Backpacker hiking on a mountain trail

The Principles of Leave No Trace

The purpose of these 7 principles is to preserve the outdoor environment for those that come after you.

In many back country camping areas, where there are strict rules regarding the impact on the environment by people hiking and camping, the seven principals of Leave No Trace are rules that must be followed.  Many campers have also begun following the Leave No Trace principles in areas accessible by car, day use areas, dog walking areas, etc.  The purpose of these 7 principles is to preserve the outdoor environment for those that come after you.  People that come to a popular area should have a natural environment to enjoy, not one that has been trampled on, with the vegetation destroyed, the wildlife chased away, and with litter all over.  So what are these principles, and what do they mean.

  • Plan ahead and prepare.  Make sure that you are ready for what you may encounter.  Plan for the weather.  Prepare food ahead to try to minimize waste.  Know where you are going, and prepare with GPS, maps, and compass so that you don’t get lost.  And research the area you are going so that you are familiar with the rules that apply to your camping group.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.  Stay on the trail, and utilize established camping areas.  Don’t trample the vegetation in areas that have not already been used as a trail.  This keeps the area fresh for everyone that comes after you, and minimizes damage to the environment.
  • Dispose of waste properly.  If you pack it in, pack it out.  Don’t leave waste from your meals, or anything else. Again, know the rules.  In some areas, you simply need to bury human waste material, but in other places you literally need to pack out EVERYTHING.  Basically pick up after yourself.
  • Leave what you find.  Just take pictures. Rocks, plants, animals, and anything else you find should stay there (unless you find garbage someone missed of course). If we each pick up a little souvenir, and take it home, the area that we are visiting and enjoying will be picked over and there will be nothing left for others to enjoy.
  • Be careful with fire.  Make sure you are aware of the local regulations. Some times of year, and areas can have fire hazard warnings, and fires are not allowed. Aside from that, you don’t want to destroy camp areas. Use an established fire ring if one is available. Keep it small, just what you need for cooking. Burn it down to ashes, and put it out completely by drowning it and scattering the ashes.
  • Respect wildlife. Watch wildlife that is there. Don’t scare them away, don’t approach them away, and never pick an animal up. Don’t destroy their habitat. Remember you are a guest, and the land you are enjoying is their home.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.  Other people may be trying to get back to nature, and enjoy the peace and quiet of the back country.  Be courteous on the trails.  Camp and take your breaks away from others, and avoid using unnecessarily loud voices so that others can enjoy the sounds of nature, and see the wildlife

For more details, further reading can be found at the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

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