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The Basics of Leave No Trace: Minimizing Your Impact on The Trail

The Basics of Leave No Trace: Minimizing Your Impact on The Trail

Now more than ever, people are seeking an escape in the great outdoors. As more folks head out to discover their own backyards this summer, leaving no trace behind has become even more important.

Created years ago and now overseen by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) have been used by guides, hikers, bikers, and even city park-goers to preserve our outdoor spaces for future generations. Read the basics on the Seven Principles below and head to the LNT website for a deeper dive into LNT ethics!

Man and woman hiking on rocky terrain.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Travelling ethically outdoors requires planning before ever leaving the house. Planning should include taking the group’s skills into consideration, studying maps and guides, packing the necessary equipment, and taking into account the land restrictions, weather, and time of year. A poorly planned trip can lead to off-trail travel, illegal campfires, or poor camping spot selection - impacting the land unnecessarily.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Stay on the trail! Avoid trampling vegetation and don’t widen a trail by walking side-by-side. Stay on durable surfaces when off-trail venturing is necessary. When planning where to pitch your tent, stay away from the edges of trails or waterways. If possible, avoid camping atop vegetation - instead choose soil, rock, or gravel as your sleeping and cooking area.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

Pack it in, pack it out! Never leave trash, food waste, or toilet paper in the backcountry. Cat holes should be 200 feet from water or human activity (trails, campsites). Bring a sealable bag for disposing of any bathroom trash - it doesn’t belong in the ground!

4. Leave What You Find

This principle includes avoiding building makeshift structures for campsites, building improper fire rings, or removing flowers or rocks from the area. Don’t carve into trees or disturb habitats, and leave the views pristine for other visitors. 

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Many recreational areas have designated campfire areas, so don’t build additional fire rings. Use a stove when you can for cooking instead of a fire. Only use local firewood when building your campfire, and ALWAYS put it out fully before leaving!

6. Respect Wildlife

Just like many people, wildlife need their space. Observe wild animals from a distance, and never feed wild animals (even if they beg). Avoid getting between a mother and her offspring, and allow animals to pass freely by you - don’t chase them away.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Lastly, keep the other adventurers on the trail in mind when exploring. Leave the speakers at home, and let faster groups pass you on the trail. Keep pets under control and follow all leash regulations. Remember to be courteous and others will do the same!

Man and woman running on a trail.

These guiding principles will keep our wild places usable and enjoyable for everyone. Share the principles of LNT with those in your group or those you encounter on the trail and we can all do our part to care for the environment we adventure in.