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Leave No Trace - OutdoorPlaces.Com

 Leave No Trace Ethics

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Leave no trace, walk softly, low impact, tread lightly, leave nothing but footprints and taken nothing but pictures, what even you want to call it, leave no trace ethics are a critical part of protecting our precious outdoor resources.  LNT, Inc. or Leave No Trace, Inc. is an organization that works in close cooperation with the Federal Government including the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, the USDA National Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to create these ethics for protecting the outdoors.

Most of these guidelines are common sense, but some are a major change in the view of the outdoors and how they are cared for just a short generation ago.  Remember in the Boy Scouts when you were told to dig a trench around your tent and scrape the ground bare around your fire pit, which you dug into the ground?  Well those days are over and it is critical that everyone learns these simple rules to live by so we can continue to enjoy the great outdoors and future generations can also enter the backcountry.  Ultimately these ethics protect future generations.

Low impact ethics involve seven key areas:

  • Plan Ahead and Be Prepared

  • Travel and Camp On Durable Surfaces

  • Dispose of Your Waste Properly

  • Leave What You Find

  • Minimize Campfire Impact

  • Respect Wildlife and Minimize Impact

  • Be Considerate to Others

They are pretty simple rules to live by when in the outdoors.  The problem is sometimes we forget or other times we make excuses.  If youíve been in the backcountry sooner or later a candy wrapper gets carried off in the wind, the trail is so muddy you cut around, or maybe the switchback is so long itís just easier to go straight up the hill.  It easy to follow low impact ethics in spirit, but it is harder to follow them to the letter of the law.


  • Know where you are visiting.  Most parks have special regulations unique to their area.  Some parks allow open fires, others donít.  Some parks have areas where humans are not allowed, others do.  Most parks have some kind of restriction on how close to a trail and water you can set camp.  Become familiar with these rules.  Also know about special concerns.  Is there an open fire ban because of dry conditions?  Should bison be avoided because they are giving birth now?  Is a planned campsite muddy and damaged from snowmelt and a hard winter?  Can I bring my pet?  Do they have to be muzzled? 

  • One thing from the Boy Scouts has not changed, be prepared.  If you are traveling in an area know what the extremes can be and plan accordingly.  Even if the weather promises sun, you should always have rain gear.  Could things be muddy?  Having waterproofed boots and gaiters helps you stay on a muddy trail instead of cutting around a wet spot.  Know the record high and lows the area you are visiting, and be able to deal with both.  Also have the proper equipment to deal with an emergency.  Women should carry hygiene products (tampons are best in the backcountry) even if the need for such products is not anticipated.

  • Donít visit an area during high use times.  Most parks can easily provide you information on when peak visitation happens.  During these times increased human traffic increases the impact on the land and wildlife.  By visiting during off-peak times not only do you reduce impact; you will have a far more enjoyable and private experience.

  • Travel in small groups.  No more than four to six people.  If you are in a large group break up and travel different routes and camp at different locations.  Over long distances plan to have your routes cross at points.

  • Repackage your products to prevent waste.  A large amount of waste found in the backcountry is food and food packaging related.  Donít bring the whole loaf of bread (do you really want it taking up that much space anyway).  Repackage your food in double sealed Ziploc bags.  Package things like rice, flour, and instant mashed potatoes in single servings.  Donít take a roll of toilet paper, estimate how much you will use and package accordingly.  By doing this not only will your pack be lighter and not as bulky, you greatly reduce the chance of leaving waste accidentally in the backcountry.

  • Donít mark your trail.  Use a map and compass and be familiar with the area you are visiting.  Flags and marking paint scar the landscape and can remain for years.  Know how to navigate using a compass and understand how to read a map.  Especially if you are traveling in wilderness areas that donít have established trails.  Not only does this help minimize impact, it will help prevent you from becoming lost.


  • Durable surfaces depend on the conditions you are in.  If you are traveling in an established area, durable surfaces include existing trails and campsites.  If you are traveling in a non-established area, try to walk where there is rocks, gravel, dry grasses, snow, or in a wash (an area where water flows during times of rain).  If you are at altitude or in areas of sparse vegetation, be very careful not to step on vegetation, even in traditional durable surface areas.  This thin vegetation is very critical to prevent erosion.  If all else fails spread out as a group to minimize impact as much as possible, or find a different route.

  • Riparian habitat is particular sensitive.  Never camp within 200 feet from lakes or streams unless you are using an established campsite.  However, it will be very rare to find established campsites within sensitive riparian habitats.

  • Donít ďmakeĒ your campsite.  Find a good campsite and use the features around you.  Donít alter the area for your campsite.  Donít dig a trench around your tent for drainage; remove plants, rocks, or logs to make way for your campsite.

  • In established areas use the existing trails and campsites.  Walk in a single file on established trails, do not cut switchbacks or navigate around muddy areas.  Keep your campsite small.  Donít spread out over a large area and limit your activity to durable surfaces as listed above.  Donít set up camp in a wash, or where water could flow if there is rain.

  • In non-established areas uses dispersed hiking and camping techniques.  As a group fan out to lower impact (but stay in view to keep from getting lost).  Camp dispersed out using as little area as possible in each unique site to prevent impact.