Leave No Trace

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
- Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949)

[ Teaching Leave No Trace to Cub Scouts | Teaching Leave No Trace to Boy Scouts ]

Forester and philosopher Aldo Leopold expressed this sentiment in the 1930s.  Today increasing numbers of backcountry visitors are coming to the same realization as they witness their favorite wilderness haunts being loved to death by recreationists seeking adventure and solitude. Leave No Trace is a national educational program, whose mission is to educate wildland user groups, federal agencies and the public about minimum impact camping. The principles and practices discussed below are meaningless as a set of rules and regulations unless they are based on an abiding respect for and appreciation of wild places and their inhabitants. Only then can these principles be tempered with the judgment necessary to apply them in the myriad of circumstances in which we find ourselves every time we venture beyond the trailhead.

Simple living, adventure and solitude can still be part of our backcountry travels, but in order to assure their continued existence we must take the responsibility to educate ourselves and to become equipped with skills and habits that enable us to Leave No Trace. Leaving no trace depends more on attitude and awareness than on rules and regulations. Low impact camping practices must be flexible and tempered by judgment and experience. Consider the variables of each place--soil, vegetation, wildlife, moisture level, the amount and type of use the area receives and the overall effect of prior use--then use these observations to determine which practices to apply. Minimize your impact on the land and on other visitors, but be sure to enjoy your visit as well.

Plan ahead and prepare

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups. Split larger parties into groups of 4-6.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

Travel and camp on durable surfaces

  • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.

In popular areas:

  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.

In pristine areas:

  • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
  • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

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Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • 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.
  • Pack out toilet paper and 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.

Leave What You Find

  • 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.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

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Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

More information on the Leave no Trace principles can be found at the Leave no Trace website.


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