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The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace

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The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace

If you spend any amount of time outside, you’ve probably heard about the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. But what are the principles? And what do they mean?

This helpful guide will take a look at all of the Leave No Trace principles and explain why everyone from day hikers and campers to backpackers and adventure seekers should follow them.

Who Should Use the Leave No Trace Seven Principles?

While the Leave No Trace principles started as a guide for backpackers to reduce their impact on the environment, they’re now something that everyone should consider when they spend time enjoying the outdoors.

After all, our parks and forests see millions of visitors every year. If we don’t take care of our natural spaces, they can quickly become ruined. Not only does this hurt future generations who won’t get to experience the beauty of nature, but it also hurts the plants and animals that call these natural areas home.

Related: Hiking for Beginners-All of Your Questions Answered

The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

When you’re not prepared, you’re more likely to make a mistake on your hike and run into trouble. Planning ahead and preparing for your hike means doing research about where you’re going and bringing along the right gear to ensure a safe and comfortable hike.

Related: How to Stay Cool When You’re Hiking in the Heat

You can also plan ahead and prepare by:

  • Knowing the rules and regulations for the area you’re visiting.
  • Packing for emergencies, hazards, and extreme weather.
  • Scheduling your trip to avoid the busiest days.
  • Splitting large groups into smaller groups whenever possible.
  • Repackaging food to reduce waste.
  • Learning how to use a map and compass to eliminate the use of rock cairns, marking paint, or flagging.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Whether you’re setting up for a picnic or camping on the trail, you want to make sure you do so on durable areas that can withstand the use. Ideal types of resilient terrain include established trails and campsites, gravel, rock, sand, dry grass, and snow.

In popular areas, you should:

  • Use existing trails and campsites.
  • Stay single file in the middle of the trail, even if you have to walk through mud.
  • Camp at least 200 feet away from lakes and streams.
  • Keep your campsite small and try to stay in areas where there is little vegetation.

In pristine areas, you should:

  • Spread out use to prevent creating new campsites and trails.
  • Avoid using places where you see the impacts of other hikers or campers.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

The principle of disposing of waste properly includes everything from litter to bathroom waste. When you’re hiking or camping, keep these tips in mind:

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Look around your campsite or places where you stop to take a break to make sure you’re not accidentally leaving behind any trash. Take all of your leftover food and trash. Always leave trails and campsites cleaner than you found them.
  • If you have to use the bathroom, use toilet facilities whenever possible. If there are no facilities available and you’re positive the area doesn’t require you to pack out solid human waste, dig a cathole that’s 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet from water, trails, and campsites. Cover and disguise the cathole when you’re finished. You can check out our article on how to go to the bathroom in the woods for more helpful tips.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • If you need to wash yourself or dishes, carry water at least 200 feet away from lakes or streams and use a small amount of biodegradable soap. Scatter the strained dishwater when you’re done.

4. Leave What You Find

The old saying, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints,” still holds true today. Of course, the fewer footprints you can leave, the better!

  • Preserve the past by only looking at or photographing artifacts and cultural or historical structures. Never touch them.
  • Leave plants, rocks, and other natural objects where you find them.
  • Avoid taking or transporting non-native plants or animals from one environment to another.
  • Do not build furniture, structures, or dig trenches.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Campfires can be one of the most dangerous and destructive parts of camping or hiking, especially if they’re left unattended and they spread.

  • Use a lightweight stove for cooking and a headlamp or a lantern for light.
  • If you’re in an area where campfires are permitted, only use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep your campfire small and only use dead or downed wood from the ground that you can easily break by hand.
  • Don’t bring firewood from home. It can introduce new pests and diseases to the area.
  • Burn all of the wood and coals to ash. Make sure the campfire is completely extinguished, then scatter the cool ashes.

6. Respect Wildlife

It’s safer for you and any animals you might encounter if you never approach them in the wild.

  • Only observe wildlife from a distance. Never follow or touch them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding them can make them sick, cause them to associate humans with food, and exposes them to predators.
  • Store your food and trash securely, such as in a bear canister.
  • Use proper gear to keep your dogs under control and safe.
  • Avoid animals during sensitive times of the year, such as mating, nesting, or raising young.

Related: How to Avoid Encounters With Dangerous Animals

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Here’s another famous saying that’s important to keep in mind when you’re hiking: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

  • Respect other visitors so they can also have a good time outside.
  • Be courteous and yield to other users on the trail.
  • Stand on the downhill side of the trail when letting horses or mules pass.
  • When possible, take breaks and set up camp away from the trail and other visitors.
  • Avoid loud voices and other noises so everyone can enjoy the sounds of nature.
  • Always keep your pets under control.

Related: Trail Etiquette-The Five Hiking Rules You Never Want to Break

The Principles of Leave No Trace

These principles of Leave No Trace were established by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics so that everyone can do their part to protect our natural world. Now that you’re familiar with these important principles, you can ensure all of your outdoor adventures are fun while you preserve nature’s beauty for everyone else to enjoy.

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