The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace provide a simple framework of best practices in the great outdoors. Originally designed for backcountry travelers, it has broadened to be applicable to hikers, city parks, and even neighborhood streets. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics conducts consistent research and evaluations to ensure the principles are up to date with the latest findings from biologists, ecologists, and other outdoor education experts.
Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit. Prepare for possible extreme weather and any emergency. Plan your trip around less busy times. Stay in small groups when possible. Repackage food to minimize waste and consolidate. Have the route mapped out ahead of time to avoid using trail markers.
Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow. Make your camp at least 200 feet away from any form of water. Find a good, previously established campsite, do not make your own. Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy. Keep campsites small.
Pack it in, pack it out. Do not leave the place you are occupying without inspecting for trash or discarded food. Human waste must be deposited 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.
Preserve the past: examine, 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. No not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern fr light. Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken down by hand. Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them. Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, 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.
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.
Practicing the Leave No Trace principles help us minimize our impacts on our environment. Current impacts Leave No Trace is helping to minimize are:
Trash and litter create major ecological and social impacts in the outdoors. Managers of parks, forests, and protected areas will tell you that the waste generated by visitors is a massive problem. In U.S. national parks alone, over 100 million pounds of waste is generated annually. Disposing of waste properly is one of the most vital skill sets — and it’s not just a matter of keeping parks visually appealing. Food waste, for example, attracts wildlife and erodes their natural instincts to avoid humans. It can take common items like plastic bags and aluminum cans up to 100 years to decompose.
From printed guidebooks to smartphone apps, there are a dizzying range of options to gain insights about the places you explore. Be cautious, however, of placing too much trust in unverified sources, especially if it’s not clear how recently the information has been updated. Social media can be an excellent addition to research about an area to help you plan ahead and prepare, but be wary of self-proclaimed experts, especially if their claims seem overblown. Beyond your own safety and well-being, ensuring you have the best information also helps protect wildlife and natural resources. Many emergency situations and rescues could have been avoided if the parties had found better information in advance.
Animals that learn to associate humans with food lose their innate wariness and may be exposed to dangerous situations. They are also healthier when they stick to the diets they evolved with instead of learning to rely on non-native foods. Even approaching wildlife too closely can quickly lead to unintended and damaging consequences. At best, it adds unnecessary stress for the animal, perhaps causing it to flee and burn extra calories. At worst, wildlife may shift from a flight instinct to the impulse to fight an intruder. From a charging elk, a coiled rattlesnake or a protective mother bear, animals can injure and even kill humans that get too close.
Trails are an essential component of the outdoor experience. Favorite trails often lead us to amazing views, idyllic campsites and cool swimming holes. By concentrating traffic onto a narrow ribbon of soil, trails help protect natural areas by limiting the trampling of vegetation and disturbance of habitat that off-trail travel sometimes causes. Remember that trails degrade over time and require constant upkeep. Uniformed visitors greatly hasten the degradation of trails when they cut switchbacks or ignore trail closures. Worse yet, user-created “social trails” can lack important features of properly designed ones, leading to greater erosion and heightened impacts on plants and animals. It could take 10-30 years for an ecosystem to recover from irresponsible off-trail hiking or camping.
The United States now spends approximately $3 billion per year to fight fires in parks and forests. According to the National Park Service, nearly 85 percent of these wildland fires are caused by humans. The agency attributes “campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, negligently discarded cigarettes and intentional acts of arson” as the primary causes of these wildfires.
Overcrowded trails and being in close proximity to too many other visitors can disrupt the enjoyment of a quiet walk in the woods. The very first principle of Leave No Trace is to Plan Ahead and Prepare — be sure to research how popular the destination is likely to be during your visit. To help ensure everyone has a positive and safe experience, especially when encountering crowds, Be Considerate of Other Visitors. The negative effects of crowds go beyond interfering with a peaceful atmosphere. Lots of people usually means lots of impacts, and those impacts can accrue quickly. That’s why learning how to teach Leave No Trace to others is a powerful way to protect natural areas.