As we begin slowly venturing out, it’s important to remember the seven principles of Leave No Trace. Read them, remember them, follow them and help protect our lands and wildlife.
Written by Gaby P.
As hikers and climbers, it’s in our best interest to take care of the landscapes and natural environments that we love so much. However, even if we go out into the backcountry with the best of intentions, we often have a substantial impact on the environment during our adventures.
Thankfully, there’s a way to minimize our impact on the environment while still enjoying our time in the outdoors. The answer? The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace.
I’ll walk you through the basics of Leave No Trace. Plus, I’ll even show you how you can integrate these seven simple principles into your adventures so we can all enjoy the outdoors for years to come.
What Is Leave No Trace?
Leave No Trace, or LNT, is an organization that strives to educate outdoor recreationalists on different ways to sustainably enjoy the natural world. They teach a number of different courses for people of all experience levels and conduct research on the different ways that we impact the outdoors through our adventures.
Additionally, Leave No Trace helps to restore parks and public lands around the United States. They help fix damaged trails, protect at-risk wildlife, and minimize overcrowding in outdoor parks.
As a Leave No Trace Master Educator, I have personally instructed hundreds of hikers and climbers on the best way to minimize their impact on the environment. Although learning the basics of the seven LNT principles is a good start, consistently applying them on all of your adventures is where we really make a difference. So, to get you started, I’ll discuss the seven principles and how you can implement them on your next trip.
The Seven Principles Of Leave No Trace
The seven LNT principles are the foundations of Leave No Trace. As the organization’s fundamental guidelines for outdoor recreationalists, the seven principles can help all of us make better decisions when we’re outdoors so we can minimize our impact on the environment.
Keep in mind, though, that these are principles – not rules. They are intended to be interpreted and modified to best meet the needs of whatever environment you find yourself in, whether it’s a town park or a remote wilderness area. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Plan Ahead And Be Prepared
Preparedness is key whenever we head outdoors. From packing the right gear to having a good understanding of your hiking route, planning ahead can help us minimize danger to both ourselves and the natural environment. While few people ever set out to intentionally destroy the environment, many people inadvertently harm the landscape because they didn’t fully plan ahead for their trip.
We see this happen most when people need to be rescued in the backcountry because they’re lost or ill-equipped. Whenever a search and rescue team gets called out, they will do everything possible to find a lost or injured hiker – even if it means destroying trails in the process.
2. Travel And Camp On Durable Surfaces
While one person walking through an alpine meadow may not make much impact, imagine what an area would look like if one thousand people traveled through that same terrain. Whenever we head into the backcountry, it’s imperative that we stick with already impacted trails and campsites whenever possible to minimize the amount of erosion we cause as we walk.
If we plan to travel off-trail, it’s generally best if we do so in small-dispersed groups and on durable surfaces that can handle a lot of traffic. Surfaces like rock, sand, gravel, and snow will hold up much better over time than delicate vegetation and cryptobiotic soil.
3. Dispose Of Waste Properly
No one heads into the outdoors looking to see trash on the trail. So, as backcountry visitors, it’s important that we only dispose of our waste in an appropriate manner. The basic concept here is that if you pack it in, you pack it out.
Pretty much anything you bring into the backcountry doesn’t belong there, so we need to carry it back out to the trailhead and dispose of it in a trash bin at home. Otherwise, our food and garbage will litter the landscape and become an unhealthy snack for an unsuspecting woodland creature.
As far as human waste goes, we need to be sure that we are not contaminating our natural water supplies nor leaving unsightly droppings near trails and campsites. Guidelines for human waste disposal vary widely from region to region, so check out LNT’s advice before you head outside.
4. Leave What You Find
Those flowers and fossils you found on your hike sure are cool, but we should generally leave anything we find in the outdoors (except for obvious trash) where we found it. When we remove these objects of interest, we take away something exciting for others to experience after us.
Plus, if every hiker that walked through a meadow picked the flowers, they’d quickly disappear. Wildlife relies on flowers, twigs, rocks, pinecones, and everything else we find outside for survival, so it’s imperative that we don’t take these objects with us when we leave.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
While a campfire is a lovely way to spend an evening, we need to be responsible when we build fires. Countless forest fires have started thanks to one small fire that’s gone out of control, so we certainly want to avoid something catastrophic on our adventures.
If you’re thinking about making a fire, ask yourself if it’s something you can do with minimal impact on the land. Is there a lot of dead and downed wood that you can easily collect, or are you going to try and cut down a tree? More often than not, a stove is a much more efficient way of cooking dinner while also minimizing your impact.
If keeping warm is your concern, try something a little less invasive like a portable campfire. These portable campfires, like the Radiate Portabel Campfire, are small, can be taken anywhere and aren’t harmful to the surrounding environment.
6. Respect Wildlife
Wildlife encounters are one of the most amazing parts of spending time outside. However, we are all visitors in the wildlife’s home so we need to treat them with respect. Traveling quietly through the wilderness and giving wildlife some space is critical to their well-being. Also, we need to always store our food properly so our breakfast doesn’t become an unhealthy snack for a squirrel or bear.
7. Be Considerate Of Other Visitors
We are rarely truly alone in the outdoors, so it’s important that we’re mindful of the impact we have on others. From being quiet at night to disposing of our waste properly, all of our actions impact others who are just trying to enjoy the outdoors.
Even if there’s no one else around, ask yourself if you’re leaving your campsite or the trail in the condition that you’d want to find it in. Consider what other visitors who come after you will experience and work to keep natural spaces beautiful for generations to come.
Strive To Minimize Your Impact
Whenever we head outside, we will inevitably have an impact on the landscape. But, as outdoor enthusiasts, we are all stewards of the land and should work to minimize our negative impacts as much as possible. The seven principles of Leave No Trace can help guide us as we make important environmentally-conscious decisions in the outdoors.
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I love this conscious approach to hiking. Thanks for the advice! Greetings from London.
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I have chronic and constant diarrhea but I love the trails. Any tips for a Diarrhea Man like me? I want to be respectful but it always seems to hit in the wrong places, mostly meetings with customers because of the stress of running a failing business. Often when I’m “enjoying myself” in the woods. Don’t know how to pack that out.
Articles like this are really important. I think too many people think “just little things” don’t make much of a difference. Like just one piece of litter, one banana skin e.t.c.
As a climber I think we tend to be purposely unaware sometimes of our impact. Tick marks, chalk everywhere, ruined trails, eroded crags. We think it’s all natural bu really we’re taking a lot away from what was there before us.
I try to live by “clean up 110% to correct for error” so you aren’t just taking responsibility for yourself, but the mistakes we all make too 🙂
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I love the Leave No Trace Organization!!!
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We do too!