Leave No Trace

Seven Principles

A land ethic reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.
      Aldo Leopold
plan ahead

Watch a snowflake float down and land on the sidewalk. Within a few seconds, it has vanished, possibly leaving a faint spot of moisture. One snowflake is insignificant.
Go to bed and look outside the next morning and see your sidewalk 5 inches deep in snow that you now have to shovel. What happened? A whole lot of tiny, insignificant snowflakes piled up and made a big impact, that's what!

The same sort of thing happens in the outdoors. One person dropping litter, stepping on fragile vegetation, or in some way not caring for the area will most likely be of little significance. But, when the millions and millions of visitors to the outdoors each year all contribute a bit of garbage or misguided actions, the results become a serious impact!

These seven principles help guide the ethical choices we make to preserve the outdoor experience for generations to come. Leaving no trace is the responsibility of every person. Please remember that these are not rules and regulations - they are guidelines to help shape and direct your ethical beliefs towards the world and your place in it.

plan ahead and prepare Plan Ahead and Prepare

Hikers, campers, backpackers, horsemen, snowmobilers, rock climbers, rafters, and all other users of the outdoors can minimize potential damage to natural and cultural resources by taking time to plan and prepare for their trip. By performing proper planning, unexpected situations are avoided, local regulations are understood and followed, and a more enjoyable experience results.

Planning and preparation includes:

Planning and preparation ensures:

camp on durable surfacesTravel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

By concentrating activity to durable surfaces, damage to vegetation is minimized. While one step onto a meadow of grass will recover quickly, just a few people can damage the land enough that it can not recover soon enough to prevent others from seeing the damage. They may see it as an easier trail and use it, trampling it even more until it can never recover.
The same sort of problem can occur when an established campsite is occupied by a group too large for the area causing the site to gradually enlarge. Or, a site that is used too often can become void of all vegetation.

Durable Surfaces include:

Remember to:

Using durable surfaces ensures:

Each area you visit may have different guidelines for minimizing your impact. Please review the Special Considerations pages for details. And, remember to check with local land managers to ensure you follow their prescribed techniques.

dispose of wasteDispose of Waste Properly

The proper way to dispose of all trash, garbage, left-over food, and human waste is to pack it out with you. This ensures that you have left nothing behind to affect the area you visited. Human waste is the one item that, because it's just yuchy, is most often left behind so disposing of it properly in the wild is a critical skill to learn.
There is really no excuse or reason to leave behind any food or trash, though. Burning it, burying it, or leaving it for the animals all cause very bad situations, often much worse than people imagine.
Pack It In, Pack It Out!

Disposing of waste includes:

Disposing of waste ensures:

Leave What You FindLeave What You Find

Not only should we leave nothing behind that we brought into the area, we should take nothing away that we found there.
By appreciating, photographing, and leaving attractive items untouched, visitors next year, tomorrow, or even later this same day can discover them anew and feel the great sense of excitement that you felt. Who knows, just yesterday someone may have been tempted to pick that flower but left it there just for you!
The only thing you should take out is the garbage of other people you may find.

Leaving what you find includes:

Leaving what you find ensures:

You may even consider improving a campsite before you leave. Dismantling and dispersing multiple fire rings, tables, lean-tos, and other inappropriate structures may make the campsite more usable. It is best to check with local land managers beforehand to find out if the campsites you plan to stop at should be cleaned or left as they are.

campfire impactMinimize Campfire Impacts

Fire is good. Fire is a tool, light, and warmth. A campfire is actually one of my favorite things about camping. But, a campfire should not be thought of as a right nor a necessity. There are some times and places when a campfire really should be done without.
Areas with too many visitors creating too many fires to allow the replenishment of the fuel supply are being overly impacted.

I think this is probably the most contraversial principle of Leave No Trace. There is more debate and disagreement about this one and I believe that's because it isn't as clean-cut at the others. Please remember that these Leave No Trace principles are guidelines to help you form ethics about interacting with and preserving the quality of our wild lands.

Minimizing campfire impacts includes:

Minimizing campfire impact ensures:

There are many different fire management practices in place, depending on the location. Some land managers want people to consume more firewood to prevent explosive wildfires while others have banned all campfires. Be sure to check with local authorities to ensure you are following their regulations or recommendations.

respect wildlifeRespect Wildlife

Remember that we are visitors to someone else's home when we go into the wild - the residents are the animals. Not only that, they did not invite us to visit! So, understanding and respecting their needs is critically important.
Keep wildlife Wild.

Respecting wildlife includes:

Respecting wildlife ensures:

considerate of othersBe Considerate of Other Visitors

All of these Leave No Trace principles have an aim of preserving the country for future visits. Being considerate of other visitors is reminding us to care for visitors today as well as tomorrow. By being thoughtful of others, you preserve the quality of their experience and most likely impress on them some of your ethical beliefs.

Being considerate includes:

Being considerate ensures:

Next: Plan Ahead and Prepare


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