Leave No Trace: 7 Principles To Protect The Outdoors

Show Notes

Leave No Trace

In this episode, we go over the 7 principles of Leave No Trace with my tips on how you can follow them to enjoy the beauty that is the great outdoors while respecting and protecting the wildlife that lives there!

I am so grateful to be able to say I recently got back from a week-long semi-off-grid majestic camping trip in the Colorado Mountains outside of Denver! We mostly spent time in National Parks, which is where you hear a lot about Leave No Trace, and see the phrase “Pack it in, Pack it Out” signs everywhere. I wish I could’ve taken you with me, but since we can’t go on each other’s exursions – I wanted to quickly go over the principles of Leave No Trace with my tips on how you can follow them to enjoy the beauty that is the great outdoors while respecting and protecting the wildlife that lives there!

And if you’re wondering if this episode is for you – IT IS. Leave No Trace doesn’t just apply to backcountry outings – the Principles of Leave No Trace can be applied anywhere – from your backyard to your local park, and beyond!

Leave No Trace Center For Outdoor Ethics

The information and principles I provide here are used with permission by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a non-profit organization and educational program dedicated to protecting the outdoors by teaching people to enjoy it responsibly across the country since 1994!

Working with the public and those who manage public lands, Leave No Trace focuses on educating people instead of costly restoration programs and access restrictions as the most effective and least resource-intensive solutions to land protection. This helps to promote responsibility and stewardship, opening opportunities for continued visitation and recreation and enlarging the carrying capacity of America’s public lands. They reach 25 Million Americans per year with their outreach and operate in all 50 states.

They’re doing great work to allow us to continue to enjoy outdoor spaces without harming the planet. So if you’d like to make a donation or get involved with Leave No Trace – please visit lnt.org/give/join!

leave no trace logo

Reasons to leave no trace

Leave No Trace is what it sounds like – if you’re in natural spaces, the goal is to leave no trace that you were ever there. You might think that’s a little excessive or maybe out of reach, but you’d be surprised at the effects our actions can have on plants, animals, other people, and entire ecosystems! So taking a few easy, responsible steps to protect nature really isn’t asking that much in the grand scheme of things.

The Amount Of People Outdoors

The reason we need to follow Leave No Trace no matter where we are is because we can damage trails, natural areas, and wildlife when we aren’t being mindful. And unfortunately, Nine out of ten people who visit the outdoors are uninformed about Leave No Trace or how to minimize their impacts.

National Parks typically see well over 200 million visitors per year, and there are over 13 billion trips into the outdoors in the U.S every year.

You can imagine with that many people spending time in nature how much of an impact it makes. Litter can accumulate very quickly, and every small piece of trash makes a difference. Along the same lines, trails and natural areas packed with mass amounts of eager but potentially uninformed visitors can be largely affected. The Leave No Trace Center says that “It could take 10-30 years for an ecosystem to recover from irresponsible off-trail hiking or camping.” This is due to nature visitors creating new trails and sites, ignoring trail closures, and cutting switchbacks.

Protect Wildlife

Leave No Trace is also important for protecting water and wildlife. Whether it’s trash making its way into streams, rivers, or lakes, improperly washing your dishes or using the bathroom while you’re camping, or throwing out food thinking you’re doing wildlife a favor (hint: you’re not) – humans can easily pollute waters and cause wildlife danger.

Prevent Fires

And finally, LNT is important because humans cause 85% of destructive wildland fires that could be prevented. Americans pay $2.1 billion to fight fires in our nation’s parks and forests and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics says that 90% of those are caused by campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, or negligently discarding cigarettes.

So while you might be thinking no one is watching – I can just cut a trail, drop that piece of leftover food, or dump that little bit of soapy water into the nearest stream without anyone noticing – millions of others could be thinking the same thing, or not thinking about it AT ALL – while the effects of one mishap pile up and lead to disaster.

leave no trace:
7 Principles To Protect The Outdoors

Please visit lnt.org for more information on these principles and how you can get involved!

