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Leave No Trace and Beyond

Enjoy your connection to the outdoors in a responsible, sustainable way. Leave No Trace provides a guide for all outdoor enthusiasts.

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Heaps of trash on WA trail hike

Up to 164 million people in the USA enjoy more than 12 billion outdoor adventures annually [1]. Leave No Trace guides responsibly enjoy and protect the outdoors, whether hiking, car camping, backpacking, or even at home. 

I am an outdoor enthusiast who took the Leave No Trace course [2], read multiple research articles, blogs, and books, and spent well over 15+ hours researching not only Leave No Trace but also general environmental philosophy, wilderness management theory, and various outdoor ethic recommendations that extend beyond the Leave No Trace seven principles. 

Leave No Trace Seven Principles

#1 Plan Ahead And Prepare

  • Keep your group small to reduce impact.
  • Know the rules and get a permit if needed.
  • Check the weather forecast.
  • Bring appropriate gear and clothing.
  • Test gear at home.
  • Schedule arrival 2 hours before sunset to set up camp.

#2 Travel And Camp On Durable Surfaces

  • Hike on designated trails.
  • Hiking in the middle of the trail, including walking through mud puddles to reduce trail widening.
  • Walk spread out on barren dirt, gravel, sand, rock, snow, or leaf litter in low or no-trail areas.
  • Avoid stepping on living soil or cryptobiotic crusts found especially in desert areas.
  • Avoid trail shortcuts.
  • Find a great campsite, preferably at an established site.

#3 Dispose Of Waste Properly

  • Biodegradable soap doesn’t mean it’s good for fish or plants.
  • Wash dishes in a large container rather than directly in streams or lakes.
  • Strain out food bits from dishwater or gray water and dispose of them in the trash rather than on the ground or in the water.
  • If disposal facilities aren’t available, scatter gray water widely >200 ft from the camp and water sources. This includes using your camp shower.
  • Pee on durable surfaces such as rocks or pine duff >200ft from trails, campsites, high-traffic areas, and water sources [3].
  • Poop in an outhouse if available; otherwise, dig a hole and bury at least 200ft from the trail, camp, or water sources.
  • Always pack out or bury dog poop.
  • Pack out all trash, including peels, diapers, and eggshells. 

#4 Leave What You Find

  • Take a picture instead of taking it or carving it.
  • Leave all rocks, flowers, and other natural objects.
  • Leave archaeological objects, including arrowheads, as these are federally protected [4].
  • Follow all foraging guidelines [5].
  • Leave areas as you find them, including avoiding digging trenches or building forts.
  • Clean outdoor gear before and after your trip to reduce invasive species.

#5 Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Use stoves for cooking.
  • Check regulations before starting a campfire.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Supervise young children around the fire.
  • Only use sticks that are dead, down, and can be broken by hand without tools.
  • Put out fires safely by letting it burn down, drowning it with water, stirring it up, and checking it for heat.

#6 Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance.
  • Never feed wildlife.
  • Store food and trash securely using a bear canister.
  • Take binoculars or zoom lenses for maximum wildlife enjoyment.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

#7 Be Considerate Of Others

  • Share the trail with uphill hikers with the right of way and use caution when passing.
  • Reduce noise, both your voice and music, while camping and hiking.
  • Limit entertainment and communication tech while outdoors.
  • Show respect and care for all – No shaming/bullying. 
  • Be a responsible pet owner who knows the rules, picks up poop, and keeps your pet on a leash.
  • Make outdoors welcoming, especially for minority communities.
    • Often with a fear of outdoor spaces due to historical reasons
    • Often with a lack of knowledge of how to get to and enjoy the outdoors
    • Often experience a lack of an invitation to get outdoors (but they don’t need permission either)
    • For more info, check out Black Folks Camp Too.

Beyond Leave No Trace 

Photo: ©Kamchatka via Canva.com

Leaving no trace is truly impossible. The Leave No Trace Center, the US Forest Service, and various other groups have advocated for going beyond Leave No Trace by moving towards a sustainable lifestyle every day [6,7,8,9]. Here are several tips recommended by various experts to go beyond Leave No Trace towards a better, more sustainable outdoor lifestyle: 

#8 Beyond Leave Not Trace Starts at Home

  • Reuse equipment and clothing if possible.
  • Buy only the necessary equipment and clothing you need.
  • Minimize single-use items.
  • Take care of your equipment and clothing, including properly caring for your sleeping bag, boots, tent, backpack, and other outdoor gear.
  • Use responsible geo-tagging on social media.
  • Make responsible food and lifestyle consumption choices.
  • Decrease overall energy consumption, including the use of alternative transportation. 
  • Get involved in outdoor communities advocating for sustainability.
  • Start today in your green space areas.

#9 Beyond Leave No Trace Continues with a Broader Awareness

  • Learn about the ecological processes and conditions in the areas you both live and enjoy outdoors, such as the prior indigenous cultures, local weather patterns, geology, native plants, trees, and animals.
  • Learn basic primitive woodcraft skills such as reading animal tracks, foraging, building a survival shelter, and other basic survival skills.
  • Learn about the manufacturing process of your outdoor gear and clothing.
  • Seek and find hidden, local outdoor opportunities, reducing travel while increasing your opportunities for outdoor enjoyment.

Enjoy your connection to the outdoors in a responsible, sustainable way. Take your first step and look at our guide on finding a great campsite.

FAQs

Are there any additional educational resources or programs for ‘Leave No Trace’?

There are tons of educational resources and programs available for those interested in learning more about ‘Leave No Trace,’ including:

– The Sources below are a great start.
Workshops and training courses offered by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.
– Educational materials provided by the National Parks Service and other outdoor organizations.

What does ‘Beyond Leave No Trace’ mean?

‘Beyond Leave No Trace’ refers to practices that minimize your impact and contribute positively to the environment. This includes:

– Picking up litter left by others.
– Participating in conservation efforts.
– Educating yourself and others about sustainable practices

Can ‘Leave No Trace’ principles be applied in everyday life?

Yes, ‘Leave No Trace’ principles can be applied daily by:

– Reducing waste and recycling.
– Conserving water and energy.
– Supporting conservation efforts and organizations

Sources

  1. 2022 Outdoor Participation Trends Report by the Outdoor Foundation
  2. Leave No Trace 101 Course
  3. How to Pee Outside Leave No Trace Center via Youtube
  4. Archeological Resources Protection by U.S. Forest Service
  5. How to Leave No Trace When Foraging by Leave No Trace Center
  6. Beyond Leave No Trace by Gregory Simon and Peter Alagona
  7. Managing for Wilderness Experiences in the 21st Century by Joseph Roggenbuck
  8. Leaving ‘Leave No Trace’ Behind by Green Teacher
  9. ASAP 2.0: As Sustainable as Possible by multiple authors at Northland College
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AUTHOR
Daniel Borkert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Outdoor Footprints, a website that tells you everything you need to know about camping and hiking. He is an avid outdoorsman with almost four decades of experience in hiking, camping, caving, and fishing. Daniel loves to involve his wife and kids in his outdoor pursuits and inspire other families to do the same. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his family and an energetic Boston Terrier named Zion.

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