Leave No Trace – A Personal List

There are seven principles to Leave No Trace wilderness ethics, but by following these two easy to remember concepts the seven principles should come naturally. These two concepts are not official Leave No Trace guidelines, though the first is widely associated as an overview of Leave No Trace.  These are simply two things I can easily remember to help me apply the seven principles of Leave No Trace in all my wilderness travels.

  1. “Take nothing but pictures (or memories), leave nothing but footprints.”
    Photographs are a great way to capture a memory, and Leave No Trace.

    Wilderness visitors may be tempted to take souvenirs, such as rocks.  This can be especially true with young explorers, or in areas where there seems to be an abundance of something such as pebbles or wildflowers.  I have frequently had children ask to take small keepsake from hikes like these home, but I just tell them if they take their “really cool find” the next hiker won’t be able to enjoy it.  Nearly every child then seems okay parting with their natural treasure, even if they are a little sad they still seem to accept leaving the item for others to enjoy.

The clear message of leaving “nothing but footprints” is not to litter, but leaving no trace goes far beyond packing out your trash.  The idea is not to leave, or create, any unnatural impact such as food waste, burning trash, unburied human or pet waste, or even a stack of firewood to be used by the next camper.

Personal account of this issue:  I was backpacking in the Sipsey Wilderness and came across a bush-craft, lean to shelter.  It was extremely well-constructed and the shelter had clearly taking someone a while to build.  I set my tent up in its shelter and enjoyed the other man-made amenities surrounding. However, it was an unnatural addition to the pristine landscape.  The shelter itself didn’t seem to be against Leave No Trace, as only naturally downed materials were used, but leaving the structure in place did go against Leave No Trace.  This brings up the second concept on Leave No Trace.

  1. Always leave a campsite better than you found it.

By this I should have disassembled the shelter myself, just as I would redistribute any leftover firewood or clean any litter left from previous campers.  However, being that I was solo-backpacking in rural Alabama I chose to leave the shelter in place for fear of a “Deliverance-style” encounter with the builder.  If using a new campsite remember to return the site to its natural state after use, so the next person passing by won’t even notice someone camped there.

Once again, these concepts are just ones I like to follow to help me properly apply the true seven principles, but beginner and experienced wilderness users can benefit from exploring these principles further.  The seven principles are designed to include any wilderness situation you might encounter, but the application of these principles varies greatly based on the wilderness setting and mode of travel.  Below you’ll find some helpful resources for learning and applying these concepts, and look for future posts on applying these principles to your outdoor adventures.

Leave No Trace official site

REI Expert Advice on Leave No Trace

Boy Scouts of America, Leave No Trace site


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