Leave No Trace Principles

Leave No Trace (LNT) is regularly referenced in outdoors conversation, and for good reason. My Osprey backpack even lists the principles on the inside. In essence, you should pass through an area without seeing remnants of previous visitors, and without leaving an impact of your own. If some of the list seems rather obvious, I promise it bears repeating. I’ve watched hikers go against all of it, intentionally or otherwise.

A blue backpack with the Leave No Trace Principles written inside.
The Leave No Trace Principles on the inside my Osprey Pack.

The leave no trace principles

  1. Plan ahead and Prepare. Research the area you’re visiting, from wildlife you may encounter to the terrain you should expect. Check the weather day-of to dress and pack accordingly. Plan for emergencies, including sharing your hiking itinerary with someone before you head out.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. “Good campsites are found, not made” (from the link below). Don’t trample vegetation under foot or tent, and minimize your campsite footprint. Camp at least 200 feet from a water source (about 70 steps) to avoid bank erosion and water contamination. Hike in the center of the trail to prevent widening of the path, even if it means going through mud or puddles. I can work on this myself.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly. Be ready to carry out every single scrap of trash you bring in, from a Starburst wrapper to a broken piece of gear. Never assume you’ll find a trashcan along the way. I recommend hiking with a gallon ziplock bag for food and other waste, especially if you’re out for days (keeps everything contained without stinking up your pack). Dig a cathole to go to the bathroom at least 200 feet from water sources , at least 6 inches deep, and bury your biodegradeable toilet paper in the same hole.
  4. Leave What You Find. Everything stays put. Rocks, plants, whatever. The only thing you should pick up is trash along the trail (try not to assume someone behind you will get it, that’s probably what the person ahead of you thought).
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts. If the park allows fires, only use designated fire rings or pre-established pits. I understand it’s a romantic, rustic idea to build your own fire from scratch, but if everyone did that, trailsides would be riddled with scorched earth. Consider cooking with a portable camp stove. Never go to bed or leave a site until the fire is out and the embers are cool.
  6. Respect Wildlife. Don’t follow or harass wildlife. Especially don’t feed them. You put wildlife and future visitors in danger by forging a connection between humans and food. You’re just bating aggressive behavior down the line, which could result in the animal being euthanized. Store food and scented items safely out of reach at night (in your car, a storage locker, hung from a tree, etc).
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors. Share the trail! Step aside to let others pass, don’t blare music in shared spaces (ex. a designated campsite), offer assistance when requested, camp out of sight from the trail, basically don’t be ass. It’s sad this warrants mentioning, but remember that everyone else has just as much a right to be out there as you. I’ve heard too many hikers complain about people clogging up “their” trails and campsites. The wilderness belongs to all of us and none of us.

I’m a firm believer in being “that guy” and speaking up if I see something wrong, especially if the trail is being damaged. Not everyone knows what you know. If you approach it from a place of respect, it can be a great teachable moment. When it comes to littering though, some light public shaming might be in order. Because seriously, don’t act like trash. If you value being in nature, you should value protecting it even more.

For lots more info visit The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

Have questions about implementing Leave No Trace on your next hike? Curious how I managed any of the principles on my Appalachian Trail thru hike? Comment below.

A blue tent pitched near the Pacific coast with the sun setting.
Sunset at Point Reyes National Seashore, CA. We reserved a campsite near the Pacific Coast, about a 2 mile hike from the car.

5 thoughts on “Leave No Trace Principles

  1. I love this! I hate seeing evidence of people when I’m out, trying to get away from them. One thing I’ve noticed lately, just in the past few months, is the number of people who hike while listening to music. No, not through their earbuds, but through the speaker on their phone. Just… why? 😦

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    1. I was super baffled when I first encountered this too. Enjoying music and podcasts is a big part of hiking for me, so I can sort of understand a hiking group wanting to share the same tunes at a reasonable volume, I just don’t need to hear you half a mile away. One thing to consider, depending where you’re hiking: speakers are some peoples’ form of animal deterrence rather than a bear bell. When I’m solo hiking in grizzly country in Alaska, I may pop something on the speakers since I don’t have a conversation buddy to alert my presence (You want bears to know you’re coming so they can stick clear). Maybe that’s a helpful bit of context?

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      1. Hey, far be it from me to stop anyone else’s death stares haha! Some people are just plain inconsiderate, and I’m sure the frustration is warranted. I guess I approach this issue on a case by case basis.

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