The Leave No Trace Principles Every Hiker Should Know - AdventureTripr

The Leave No Trace Principles Every Hiker Should Know

March 22, 2021

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A stunning morning sunrise while camping.
A stunning morning sunrise while camping.

We all play a vital role in protecting the natural world around us, and it’s important to be conscious of the impact our actions may have on plants, animals, and ecosystems. That’s why there are seven leave no trace principles that provide an easily understood framework on how to minimize your impact.

Anyone who’s spending time outside should familiarize themselves with these principles!

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles

© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Leave What You Find

  • Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Respect Wildlife

  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Planning ahead minimizes the problems you might run into, such as fatigue or getting lost. This includes doing research about your destination and packing appropriately. It involves:

  • Knowing the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.

Always make sure to check the National Park Service site, or your local state park website for updated trail conditions, and any information about permits.

  • Preparing for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.

Always pack a jacket and first aid kit! See here for The 10 Hiking Gear Essentials You Need in Your Pack.

  • Scheduling your trip to avoid times of high use/crowds.

  • Visiting in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.

  • Repackaging food to minimize waste.

  • Using a map and compass or GPS to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns, or flagging.

While cairns may be fun to build, it’s important you refrain from doing so. Hikers will likely confuse it for a sign of the trail, and you could lead them astray. They also can damage the local ecosystem!

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

When exploring your surroundings to find a place to snack or set up camp, you’ll want to seek out resilient types of terrain. Ideal durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.

  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.

This also means using the bathroom at least 200 feet from lakes and streams!

  • When it comes to walking and camping in popular areas,

    • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.

    • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.

    • Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.

  • When it comes to pristine areas,

    • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.

    • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

The Rule of 200 Feet: setting up camp in the backcountry. Illustration by Whitney Maass via Washington Trails Association.
The Rule of 200 Feet: setting up camp in the backcountry. Illustration by Whitney Maass via Washington Trails Association.

Dispose of Waste Properly

This rule applies to everything from human waste to water you did your dishes with.

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite, food preparation areas, and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.

Make sure you’re prepared with a garbage bag or storage system for waste!

  • Utilize toilet facilities whenever possible. Otherwise, deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.

You can purchase a trowel for around $5 from most sporting good outfitters. It’s good to have one always in your pack in the event you need to dig a cathole.

  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Leave What You Find

The only thing you should be taking out of the wilderness is photos and cherished memories. This also means not adding anything as well!

  • Preserve the past: examine, photograph, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.

  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.

  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.

  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

While campfires are a timeless camping ritual, they can also be destructive, particularly out west during fire season. Make sure you’re checking all current fire regulations in your camping area for building one!

  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.

  • Keep fires small. Only use down and dead wood from the ground that can be broken by hand. Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the environment. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.

Before you leave a site, double check to make sure there are no warm coals that the wind could reignite!

Respect Wildlife

It’s never a good idea to approach a wild animal. Not only can it be dangerous, but you’re in their home, so it’s important to leave them be. You will enjoy encounters more if you master the zoom lens on your camera or pack along a pair of binoculars.

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.

  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, [habituates them to humans], and exposes them to predators and other dangers.

  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.

  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.

  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

We’re incredibly lucky to have public lands, and it’s important to remember that everyone has a right to enjoy them.

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.

  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.

  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.

  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.

  • Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

These leave no trace principles were established by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and are informed by scientific research in the fields of recreation ecology. Consider these guidelines as your rulebook for recreating properly. We all want to make sure that we take care of the land so others can continue to enjoy it in its pristine beauty!

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