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How to Leave No Trace on a Hike

You love hiking and spending time outdoors, but you know how fragile that the environments you visit can be — especially when they become major destinations for hikers and campers.

You may have already heard of “leave no trace” — or maybe, its most famous rule: “leave only footprints, take only pictures.”

It’s possible to use leave no trace principles to hike in a way that has the least impact on the places you visit. Below, we’ll run through the principles of leave no trace and how you can plan to follow these principles on your next hike.

The Basics of Leave No Trace

Leave no trace is a set of principles that help hikers minimize their impact on the environments they visit. Leave no trace is founded on respect for the local environment and a conservationist’s approach to hiking and camping. When followed, leave no trace can help you make sure that your hiking habits don’t disturb the local environment, and preserve wilderness for future hikers.

The Leave No Trace Center has defined seven principles of leaving no trace:

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Minimize campfire impacts.
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Knowing these seven principles is enough to complete your own leave no trace hike, and they’re defined broadly so that they can apply to almost any setting — from city parks to national wilderness. However, these principles aren’t always easy to follow if you don’t plan ahead — you may find, once you’ve gotten on the trail, that you could be better equipped for leave no trace.

There are some special considerations that, when kept in mind, can help you bring the seven principles of leave no trace to your next hike.

Preparing for a Leave No Trace Hike

Before setting out, research the trail you plan on hiking and where campsites will be available on-trail. Don’t plan a multi-day hike on a trail with no established campsites — try to plan for a different hike instead.

Depending on how long you plan to hike, you will likely create some trash and food waste. It’s reasonable to worry about the amount of trash you produce, but it’s better to have a strategy for packing it out — bringing the trash you create back with you.

Expect that you won’t get much more space in your bag over time, because you’ll have to hold on to the trash you create. Some trails have trail trash cans you can use, but not all trails do. Pack trash bags or other containers that can separate your trash from everything else you’re carrying.

If you plan on carrying food, trash or food waste overnight, you will probably need to hang a bear bag — the bears will appreciate it if you don’t, but feeding bears will over time make bears over-familiar with humans. A bear approaching hikers and campers because it would like some food is bad for bears and bad for hikers.

There are also some things that you shouldn’t bring with you — like firewood. If you bring firewood from home, it can introduce new pests and diseases to the area you’re hiking in, even if the wood gets completely burnt through. This is also true when you live close to your hike destination — pests and diseases can vary hugely from ecosystem to ecosystem, even when they’re neighboring each other. Play it safe, and collect your firewood once when you’ve set up camp.

If you’re going to hike with a dog, you should also plan on cleaning up after them. Hiking with dogs will require some extra planning — but most important in leave no trace is cleaning up after your dogs.

Leaving No Trace on Your Next Hike

Leave no trace principles are simple and can be applied to almost any natural environment. You will, however, need to plan your hike carefully. Before you set out, make sure that there are campsites on your route, you have a way to hold onto your trash, and you’re able to clean up after any pets you bring along.

Follow these principles, and with a little bit of planning, you can help preserve nature for future hikers.

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Scott Huntingtonthe author of this post, is an Automotive YouTuber and Writer.

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