Leave No Trace

If you are a lover of the outdoors, then you have probably heard the phrase “Leave No Trace”. What does this mean, and how can you help? It sounds exactly like what it means, leave no trace of setting foot on the land and leave it just the way it was found. The Leave No Trace practices were created to provide research and ideas so we can protect and enjoy our environment responsibly. 

Every adventurer plays a crucial role in protecting our natural resources. It is important to be aware of the effects our actions may have on the plants, animals, other people, and our environments. By embracing the Leave No Trace Seven Principals, we can help minimize our impacts and leave our environment in its natural condition.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Planning and preparation helps travelers accomplish their adventure goals safely while minimizing damage to the land. Lack of planning and research can lead to situations where you may become tired or scared, and be forced to make poor choices for survival. Take necessary steps to prepare for the trip to ensure your safety.

  • Gain all knowledge possible before the trip. Research the area ahead of time, to understand the rules and concerns for the place you will visit.
  • Identify the skills and abilities of everyone participating and plan the activities accordingly.
  • Choose equipment and clothing in line with your destination and be prepared for weather changes. Bring layers and additional clothing just to be sure.
  • Plan for meals and snacks that have been pre-portioned, removed from packaging, and placed in sealed containers to reduce waste.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

While traveling and camping outdoors, it’s important to avoid damaging the land or waterways. Damage occurs when surface vegetation is trampled beyond recovery, resulting in barren areas of soil erosion. Remember that good campsites are found not created.

  • When traveling on a trail area, stay on trails that have already been constructed. This helps avoid creating new paths or walking on other organisms. Keep campsites small and centralize your activates where vegetation is scarce.
  • When traveling on off-trail areas, ensure you are walking on durable surfaces that can remain in a stable condition including rock, gravel, dry grass, or snow. When camping, disperse the tents to avoid creating repeated campsites.

3. Dispose of Waste

If waste management is not practiced by everyone, leftover trash from one group can collectively turn into a large amount. Leftover trash can be harmful to the environment if not properly disposed, so inspect the area before you leave for trash.

  • Pack it in, pack it out! Everything you bring hiking or camping should be brought home including trash.
  • For human waste, dig holes 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 ft from water and trails. Cover and disguise the hole when finished. Some places require human waste to be paced out, so research this before the trip.
  • Use a Kula Cloth instead of toilet paper! The antimicrobial pee-cloth is designed for women on the trail and perfect for Leave No Trace Practices.
  • To wash yourself or cookware, carry water 200 ft away from streams and use a small amount of biodegradable soap.

4. Leave What you Find

Give others the sense of discovery by leaving rocks, plants, and other exciting artifacts as you find them. The phrase “take only pictures, leave only footprints” is relevant for the outdoors to maintain natural environments.

  • Examine and photograph to your hearts content, but do not touch or move environmental structures. Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects just how they were found.
  • In national parks and many other protected places, it is illegal to remove natural objects.
  • Avoid introducing non-native species to the area.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Even though campfires are a timeless camp ritual, they can also be one of the most destructive activates if not managed properly. Research the area ahead of time for fire danger, upon arrival examine if there is enough wood so removal will not be noticeable. If there are campfire restrictions, use a lightweight stove for cooking and a lantern for light.

  • Where fires are allowed, use established fire rings or mound fire spaces.
  • Keep fires small for easy management, new wood can always be added later on.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, and scatter the ashes.
  • Bringing firewood from home could introduce new pests and species to the area, so buy it from a local source or gather responsibly if allowed.

6. Respect Wildlife

Experiencing wildlife is one of the most exciting parts of exploring the outdoors, so let’s appreciate them by giving them space to feel safe. Always remember you are a visitor in their home.

  • Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not afraid, 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.
  • Camp at least 200ft away from water to give animals access to drinking water.
  • Protect your food from wildlife by using storage containers and securing trash.
  • Control pets at all times or leave them at home. Avoid encounters with pets and wildlife.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times such as mating, nesting, or raising young.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

It's important to maintain courtesy of other visitors to give a feeling of solitude and privacy. Be mindful of others and give privacy when necessary, and always treat others they way you want to be treated. 

  • Be courteous and yield to others on the trail.
  • Let the sounds of nature be the focus and avoid loud voices and noises.
  • Avoid listening to excess or loud music in the outdoors, someone else might appreciate the noises of nature. Earbuds are a great way to listen to tune in without ruining someone’s experience.
  • To increase the feeling of privacy, avoid traveling on busy times such as holidays and take a trip in the of season.
  • Manage your pet and make sure they are not making excess noise, or harassing wildlife.
  • When hiking, step to the downhill side of the trail and move aside so uphill hikers can pass.

These principals were created by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and built upon by the US Forest Service, National Parks Service, and Bureau of Land Management. They are based on scientific research on recreation ecology and human dimensions of natural resources. Take a look at the scientific research behind Leave No Trace.

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