Leave No Trace Principles: A Quick Guide on How to Practice Them

Want to be respon­si­ble and act sus­tain­ably in the back­coun­try, but don’t know where to start? Look no fur­ther. Leave No Trace (LNT) is a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides pro­tec­tion for the out­doors “by teach­ing and inspir­ing peo­ple to enjoy it responsibly.”

Over the years they’ve iden­ti­fied these sev­en prin­ci­ples to help thought­ful adven­tur­ers keep wild places pristine.

Prin­ci­ple 1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
Exe­cut­ing a suc­cess­ful back­coun­try mis­sion starts long before you hit the trail­head. Do your home­work before you leave: know the reg­u­la­tions and any par­tic­u­lar envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns for the areas you’ll be vis­it­ing. Check the fore­cast to avoid get­ting caught in extreme weath­er. Repack­age food to min­i­mize waste. And when­ev­er pos­si­ble, sched­ule your trip to avoid the area’s times of high­est use.

Prin­ci­ple 2. Trav­el & Camp on Durable Surfaces
While it can be tempt­ing to romp across a ver­dant mead­ow Sound of Music-style, you may well be tram­pling del­i­cate veg­e­ta­tion. By trav­el­ing and camp­ing on durable sur­faces (which include estab­lished hik­ing trails and camp­sites, rocks, grav­el, dry grass­es, and snow), you’ll min­i­mize your group’s impacts on the local ecosys­tem. Pro­tect ripar­i­an zones by camp­ing at least 200 feet from lakes and streams, and keep camp­sites small. Ask your­self: if every vis­i­tor to this place camped here, what would it look like in five years?

Prin­ci­ple 3. Dis­pose of Waste Properly
Pack it in, pack it out. This applies to trash (plas­tic, wrap­pers, food pack­ag­ing) and food waste (left­over edi­bles, sun­flower seed shells, apple cores, etc.)—but it also applies to human waste. Poo pro­to­col varies depend­ing on what kind of ter­rain you’re trav­el­ing through and the area’s fed­er­al des­ig­na­tion, so check with local autho­rizes for guidance.

Prin­ci­ple 4. Leave What You Find
If you love it, leave it wild. Resist the urge to steal that sum­mit rock or inter­est­ing ani­mal bone. Avoid intro­duc­ing or trans­port­ing non-native species, and be par­tic­u­lar­ly care­ful around cul­tur­al or his­toric struc­tures and arti­facts. Enjoy the sights, take lots of pho­tos, and drink it all in—just don’t take it home.

Prin­ci­ple 5. Min­i­mize Camp­fire Impacts
Camp­fires can have last­ing impacts in the back­coun­try, so only burn where fires are per­mit­ted. For cook­ing, use your camp stove instead of fire or cold-soak your meals. When­ev­er pos­si­ble, use estab­lished fire rings. Keep fires small, and have enough water on hand to put out an unex­pect­ed spark. And last­ly, nev­er leave a fire unat­tend­ed. Rather, if you’re leav­ing your camp­site or going to sleep, always be sure to thor­ough­ly extin­guish your fire.

Prin­ci­ple 6. Respect Wildlife
Catch­ing glimpses of wildlife can be one of the most thrilling parts of a back­coun­try experience—but it’s impor­tant not to feed, fol­low, or approach them. Store your food and trash prop­er­ly and accord­ing to loca­tion best prac­tices, and con­trol pets at all times. Most impor­tant­ly, give ani­mals plen­ty of space at all times, but espe­cial­ly dur­ing their most sen­si­tive times: mat­ing sea­son, nest­ing, rais­ing young, or dur­ing the deep win­ter months. As a rule of thumb, if a wild ani­mal’s behav­ior is chang­ing in any way because of your pres­ence, you’re too close.

Prin­ci­ple 7. Be Con­sid­er­ate of Oth­er Visitors
Respect oth­er vis­i­tors. Be cour­te­ous and yield to oth­er users on the trail. (In most cas­es, peo­ple going uphill have right of way.) And man­age your group’s audi­to­ry impacts, too—avoid loud music, shout­ing, and oth­er dis­tract­ing nois­es when they could impact the expe­ri­ence of others.

In clos­ing thoughts, you or some­one you know might be tempt­ed to say, “I’m just one per­son, how much harm could I real­ly do to the envi­ron­ment?” But this is wrong. Yes, one per­son is like­ly to make lit­tle impact, but no man is an island. Hun­dreds or even thou­sands of peo­ple might be think­ing the same thing. Do your best to fol­low, but also spread the word about the best prac­tices to leave no trace.