7 Principles Of Leave No Trace

Rilor Staff
Update: April 12, 2021
Table of Contents

The principles of "leave no trace" are a sacred set of practices that an outdoor enthusiast should observe. Specifically, they serve as simple yet effective commandments that minimize the environmental impacts of outdoor activities. 

If you are a beginner in hiking, camping, or backpacking, it is essential that you are aware of its repercussions. While it is true that it is enjoyable and healthy, you should mind the possible effects that it can manifest on the environment. 

The "leave no trace" principles were created to ensure the adverse effects of human presence on Mother Nature. In fact, they are applicable to various areas--from your area's park, local camping grounds, and even your backyard. You can use them in any outdoor activities, too. 

Philosophy Behind Leave No Trace

Leave no trace is a set of principles that encourages people to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. It can seem a little tricky to understand, but it's not that complicated when you break it down. For most people, the principles boil down to seven guidelines for making your outdoor activities as safe and environmentally friendly as possible. 

“Leave no trace” means different things to different people. It's not just about reducing the impact we have on the environment; it's also about being considerate to the people around us while we're out enjoying the great outdoors. For some people, that means picking out your poop; for others, it's looking out for wildlife. Others see it as a means of packing an extra trash bag so you can clean up after other people who didn't. 

7 Principles Of Leave No Trace

1. Plan Ahead And Prepare

"Plan Ahead and Prepare" is the first principle of the International Leave No Trace (LNT) ethic. You see, outdoor goers have to prepare for their trips to ensure that they will be safe and enjoyable. At the same time, it helps them mitigate the damages that they can cause to their route or destination. Without planning, it is entirely possible for damages to occur--both in the natural and historical resources. 

Importance of Planning Ahead:

  • It keeps your group safe
  • It lets you apply the leave no trace principles
  • It helps in making your trip successful
  • It increases the time you have to enjoy your environment

Things To Consider:

  • Terrain
  • Weather and temperature
  • Environmental regulations 
  • Land boundaries and restrictions
  • Estimated travel time and food allocation
  • Number of people who will make the trip

2. Travel And Camp On Durable Surfaces

Camping and hiking on existing trails and campgrounds are a great way to enjoy the outdoors with minimal impact on the environment. But if you want to practice the "leave no trace" principle, make sure to camp on durable surfaces that can handle your tent and all of your gear. Camping on soft surfaces like pine needles or wet soil can damage plants, compact soils and cause erosion. Always camp on a durable surface like gravel, sand, or dry grasses. 

Travelling Off-Trail

Nature is beautiful. One of the fascinating elements of nature is the diversity of habitats and ecosystems. I enjoy exploring these wild, beautiful places. I am no expert, but I have been exploring off-trail for a few years. I find that it brings me closer to nature, which is why I love it.

Traveling off-trail is not a defined activity. It is a way of moving through nature in a way that treads lightly. There are several components to this, which includes being prepared for the environment, knowing the area you are exploring, carrying out no waste, and being safe and mindful of the surrounding environment.

Factors To Consider In Travelling Off-Trail:

  • Durability of the vegetation
  • Size of the group (the more you are, the easier it is for an area to get trampled badly)

Ideal Durable Surfaces In Backcountry And Frontcountry:

  • Existing campsites and trails
  • Camping grounds that are located 200 feet from any bodies of water
  • Small campsites with minimal vegetation

Recommended Locations In Unsullied Areas:

  • Areas where vegetation is small or absent (make sure that you don't camp tightly to avoid the creation of trails and campsites)
  • Stay away from areas where human impacts are just starting

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

When you go out on a camping trip or any other outdoor activity, one of the top things that you need to think about is how you are going to dispose of your waste. When you're in the woods, you can't just take your garbage and throw it in the nearest ditch; you have to find a proper place to dispose of it. It's important to remember that the woods are home to lots of animals and plants that need to be protected. Improper disposal of waste can ruin the area around you. 

Here are some of the things that you should do to keep your adventure waste-free:

  • Check your camping ground and other areas you passed through for trash, wrappers, and leftovers. Make sure you have a disposable bag or container to hold these litters in place. 
  • For human wastes, you should bury them on catholes. These catholes should have a depth of 6 inches to 8 inches. It should have a distance of at least 200 feet from any bodies of water, trails, and camping sites. Once you are finished burying them, cover the catholes. It would be better if you disguise them, too. Keep in mind that you need to pack your human waste in some areas such as Mount Rainier, Grand Canyon, and Muir Base Camp.
  • Use a disposable bag for your hygiene products such as napkins and toilet papers. 
  • When it comes to washing your dishes and yourself, you have to fetch water from any water source. Look for a clear spot at least 200 feet away from streams and lakes before you start your errands. Furthermore, it is recommended that you use biodegradable soap only.

