As you begin to spend more time in the great outdoors, you are likely to hear the phrase “Leave No Trace” as frequently as you hear “the Ten Essentials.” What does it mean? Basically, the seven principles of leave no trace are the best practices to follow so that we can all do our part in protecting the natural environment.
Our personal attraction to the great outdoors is growing. With over 100 million visitors to the U.S. National Parks each year, the human impact can easily take a toll on the natural environment. From litter to water pollution and trail erosion, it’s easy to see the impression left behind. Hence the need for the seven principles of leave no trace
In general, most people don’t intend on damaging the natural habitats. Perhaps many people lack the inherent knowledge to protect and preserve natural environments, or even merely overlook a few simple and important behaviors that make up the seven principles of leave no trace.
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a nonprofit group that has pioneered efforts to bring awareness to the human impact on natural spaces. The best practices are expressed through the seven principles of leave no trace that cover basic skills and also general guidelines for outdoor awareness.
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Seven Principles Of Leave No Trace
The seven principles of leave no trace share a guide to minimize impact on the land so that everyone can continue to enjoy the great outdoors for many years to come. The seven principles of leave no trace were created to help provide education curriculum and general guidelines for outdoors enthusiasts to lessen the effects of human recreation.
Although the origins of the seven principles of leave no trace are rooted in backcountry and wilderness recreation, these core principles should be practiced in parks, beaches and even your local community. Minimize the human impact you leave on the land by following these seven principles of leave no trace and best practices for outdoor recreation.
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Plan ahead as best as possible. When you prepare poorly, that is when you experience the most obstacles.
Plan ahead and consider problems like fatigue, fear and essential equipment for the destination. Research and prepare for possible situations and emergencies.
Don’t find yourself in a position where you are forced to make poor choices. The wilderness is rarely forgiving.
- Understand the regulations and special circumstances for the region.
- Research the weather before you leave, and prepare for possible extremes, hazards and emergencies.
- Account for trail quotas and plan your trip to avoid peak seasons.
- Reduce impact by splitting larger groups into smaller groups when possible.
- Minimize waste by repackaging foods
- Use a map and compass to reduce the need for marking paint, rock cairns or trail flagging.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Find strong and resilient surfaces to setup your picnic outing or overnight campsite. Use established trails, dedicated campsites, rock, gravel, dry grass or snow.
When you spend time in popular backcountry areas, be sure to:
- Use existing trails and established campsites.
- Camp at least 200 feet from any water sources.
- Keep campsites small by focusing activity in areas where no vegetation exists.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, especially when it’s wet or muddy.
In fragile or untouched areas:
- Prevent the creation of new campsites and trails.
- Avoid impacting areas where human signs are just beginning.
Dispose of Waste Properly
The seven principles of leave no trace apply to everything from litter to human waste and rinse water.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or even spilled foods. Pack out all pieces of trash, leftover food scraps and litter. Be sure to leave an area cleaner than you found it.
- Deposit solid human waste in holes that are dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, campsites and trails. Cover and disguise the hole when finished. In addition, some highly impacted areas even require human waste to be packed out!
- Pack out toilet paper and any hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Strain the dishwater, discard food scraps and scatter the grey water when finished.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Although campfires are an everlasting camping ritual, they can also be very destructive. Instead, use a lightweight stove or candle lantern for light. Embrace the darkness and enjoy your time stargazing.
- When fires are permitted, use previously established fire rings.
- Keep fires small by using sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, extinguish campfires completely, and then scatter ashes once they cool.
- Don’t bring firewood from home, because this could introduce new pests and diseases. Buy wood locally or responsibly gather it where allowed.
Check out this article for helpful safety tips on how to build a campfire.
Leave What You Find
The motto “take only pictures, leave only footprints” still applies; although the fewer footprints the better.
- Preserve the past by inspecting and observing. Do not touch any cultural or historic buildings and relics.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects in the place you found them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species by cleaning boot soles, kayak hulls and bike tires between outings.
- Do not build structures, make furniture or dig trenches.
Don’t approach animals. Pack along a pair of binoculars and a zoom lens for your camera. As a result, both you and the wildlife will be much happier.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach any wild animals.
- Never feed wild animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health and alters their natural behaviors. In addition, it also exposes them to predators and other dangerous habits.
- Protect wildlife by properly storing food rations and trash.
- Control your pet at all times, or else leave them at home.
- Avoid interacting with wildlife during sensitive times of the year like mating, nesting, raising young and also wintertime.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
The golden rule applies in the outdoors as well, “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.”
- Respect other visitors and the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous on the trail and yield to others.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when crossing paths with pack stock.
- Take breaks and setup campsites away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices, music and other noises.
- Supervise your pet at all times.
The seven principles of leave no trace are based on a common respect for others and the environment. These core principles are researched scientifically to support human recreation ecology and also are considered the best sustainable practices for natural resources. Reduce recreation related impact and also continue to enjoy the outdoors in the least destructive ways possible.