As more and more outdoor adventurers get out on the trail and get into nature, there has been a growing concern about what kind of impact this has been leaving on the environment. As outdoor enthusiasts, nature, and its preservation, should be our first concern because, well, that’s why we’re getting outside! In an effort to prevent high-impact outings, the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles were developed, and are now used as a strong suggestion to everyone who enjoys the great outdoors.

Now you’re saying to yourself, “I’m all about nature,” but what are these principles, and how do you successfully follow them to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience? Really, they’re a few simple rules that take just a little more effort, but the result is a beautifully-preserved wilderness for everyone to enjoy.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Most hikers and campers will tell you that you need a plan. It’s true. Spontaneity is nice, but leave it for an activity that doesn’t take place in a wilderness area. A plan is especially important if you want to follow LNT principles. Before you head out, here are some things you should think about:

  • Know the regulations and concerns of the area that you will be in.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies so you will not have to use your surroundings to compensate.
  • Avoid going during high-use times.
  • Try to keep groups small–it’s hard to leave no trace in large groups.
  • Repackage your food to minimize your waste (bonus: it will also minimize your pack weight).
  • Use a map and compass–avoid using marking paint, rock cairns, or flagging.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

photo by: Tripleblaze member o2golfgr8

Footprints and camp-prints leave a big impact on the surrounding area. Although both of these things are unavoidable, you can minimize your impact by following these rules:

  • Use established trails and campsites, or use areas with rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow.
  • Always camp at least 200ft from lakes, streams, or any body of water.
  • Never alter a site. Use an established site if one is available; if one isn’t available, then prevent the creation of a site by spreading out.
  • Avoid places where impact is just beginning.

Dispose of Waste Properly

If you bring it in then you should take it out. No one likes to see trash lying around a campsite or next to a trail, so make sure you aren’t the one leaving it.

  • Use the golden rule: pack it in, pack it out.
  • When dealing with human waste, use catholes that are 6-8in deep and at least 200ft from water, camp, or trails. Make sure to cover the catholes and leave the area the way you found it.

Leave What You Find

On the other hand, if you find it there, leave it there. Did you really enjoy seeing that (insert outdoor plant/object here)? Then leave it for someone else to enjoy. Yeah, it may look alright in your collection gathering dust at home, but 10 times out of 10 it looks better right where you found it.

  • Examine things, but don’t touch them.
  • Leave natural objects just as you found them.
  • Avoid introducing non-native species into the environment.
  • Do not build structures or furniture from the natural objects you find. Also, avoid digging trenches.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

Everyone loves a good bonfire, right? Yes, but a raging, blistering fire does not belong out on the trail, sorry. Campfires can leave a huge impact on the surrounding environment, and many parks actually don’t allow them anymore.

  • Use a lightweight stove instead, and try to use a candle lantern around camp.
  • If available, use established rings, pans, or mounds; if they are not available, do not create new ones.
  • Keep fires to a small size (bonfires don’t come in small sizes) and only use sticks from the ground that can be broken in your hand.
  • Burn everything to ash, put your fire out completely, and scatter the cool ash.

Respect Wildlife

This is simple: do not taunt, touch, or feed the wildlife. Bad things will happen. Either something will happen to you (i.e. mauled, death, a new pet) or something will happen to the animal (change in diet, rejection by mother, etc.) It’s best for both parties if you just stick to petting your dog.

  • Observe wildlife from a distance, and do not follow or approach them.
  • Absolutely no feeding. It damages the animal’s health, alters behavior, and exposes them to danger.
  • Store rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets or leave them at home.
  • Avoid animals during sensitive times–mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

There’s nothing more frustrating than a hiker with zero trail etiquette. Don’t be that person.

  • Respect others and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Yield to others on the trail, when necessary.
  • Take breaks and set up camp away from the trail and other visitors. Give them some space.
  • Avoid loud noises.

It really is this simple to follow the old adage, “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” With a little extra effort, you can maintain nature’s beauty for years to come.

For more information, check out the LNT website.

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