“Leave No Trace” (LNT) is a principle designed to guide outdoor enthusiasts in ethical and sustainable engagement with the natural world. Its foundation lies in the idea of enjoying the outdoors responsibly, minimizing human impact, and preserving the integrity of the natural environment for future generations.
Originating in the backcountry, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics expanded these principles to apply to any outdoor recreation. These principles are not set rules or laws but guidelines for making good decisions when we interact with nature. Let’s take a detailed look at each of the seven principles of LNT.
Let’s get into the Leave No Trace principles.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
Planning and preparation are key to minimizing your impact on the environment. This includes researching your destination, understanding regulations, and anticipating weather conditions. Ensure you have the correct equipment, such as appropriate clothing, tools, and navigation aids. Preparing also involves packing enough food and water, and understanding the level of difficulty and potential hazards of the terrain.
Preparation allows you to reduce waste by repackaging food into reusable containers and selecting equipment that can be used multiple times. Proper planning can also minimize damage to the land and resources, as you are less likely to find yourself off trail, causing unnecessary erosion or damaging flora.
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Minimize your footprint by staying on established trails and camping in designated areas. These areas have been chosen for their resilience to withstand the repeated impact of human traffic. If you must venture off-trail, choose durable surfaces like rock, sand, or gravel. Avoid walking or camping on vegetation or in areas where your presence will cause long-term damage.
When camping, aim to stay at least 200 feet away from water sources to prevent potential contamination and to protect the habitat of local wildlife. Keeping a distance also helps preserve the natural experiences of other visitors.
- Dispose of Waste Properly
“Pack it in, pack it out.” This simple phrase embodies a critical LNT principle. All waste, including food scraps and hygiene products, should be carried out of the outdoors in a sealed bag or container to be properly disposed of at home or in designated waste disposal areas.
Human waste should be deposited in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet away from water sources, trails, and campsites. After use, the cathole should be covered and disguised. In some high use areas, or places where decomposition is slow due to a cold climate, you may be required to pack out human waste. This is a great alternative.
- Leave What You Find
The outdoors is full of fascinating objects and artifacts, but their place is in the wild, not on your bookshelf. Each rock, plant, and historical artifact contributes to the natural and cultural heritage of the area, so it’s important to leave these as you found them. This also includes not carving into trees, moving rocks, or creating new trails.
Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species by cleaning your gear, clothing, and vehicles before and after each trip. This helps to prevent the spread of potentially harmful organisms to new environments.
- Minimize Campfire Impact
While a roaring campfire is often associated with camping, it can cause lasting damage to the environment. Use a lightweight camp stove for cooking instead of making a fire. If you must have a fire, use established fire rings, keep fires small, and burn only small sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
Never leave a fire unattended, and make sure it’s completely extinguished before leaving. Do not bring firewood from home, which could introduce non-native insects or diseases; instead, collect it responsibly or buy it locally.
- Respect Wildlife
Keep a safe and respectful distance from wildlife.
Feeding animals is harmful as it alters their natural behaviors and makes them accustomed to human food, which can be detrimental to their health and survival. Moreover, it can make them dangerous to humans. Observe wildlife from a distance and never approach, feed, or follow them.
Keep your food stored securely to avoid attracting wildlife to your campsite. Travel quietly to minimize your disturbance to animals and their habitats. And remember to control pets at all times, or better yet, leave them at home.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Respect for others enhances the outdoor experience for everyone. Keep noise levels down to allow others to enjoy the natural sounds of the environment. Yield to other hikers on the trail, and follow established guidelines for right-of-way.
Camping privacy is important; set up your camp away from other groups. Avoid hiking or camping in large groups, which can create more impact and are often noisier. Lastly, always respect the rules and regulations of the area you are visiting.
The “Leave No Trace” principles are a guide to outdoor ethics, promoting responsible, sustainable, and respectful behavior. While these principles are broad in nature, they can be adapted to various environments and situations, reminding us that we are not merely visitors in nature but part of an intricate ecosystem.
Our actions, no matter how insignificant they may seem, can have lasting effects on the environment. By understanding and incorporating these principles into our outdoor activities, we can all play a part in preserving the beauty and integrity of our natural world for future generations.
As we head out to camp, hike, or simply enjoy the great outdoors, let’s keep these principles in mind, because the only thing we should leave behind is our footprint and the only thing we should take is memories. And for a LNT article on mountain biking check ou this article.