in environmentally responsible manner, are more than just shelters. They contribute to raising awareness of green building as well as prove people that connecting to nature doesn’t have to be an unsafe or unpleasant experience.


Betty Bear, 10th Mountain Division Huts, hut2hut

Huts on U.S. Forest Service Lands: a summary

Huts on U.S. Forest Service Lands

by Sam Demas

Huts U.S. Forest Service Lands.  Recently I was asked what precedents exist for permitting huts on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) lands.  Digging through my publications and notes, I compiled this summary.   As a highly decentralized agency this information is hard to obtain.  So I am sharing this for the benefit of USFS personnel interested in how the agency handles hut permits, and for others.

USFS permits more huts than any other public land management agency.  Altogether 10 of the17 U.S. hut systems I have identified (see my definition of a hut system) currently have permits to operate on U.S Forest Service lands.

Following is a list of the hut systems permitted by USFS with brief notes about each.  Some are issued seasonal permits and the structures must be removed, while others are essentially permanent structures.  Some of these huts systems are wholly located on USFS lands and others only partly.  All are fairly rustic in their construction and are required to comply with environmental and other operational standards and regulations of the USFS, state, county and local governments.  More information on most of these hut systems is available in my post “Hut-to-Hut in the USA: Situation and Outlook” and and operational profiles.
1. Southwest Nordic Center (near Taos, NM).  Operates five yurts in ski season and one in summer.  Don’t know if they are allowed to keep the other four up all summer.
2. Sun Valley Trekking (ID). Operate two yurts year-round and four in ski season.  Don’t know if they are allowed to keep the other four up all summer.
3. Rendezvous Huts, (WA).  Began operations in 1982 and at first had to take huts down in summer.  At some point USFS issued permit allowing them to stay up year-round and they operate year-round.
4. Cascade Huts (OR).  Operates 5 huts in summer and three in winter.  They have to move the huts around seasonally.  They are up for permit renewal and are making a pitch for being able to leave huts in place.
5. Wallowa Alpine Huts.  I don’t know anything beyond what is on their web site.
6. Appalachian Mountain Club Hut System.  Eight huts, the first of which was built in 1888, are  located in a national forest in alpine zone, the AMC huts are permitted as permanent structures but most of them operate only in summer.
8. San Juan Huts (CO).  Their initial permits was for seasonal structures that were moved off the land each year; they are now allowed to keep their huts up year-round.
9. Summit Huts (CO).  They operate four huts on USFS land and I believe have been permitted to construct another.  I believe they operate year round.
10. Three Sisters Back Country (OR) . Operates two yurts for nordic ski traverse and is required to move their structures seasonally, and one yurt for winter skiing.

What has the experience of USFS been in issuing these permits over the past 35 years?  No one has systematically analyzed the results.  

When I have asked about this topic at USFS headquarters in Washington, DC, they say the data and experience resides in the regional districts and hasn’t been systematically reviewed across districts.  From what I can gather, no hut system permit has ever been revoked by USFS, but I can’t be certain about that.

It seems that an unofficial USFS practice is to sometimes initially issue permits for temporary, seasonal structures and operations.  The District then monitors the performance on a set of criteria laid out in the permitting document.  If there are no problems and if conditions are determined to be favorable, permits are later converted to allow for permanent location (within the duration of the permits, which generally range from 5 – 10 years) and/or for year-round operation.

When I talk with USFS District Rangers they say that the huts they permit are well designed and operated, and  that they are a useful amenity that does not cause them problems.

Mike Kenealy of the White River National Forest (CO) probably has more experience than anyone else in the USFS in permitting and monitoring huts and yurts.  He speaks frankly and knowledgeably about the issues around permitting huts and about working with hut operators.  In our phone conversation, his bottom line was essentially that huts and yurts are a useful amenity, that the operators are responsible and responsive, and huts and yurts are among the least of his problems in managing the many uses people want to make of Forest Service lands.

Huts U.S. Forest Service

San Juan Huts (CO)

However, since the USFS has no policy on huts and does not formally recognize huts as a category in their Recreational Opportunity Spectrum, and because no research has been done on the environmental impact of huts, most Forest Service personnel are understandably reluctant to comment beyond their local experience.

When I talk with hut operators they say their USFS contacts are good folks who are very cooperative and understanding.  But they say the USFS Rangers they work with are over-worked and often uncertain — in the absence of any USFS hut-specific policy or practice guidelines — how far they can go in evolving their permitting restrictions based on their local experience and judgement.

May this summary of huts on USFS lands help start and inform an overdue conversation about what role huts are playing in protecting USFS service lands while making them accessible for environmentally responsible recreation.

What is the Environmental Impact of Huts? Lets find out!

by Sam Demas, July 2017

Dear readers,

I seek advice! How do we best advance research to assess the environmental impact of huts in comparison with other forms of overnight visitations in the front and back country?  This is the research gap we need to fill to help determine what, if any, environmental protection role huts might play in the nation’s recreational opportunity spectrum.  

