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Leave No Trace Principles

Trash, cigarettes, batteries, and needles spilled out on the ground on a forest floor in California

Photo from Unsplash


Leave no Trace

As more and more people head out to the trails this year, we are beginning to see the impact on our great outdoors. Understandably, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a greater number of people are looking into alternative ways of vacationing. The most popular one is camping. While this is a welcomed change as it means that more people will begin to appreciate the wonders of being outside, it also means that we need to be extra careful about the steps we can take to reduce our impact after an outdoor trip - be it a quick day trip picnicking or hiking, or a multi-day adventure in the backcountry. This article by CBC News reiterates the point that as more people try camping for the first time, especially in the backcountry, the impact is becoming very evident. We may not even realize it, but the surrounding plants, animals, and ecosystems are affected by every trip we make. In this article, we will discuss several ways in which you can reduce your footprint and make a difference.

There are seven main principles that are universal to “Leave no Trace”. They are:

1. Plan ahead and prepare:

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces:

  • Durable surfaces include maintained trails and designated campsites, rock, gravel, sand, dry grasses or snow.

  • Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams, and keep campsites small when possible.

3. Dispose of waste properly: this applies to everything from human waste and litter to grit water.

  • Pack it in, pack it out - any kind of waste that you have brought in must be packed out, this includes bio-degradable waste such as banana or orange peels (a common misconception that since it is a fruit, it is okay to dispose of on a trail). Inspect the campsite before you leave for spills and litter.

  • Use outhouses wherever provided. 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.

  • 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.

4. Leave what you find: preserve the past by examining and photographing.

  • 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 - clean your equipment between trips.

5. Minimize campfire impacts:

  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.

  • Keep fires small. Use only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.

6. Respect wildlife: remember that you are entering their habitat and be respectful of their space.

  • 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 yourself by storing your food (including any items that have a smell such as toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) and trash securely.

7. Be considerate of other visitors:

  • Be respectful of other visitors - yield on the trail and avoid loud noises and voices.

  • Manage your pet.

We hope that this article has helped you understand the measures you can take to be respectful while enjoying the outdoors. It is crucial that we preserve and conserve our forest and wildlands, and as we increase our use of these spaces, we understand how important a role each of us plays in maintaining them. If this article has piqued your interest, dip deeper and explore the official Leave no Trace website.

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Pathloom is a Bay Area-based technology startup on a mission to get more people outdoors, more often by reimagining the way people discover the outdoors.

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