What Does Leave No Trace Really Mean?

Whether you’re camping, hiking, fishing, or hunting, you will probably come across signs that say Leave No Trace. But what does “leave no trace” really mean? Leave No Trace is simply a way of treating nature and your surroundings so that the wilderness stays clean for wildlife and future visitors. Leave No Trace follows seven different ethical outdoor principles. Let’s take a look at them here!

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Planning ahead will prepare you for being a clean and mindful camper. The first thing you want to do is research the area you will be visiting. Find out what types of rules and regulations there may be and what you should do in the event of an emergency or hazardous weather. Find out if you need to have specific permits or permissions to use the area and whether they have on-site trash disposal. Plan your meals ahead of time to ensure you bring only what you will need to help eliminate waste.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

It may be tempting to wander off the beaten path when camping, but this isn’t good for the environment. You will be trampling on vegetation that could be a food source for animals. You could find yourself in the middle of a nest or den of an animal, which could result in destroying it, abandonment of young, or even an animal attack. In some areas, hiking in places that are undeveloped can start a serious erosion issue, which will affect all plant and animal life in the area. Stay in somewhat developed areas and follow trails if there are some. If you can find an area where someone else has camped or where there is minimal to no vegetation, use that spot.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Whether RVing or tent camping, there is waste involved. Whatever you take in, you need to bring back out! Don’t leave trash or food behind. If you’re in an area that does not have toilets and you’re not using the RV bathroom, dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep for human waste and then bury it. Before digging the hole, ensure that you are at least 200 feet from any body of water, campsite, or trail. To get rid of wastewater from things like dishes, first ensure you’re using biodegradable soaps! Then dispose of the water at least 200 feet from any body of water and make sure to spread it around. If you’re RVing, never ever dump your holding tanks on the ground. Not only is this terrible for the environment, it’s illegal. If you need to find a dumping station near you, visit sanidumps.com or get their app.

Leave What You Find

It may be tempting, especially for kids, to take home souvenirs such as rocks, plants, animals, and other things you find outside. Avoid this temptation and leave these things behind for others to see. These things all amount to homes and food sources for other animals. And imagine if we all took rocks and plants out of woods … there would be nothing left! Instead, take pictures to remember your experience. This way you leave no impact on the area and you can still look back on your trip. This also means to leave things the way you found them. Don’t dig trenches or cut down trees. The area should look the same when you leave as it did when you arrived, unless you find litter laying around. Then by all means take that home (and throw it away properly!).

Minimize Campfire Impacts

If you can, try to bring a small camp stove instead of building a campfire. This will help preserve the area and eliminate the need for firewood. If you do build a campfire, keep it small. There is no need for a raging bonfire in the middle of the summer. Use your fire for warmth and cooking. Use an existing campfire area if there is one. If there is a ring already in place or a pit someone else dug, use this! Don’t cause more damage to another spot in the area by building your fire somewhere else. When you’re gathering up your fire wood, use wood that has already fallen. You shouldn’t need to chop anything down! Lastly, think about where you build the fire. Make sure it’s not going to spread or cause heat damage to anything near it.

Respect Wildlife

It may seem kind to feed the animals you come across, but feeding the wildlife is one of the worst things you can do for them. Resist your temptation to feed them for two reasons: human food can be bad for them, and they can develop a dependency on humans for food. If they come to depend on humans to feed them, they could lose their natural instinct to find their own food and they will starve in our absence. If you happen to see an animal, keep your distance. Don’t get close or crowd around them as this can scare them or cause them stress. Animals with young or who are looking for a mate can tend to be violent, so give them their space. Lastly, keep noise to a minimum. Excessive noise can cause fear and stress which can lead to abandonment or aggression.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Others want to enjoy the great outdoors just like you do. Be respectful of others by traveling in small groups and keeping the noise to a minimum. When choosing a campsite, leave a good distance between you and other campers if possible so that everyone can enjoy nature in their own way. Lastly, be respectful of private property. Don’t wander onto someone else’s property.

Leave No Trace simply means to leave the area in its natural state. It is up to us to help preserve our beautiful earth by respecting it and taking good care of it. Our children mimic what we do, so teach them how to camp responsibly for the good of us all!