Leave No Trace Behind Camping Principles
Updated: Feb 1
The Guide to a Happy Camper And a Happy Campsite
Valeria Krumdieck Leon, John Abbot College
Whenever people think of nature and all of its beauty, they often omit the presence of humans from their mental image, as if the natural world and humans weren’t supposed to mix. This mentality is incorrect and, according to eco-psychology, can be damaging to mental health. The truth is, nature is for everyone to enjoy; humans should not have to stay on the sidelines and watch.
Camping in the backcountry is an excellent way to connect oneself to nature and to explore this fundamental part of the world. However, this exploring isn’t always harmless: wildfires, water pollution and trash pollution are all highly dangerous hazards to take into account. But do not fret! These hazards should not keep anyone from discovering the wonderful world of camping.
Thanks to the seven Leave No Trace (LNT) Principles outlined by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, harmless exploring techniques are now more accessible than ever. Here are the seven LNT Principles and how to respect them:
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
From food to clothes, to even activities, it is crucial to have a detailed plan for any outdoor adventures one intends to embark on. Planning does not only make trips safer and more enjoyable. It also offers people the opportunity to thoroughly think about how they could minimize resource damage and waste production.
Frequently, when planning on short notice, people tend to bring a lot of pre-packaged foods, the wrong kinds of clothes for the weather, or items that might disturb wild animals. By thinking ahead of time, one should have time to make well-informed and deliberate decisions on what to bring.
It is also a good idea for people to inform themselves about the site they will be visiting. Acquiring familiarity with the trails they will be taking, the predicted weather, and the risk zones can also assist people in devising an escape plan—when it comes to camping responsibly, there can never be too much planning.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Vegetation, puddles and potholes are sensible parts of nature that can get easily trampled as people walk or camp on them. It is ideal to camp on durable surfaces such as rock, sand and gravel, or on temporary surfaces like ice and snow.
Nevertheless, if campers absolutely must stay on soft surfaces, they should spread out their camp. It is much easier for nature to recover from smaller abrasions than from a large trampled area. Besides, larger trampled areas could encourage future campers to use the same spot, creating a permanent patch of dry land.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
The general guidelines for disposing of waste are defined by this mantra: pack it in, pack it out. Nevertheless, any waste that cannot get packed out, such as human waste or dishwater, should get buried in cat-holes. These cat-holes should be from 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches in diameter. They should be dug at least 200 feet from any water source, trails or campsites.
It is essential to remember that washing should never be done directly in water sources. Water must be brought over to campsites—again, at least 200 feet away from its source—and then buried in cat-holes for disposal. This practice ensures that water sources are not contaminated.
Lastly, burning trash is never recommended. Depending on different campsite guidelines, toilet paper (ideally natural and fragrance-free) should be either packed out or buried in cat-holes.
4. Leave What You Find
This principle is rather simple to follow, but many might not know why it's so important. Taking things from nature—or even moving things around on the same site—could introduce different species elsewhere where they were never intended to be. This could create all kinds of collateral damage and endanger wildlife. Moreover, taking cultural artifacts or disturbing the natural beauty of these sites could ruin the camping experience of future visitors. So, next time you find a pretty seashell, an interesting rock, or a perfectly sized pinecone, just take a picture!
The only exception to this rule is if you find trash lying around that could be dangerous to wildlife. If this is the case, pick it up! It is away a good idea to leave a place better off than you found it.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
Although ideal, exclusively using renewable energy is not always possible. In these cases, it is essential to know that the impact of campfires cannot be completely eliminated, but it can surely be minimized.
First of all, it’s important to use firewood from a local source. Meaning, it can either be purchased right at the campsite, or it can be picked up around the camping area. Important detail: any firewood picked up from around the site must be dead. It should always be a camper's priority not to damage wildlife. Further, live wood doesn’t burn well, anyway.
Additionally, campfires should be kept small and never left unattended. When putting fires out, campers must scatter the ashes around once they have cooled down so they don’t rekindle.
6. Respect Wildlife
The best way to respect wildlife is to keep a good distance. A helpful way to know whether you're too close to wildlife is the following: are you close enough to comfortably watch? If so, you're already too close. Moreover, larger groups of people have a higher chance of scaring wildlife, so try to divide large groups into smaller ones.
Finally, possibly the most well-known guideline for this principle is that campers should never feed wildlife. A fed animal is a dead animal, after all.
7. Be Considerate of Others
"Others" can refer to other visitors, but it can refer to wildlife too. Generally, the rules are the same: don’t make loud noises, don’t leave things lying around, respect trails when walking, and so on. However, there is also a timely aspect to consider. Campers should try to avoid trips on holidays or busy weekends to not contribute to the crowding of a campsite. Further, if campers bring any pets along, they should always be kept under control. And, unless it is hunting season, bright clothes and equipment are discouraged, as they can be distracting.
Overall, by following the LNT Principles, one can rest assured that—as long as it's done responsibly—taking a nature break can be one of the healthiest ways to explore both nature and yourself.