4. Leave What You Find 

When you do outdoor adventures, it is vital that you can minimize your footprint and the damages you cause to the environment. One way of doing this effectively is by not taking anything from Mother Nature. The concept is pretty simple: you are just a visitor; you are not allowed to take anything. That's not yours anyway, even if there's no one guarding it. 

Do the following things to practice this wonderful outdoor principle:

  • Do not tarnish or alter structures and objects with historical significance
  • Do not pick flowers, plants, and rocks. 
  • Do not take away native species from your location. At the same time, you shouldn't introduce non-native species, too.
  • Make sure that you clean your boots, bikes, and other outdoor gears before your trips
  • Do not make any artificial structures

5. Minimize Campfire Impact

As a camper, you want to leave the wilderness just like you found it. But it may not be so easy to live up to that goal. Campfires are a big source of impact on the land, and they can be challenging to manage. When the fire is burning, it is also burning off some nutrients in that soil. Since the opening of the pit is generally much larger than the fire, it also allows the winds to move the soil around, which can lead to erosion. This erosion can also take away nutrients that the plants need. 

Here are some tips to help you minimize the impact of your campfires on the wilderness:

  • If your camping site permits fire, make sure that you only use established fire pans, mound fires, or fire rings.
  • Make sure that the fire you create is only small. Furthermore, only use sticks that can easily be broken.
  • Let the coal and wood be burned into ash completely. After that, put out the fire, and scatter the cooled ashes.
  • Firewood that came from home is not allowed. It could introduce pests to the area. As much as possible, you should get your firewood from local sources only. 

6. Respect Wildlife

The wilderness is often seen as a place that's free of the problems of the modern world. It's a place where people can get away from the stresses and worries of their daily lives. However, it's important to remember that human beings aren't the only intelligent animal on the planet. We may be at the top of the food chain, but that doesn't mean we should be disrespectful to other animals.

You can coexist with other creatures via other holistic and wholesome means. Here are some of them:

  • Don't get close to the animals. As much as possible, you should only observe them from a distance with the use of a camera or binoculars.
  • Don't 'feed the animals. Doing this could potentially damage their health and affect their behaviors. It also makes them prone to other forms of danger.
  • If you bring your pets, control them. If you can't do this, you better leave them at your home.
  • Don't distract animals when they are nesting, mating, or hibernating. 

7. Be Considerate With Other Visitors

How do you want others to treat you? Of course, you want people to be nice to you, right? Hence, it is not surprising that others would expect you to do the same thing for them. Respect begets respect. And it is a concept that entirely applies in various outdoor activities. 

To be a courteous guest in the wilderness, do the following things:

  • Remain respectful to other outdoor goers.
  • Give way to other people who are using the same trail as you.
  • Move to the downhill portion of the trail if you encounter packs of mules and horses.
  • Camp away from high traffic trails and campsites
  • Don't talk too loudly.
  • Control the behavior and action of your pets.

How Can Kids Practice Leave No Trace?

There are an estimated 60-80 million kids involved in organized sports in the United States, and the number one rule that all parents and coaches should follow is to leave no trace. Kids of all ages are becoming more and more interested in the outdoors, and with a little guidance, they will learn proper leave-no-trace skills that will stick with them as they grow and continue on their own outdoor adventures.

Well, as parents or guardians, it is your duty to teach your young ones the importance of leave-no-trace. We are the ones that can shape them into people who respect wildlife and advocate for environmental protection. 

The principles of leave-no-trace apply to kids. What you do, they should follow. And if they commit mistakes, you have to correct them. Since they are still young, there's a lot of opportunities where you can teach the fundamentals. You can guide them on making the "leave no trace" policy a habit that they will do every time they go camping or hiking. 

Activities That Are Leave-No-Trace Friendly

Just because you observe "leave no trace" doesn't mean that your next outdoor trip would become boring. In fact, you are still free to do the things you want even while preserving the sanctity of the wilderness. You can still enjoy the view and explore the scenic landscapes without becoming a cause of environmental damage. 

For specific activities and games that you can do while practicing leave-no-trace, refer to the following list:

  • LNT Audit
  • Bandana Bonanza
  • Durable Surface Hopscotch
  • Will You Make It?
  • Playa Wildlife Clues
  • Campfire Impact Trivia
  • LNT Beach Ball

Who Is The Leave No Trace Organization?

Leave No Trace is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1983 by a small group of backpackers who recognized the need to protect the outdoors from adverse impacts caused by overuse. Their goal is to promote and inspire responsible outdoor recreation through education, research, and partnerships. 

Leave No Trace strives to educate the public on how to enjoy outdoor recreation responsibly, to teach people that they can enjoy the outdoors and wildlife without harming the environment.

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