"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."
- E. B. White
As outdoors people, we have a responsibility to prepare ourselves for the adventures on which we embark -- to do our best to ensure our own safety and that of others. Navigational abilities, common sense and the ten essentials can avoid a situation that's dangerous for us and the rescue personnel who might be called upon to save us. And carrying a few additional supplies can help us help others on the trail who didn't plan ahead.
We also have a responsibility to outdoor places and spaces we are fortunate to visit, and that's where Leave No Trace -- an organization we are proud to support -- comes in.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles are the bedrock of the Leave No Trace program. They provide guidance to enjoy our natural world in a sustainable way that avoids human-created impacts. The principles have been adapted so they can be applied in your backyard, the backcountry wilderness, or city, state, or national parks.
Earlier this year, the importance of each of us understanding and taking responsibility for our impact on public lands was highlighted by the government shutdown. With either no or a significantly reduced number of government employees to patrol public lands and enforce policies, the full range of our behaviors was on display — from trees illegally felled for firewood to volunteers stepping up to haul out trash. Leave No Trace issued specific guidelines related to the government shutdown that were shared thousands of times and inspired many to volunteer their time to protect national public lands or avoid national lands to relieve their burden and instead visit state and municipal parks.
Leave No Trace Seven Principles
Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
Dispose of Waste Properly
- Pack it in, pack it out.
- Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
Leave What You Find
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the environment. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
A note on our own humanness: none of us are perfect and all of us have made mistakes and will make mistakes. Our personal goal is to keep in mind the principles of Leave No Trace and to strive to uphold them as well as we are able. The principles are a way to care for the natural world we love and there's a joy in that caring that is beyond a simple sense of duty.
“Do anything, but let it produce joy.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
In an effort to help spread the word about the Leave No Trace Seven Principles, we include our own version of the Leave No Trace reference card with The Guide's Pack. Our version of the card has a snaphook that allows it to connect to an O-ring -- so it's easy for us to pull out and consult or share with someone else. (Various editions of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles Cards are available directly from Leave No Trace for just 0.25 each.)