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The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace

What is the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics?
For 25 years, the  Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has provided education to the hiking masses on how to conserve the land we share together and also stewardship in undoing human-derived damage to better serve our Wildernesses.

The organization accomplishes its mission by providing innovative education, skills and research to help people care for the outdoors. By working with the public and those managing public lands, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics focuses on educating people—instead of costly restoration programs or access restrictions—as the most effective and least resource-intensive solution to land protection.

What are the Seven Principles?

Created to provide an easy-to-remember list of sustainable practices, the Seven Principles are an on-trail lifestyle for experienced backpackers. If you are new to hiking, camping or backpacking, become familiar with and practice the principles to avoid looking foolish on trail and at camp. 

Principle 1: Plan Ahead and Prepare

Plan and Prepare is first for many reasons: success on the trail begins with preparation and research. Knowing where to camp with available resources, trail considerations and land regulations can save you a lot of time, heartache and potentially your life. Have required land access and use passes, follow wilderness permit regulations and know the kinds of wildlife, terrain and elevation you will be encountering during your outdoor experience.

Principle 2: Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces

Staying on trail is crucial to the ecosystem and cannot be overstated. Though walking around the mud hole may not feel like you are contributing to the total erosion of the trail at that moment but if you and the other 50 to 1000s of other hikers are doing the same in a given day, a trail can double its width in a short period of time. Same applies when choosing a tent or tarp site. Choosing a durable, established surface for camping not only keeps our campgrounds easier to manage, but saves flora and fauna from trampling and losing precious habitats. 

Principle 3: Dispose of Waste Properly

There are quite a few 'rules' when it comes to disposing of waste when in the wilderness. Come on trail prepared to pack out your food wrappers, cigarette butts, banana peels, your pup's poop and if you're in an arid desert - even your poop. Leave No Trace's site has more in depth information on how to properly dispose of your waste while on trail and tips for how to pack it out.

Principle 4: Leave What You Find

While there are designated places for rockhounding experiences, leaving what you find preserves the viewscape for the next person to enjoy. This includes bones, shiny rocks, neat feathers, especially wildflower picking or plant harvesting, and most definitely indigenous artifacts or monuments. Leaving what you find also includes taking anything you brought with you - don’t carve your initials into anything, leave cairn-building to the trail management and keep your wishing pennies in your pockets (see: Yellowstone geysers).

Principle 5: Minimize Campfire Impacts

Knowing how to properly make, manage and extinguish a campfire is Camping 101 material. Be familiar with local forestry or wilderness regulations regarding campfires, stoves and other open flames especially during the summer and fall months when conditions can be dry or windy.

Principle 6: Respect Wildlife

It would be an embarrassing way to go, for one, by bison. A Google search of Yellowstone wildlife and tourists is plenty of education, but you could also read Fuzz by Mary Roach or Death In Yellowstone by Lee H. Whittlesey for more information and specific stories about incidents in our national parks.

Leash your dog - there are no scenarios in our wildernesses in which your pup is best off leash. Keeping your dog on a leash 
Wildlife that becomes habituated can lead to euthanasia - fed bears are dead bears, as the saying goes. There are plenty of heartbreaking stories about foxes and bears that become much too comfortable with human interaction to be safe. This can be avoided by keeping your food to yourself and being thorough in containing your food and anything smelly in a bear hang or securely in a canister. 

Principle 7: Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Leash your trail pups - it bears repeating multiple times. Keeping your dog on leash regardless of how well behaved he is offleash, ensures everyone's safety and enjoyment of an area. 

Don’t be a Boombox Larry. I’m not sure what’s worse on trail: acorns hiding under leaves or Thriller echoing through the valley from around the bend.  

Follow yield ettiquette while on trail. It may vary park to park, but check for signage to ensure you're following the correct flow of traffic it you're hiking a loop and for specific yield rules. There are general rules if none are posted at the trailhead: 
Hikers coming uphill have the right of way. If you’re downhill, step aside to let the strugglers come up without losing their momentum. 
Bicyclists yield to hikers and horses. Calmly and without any sudden movements step off to the downhill side of a trail when horses approach. If you're approach from behind, calmly announce your presence and intent to pass on trail without startling the horses. Bicyclists should yield to hikers, but be prepared to step downhill if someone doesn't yield. 

What Leave No Trace does

While we enjoy the natural world, Leave No Trace teaches us how to minimize our impacts. As part of that work, the organization is taking on these and other challenges.

  • Trashed Natural Areas
  • Polluted Water
  • Misinformation in the Outdoors
  • Wildlife at Risk
  • Damaged Trails
  • Destructive Fires
  • Connecting Youth to Nature
  • Crowded Parks