Leave No Trace

Teens To Trails's picture
Leave No Trace
Just one hike through the wilderness is enough to inspire a connection with nature that can last a lifetime.

However, we must ensure that the natural beauty which is available for everyone to experience today will remain unspoiled for lifetimes to come. The environment is open for all to enjoy, but it is crucial that we respect this symbiotic relationship by doing our own part to protect these wild and scenic areas. A national Leave No Trace educational program was developed to highlight our responsibilities as users of these precious natural resources. The program emphasizes the importance of minimizing our individual human impact on nature.

Here is a brief description of the basic Leave No Trace principles:

Fit In with the Environment

Many popular trails suffer from overuse, therefore it is important to take into account the simple impact of your presence in the wilderness. While hiking/traveling, always remember your surroundings and try to limit noise pollution and other wildlife disturbance by moving in smaller groups. Also, choose appropriate tents, packs and clothing of less obtrusive colors (except during hunting season) that blend in with the natural settings. If campsites are available, larger parties should try to use the group sites allowing small groups of hikers to have more secluded sites. Try to pick campsites away from water sources and main trails. Camping etiquette requires that all visitors respect each other's right to a relaxing and pleasant outdoor experience.

Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces

Trails and, where they are available, campsites have been created specifically to avoid unnecessary human impact on the environment. Please stick to these previously-established routes and sites as much as possible. If you do venture off-trail, it is best to travel on more durable surfaces, such as rock, sand, gravel, snow, pine needles and leaf litter to avoid damaging vegetation. Since vegetation in alpine zones tends to be especially fragile, make extra efforts to avoid camping and hiking off-trail in these areas.

If You Pack it In, Pack it Out

Being part of a pristine wilderness is awe-inspiring and the presence of trash and litter can quickly ruin this experience. Do everyone a favor and pack out all of your own trash and pick up any other trash you may see during your trip. Burning trash often results in lingering litter; carrying a trash bag in your pack is a cleaner solution. Left-over food is also considered trash and should never be dumped. Limit left-overs by carefully planning meals and only cooking what will be eaten. Scraps from meals and spilled food should be packed out just like any other piece of trash. To avoid accidental litter of small wrappers or twist-ties, think ahead and open individually-wrapped snacks and combine into a ziplock bag. Do not leave food out overnight as the scent may attract animals that may not be welcome in your campsite.

And if it Can't be Packed Out…

Always properly dispose of things that cannot be packed out, such as human waste and cooking/washing water. If outhouses are not available at your campsite, the best method for human waste disposal is burying. The four major considerations outlined by Leave No Trace are: avoid pollution of water sources, eliminate contact with insects and animals, maximize decomposition, and minimize social impacts. To satisfy these guidelines, the digging of “catholes” is recommended. Always dig catholes at least 200 ft. away from water, trails, campsites and gullies. Catholes should be widely spaced and dug 4-6 inches deep in organic top-soil. All toilet paper and feminine products should be packed out. As far as wastewater goes, soap should be used very minimally and water is to be scattered over as wide an area as possible away from water and campsites.

Leave Nature the Way You Found It

Make sure that your outdoor experience will not take away from the enjoyment of future visitors. Do not move rocks, cut down trees or even pick flowers. Remember it is illegal in National Parks to remove natural objects without a permit. Allow everyone to experience the wilderness in its natural state. Also, it is important to respect private property. Access to backcountry areas is often graciously granted by landowners. Ensure their continued cooperation by being conscientious of their wishes and privacy.

Limit Fire Use and Impact

Know the Fire Restrictions in the area where you plan to travel. Fires are often banned in fragile ecosystems and during dry periods when the danger of forest fires is high. Always use existing fire rings when available and keep fires small and safe. Use only dead and downed branches for firewood. Monitor fire until it has burned down to ash or very small coals. Above all just be careful.

Get excited about your next outdoor adventure, but don't forget the Leave No Trace principles. Litter, water pollution, disturbance of wildlife, vegetation and other visitors are unfortunate side-effects of human use that can be avoided completely.


Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics