Leave No Trace
Principle 1: Dispose of Waste Properly🚯
Seems so easy right? Food wrappers go in the garbage can. But it's so much more than that, especially on the trail. How often are you hiking along and seeing an orange peel on the ground? Or peanut shells at the base of a climb? Leave no trace means leave no trace, not a shell, not a peel, nada.
These food items might be “natural” but in truth they take a long time to decompose. In the meantime they are either seen by everyone hiking by or attracting critters into places they shouldn't be (think of the apple core tossed out the car window, a critter is much more likely to become roadkill now).
🍌A banana peel can take up to 2 years to properly decompose.
🥜Pistachio shells take 5+ years to decompose, usually longer.
Especially in dryer climates, peels just shrivel up and hang around forever, lack of moisture makes it hard to break down.
So while it is tempting to huck your fruit rind off the side of the trail, take LNT to heart and make sure you’re packing out whatever you pack in. Take time to discuss this with your adventure partners too. Too many folks haven’t ever thought about what it means to leave their “natural” trash behind.
Principle 2 Part II💩
Let's talk about bodily excretions!! Always a favorite topic. Have you noticed how popular recreating outside has become? It’s so awesome to see more folks getting out! But with more people come more catholes, aka poop holes.
It used to be considered a-okay to bury toilet paper, but nowadays we highly suggest everyone pack out their used TP to help minimize impact. Best ways to do this?
☝️Bringing doggy poop bags & pick up your TP after you’ve finished your business, tie it up and put in with your other garbage.
✌️Bring a paper bag in a ziplock. Put TP into the brown paper sack and then seal it in the ziplock. No one will ever even know!
Nobody is ever thrilled to be carrying out their used TP but we would love to see more people doing it to protect the areas we all love.
As always make sure to be doing your duties at least 200ft from any water source. In hot, desert environments the sun can help break down waste so dig your holes 4-6 inches deep. In wetter, mountain areas, dig it AT LEAST 6 inches, more like 8 inches if you can. Check before you go what is recommended for where you’re planning to recreate.
Principle 2: Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces⛺️
🥾Travel on trails. Don’t take the shortcuts, embrace the switchbacks. Cutting trails not only scars landscapes but can destroy things like cryptobiotic crust (which is alive, see below!!) & wildlife homes. If you are trying to save time by cutting trails, take a moment to reflect why you are out there in the first place. Take your time, follow the trail, there’s no rush.
⛔️EMBRACE THE MUD! If the trail is muddy, either pick a different trail to hike that day or hike through the mud, not around. Hiking around widens trails & turns them into super wide trails or braided trails. We encourage people to embrace their inner child and hike right through that mud puddle!
🏕Camp on Durable Surfaces. What kind of surfaces are durable? Rock, sand, gravel, ice, snow. This means lake/river banks and meadows are NOT good places to camp. Unfortunately there is a big social media trend of posting pics of tents set right up on the edge of a lake or river. So hear us now when we say PLEASE do not partake in this, help spread good LNT practices!
Technically you should be camping a minimum of 100ft from any body of water, National Parks actually state 200ft. There are a couple important reasons for this.
- Reduce wear around bodies of water. River & lank banks are typically softer soils, prone to wear & tear.
- Keep water pristine (think of how far people go from their tent at night to pee, hint: it’s not far)
- Allows wildlife to still come down to drink.
So don’t copy all those Insta posts you see & camp right on the lakeshore😞 Areas that have already been highly used are recommended for camping. Try to cook on rocks & spread out your tents if in a group.
**Cryptobiotic soil crust is often much darker than the soil it is on top of, and has a moss or sponge-like look and texture. Cryptobiotic soil crusts are created by living organisms such as algae, cyanobacteria, and fungi, it’s literally alive! This crust is a very important way in which arid and semi-arid ecosystems resist erosion by wind and water.
Principle 3: Respect Wildlife🦌
An easy way to follow this LNT principle is to use The Rule of Thumb. Observe wildlife at a distance that allows your thumbnail to cover the entire animal. This should be approximately 25 yards for smaller wildlife and 100 yards for larger wildlife. Remember, you are in their home. Approaching wildlife is not only dangerous, but unfair to them when you scare them or force them to flee.
In most places, animals will pay for your mistakes. Approaching wildlife or leaving food out for it to get can cause wildlife to be put down. Frequently bears both inside and outside National Parks are put down after repeatedly getting into human’s food who have not stored it properly, aka a 3-strike policy. The saying goes, a fed bear is a dead bear.
Fun fact: there have not been any serious injuries or deaths from bear attacks in Yosemite, but there have been plenty because of deer!
Smaller critters may seem ok to feed, but this is a one size fits all policy: Do Not Feed The Wildlife. Many times smaller animals can carry rabies or other diseases like the bubonic plague. Yes, the plague. In 2014 2 visitors in Yosemite actually contracted the plague, so play it safe & don't feed any wildlife!
Camp at least 200ft from water sources so animals can access drinking water. Especially in arid climates, wildlife will often forgo drinking rather than come near humans, especially if they have dogs camped with them. Again, we are in their home, be respectful just as you would be in your neighbor or friends home!
Principle 4: Be Considerate To Others🧘
Alright, let’s start this one off with what everyone wants to say: please leave the speaker at home. We understand that jamming out to your favorite T-Swift song or latest EDM banger might make YOUR excursion more enjoyable, but it effects others. Be considerate to others outdoors including wildlife and leave the music off. Many go outdoors to enjoy the peace and quiet and find some solitude. If it is safe to do so, choose earbuds, just remember this isn’t a great choice in bear country.
Now let's discuss the other type of trail jams! Who has the right of way on the trail? Uphill travelers have the right of way, downhill travelers should step aside and allow them to easily pass. General rule for different types of travel:
- Hikers yield to equestrians/ stock traffic
- Cyclists yield to both hikers & equestrian/ stock
Bicyclists should expect to stay in control, kindly announce your presence & pass when it is safe to do so.
Try to camp out of sight from trails. Again, many folks head outdoors to find solitude and peace, camping out of sight helps facilitate this feeling for others on their outdoor excursion.
Double check if dogs are allowed before heading out on any trail. Generally dogs are not allowed on trails in National Parks. If you are taking them out with you where allowed, make sure to either keep them on a leash or keep them near you so they are not jumping on others or scaring stock animals. Pick up after your pet and don’t let them terrorize wildlife.
Drones…. Just don’t unless you’re a professional with a permit. National Park fines for unauthorized drone use have recently been bumped up to $5,000.
Principle 5: Campfires
🔥Unless absolutely necessary, always use existing fire rings, don’t build your own. Don’t burn fires next to rock outcropping where black ash scars will be left for a long time.
🪵Never chop down wood to burn! Only collect what has already fallen. Make sure when you’re done with your fire to burn all the wood completely to ash. This helps to ensure two things.
- When you douse your fire it goes completely out (logs can continue burning internally if large enough).
- That you don’t leave an unattractive lump of unburnt wood in a fire pit. This means HUGE logs are not ideal to try & burn all the way down. If it doesn’t fit in the pit, don’t risk it.
💦According to NPS 85% of wildfires are caused by humans, many of these are from campfires not properly maintained or put out!! That’s 85% of wildfires that WE ALL could prevent. When putting out your fire, drown it. Don’t just pour a little water on it, make sure it is swimming! Some fires can catch roots underneath the ground or hold embers in burned logs so make Smokey proud & drown it out. If you’re unsure if you’ve put enough water on it, put more!
🪥🥣 Campfires are already impacted areas, so they are ideal spots for things like dumping dishwater (after it’s been strained) & spitting toothpaste out. Using your stove on top of campfire grates is also a good way to minimize fire danger & impact on other spots in camp.
Should I Have a Fire Checklist:
- What is the current fire danger for my location?
- Is there sufficient wood for the demand of wood sources? High alpine areas & deserts tend to not have a regeneration ability to keep up with wood demands, so dont burn.
- Is there sufficient water nearby to drown my fire after?
- Does this area already have a preexisting fire ring or is it ideal soil for a fire? (Examples of ideal soil are sand, gravel & mineral soil like stream beds or gravel bars).
- Are there fire restrictions in this area? Many places, especially national parks, have elevation limits for fires. Make sure you know before you go!
Principle 6: 🌸Leave What You Find🌼
Remember when you were little and you wanted to pick a flower, your mom would tell you to leave it so others could enjoy it? That still applies and goes beyond flowers. In National Parks it is actually illegal to take anything, even a rock or pinecone, out of the park. We should all want others to be able to enjoy the things we have enjoyed, so leave it for the next recreationist.
We know that building something like a rock stack can seem like a harmless activity, but it also goes against LNT principles. It can also cause confusion for individuals looking for rock stacks that act as trail markers.
Do we even need to tell you all about how bad it is to carve into rocks or trees?? Probably not! But try and teach youngsters in your life, maybe your own child or a niece or nephew. You’re never too old or young to become a good outdoor steward.
When arriving at a campsite, either in the front country or backcountry, use whatever fire ring has already been established, don’t build others. Do not dig trenches or large holes.
Leave No Trace offers up this great advice “Consider that good campsites are found, not made”.
Principle 7: Plan Ahead and Prepare📝
Well what in the heck does this mean in regards to LNT?? There’s a lot of aspects to consider before you ever even leave the house. Poor planning can not only lead to wrecking or tarnishing backcountry resources, it’s just not a fun time for anyone involved.
Planning ahead can look like:
🌦What are the conditions of the trail you’re headed to? If a trail is super muddy from rain or snowmelt, consider using another trail so as to not cause erosion or create huge ruts in the trail that remain the rest of the season.
🚫Check for things like fire bans, camping restrictions and other regulations before leaving so you can be the best outdoor steward during your adventure.
🧻It can be as simple as packing a trash bag! Or discussing with your group what the plan is for packing out things like toilet paper.