The 7 Leave No Trace Principles & How to Follow Them

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Have you ever returned to your favorite hiking trail or campsite only to find it littered with trash, signs of irresponsible fires, or worse human poop with toilet paper blooms? This can make a trip or experience disheartening. As lovers and users of the outdoors, it is our responsibility to protect and preserve it. The 7 Leave No Trace principles are guidelines to help us do just that, ensuring that future generations can experience the beauty of nature just like we get to.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the 7 Leave No Trace principles, discuss how to apply them in different environments, and explore the benefits. Ultimately, we’ll learn how embracing these principles can foster a sense of stewardship for the outdoors and create a better experience for all.

Understanding the 7 Leave No Trace Principles

A group of people hiking, following the 7 Leave No Trace principles

Developed by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, the seven principles serve as a framework for minimizing human impact on the environment during outdoor activities. They apply to both backcountry and frontcountry users, including those who camp overnight and those who visit for the day.

From planning ahead to respecting and protect wildlife, these guidelines help preserve the natural world for generations to come.

Principle 1: Plan Ahead and Prepare

Preventing damage to natural resources and ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience relies heavily on proper planning and preparation for outdoor activities. This involves researching your destination, understanding the potential hazards, and packing suitable gear. For example, forgetting sunscreen on a trip can be a painful mistake and even dangerous.

Safety is paramount, and therefore, potential hazards like:

  • exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation
  • heat
  • extreme temperatures
  • noise
  • accidents during activities

are all things necessary to consider. Avoiding situations that may harm the environment or put your well-being at risk is possible with adequate planning.

Principle 2: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Preserving vegetation and microorganism’s hinge on the practice of traveling and camping on durable surfaces, like established trails and campsites. Examples of durable surfaces include:

  • rock
  • gravel
  • dry grasses
  • snow

Prevention of trampled vegetation, soil erosion, and other negative impacts on the environment is possible by sticking to these surfaces.

To identify durable surfaces for camping and hiking, focus on existing trails and established campsites, as well as surfaces like rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow. Avoid camping in riparian areas to minimize your impact on wildlife habitats and local ecosystems.

Cat hole and trowel for disposing waste properly

Principle 3: Dispose of Waste Properly

The 7 Leave No Trace principles emphasize the importance of proper waste disposal, which includes packing out trash, burying human waste, and washing dishes away from water sources. Packing out trash while hiking or camping can be as simple as utilizing designated bags or containers. I recommend using Ziploc bags for items like wet wipes and toilet paper, and using gallon-sized, freezer-weight bags to prevent punctures.

When it comes to solid human waste, the Leave No Trace principles recommend burying it in catholes dug 6-8 inches deep, learn how to poop in the woods. For washing dishes, use biodegradable soap and ensure that all food particles are removed before washing. Rinse the dishes away from water sources and disperse the used water away from the water source as well.

Principle 4: Leave What You Find

Leaving natural objects, as well as other natural objects from both nature and cultural origins, undisturbed is a practice that aids in preserving the environment for future generations. Whether it’s antlers, petrified wood, colored rocks, plants, wildlife, or cultural artifacts, resist the urge to take souvenirs or disturb their natural state.

Removing cultural objects and cultural or historic structures from their original locations can lead to diminished significance, damage to the cultural integrity, and difficulty in understanding their historical context. Helping to protect the environment and ensuring that others can enjoy the same beauty and wonder that you experienced can be achieved by leaving what you find.

A group of people having a campfire, following the Leave No Trace principles

Principle 5: Minimize Campfire Impacts

Consider the long-lasting effects of campfires on the environment. To minimize impacts from campfires use designated fire pits, lightweight stoves, or alternative light sources when fires aren’t allowed. Designated fire pits provide a controlled and contained area for fires, preventing the spread of fire to unintended areas and reducing the risk of wildfires.

Nearly 85% or 8.5 out of 10, of wildland fires in the US are caused by humans. These fires are a result of many things such as irresponsibly leaving campfires unattended, burning debris, discarding cigarettes, acts of arson, and equipment use/malfunctions. Almost all of these are preventable. 

In situations where fires are not permitted, alternative light sources such as LED headlamps, flashlights, and battery-powered lanterns can be used instead. Careful management of campfires and use of alternative light sources when needed enables us to minimize our impact on the environment and protect the natural world for future generations.

Enjoying the beauty of Elk from a safe distance from the trail

Principle 6: Respect Wildlife

The Leave No Trace principles emphasize the importance of respecting wildlife, which involves observing them from a safe distance and not disturbing their natural behaviors. Wildlife disturbance, which alters natural behaviors, can be indicated by increased vigilance, avoidance, altered foraging behavior, odd or aggressive behavior, and human-wildlife interactions.

To ensure the safety and well-being of both wildlife and visitors, it’s important to maintain a respectable distance and avoid approaching or following animals. To observe wildlife responsibly, preserving habitats and contributing to a healthy and thriving ecosystem can be accomplished through respecting wildlife and avoiding transporting non-native species.

Principle 7: Be Considerate of Other Visitors

The Leave No Trace principles place considerable importance on being considerate of other visitors, which entails:

  • Avoiding excessive noise
  • Controlling pets
  • Not damaging the surroundings
  • Adhering to the area’s rules
  • Trail etiquette

Treating others as you would like to be treated, or following the “golden rule,” helps create a positive outdoor experience for everyone. Ensuring that shared outdoor spaces remain enjoyable for all visitors, now and in the future, can be achieved by being respectful and considerate.

