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.