The 7 Leave No Trace Principles for exploring the great outdoors responsibly and how to put them into practice
As more and more people embrace the outdoors, it’s crucial that as nature-loving trailblazers we protect these natural spaces. That’s where these 7 Leave No Trace Principles come in!
Leave No Trace is a non-profit organisation that established a basic set of ethics to follow whilst outside. These principles provide a sweet basis for decision making to ensure all these amazing places filled with green, brown and blue are respected and looked after.
The Leave No Trace principles aren’t a set of rules but instead a guideline to encourage responsibility
You see, if we all take it upon ourselves to have a little consideration there’s no need to have strict rules telling you where you can and can’t eat your peanut butter and jam sandwich.
At Veggie Vagabonds we think these ethics are massively important. In our eyes, getting outside and embracing your surroundings is such a huge step towards sustainability; we just gotta do it with as little impact as possible. I’ll bet you’re probably following a lot of the principles already without even realising.
So, check out this post as we breakdown of the principles of Leave No Trace below and let’s make the most of the awesome natural spaces around us!
This article may contain affiliate links, they will never cost you more money but helps Veggie Vagabonds keep making content like this – thank you!
1. Plan ahead and prepare
You know what they say: Fail to plan and you plan to fail.
A little cliché but it’s never been truer than in the outdoors.
When you’ve no idea what to expect you’re more likely to run into sticky issues. Poor research can end you up in very sketchy situations, potentially making poor choices out of fear or fatigue.
Knowing where to go and when, plus what to take are small bits of prep that can massively impact the footprint of your trip.
Considerations before your trip;
- Check the forecast and pack accordingly. It’s better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it
- Prepare for emergencies – things can turn quickly in the outdoors so a well-stocked first aid kit is crucial. (You can find options here at Go Outdoors in the UK and at REI in the USA)
- Find out if the area you’re visiting has any special regulations – are fires allowed? Can you camp? Are there protected areas?
- Plan your trip to avoid overcrowded locations at peak times
- Plan your gear to pick ethical options and food to minimise waste
- Double-check you have everything
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Not sure what to pack for your trip? Check out our sustainable gear and vegan food guides before your next adventure:
Planning your adventure properly is the best way to make the most of the outdoors and this guide covers all the basics
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
When exploring or setting up camp, seek out durable or established surfaces. This means if a hiking trail or campsite exists, use it.
In popular areas:
- Use designated trails and campsites
- Camp at least 200 feet from water sources
- Keep campsites as small as possible
In pristine areas:
- Disperse use so you are not creating campsites or trails where they didn’t previously exist
- Stick to durable surfaces as much as possible like rocks and gravel avoiding fragile surfaces like vegetation and riparian zones (the area near a water source)
- Avoid places where impacts are beginning to show
- You can tell if you’re doing it properly as the area should look as if you were never there!
3. Dispose of waste properly
This one seems pretty obvious but it never ceases to amaze me how many people just leave there sh*t in the outdoors (figuratively and literally).
Pack out anything you pack in and make sure you’re taking care of ‘business’ properly. Simple ways to embrace the ethos of the 7 leave no trace principles.
Dealing with rubbish:
- If you brought it with you then take it home to dispose of properly. This includes any food scraps and orange peels; they don’t belong on the side of the trail
- It’s also good practice to collect any litter you see along the way to help leave these places better than you found them
Pooping and peeing in the wild:
- If there are toilets use them, even you blokes. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should!
- Any form of ‘business’ should take place at least 200 feet from a water source and the trail, nobody wants to see that
- When pooping, dig a cat hole 6 – 8 inches deep and do your thing. Then when you’re done, cover it up with the remaining soil to let nature run its course
- Take any tissues or hygiene products with you. Do not bury them as they damage the ecosystem and it could be very dangerous if wildlife gets hold of them. We use dog poop bags to dispose of any waste properly, (you can find them here in the UK and the USA)
- Before you go, check if there are any special requirement as some areas require you to take your poop away with you
Washing dishes outside:
- Carry water 200 feet away from a water source and use a small amount of biodegradable soap (you can get it here from the UK and USA)
- Scatter any dishwater after removing any food scraps and taking them away with your rubbish
- Check that greywater (dishwater) dumping is permitted. If not, take a container to dispose of it properly
READ MORE: reduce your waste even further in the outdoors with these zero waste outdoor tips.
4. Minimize campfire impacts
There’s nothing quite like nestling around the campfire after a day outside, but this camping tradition can sometimes have destructive consequences.
- Check that fires are allowed in the area
- Use common sense and if it’s very dry, it’s a no go
- Use designated areas such as fire pits or a fire ring that’s been used before
- Keep fires small
- Burn any coal or wood to ash and put it out properly
- Don’t bring firewood from outside the area as this can introduce new pests and diseases, instead buy locally or source responsibly
- Using a camping stove followed by some star gazing is a great alternative to lighting a fire if they’re not permitted
Check out these beginners tips on lighting fires to learn how to do so responsibly and properly
5. Leave what you find
Seen something cool or pretty? Great! Take a picture and leave it be. It’s part of the eco-system and others will likely want to enjoy the view too. Leave it be, regardless of how nice it’ll look on your windowsill.
Probably the simplest step to put into practice as it requires no action at all!
6. Respect wildlife
Would you go round someone’s house, poke and shout at them, take pictures and throw food at them? Hopefully not, so don’t do it to wildlife. This is their home remember.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not approach or follow them
- Do not feed animals – feeding them could endanger their health and alter natural behaviour, exposing them to predators and danger
- Store food and rubbish properly to avoid any animals getting hold of something they shouldn’t
- Keep dogs in your sight and under control, in some areas this means on a lead
- Be super vigilant and avoid certain areas during sensitive times such as mating or nesting season and when animals are rearing their young
7. Be considerate of other visitors
Basically: Treat others as you wish to be treated.
Not only a good practice in the outdoors but also in life. A little consideration goes a long way.
- Be courteous on the trail and remember those going up have right of way
- Keep music and noise to a minimum – not everyone wants to hear you belting out Cher at 1 am
- Manage your pets – apparently some people aren’t keen on dogs…?
- Respect others and protect the quality of their experience
How to Follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles Outside
Sounds simple enough, right? These ethics are a basis for making conscious decisions in the outdoors, to help protect those green spaces we love to explore.
Once you get out there and start putting these seven principles into practice, it becomes second nature in next to no time. You’ll be an LNT trailblazer paving the way for rookies in the wild before you know it!
If you want to learn more about Leave No Trace and the ethos behind the principles there are tons of resources on their website.
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