Share the Love, Leave No Trace
My brother and I grew up camping and hiking in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. As kids, we were taught Leave No Trace through our Eagle Scout dad. He instilled a respect for the outdoors, showed us everything from how to build fires to finding a good campsite. Most of all, he made it fun.
Leave No Trace (LNT) is a set of outdoor ethics promoting conservation in the outdoors. It consists of seven principles: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, be considerate of other visitors.
For six months on the Appalachian Trail, I lived, practiced and became an advocate for these outdoor principles. I continue to think of Leave No Trace as a philosophy of life and a responsibility to share with others. You can even take a free LNT Online Awareness Course and they’ll send you a certificate upon completion.
I’m a strong believer that a good outdoor experience is the result of your behaviors and others before you. Wilderness is not inherently flawless and pristine, but through a consistent practice and mentality we protect these special places for future hikers to come.
Own your responsibility in the outdoors and brush up on these 7 outdoor ethics. I’ll share the basics on each principle and my Highlight Insight to how I practiced LNT on my thru-hike.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Research into trail terrain and wearing weather appropriate gear can give you a confidence like none other. Confidence is the basis of the first principle, Plan Ahead and Prepare. If you know what you’re getting into, you can enjoy the experience without any stress. Check the weather, review maps, and know the rules and regulations for the places you’ll visit. Trail guides, apps such as Guthook, Avenza Maps, and blog resources are just a few great ways to prepare for a trail.
Highlight Insight: On the AT, the best habit I made was checking weather and water sources for the day. Knowing the water sources gave me the assurance to enjoy the day without risking dehydration. Thanks to the Guthook app, I could give myself a few options to camp and the flexibility in case I wanted to push longer miles or shorten my day.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Awareness in your impact on the trail is the groundwork of principle two, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. Reckless footwork on trail or alongside the trail will have a faster erosion impact on already popular areas. Walk with intention and tread lightly. Likewise, camping on existing sites will have the same effect. Utilizing established campsites versus creating new ones will keep the landscape as natural as possible.
Highlight Insight: I thought the best part about Maine and the 100-Mile Wilderness was being in the presence of untouched moss-covered boulders and unbroken forest. If we stray from the trail, we risk damaging the beauty of raw wilderness. Trail and campsite erosion is real. The more we affect a landscape, the faster it deteriorates. Leave a place in better condition than when you found it.
Dispose of Waste Properly
A trail is only litter-free because you picked up your trash, or never left any. If you bring anything into the outdoors, take it back out. Pack it in, pack it out, is the slogan for the third principle, Dispose of Waste Properly. Same for toilet paper, don’t always expect nature to decompose your potty trash. If you poop in the woods, make sure it’s in a hole at least 6-8 inches deep and completely covered up.
Highlight Insight: On the AT, I always collected trash between towns. After awhile, it becomes a habit picking up micro-trash (small pieces, corners of wrappers, etc.) and I know I wasn’t the only one picking up stuff on the trail. As far as digging catholes, start a good habit early on. Pre-dig if need be.
Leave What You Find
Simple: if we picked all the wildflowers for ourselves, nobody else would get to see them in their natural form. Let’s follow the fourth principle, Leave What You Find, and we all benefit. Often forgotten, graffiti falls under this category. Leave your mark in the log books or trail register, but not in the shelters or spray painted on rocks. Carving into trees is definitely a no-no.
Highlight Insight: Sharing is caring is the bottomline of LNT. I thought twice when I wanted to take a cool rock with me, if we all grabbed the pretty ones in the Smokies then there won’t be any left to gush over. Also, the guy that wrote poems about “Sarah” in the AT shelters really just needs to move on.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Knowing where and how to build, maintain, and put out campfires is the fifth principle, Minimize Campfire Impacts. Make sure you’re in control by keeping the fire small for the purpose and stay within the ring. A campfire can be the biggest morale boost on trail but it’s also a big responsibility.
Highlight Insight: I’m always proud when fellow AT hikers practice good campfire habits. Some better than others, we understood the risks and environmental impact inherent in a fire. Know that the best times in the woods are usually around a campfire, just don’t burn down the place.
You’re in their home now, so let’s talk about how to Respect the Wildlife. There’s nothing better than watching a wild moose graze in a Maine lake or seeing a beaver swim across Haley Pond in Massachusetts, both personal experiences from the AT. These instances could escalate if you taunt or disrupt the locals. Keep a safe distance and you’ll catch one of the best perks of getting outside.
Knowing how to interact in a wildlife threat, should also be accounted for. You can do your best to avoid wildlife, but what happens when they find you? Remain calm, make yourself big or create noise, and keeping a distance are good starters.
Highlight Insight: I saw plenty of peaceful animals on the AT, but I also came across a few rattlesnakes in Pennsylvania. When I found myself in front of yet another snake, I’d slowly back off then make my way around. Respecting wildlife also means knowing when you’re in an area with a potentially dangerous species.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Not just animals, but we got to respect each other. Be Considerate of Other Visitors and we all live in peace. Drones, social media use, and music are hot topics when it comes to this last Leave No Trace principle. Think about how you’d like to experience your time in the outdoors, likely without loud music and conversations, and with polite interactions with fellow hikers, right?
Highlight Insight: Of course I like to share my hikes on social media, so if I’m recording an Instagram story or taking a photo, I make sure I’m not disturbing anyone else. Pulling out a device can really ruin the moment, so I choose wisely.
I like to think about how NYC would be different if city dwellers practiced Leave No Trace principles. Would there be less trash on the sidewalk? Could we coexist better on the subway? Obviously, there are enough public restrooms we don’t need to worry about digging catholes, but the point is greater awareness for the world we live in.
Continue reading more on these outdoor ethics, take a class, and get involved at the official Leave No Trace website.
Please feel free to share your thoughts on Leave No Trace in a comment below or share this with a friend!