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Identify the expectations and abilities of the people getting involved in the outing so you can prepare the right equipment and activities. If you’re heading to a destination where you aren’t familiar with the rules and regulations for that area – plan ahead! Special restrictions and rules can be found online for almost any outdoor location, including local parks. When you get there, ask a ranger, pick up trail maps if available, and check postings to see what’s new. You also want to plan ahead for storing food, trash, and water, and make sure you’ve got all of the equipment you need to be safe and Leave No Trace!
    My tip: Find a list online of the things you’ll need for your specific type of trip or outing so you’re prepared.

  3. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.
  4. Don’t create new trails or campsites when possible. Instead, travel single file on pre-existing trails and confine your campsite to already established and impacted areas to reduce the amount of scarring to the land. If you are traveling off-trail to get to a remote campsite, explore, or even go to the bathroom – the rules are the opposite. Try to stay on rock, sand, or gravel, avoiding vegetation, and spreading out your group to avoid making trails. And keep your campsite as dispersed as you can to minimize impact.
    My Tip: schedule your excursion to avoid times of high traffic so you don’t feel compelled to go off the beaten path to get some peace.

  5. Dispose of Waste Properly
  6. This is where the term ‘Pack it in, pack it out’ comes in! AKA CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF. Whatever you pack in, you also need to bring out – including food, trash, spilled food, and in some cases human waste. If you did your planning and prepping right, this step will be a breeze! The best methods are to prepare your meals ahead of time to create less waste, have trash bags ready, dispose of your greywater 200 ft away from water sources, and be ready to dig a cat hole and bury it if you’ve got to go number two!
    My Tip: Take a bag with you strictly for trash (and pick up other’s trash if you see it along the way!)

  7. Leave What You Find
  8. This one is super simple! Just leave things as you found them. If you see a cool rock or plant – awesome! Take a picture and leave it for someone else to enjoy. Often, the things that are in nature that we enjoy or want to use are also resources or food for the animals that live there. This also applies to leaving things as you found them. Don’t damage trees or rocks by hanging things on them and especially don’t carve your initials, move rocks, or build structures.
    My Tip: Use a camera and a journal to document your trip – taking your memories and leaving everything else as you found it.

  9. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  10. First, make sure to check the fire danger where you’re located. If there are no restrictions and you plan on building a fire, use pre-existing fire rings or mounds. Don’t burn large logs collected from the area and don’t bring in your wood as it can carry invasive species. Buy locally-sourced wood or only take from the land what can be easily replaced – such as small sticks no larger than the size of your wrist gathered from a wide area. When you’re done – burn the wood down to ashes and douse with water – making sure there is no heat left.
    My Tip: Use a packable self-contained stove! – This is the one I use!

  11. Respect Wildlife
  12. We are guests in wildlife’s home when we are in nature. Give them space. Don’t bother them. And leave as little trace as possible. You wouldn’t go to friends, trash their house and then leave it as is because it is disrespectful. Leave no trace as you explore nature. This goes for sounds too. You don’t want to be loud, yell, or blast your music as it can stress and disrupt the animals (unless it’s bear country then you probably should make a little noise!) And please for the love of all things nature, don’t feed or try to touch the animals. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics says that wildlife in our parks are routinely relocated or euthanized due to conflicts with humans mostly originating from human garbage. If you’re following principles 1-5, you’re on the right path to respecting wildlife. My tip: Look up what types of animals are in the area you’re visiting so you can be prepared for what to do if you see one!

  13. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
  14. We all want to enjoy the outdoors – don’t ruin someone else’s trip (or even your next one) because you’re being careless. Keep pets under control, take breaks on durable surfaces off of the trail to leave room for others, camp away from others, don’t wear bright reflective colors, and be kind.
    My Tip: Be mindful that your actions have an impact, and the way you may be enjoying the outdoors can affect how others enjoy the outdoors as well.

© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: http://www.LNT.org.

Leave no trace + sustainability

That’s it! 7 principles that you can practice that will eventually become second nature! It’s more than a set of guidelines but more of a mindset of awareness.

In my opinion, Leave no trace principles are at the core of sustainable living. It’s about doing what we can to make sure that we can continue to enjoy the earth without restriction while respecting and protecting everyone and everything on it. It’s allowing systems to endure. It’s living harmoniously with nature. It’s taking only what we need and giving back what we can to make this world a better place. It all starts with your commitment, and I know you’ll decide to do the right thing, neighbor.

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