A man holds up a littered balloon

How To Leave No Trace On Your Next Hiking Trip

Maybe you’ve heard the old saying “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints”. The idea of leaving the outdoors at least as good as you found them is baked into the culture. 

But how do you Leave No Trace? What does that mean on a practical level? And what are some things you can do to be a good steward of the land on your next hiking trip?

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has created a list of 7 Principles to keep in mind when enjoying the outdoors.

The Seven Leave No Trace Principles

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Hikers who plan carefully and are prepared for different conditions and scenarios are more likely to have an enjoyable hike and are less likely to cause damage to natural resources.

2. Travel and Camp On Durable Surfaces

Straying from established trails can cause erosion, disruption of natural habitats, and damage to the nearby waterways. If you need to leave the trail (to find a private spot away from the trail and waterways to use the bathroom for example) pay attention to where you’re walking.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

Consider the environmental impacts of what you leave behind. Pack out your trash and other waste including things you might think are biodegradable like dog poo and food scraps such as apple cores and tangerine peels.

4. Leave What You Find

Leave natural objects how and where you found them. Don’t collect souvenirs. Don’t carve your name into trees or stack rocks. If you move rocks, logs, and twigs around to create a campsite, put them back where you found them when you break camp. 

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Build campfires only in designated areas like established fire circles. If you’re going to forage for firewood, plan to set up camp in an area where fallen wood is abundant. Put out fires completely with water. There should be no evidence of the fire when you’re done. 

6. Respect Wildlife

Admire wildlife from a distance. Do not feed, approach or chase them. 

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Allow other hikers to “hike their own hike”. Downhill hikers yield to and step aside for uphill hikers. All hikers yield to equestrians. Bikers yield to both hikers and equestrians. 

Does that all sound kind of familiar? The seven Leave No Trace Principles are very similar to the “Outdoor Code” used by the Boy Scouts of America.

The Outdoor Code

As an American, I will do my best to–

Be clean in my outdoor manners.

I will treat the outdoors as a heritage. I will take care of it for myself and others. I will keep my trash and garbage out of lakes, streams, fields, woods, and roadways.

Be careful with fire.

I will prevent wildfire. I will build my fires only when and where they are permitted and appropriate. When I have finished using a fire, I will make sure it is cold out. I will leave a clean fire ring or remove all evidence of my fire.

Be considerate in the outdoors.

I will treat the land and other land users with respect. I will follow the principles of outdoor ethics for all outdoor activities.

Be conservation-minded.

I will learn about and practice good conservation of soil, waters, forests, minerals, grasslands, wildlife and energy. I will urge others to do the same.

Litter Cleanups and “Plogging”

For many outdoors enthusiasts, their commitment to leave no trace includes cleaning up after others. Litter alongside a trail is not only terrible for the environment and the local ecosystem, it also can really ruin an otherwise enjoyable hike. 

Many people will hike with a trash bag to clean up litter as they go, and then pack out the trash and dispose of it properly. 

Some folks have adopted the name “Plogging” for this activity, which borrows from the Swedish conservation trend of picking up trash while jogging.

 No matter what you call it, removing litter from the trail while you’re hiking is a great way to practice Leave No Trace.

If you’re looking for an all-in-one litter pickup solution that you can just stuff in your backpack and go, check out this Clean Up Kit from United By Blue

Please note that this site contains affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. 

About the Author

Leah is an avid hiker and photographer currently based in Virginia, USA. She is always striving to be a better environmental steward and work the Leave No Trace principles into all of her outdoor activities.

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