Leave No Trace: The Seven Principles
The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace is a framework of minimum impact guidelines that, when practiced, preserve our natural spaces for generations to come. These guidelines include planning, preparing, and on-trail practices that reduce our environmental impact, encourage safety in the outdoors, and promote an inclusive and respectful environment for all who visit.
Can we talk about how absolutely incredible this planet is? There are sooo many adventures to be had, trails to hike, rivers to float, oceans to surf, cliffs to climb, roads to drive, and so much more. As adventurers, we have a responsibility to preserve where we visit–to keep nature’s well being in mind, and to ensure others get to have just as amazing experiences too!
In this post, we’ll dive into each of the Seven Principles and how we can incorporate them into our everyday adventures.
- The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace
- 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
1) Plan Ahead and Prepare
A little prep can go a long way! Planning ahead by checking trip reports, weather conditions, and fine tuning your packing list can ensure a safe and epic trip for everyone. It can also help minimize damage to natural and cultural resources while you’re out and about!
When you’re planning and preparing for your trip:
- Write down your trip expectations and goals.
- Try to understand your adventure buddy’s skill levels to find an adventure that fits everyone’s style.
- Research the area you plan to visit. Check out maps, guides, consult hiking apps like AllTrails or Gaia, check the weather, trail elevation, terrain, regulations, restrictions, private land boundaries, and trip reports–know everything you can about your adventure before heading out.
- Bring along the appropriate equipment and clothing for comfort, safety, and Leave No Trace qualities.
- Try to calculate the average hiking speed of your group and the anticipated food consumption. Try to avoid having any leftovers if possible–leftover food can attract animals, which leaves a trace!
- If you can, try packing only one-pot meals and lightweight snacks for minimal packing and preparation time, a lighter load, and less garbage. They also eliminate the need for a campfire.
- After your trip, write down your experience! What worked? Are there things that didn’t? What did you wish you brought?
2) Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
We make it a goal to disturb little-to-no natural areas on every adventure. We want to keep land and waterways clean and pristine to protect these areas against unnatural erosion, contamination, and wildlife extinction.
Travel on Trails
Trails are there for a reason–use them! Land management agencies create trails to concentrate foot traffic to one area. This allows the surrounding flora and fauna to flourish!
Travel Off Trails
Travel that doesn’t use a man-made trail is considered “off trail.” This includes traveling in remote areas, walking to find bathroom privacy, exploring around your campsite, etc. When traveling off trail, it’s important to travel on surfaces or vegetation that can withstand the impact.
Durable surfaces include:
- Some dry grasses. Try to avoid trampling vegetation whenever possible. They’re not as durable and can take a long time to grow back.
Frequency is also something to consider: how big is your group size? Could that many people traveling off-trail negatively affect the landscape?
Non-durable surfaces that should be avoided at all times:
- Living soil: While it might not look alive at first glance, these soils (found mostly in deserts) are teeming with wildlife and any foot traffic could cause irreparable damage to its ecosystem.
- Desert puddles and mud holes: Water is a precious resource for all wildlife. Don’t walk through or disturb any type of water resource. There are also little animals that call these places home!
Always Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Look for areas that have already lost vegetation cover or exposed bedrock or sandy areas to avoid further vegetation damage.
- Camp a minimum of 200’ (70 adult steps) away from any water source to allow safe access routes for wildlife.
Camping in Remote Areas
- If you plan on camping in remote, pristine areas, spread out your tents, avoid repetitive traffic routes, and move camp every night. We want to avoid repetitively tramping these natural areas. Look for large rocks or other durable areas to use as your kitchen, and wear soft shoes to be as kind to the surrounding natural vegetation as possible.
- When breaking down camp, place natural vegetation back over your area, brush out footprints, and make it look like you were never there! This will help the site recover and will discourage future campers from setting up in the exact same spot.
3) Dispose of Waste Properly
No one wants to walk into a campsite to find a firepit full of last night’s beer cans, food containers, and who knows what else. We don’t know about you, but ammonia doesn’t pair well with morning coffee. Not to mention, waste is extremely harmful for the environment and the animals that call these spaces home! Here are some tips to properly dispose of different types of waste while on the trail.
- In most destinations, burying human waste is an acceptable way of disposing it, but regulations change from park to park and state to state and sometimes even trail to trail. Check in with the local parks offices to understand best practices for wherever you’re visiting!
- If you’ll be burying your waste, dig a hole about 6” deep at least 200’ from any water source. Pack out all used toilet paper.
