Leave No Trace Ethics

In the previous blog,  you heard me mention Leave No Trace quit a bit. Leave No Trace refers to a set of outdoor ethics promoting conservation in the outdoors. This description comes straight from www.lnt.org.

Leave No Trace is built on seven core principles that are used to communicate the best available minimum impact guidance for enjoying the outdoors responsibly. The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace were developed to help educate and guide recreationists in sustainable minimum impact practices that mitigate or avoid recreation-related impacts. These Principles are the most robust and widely utilized minimum impact outdoor practices. Although Leave No Trace has its roots in backcountry and wilderness, the practices have been adapted so that they can be applied anywhere – from the backcountry, to local parks, to your backyard – and for any recreational activity. Each Principle covers a specific topic and provides detailed information for minimizing impacts.

It is important for hikers to learn about these ethics before they set foot on the trail. While some of the principles are more obvious (don’t throw trash on the trail), other principles people might not realize they should be doing. Below we give details and examples of each of the principles.


1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
This ethic is vital to being in the outdoors. Planning can deter you from dangerous encounters on the trail. Here are examples of planning ahead.

  • Plan out your route as well as alternate routes in case of emergencies. Also take the map with you to refer you if you need it.
  • Check the weather. This will help you decide what clothing and gear to bring. Even if there is a slight chance of rain, packing rain gear will be important. Also remember that for every 1000 ft elevation gain, you will lose between 3-5 degrees in temperature.
  • Look at the regulations for the area you are planning on hiking and camping.
  • Plan according to your group. If others aren’t in very good shape, consider an easier hike.
  • Bring appropriate gear and a first aid kit
  • Bring enough food and water, but don’t go overboard!
  • Lastly, check Leave No Trace ethics so you can be sure you are minimizing your impact in the outdoors.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Trails and campsites exist for a reason, to concentrate people in certain areas and to preserve most of the land and vegetation. Here are some examples of traveling and camping on durable surfaces.

  • Hike on the trail! The trail is built a certain way to make the hike easier for you and scenic! Switchbacks exist to prevent erosion, when you cut a switchback it causes rocks and soil to tumble down the hill, and it destroys vegetation. Be sure to follow blazes or cairns to make sure you are following the right trail
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Camp in existing campsites. Planning ahead can help you figure out where you will want to camp. Check where established campsites are and camp on designated sites or tent pads. If the vegetation is cleared and the area is flattened, it can be safe to say that it is a campsite.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • If the area you are camping allows you to camp wherever you want, it’s ok to camp off trail as long as you are at least 200 yds off the trail, and you scatter your your camping area when you are finished. When camping, disperse tents and cooking activities. Avoid places where impacts are just beginning to show.
  • Always choose the most durable surfaces available: rock, gravel, sand, compacted soil, dry grasses, or snow.

3. Dispose of waste properly
This is probably the most well known ethic because people usually hear “pack it in, pack it out” which refers to trash and other items you carry. There are other forms of waste this principle encompasses. Here are some examples.

  • Pack it in, pack it out! Do not leave your trash anywhere in the outdoors. Carry wrappers, unwanted food, wipes, and anything else you plan to throw in the trash with you till you get to civilization that has garbage cans. Check campsites and break areas for accidental garbage.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. The AT has privies along the trail that act as outhouses. only human waste and toilet paper should be in these privies. Read signage at privies to know if you should throw in a handful of mulch to help the decomposition process.
  • Pack out wipes and feminine hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater. Another great method to clean dishes is to pour clean water into the dish and wipe around with your finger. When finished, drink the leftover water. This prevents you from having to use soap and from packing out small food scraps.

4. Leave What You Find
We want to keep the outdoors in the state we experienced so others can enjoy it and it helps preserve it in its natural state.

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
  • Don’t graffiti the shelters or any other rocks or trees.

5. Minimize Campfire Impact
Campfires cause a lasting impact in the backcountry. Wherever a fire is build, the vegetation will never be the same in that spot. Fires serve three purposes; heat, cooking food, and bringing people together. If you planned ahead and prepared, you should not get cold and you should be carrying a stove for cooking. The social aspects of a fire are the main reasons fires are built. Some people don’t want to go camping unless they can have a fire. Follow these tips for minimizing your campfire impact.

  • Only use existing fire rings. If there is no fire ring, do not build one but maybe find a site that has one nearby you can share with other campers.
  • Follow the four D’s – dead, dinky, down, and distant. You don’t want to gather all the wood right around your site but try to spread out. Make sure the wood is dead and down, don’t go picking stuff off the trees. It should also be small. I say if you can break it easily over your knee, then that is a good size.
  • The reason the wood should be small is you want to keep the fire small. There is no reason to have a roaring fire burning all night long.  Letting a fire burn up all the way to ash is the best. The fire should be cold to the touch before you go to sleep. If there are a lot of ashes in the ring, consider spreading those into the forest to keep from building up.
  • If you’ve gathered extra wood, scatter it in the woods before you leave to discourage others from building a fire.

Small fire in designated fire ring


6. Respect Wildlife
Nature doesn’t exist just for humans. When we are in the backcountry,  we are entering other creatures homes. We need to respect the habitats of these animals  so we don’t alter their lives. Animals can get distressed from humans or  become dependent on them. We want to keep what’s wild, wild. Here are some tips for respecting wildlife.

  • Do not feed any animals! Don’t make the animals dependent on human food. Even one or two occasions can habituate animals. Some attention animals receive during the summer will dwindle in the winter and animals could die from starvation.
  • Use the rule of thumb. If you stick out your thumb straight in front of you, it should completely cover up the animal. If you can still see the animal, you are too close.
  • Be sure to hang your food on a tree limb at least 10 ft off the ground and 6 ft from the trunk. Storing your food in bear canisters is also convenient. The canister can be placed on the ground away from camp. Store all food, trash, and any other smelly items such as lotions or sprays.
  • Keep dogs on leashes. Even if the dog is well behaved, if they see an animal they could run off. Other hikers may also be afraid of dogs so it helps mitigate encounters.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

7. Be Considerate of Others
This encompasses everything on the trail. Treat others with respect and everyone can enjoy the trail! Use your best judgment. Here are some examples of treating others with respect.

  • Uphill has the right of way. If you’re coming downhill, step aside for those who have their momentum going uphill. If they say to come on by because they need a break then go for it, but give them the option to go first.
  • Try to keep your group size down. Larger groups can take over a camping area or be loud on the trail.
  • Use earbuds. If you want to listen to music, don’t play it on your speaker phone. Not everyone wants to listen to your music.
  • Keep your pets on leashes. This was addressed in respect wildlife but it is respecting other hikers as well.
  • Keep quiet hours from when the sun goes down till it comes up. Most hikers sleep during this time so if you like to stay up late with your friends, keep the noise level down.

If everyone is friendly and courteous of others, we can all have a great time on the trail! For more information, visit http://www.lnt.org. You can also come by the store this Saturday February 25th an hear a talk about Leave No Trace from one of our certified employees.


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