Why ‘Leave No Trace’ is Important

Have you seen the ‘pack it in, pack it out’ signs at busy trailheads or on national park websites? If you’re new to hiking, have your more experienced friends talked about the ‘leave no trace’ principle that encourages you to walk *through* the muddy trail rather than around it? Do you know what they’re talking about? More importantly, are you curious about why everyone seems to care so much about ‘leave no trace’?

So, let’s tackle some of those questions + help you take on the trails with sustainability in mind!

What does ‘leave no trace’ mean?

Leave no trace essentially means that when you head outside you should quite literally ‘leave no trace’. There is also an organization called Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, which outlines the seven principles that will help you leave no trace when you venture outside.

Why is ‘leave no trace’ important?

The great outdoors is a fragile place with delicate plants, sensitive animals + intricate ecosystems. When we head into the outdoors we have an affect on these things…often an negative affect. While we do want to head outside to enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer we need to be careful about how much of an impact we have. The principles of ‘leave no trace’ are there to help keep our impact in check.

What can we do to ‘leave no trace’?

There are seven principles to ‘leave no trace’, so let’s take a look at each one of those principles + how it will help us be better outdoor stewards.

1: Plan Ahead + Prepare

Know where you’re going, prepare for the weather and emergencies, and travel in small groups whenever possible. This principle helps keep you safe for the ‘what if’ mishaps + the impact that comes with being lost or hurt + needing rescue.

2: Travel + Camp on Durable Surface

In short, stay on the trail + camp in established campsites. Yes, even if the trail is muddy or the campsite doesn’t have a perfect view. Sticking to the established areas will reduce the amount of nature that is trampled by human feet.

3: Dispose of Waste Properly

Take all trash with you, pick up trash on the trail + take all leftover food with you. This is important because of the obvious ‘don’t litter’ mentality. But have you thought about the impact any of your left behind food has on the animals in the area? Yes, squirrels may eat peanuts, orange peels or chips…but if you are out there leaving behind scraps of food all summer, what happens when the squirrels’ full bellies override the instinct to store up food for the winter? The squirrels end up with a very hungry winter that may be their last. This doesn’t take into consideration how a massive change in diet affects the entire squirrel population. Of course, this doesn’t stop at squirrels, but considering their resource food habits, they’re a good example.

Another form of waste we need to dispose of properly is our own waste — pee + poo. Did you know there is a proper way to go about peeing or pooping in the wilderness!? There is! This is because urine + feces has a negative impact on the environment, especially in large quantities. When you’re using ‘the facilities’ in the great outdoors be sure you’re at least 200 feet away from water sources. For solid waste, dig a 6-8 inch cathole to bury the waste.

4: Leave What You Find

Everything in the great outdoors is there for a reason, so leave it there [aside from that trash you find along the trail, take that back with you!]. Don’t pick flowers, don’t take rocks home with you, don’t take anything more than photos!

5: Minimize Campfire Impacts

First off, make sure you’re allowed to have open fires where ever you’re camping. With the ongoing droughts throughout the US many areas have bans on campfires, so check with the land managers before you head out. If you do have a campfire, keep it small + start it in an already established camp ring.

6: Respect Wildlife

If you have the pleasure of coming upon wildlife while you’re outside, keep your distance. Do not try to get up close or touch the animals. Do not attempt to feed the animals. Respect the fact you are in their home.

7: Be Considerate of Other Visitors

This is especially important if you’re adventuring in an popular area. In general, be kind to other trail users. Uphill hikers + riders have right of way, always yield to horses + avoid being noisy along the trail or at camp.

Now that we have addressed the basics of the leave no trace principles, let’s start putting them to use on our outdoor adventures. Better yet, let’s start sharing our knowledge with the others so we can all continue to enjoy the great outdoors together for years to come!

About the Author


Heidi Kumm

Heidi Kumm is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. She is so stoked on adventure that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world around them. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike, or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she's here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes, safely.