Seven Leave No Trace principles were put in place to minimize human impacts on the outdoors when commercial recreation was quickly expanding to the outdoors in the mid-1960s due to the accessibility of affordable tents, sleeping bags and other camping gear.
The 7 principles of Leave No Trace were carefully crafted by the highest authorities in the American outdoors (the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management), and they remain a gigantic piece of preserving the wild in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
As a camper and hiker, I follow these principles to help keep the outdoors pristine and clean for the next hikers or campers who will walk the same trails and pitch a tent at the campsites — and for the next generations of hikers and campers who haven’t been born yet.
If you hike, camp, rock climb or do anything in the outdoors, the seven Leave No Trace principles should also be your guidelines to help preserve the outdoors.
Before we get to the seven principles of Leave No Trace, I’d like to divulge to you that I donate 5% of this blog’s income to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a tremendous organization that lives the principles day in and day out.
This is not a sponsored post and they do not pay me for doing any of this. I just really love the company, what they stand for and try to make a difference any way I can. They educate the general public about these principles. They preserve the wild and protect the parks by getting hands-on with cleanups. They lead research efforts to figure out what we could be doing better to minimize our impacts — and they do so much more!
7 Leave No Trace Principles
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Others
What Does LNT Stand For?
LNT stands for Leave No Trace and is a common acronym for the saying, which consists of seven principles designed to minimize human impact on the outdoors and preserve hiking trails, campsites, National and State Parks, National Forest and so much public and private land around the world.
7 Principles of Leave No Trace
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
Planning ahead and preparing before you set off on your hike or camping getaway helps you learn about what to expect on hiking trails, which animals you may be sharing the campsite with, how to properly minimize your impact on the outdoors and so much more.
For backcountry hikers going on multi-day journeys, properly preparing by planning ahead can help you enjoy your trek while staying safe in the backcountry and minimizing your impact on the outdoors.
Planning and Preparation for Hiking Trails, Campsites, Food and Weather Conditions
- Know the hike’s difficulty and skill levels of everyone hiking
- Properly outfit yourself with the 10 hiking essentials
- Make sure you have the right hiking boots, hiking gear and camping gear
- Know how to read a topo map and have the right maps with you
- Research the terrain and which animals you may encounter and learn how to stay safe
- Know the weather conditions at the peak of the hike and campsites
- Familiarize yourself with the private/public land boundaries
- Gauge the food consumptions rate and number of people to determine how much food to bring
- Learn how to filter water with a LifeStraw or other filter
- Repack your food to discard original packaging before the hike or camp
- Try to utilize a camp stove instead of a fire as much as you can
- Know how to properly start a campfire
If you plan ahead and prepare, you’ll be ready to take on anything. However, those who don’t properly plan ahead and prepare may put themselves at risk of being injured or lost on the trail, strolling into a campsite ill-prepared when a fire ban is in effect, carrying inadequate amounts of food or water and many other things that could potentially be life-threatening.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Traveling and camping on durable surfaces goes for both hiking and camping and is especially important for those hikers and backpackers venturing into the backcountry, where much of the land has been untouched and naturally preserved.
- Hike only on trails when there are trails present
- Minimize impact for off-trail hiking by respecting the vegetation
- Hike and camp on highly durable surfaces like rock, gravel, sand, snow and dry grass instead of living soil or vegetation
- Don’t walk through water in the desert, as many animals need it to live
- Camp at least 200 feet away from water
- Always use designated hiking trails and campsites if they’re available
- When not available, disperse the group to minimize impact on the number of times one areas sees foot traffic
If you consider the recommendations and use them in your camping and hiking journeys, you’ll be doing your part to help preserve precious outdoor surfaces. But if large groups hike on the same off-trail paths and camp in the backcountry in a small area, those areas will see maximum impact quickly.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
We’ve all seen garbage on the side on the road and, hopefully, you get a little irked when you see it. The truth of the matter is that some people are always going to improperly dispose of waste, but that, as hikers and campers, we can ensure to never leave waste on trails or at campsites.
