“Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” This popular motto of leave-no-trace camping speaks to its overall goal: have as little impact on your outdoor location as possible.
What started as an eco-friendly trend in outdoors adventuring has become increasingly popular and important. And with growing numbers of visitors to wilderness areas, it’s more important than ever to protect and preserve these sacred spaces.
Here’s how you can implement leave no trace on your next camping trip.
The Seven Leave No Trace Principles
The leave no trace principles were laid out by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. As an overarching set of rules in this increasingly important eco-friendly movement, they are important to know.
Plan Ahead and Prepare:
This includes familiarizing yourself with the area you plan to visit. Learn the rules for hiking and camping in that area and plan accordingly. It’s also recommended that you travel in small groups, and avoid going at times when there’s already a high volume of use.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces:
“Durable surfaces” are established trails and campsites. Try not to create new paths and campsites, which further disrupt the purity of the area.
Dispose of Waste Properly:
The best way to remember this is: “pack it in, pack it out.” Don’t leave anything at the site that wasn’t there before. Remember that human waste should be buried 200 feet away from any body of water, and placed 6 to 8 inches in the ground.
Leave What You Find:
Don’t take anything natural, including rocks and plants, from the campsite. The key is to avoid introducing or transporting non-native species to or from the site.
Minimize Campfire Impacts:
Use established fire rings and a small, lightweight camping stove. It’s important to burn your fire down to ash, and then put out the fire completely; scatter cool ashes when possible.
This is not only good practice for the environment, but your safety as well. Don’t approach or follow a wild animal and never feed them.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors:
Respect campers around you, and yield to them on the trail. Keep loud noises to a minimum so that others can enjoy the serenity of their natural surroundings.
Leave No Trace When You Camp
While the leave no trace principles are an important set of eco-friendly camping ethics, consider which ones apply to you more given the area you plan to visit.
Primitive and Backcountry Camping:
- Make your campsite as small as possible.
- Walk single file on new or unused trails.
- Know the wildlife you might encounter, avoid contact with animals, and do not disturb native plants.
- Know where and how to bury human waste.
- Leave everything as you left it whenever possible.
- Do not disturb campers in sites close to you.
- When hiking, yield to other trekkers and large groups.
- Use the assigned fire pit.
- Bring your own wood or buy it at the campground.
- Clean your site before you leave.
- Put out your fire completely.
- Try to trek where trails have already been blazed.
- Travel in a smaller group.
- Know where to dispose of your waste.
- Pack only what you can take in and out with you.
- Keep your fires minimal to avoid any damage to the area.
The most important element of eco-friendly camping is having respect for the places you love to visit. It’s a reciprocal relationship and the rewards are endless.
Jessica Sanders is the Associate Online Editor for ReserveAmerica.com. After many years of camping and hiking in the Northeast, she’s exploring what the West has to offer and sharing all of her knowledge with you. She’s a s’mores master, campsite connoisseur, writer, runner and lover of all things outdoors. Follow her on
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