The common wisdom is that huts/yurts limit the environmental impact of overnight visitations in the wild by concentrating use in a limited footprint and in a structure carefully sited and designed to minimize environmental impacts. Is this truism true?  Are huts effective in managing environmental impacts in areas of high density overnight use?  

Surprisingly, there is no recreational ecology research in USA to prove or disprove this assertion in relation to huts.   With the growth of hut systems in the USA and increasing pressure for overnight visitations, and with growth of hut systems in the USA, we need additional empirical data to guide us in conducting evidence-based evaluation of proposals for new hut systems.    

Appalachian Trail Shelter. It’s not uncommon for a shelter to have an area of disturbance in front of it that’s equivalent to a single medium to large campsite. Photo courtesy Dr. Jeff Marion

Research around the periphery of this fundamental question has  already been done.  In particular, Dr. Jeffrey Marion (USGS and Virginia Tech Field Station), a leading recreational ecologist, has studied the factors involved in designing and managing campsites to minimize environmental damage. He has also assessed the environmental impact of dispersed and designated camping by backpackers.  His findings show that a containment strategy effectively minimizes aggregate impact by restricting camping to a small number of designated expansion-resistant campsites.  Marion and his colleagues are currently gauging visitor impacts on the Appalachian Trail to enhance sustainability and improve visitor experiences.  This includes assessment of the condition of shelter and campground sites, many of which are heavily overused on the AT.  A prior study in Great Smoky Mountains National Park showed that camping shelters accommodated greater numbers of campers with substantially less resource impact than campers using traditional campsites.

Tent platform. The construction of tent platforms at many major alpine campsites in the Eastern Arthur Range in Tasmania has successfully focused camping pressure and so constrained or limited impacts – Photo Courtesy Dr. Grant Dixon, Tasmania

 The missing piece is research to extend this analysis to study the environmental impact of huts and yurts, and then to compare these with data from other options for overnight accommodations, e.g. dispersed and designated camping, and shelters.

To this end, I’ve written two grant proposals.  The first ($35,000) is with Dr. Marion and Dr. Robert Manning (Professor Emeritus, U of Vermont) to federal land management agencies for a two-year study. This would provide a comparative assessment of environmental impacts and user experience of back-country and front-country camping, shelters, and huts/yurts.   The methodology will include an international literature review, recreational ecology field studies, and assessing the experience of land managers and hut operators.  The second proposal ($4,000), submitted collaboratively with hut folks in the Northeast ,sought to identify best practices in environmental management for hut systems.

Neither proposal was funded.  The federal land management agencies are under siege, facing myriad challenges.  I need help identifying a foundation or other funding entity that might support this research.

Feeling stuck, but not discouraged, I appeal to you for assistance and/or suggestions:

  • who should we be partnering with?
  • what philanthropists, foundations and granting agencies should we approach?
  • should we undertake a crowdfunding campaign?  Anyone willing to help with this?
  • should we be taking a fundamentally different approach?

Please contact me or leave comments below.

With faith in science,

Sam Demas

July 2017


Sean Byrne: Wicklow Way farmer, host, & advocate

The Byrne family has farmed in the Wicklow hills, along the Wicklow Way, for five generations. As a teen Sean helped out just down the road at a guest-house catering to hunters and fishermen on the beautiful Lough Dan. He also worked for his neighbors, the Guinness family, on their estate on the sublime Lough Tay. This farm boy gradually developed a gracious ease in working with people of all walks of life, a strong sense of the traditions of rural hospitality, deep knowledge of the land and the region, and a guiding commitment to preservation of the mountain uplands and way of life.  Photo above of Sean and Theresa Byrne.

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More hut-to-hut hiking in USA? Part 2: Challenges

by Sam Demas

Creating more opportunities for people to use huts to support long distance hiking, biking, skiing is a complex undertaking.  If not done well, the potential for doing environmental harm is as great as the potential for doing educational and recreational good.

Part 1 of this article outlined the potential benefits. Part 2 outlines the challenges in thoughtfully regulating, siting, creating, and operating hut systems. Future posts will provide greater detail in many of these areas, and the operational profiles on this site provide information on how specific hut systems handle these challenges.  The audience for this piece is young people planning or dreaming of starting a hut system; it may also interest recreation planners and land managers.

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Book Review: New Monte Rosa Hut Swiss Alpine Club

Review by Sam Demas; for pictures of Monte Rosa Hut, see photo gallery

Hut design is a prized architectural specialty in Switzerland, and this book is a prism through which to view this specialty — as well as to learn about the remarkable New Monte Rosa Hut.  This beautifully produced book comprises 6 thoughtful introductory essays providing historical and architectural context for the project, 15 informative technical notes on key aspects of the project, many architectural drawings, and dozens of beautiful photographs.  Published shortly after construction, it is a both a form of public documentation and a celebration of this remarkable design and construction project of ETH-Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  It was published in conjunction with a 2010 exhibition on the hut.

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