Leave No Trace: The 7 Principles
Why it matters to Leave No Trace
With more and more people enjoying the great outdoors and everything it has to offer; it takes its toll on these precious places. They suffer from litter, disturbed wildlife, land destruction, damaged trees through hammock misuse. The list goes on. And with nearly 300 million visitors to National State Parks in 2021 and over 12.5 million overnight stays, these natural spaces have borne the brunt of a lot of human traffic and activity.
To help protect and preserve our natural habitats, the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace have been developed to help minimise the impact we have when recreating in outdoor spaces. If you love to spend time in the outdoors, backcountry or frontcountry, embrace these seven principles and encourage others to follow the Leave No Trace principles.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- 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.
Read more here.
How to follow these principles:
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
Whether you’re heading out on a day trip, or into the backcountry for a few days, it’s important to plan ahead and research where you’re going to help you understand what you need to pack, what facilities are available, if any, appropriate apparel and footwear as well as route planning to ensure you stick to trails.
A few tips when planning your trip:
- Prepare for the worst – depending on where you’re heading out to, the weather can be hugely changeable so plan for extreme weather.
- Avoid peak season – It isn’t always possible to do this but try to plan your trip to avoid crowds!
- Plan your stops – to avoid setting up camp or a picnic in non-designated areas which can damage fauna, try to research the best places for you to pitch-up which will limit your impact.
- Minimise waste – try to reduce the amount of waste/ trash you can create by removing excess packaging before you leave home and even re-packing food so you don’t create any waste at all.
- Pack navigation equipment – it’s so easy to get lost by veering off the beaten track, taking a short-cut or losing your way due to inclement weather so be sure to pack the essential navigational tools – a compass and a map! You want to avoid having to mark the land in any way.
One fantastic way to minimise your impact when travelling is to go on foot - hiking or trekking instead of using transport is a great way to really reduce your carbon footprint. This guide is a good place to start in planning your next hiking adventure, as it lists out 20 of the best routes in the world!
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Whether setting up a picnic, or a camping spot, seek out dedicated recreational spaces which have been established for your intended use. Find a great campsite or picnicking accommodation and be inspired to find a perfect picnic spot – remember, it pays to plan ahead! The National Parks offer loads of picnic spots – for inspiration, take a look here.
You can also limit your impact and help to leave no trace by:
- Sticking to trails to avoid unintended trails being created which others may be tempted to follow.
- Don’t venture onto ground where new growth is just beginning.
- Use the middle of paths to prevent unnatural path widening.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
The whole idea of leaving no trace is to leave a place in a cleaner than you found it. That means removing all traces of human activity, whether your camping, hiking or out for a picnic and this applies to everything from litter to human waste. So, here are a few tips to help minimise the impact you have on the natural environment:
- Ensure you inspect your campsite or picnic spot making sure you have taken all your litter and leftover food with you. Once you’ve packed up, also check you haven’t left any items behind.
- Human waste is a big problem, especially in high traffic areas like Mt. Rainier and Longs Peak. Human by-products carry a slew of bacteria and pathogens which can, if incorrectly disposed of can pollute streams and harm local animal habitats.
- So, ensure you either bag up the waste you create and take it with you or using a small trowel dig a cat hole – a hole about 6-8 inches deep (about the length of the trowel blade) and 4-6 inches in diameter and make your deposit here. It’s important you do this at least 200 feet away from water sources (rivers, streams, lakes), camps and trails.
Read more on the impact of human waste here.
- Toilet paper is unfortunately becoming a common site our National Parks as more and more people venture outdoors. If nature calls, bag up your toilet paper.
4. Minimize Campfire Impacts
We all love a good campfire, but they are also the cause of many wildfires too and leave their mark on the earth. A few simple steps for you to follow include:
- Where fires are permitted, use established/ existing fire pits/ rings.
- Don’t be tempted to build a bonfire - keep fires small and only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand to fuel your fire.
- Don’t leave your campfire unattended and ensure your fire is completely extinguished before leaving the area.
- Once your fire is out, scatter the cooled ashes.
Take a look at this Campfire Safety infographic to learn how to minimize the impact of your campfire.
5. Leave What You Find
To help reduce the impact of human activity and to help preserve the past, one of the principles of leave no trace is to leave what you find. This means:
- No touching, interfering with or removing artifacts or historical landmarks.
- Don’t build your own structures, whether that be natural shelters or rock cairns (piles of rocks). You should leave rocks, plants, trees, as you find them.
- No picking flowers, other plants for two reasons; 1. You risk transporting non-native species and introducing them into other habitats which can cause an imbalance to delicate eco systems but also, prevents species from pollination from occurring.
6. Respect Wildlife
It’s important to remember that wildlife is wild! It’s unpredictable and interacting with wildlife can be dangerous as well as harmful to the creatures you are interacting with, helping to spread disease. During any recreational visit, you should try and observe the following to avoid disturbing any wildlife:
- Use binoculars to observe wildlife from distance – let wildlife be wild.
- Don’t feed or leave food for wildlife to feast on (they can become dependent on this type of food altering natural behaviours).
- Keep dogs on a leash to avoid disturbing habitats e.g. ground nesting birds.
Take a look at the National Parks Service seven ways to watch wildlife safely.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Respect your fellow outdoors folk by being courteous and following a few simple etiquettes while enjoying the great outdoors. This will not only enhance your enjoyment, but the quality of others experience too. Try to follow these rules of engagement:
- Step to one side for other users of a trail – especially when they are going uphill!
- Keep noise levels down. Excessive noise can scare off wildlife but also prevents others from enjoying the natural sounds nature can make.
- Do you know groups leading or riding livestock have the right-of-way on trails? And bikers should yield to both equestrians and hikers? Try to follow this rule and lead by example.
- Avoid popular camping or picnic spots and try and find dedicated spaces off the beaten track.
- Keep your pets under control – don’t let them frighten others and most importantly, remember to clean up after your pet.
The goal of Leave No Trace is to leave the ground as clean or cleaner than you found it. We want to protect our open spaces for future generations, and by observing the seven principles of leave no trace you helping to do just that. For more information visit Leave No Trace.