Tips for Practicing Leave No Trace Ethics

More tips for practicing these seven principles in various conditions. By being aware of the specific needs of different environments, minimizing the impact of group size, and passing on these valuable principles to the next generation, we can help protect and preserve our shared outdoor spaces for many years to come.

Hiking out in the desert has different challenges

Planning for Different Environments

Each environment presents its own unique set of challenges and regulations. Researching the specific regulations, potential hazards, and appropriate gear for the area you plan to visit is crucial for a successful outdoor adventure. For example, planning for a desert environment requires taking into account the lack of water and extreme temperatures, while mountainous environments may require special attention to delicate alpine ecosystems and proper waste disposal involving the use of a wag bag.

Minimizing our impact on mother nature and ensuring adherence to Leave No Trace principles in all settings can be achieved through proper preparation for different environments, which also helps to minimize waste. This not only preserves the environment but also ensures a safer and more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Group Size and Impact

When planning outdoor activities, it’s important to consider the potential impact of group size on the environment and other visitors. The Leave No Trace principles advise limiting group size in order to minimize social impacts on other visitors. Traveling in small groups, typically no more than 10 to 12 people, is recommended, and splitting larger groups into smaller ones can help reduce the impact.

Working together to preserve the natural world and ensure a positive experience for all who share our outdoor spaces can be achieved by being mindful of group size and impact.

Leave No Trace with Kids

Teaching children about Leave No Trace principles from a young age helps to pass down and instill a sense of responsibility and respect for the environment. By simplifying the principles and focusing on key points, such as planning ahead, respecting the path, and not polluting, children can develop a lifelong appreciation for nature and responsible outdoor behavior.

Interactive activities that can help children understand the Leave No Trace principles in a fun and engaging way include:

  • Flying a kite
  • Inspecting with a pocket microscope
  • Painting with water
  • Playing trail tag

By nurturing a love for nature and environmental stewardship in our children, we can ensure that future generations continue to protect and preserve our shared outdoor spaces.

Setting up camp in Colorado National Monument

The Benefits of Following Leave No Trace Principles

Following the Leave No Trace principles has numerous benefits for both the environment and our outdoor experiences. By minimizing our impact on the natural world, we help preserve wildlife habitats, protect water quality, and maintain the natural beauty of the environment. Furthermore, these principles foster a sense of stewardship for our shared outdoor spaces, promoting a sense of responsibility and respect for the environment.

In addition to protecting the natural world, adhering to the 7 Leave No Trace principles also enhances our outdoor experiences. By being considerate of other visitors, limiting noise, and keeping a safe distance from wildlife, we create a more enjoyable and peaceful environment for all who venture into the great outdoors.

Ultimately, following Leave No Trace principles benefits both nature and those who love to explore it.

Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting responsible outdoor recreation through education, research, and partnerships. Established in 1994, the center has implemented various campaigns, youth education programs, parks protection efforts, educational and outreach initiatives, stewardship activities, trainings, and the creation of educational resources to further their mission.

The center contributes to the protection of public lands and ensures that future generations can enjoy the wonders of the outdoors through research on the behaviors and attitudes of park visitors towards Leave No Trace ethics. Through their efforts, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics plays a vital role in preserving our shared outdoor spaces and fostering a culture of environmental stewardship.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Leave No Trace program?

Leave No Trace is a national program promoting the protection of our nation’s wildlands through education, research and partnerships. It teaches minimal impact outdoor recreation skills, such as proper waste disposal and minimizing site alterations, while also informing visitors on reducing damage caused by outdoor activities. Additionally, Leave No Trace for Every Kid helps young people learn responsible actions to protect the outdoors.

What is principle 7?

Principle 7 emphasizes respect for the interconnectedness of all living things, emphasizing that we are all part of a larger web of existence and to always treat others with kindness and respect.

What are the main goals of the Leave No Trace principles?

The main goals of the Leave No Trace principles are to minimize the impact on the environment, preserve natural and cultural objects, and ensure a positive outdoor experience for visitors.

How can I practice Leave No Trace ethics in different environments?

Practice Leave No Trace ethics by researching the regulations, potential hazards, and appropriate gear for the area you plan to visit and adapting your practices accordingly.

How does group size affect the impact on the environment and other visitors?

Group size has a direct impact on the environment and other visitors – larger groups can lead to more damage and disruption, so by splitting into smaller ones we can reduce our negative impact and create a better experience for everyone.

Final Thoughts

The Leave No Trace principles provide a valuable framework for protecting the environment, promoting a positive outdoor experience for all visitors, and fostering a sense of stewardship for our shared outdoor spaces. From planning ahead and preparing to respecting wildlife and being considerate of other visitors, these guidelines help ensure that future generations can enjoy the natural world just as we do.

As lovers of the outdoors, it’s our responsibility to embrace these principles and pass them on to the next generation. By doing so, we can help preserve the beauty and wonder of nature for years to come, creating a legacy of responsible outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship.

© Leave No Trace:

Editor’s note: This post was originally published October 12, 2o21 and has been updated for more accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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