- If camping with a large group, spread out your “cat holes” over a wide area. If possible, dig them on an elevated area and in maximum sunlight.
- Urine: Try to pee on pine needles, rocks, or gravel to avoid attracting wildlife, but if you have to go on vegetation, it doesn’t cause much harm!
- Tampons: Always pack out your tampons (just like toilet paper). Bring along a composting bag to store these items throughout your hike.
Pack in, pack out is the mantra for all other trail waste. This includes wrappers, leftover food, bacon grease, cigarette butts, fishing line, and anything else that doesn’t inherently belong in nature.
- Carry water at least 200’ away from any water source and use an environmentally friendly soap.
- Bring water to your washing station to rinse. Do NOT rinse in lakes, rivers, streams, etc. It could cause irreparable damage to those delicate ecosystems. This goes for lotions, sunscreen, and other things you introduce into these bodies of water.
4) Leave What You Find
- If you love finding fossils or shells or cool plants on the trails, odds are others will too! Leaving what you find lets everyone have an enjoyable experience on the trail, and helps preserve the ecosystem too.
- If you clear a space for your tent or camp kitchen, replace the area with natural elements before leaving.
- If a fire ring was built, leave it as is. It was probably built by a land management agency that deemed it the least disruptive space to build a ring.
- Avoid hammering stakes into, tying tents to, carving initials into, or chopping down trees.
- Don’t pick flowers! They’re beautiful, we know, but leaving them be will ensure they’ll be around to enjoy next year too.
- If you find a cultural artifact, leave it where you found it. It is illegal to remove or disturb archeological sites, historic sites or artifacts such as pot shards, arrowheads, structures and even antique bottles found on public lands.
5) Minimize Campfire Impacts
Before building a campfire, ask yourself:
- What is the fire danger for the time of year and the location you have selected?
- Are there administrative restrictions from the agency that manages the area?
- Is there sufficient wood so its removal will not be noticeable?
- Does the harshness of alpine and desert growing conditions for trees and shrubs mean that the regeneration of wood sources cannot keep pace with the demand for firewood?
- Do group members possess the skills to build a campfire that will Leave No Trace?
Many areas were degraded by the overuse of fires and an increasing demand for firewood, so if you can swap out a campfire for a camp stove, that will be the most eco-friendly and environmentally safe option for on-trail cooking.
If there isn’t much wood available (such as in higher elevations), avoid creating a campfire to preserve those natural resources.
The best place to build a fire is in a pre-existing ring where wood is plentiful.
Things to Keep in Mind
- Keep the fire small and only burn it while you’re enjoying it.
- All the wood burned completely to ash.
- Put out fires with water, not dirt, to make sure the fire is completely extinguished.
- Avoid building fires next to rock outcrops where the scar will remain for years.
- Never use a standing tree for firewood (dead or alive, they’re wildlife’s homes)
- Use small pieces of wood found on the forest floor over a wide area away from camp. Dead and dry wood burns best and limits your impact.
- Don’t bring firewood from home.
- Scatter unused wood.
- Pack out campfire litter like plastic wrappers. These should never be burned.
6) Protect Wildlife
Spotting wildlife is SO COOL! If you want them to stick around–not just today but for years to come–give them some space and stay as quiet as possible. Loud noises can cause stress to animals and force them to leave.
The only exception is if you suspect a nearby bear–in that case, have a loud conversation with your hiking buddy or sing to yourself so they know you’re coming! The last thing you want to do is surprise a bear.
Never share your snacks with wild creatures, and always stow your food properly. Bear canisters don’t just keep out bears, they also keep food away from mountain goats, deer, raccoons, and other curious animals.
Always keep about 200’ between any water source and your camp to allow wildlife to visit these sources freely and without worry.
7) Be Considerate of Other Adventurers
Many adventurers head outdoors to enjoy nature: to listen to the sounds, watch wildlife, or relax. We can respect others by following a few simple courtesy guidelines while on the trail:
- Keep music low or opt for earbuds instead of speakers. If it’s loud enough that someone hiking behind you can hear it, it’s too loud and could disturb another’s nature experience.
- Keep pets close. Check to see if dogs are allowed and leashes are required on your hike.
- Take breaks and set up camp on durable surfaces.
- As a general rule, hikers going uphill have right of way, and those heading downhill should step aside for uphill hikers.
- In many places, it’s understood that hikers yield to equestrians and bikers yield to both hikers and equestrians.
- Always pick up dog feces.
Visit lnt.org for more on how to leave no trace on every adventure.
Author: Outdoorsy Gals contributor Eva Seelye