Outdoor Ethics: Leave No Trace

With the increase of traffic on the trails, now is a perfect time to review Leave No Trace. Leave No Trace is a set of principles that exist to protect the environmental impact people have while enjoying the beauty of nature.


Most people are familiar with some aspect of Leave No Trace. The principles were designed to protect trails and natural areas from damage, prevent water pollution, reduce risk of wildlife injury and avoid destructive fires.

The 7 Principles

1 – Plan Ahead & Prepare

Knowing what to expect by planning can help prepare for dealing with the unexpected.

When I plan a hike, I spend time looking at:

  • Current trail conditions
  • Potential problem or challenge areas
  • Elevation changes
  • Wildlife
  • Weather
  • Visual Markers (such as road crossings, backcountry campsites, etc)

How much time spent on planning depends on the location I’m hiking. If I’m doing a 2 mile city trail, I spend less time planning than I would if I’m hiking a week in backcountry.

Understanding the trail can determine what supplies need to be brought. This includes things like rain gear, hiking poles, footwear, food, and water.

2 – Travel & Camp on Durable Surface

Camping Pads to protect the area

Stay on the trail.

The trails were not randomly built. Areas were assessed and determined to be locations where the land could handle the foot traffic with limited damage to the natural area.

Muddy trails have been in the spotlight lately. Avoiding trails during and after spring melt when they are extremely muddy can help preserve the trail. Footprints left in the mud will solidify and require trail repairs to be made.

3 – Dispose of Waste Properly

Don’t litter. If you “pack it in, pack it out”. Find a trash can and properly dispose of your trash.

This principle also includes human waste. Cat holes are the most accepted method of disposing properly of human waste. Cat holes should:

  • Be AT LEAST 200 feet from water, trails and camp
  • An area where people will be unlikely to walk or camp
  • 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches in diameter
  • Be covered and disguised with natural materials when finished

A third type of waste is wastewater. Water for washing should be carried 200 feet away from streams or lakes. Avoid using soap, if possible.

4 – Leave What You Find

An Example of Not Following this Principle

Keep nature wild. Avoid alternating anything. The entire purpose of this principle is to reduce the environmental impact and provide an untouched area for future people to visit.

5 – Minimize Campfire Impacts

Campfires are an iconic symbol of camping. However, especially in the backcountry, fires should be minimized to as needed only and should be kept as small as possible.

Backpacking stoves are a better alternative because they are fast, flexible, eliminate firewood usage, can safely operate in most weather conditions and leave no trace.

In established campgrounds and in some backcountry camp spots, existing fire rings are available and should be used.

Community fire

When we hiked Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the backcountry campgrounds had community firepits to reduce the number of fires.

6 – Respect Wildlife

Black Bear

A simple principle that is often ignored.

Do not disturb wildlife or plants. Observe them from a distance. These are wild creatures and should be given respect and space.

7 – Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Maintain courtesty toward other visitors. Nature is to be enjoyed in her fullest potential. Those who create excessive noise, have uncontrolled pets and damage surroundings can destroy the enjoyment for all.

Leave No Trace

Following the Leave No Trace principles will ensure enjoyment of the outdoors for generations to come. Respect nature and each other out on the trails.

For more information, visit Leave No Trace.

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