The “Leave No Trace” seven principles are a common set of guidelines heard by those who spend a lot of time outdoors. But for those who are new to camping or have not heard of the phrase, it is essential to leave the campground just as you found it, if not better. Doing so helps everyone enjoy and protect our natural spaces.
The U.S each year gets 100 million visitors and over 10 billion outings to its outdoor recreation areas. All of that traffic can really take its toll on nature. That is why the “Leave No Trace” principle exists. If everyone were to disregard that rule, our parks and campgrounds would suffer. Impacted areas suffer from litter, invasive species, habituated wildlife, trail erosion, polluter water, and more! Following the rules doesn’t just help out the environment, but also makes the experience better for those after you.
While no one intends to do this, a lot of people may lack the knowledge on how to preserve it, or they simply overlook some important behaviors.
Before you head into the great outdoors, embrace the practices highlighted below.
Who Should Use the Leave No Trace Seven Principles?
The Leave No Trace principles were developed as a guide for those who often frequented the remote backcountry and generally spent the night. But all of the principles still apply to “Front Country” users as well.
You might be unfamiliar with those two terms; Backcountry and Frontcountry. “Backcountry” typically refers to the areas that are most often accessed by overnight users like backpackers. “Frontcountry” refers to areas that can be easily accessed by a car. These are typically city and state parks. Think of the places that you might walk your dog, go to a picnic, or do a quick day hike.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
Now to the actual principles, the Leave No Trace seven principles are:
- 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.
Now we will go in-depth about what exactly each term means.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
When you’re poorly prepared, you’re more likely to run into issues. Without proper research, you may be led into situations where you are ill-prepared, which can often lead to people making poor choices.
Planning ahead includes doing research about your destination and packing accordingly.
- Be aware of the regulations and special concerns for the area you intend to visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking terrain.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
When picking out an area for either a picnic or an overnight camp, find terrain that is best suited for heavy use. Ideal surfaces include established trails, campsite, rock, gravel, dry grass, or snow.
In popular areas, front-country or backcountry:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- Walk-in a single file in the middle of the trail, even when it’s wet or muddy. (This help reduce excessive trail erosion)
In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
Dispose of Waste Properly
This applies to all types of waste:
- Pack it in, pack it out. Whatever enters a camp that wasn’t properly thrown away should leave the camp.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater. Or if you are in an RV, wash the dishes inside and properly dispose of the wastewater.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Campfires are one of the most sacred camping traditions, but they can also be one of the most destructive. If you are cooking, and you have an RV, we suggest cooking inside whenever you can. This helps reduce any possible waste accidentally left behind.
- Use fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires when possible.
- Keep fires small.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Don’t bring firewood from home, which could introduce new pests and diseases. Buy it from a local source or gather it responsibly where allowed.
Leave What You Find
The adage “take only pictures, leave only footprints” still holds, although leaving fewer footprints is even better.
- Preserve the past: Examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species. This can be done accident;y by accidentally bringing them on your body or car.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
Don’t try to get near wildlife to get a photo. Get a camera with a zoom lens and take a picture from a safe distance. Not only does this help out the animal, but it can prevent any possible injuries.
- Observe wildlife from a distance.
- Never feed animals.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young or winter.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Treat anyone around with respect. Plain and simple.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock, such as horses and mules.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
- Manage your pet.