Disposing of waste properly is super easy if you abide by the following steps. Plus, it’s one of the best ways to ensure we keep the outdoors pristine for the next hikers and campers for many years to come.
- Use the pack it in, pack it out methodology to ensure you never leave anything behind
- Dig a 6- to 8-inch hole at least 200 feet away from water, trails and camp to dispose of human waste
- Pack out all personal hygiene items and toilet paper
- Wash your dishes and yourself at least 200 feet away from water sources
- Plan meals to eliminate odorous and messy garbage
- Use plastic bags to store your trash inside your backpack
- Never leave organic material, like apple cores or orange peels, behind
4. Leave What You Find
The outdoors should be treated as an art museum, you can look but you should refrain from touching. While one person picking a flower or digging a trench for their tent may not seem like a huge impact, keep in mind that there’s never just one person doing anything.
Humans tend to think alike, so if you have that same thought to carve your name in a tree, take a flower or plant for your likes or leave an apple core on the ground, chances are good that other people have those same thoughts.
- Leave natural items like rocks and plants where they are and don’t take them with you or destroy them
- You can examine cultural or historical structures like petroglyphs, but treat them like a museum and never touch them
- Don’t dig trenches or create shelters with natural materials unless you’re ill-prepared and your life depends on it
- Never carve or stick anything into trees, instead use rope to hang hammocks, tents, etc.
- Leave the flowers for nature (if everyone picked flowers, there wouldn’t be any left)
- Avoid transporting non-native species like apple seeds, peanuts, etc. into any area
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
It’s estimated that more than 85% of wildfires are caused by humans these days. Whether it’s from improperly starting a campfire, not putting one out adequately or several other instances, campfires tend to have the most negative impact on the outdoors when not built, ignited and extinguished properly.
- Use a camping stove whenever possible
- If there’s a fire ban or you suspect a fire could cause damage to the surrounding environment, avoid making a campfire
- Use established fire rings or build your own if you’re starting a campfire where they’re permitted
- Know how to properly put out a fire so you don’t accidentally start a wildfire
- For backcountry campfires, use only small sticks you can break with your hands
- Burn all coals and wood to ash and scatter the ashes when they cool
- Skip a native campfire when there is little wood, including places like the desert and high-elevation areas
6. Respect Wildlife
Humans live in houses, apartments (and cars and vans when living a nomadic lifestyle). If you’re hiking or camping in the outdoors, you’re a visitor in every animal’s home, so you must treat the outdoors just as well as you’d treat a friend’s house. Being considerate of and respecting wildlife is an important Leave No Trace principle that helps the animal kingdom thrive.
- Never approach or follow an animal, instead you may observe them carefully from a distance
- Never feed wildlife because it alters their natural behavior and health, as well as exposing them to predators
- Touching young animals often leads to their parent abandoning them
- Store food and garbage securely so animals can’t get into it
- Avoid natural water sources if animals are present — they always take priority to natural water
7. Be Considerate of Others
Living and breathing the seven Leave No Trace principles doesn’t just pertain to how you treat the outdoors and its wildlife. It also means you must be a good neighbor when experiencing the outdoors, allowing everyone to enjoy them just as much as the next person.
While it’s OK to be a high-tech hiker who carries a camera, drone and GoPro, respect those hikers and campers who want to get away from all the distractions and put them away when you come in contact with them.
- Downhill hikers give right-of-way to uphill hikers
- Allow everyone to enjoy nature’s sounds and never play loud music on trails or at campsites
- Control your pets so they don’t startle other people or damage the surroundings
- Take breaks and rest off the designated trail so others may pass freely
- Aim for earthy colors in your clothing and outdoor gear
How to Leave No Trace
Learning how to Leave No Trace in the outdoors starts with learning the seven principles and abiding by them every time you step into the wild. If you plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife and be considerate to others, you’ll become a much better hiker, camper, outdoor enthusiast and outdoor preservationist!