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Have you ever heard of leave no trace camping? LNT camping is a specific set of camping principles that all campers should abide by. Wondering what they are? Let me explain.
There are few things in this world that truly upset me. Most are things my kids have done or do on a regular basis, but that is just part of being a Mom. People acting ignorant of nature is one though that I have trouble getting past.
In this case, I don’t mean people who go out to the lake or woods and get drunk or are having fun. Instead, I speak of those who trash the natural world around them in one way or another when they are camping, hiking or otherwise spending time outdoors. Of the people who disrespect the natural environment and Mother Nature by not ensuring proper disposal of their own trash.
It drives me so batty because my family and I try to have a minimal impact and practice the principles of leave no trace anytime we are outdoors.
What Is Leave No Trace Camping?
The leave no trace seven principles were first published by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and are pretty widely known at this point, but not everyone will know them by name. In essence, they are seven “rules” for outdoor ethics. These ethics are meant to guide us into have as little impact as possible and to help keep the outdoors clean, healthy and usable for everyone; instead of simply using the natural areas around us and not thinking about the next person.
Leave no trace camping follows these seven outdoor ethics rules. Leave no trace hiking does as well. Honestly anytime you’re spending time outdoors, the leave no trace principles should apply.
What are the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace?
If you’ve never seen the seven leave no tract principles laid out in one spot, you may not be aware of all they entail. They are as follows:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
As you can see, some of these principles are meant to keep the natural state of the area pristine and clean. However, some of them are also designed to keep you and others safe.
How to Apply LNT Camping Principles
The best way to apply leave no trace principles to your camping trip is to be intentional about it. Setting an intention to practice the leave no trace principles helps to keep them at the forefront of your mind. By keeping them in the forefront of your mind, you will train yourself so that the set of guidelines for leave no trace practices become natural behaviors for you and your family.
For those just getting started with leave no trace camping, here are a few ways to put each principle into practice.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Just like you wouldn’t go on a family hiking trip without planning properly, you should not go on a camping trip without the proper planning.
The reason this is the first of the LNT principles is because proper planning and preparation allows you to be ready to deal with potential issues that come with being in wild places with wild animals.
Planning ahead means more than simply knowing where you are camping. It also includes:
- Checking weather reports for the potential of extreme weather.
- Having a waste system set up to deal with toilet paper and solid human waste while in the woods.
- Having plans to deal with any human food, especially leftover food scraps.
- Ensuring you have the proper camping gear.
- Planning any trip goals you may have, especially if you will be doing any hiking or practicing other types of outdoor skills.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
The second principle is to ensure you are only traveling and camping on durable surfaces. Again, this is not done only to protect the natural resources around you, but also to protect your own life. In some places, especially those owned by the National Park Service or the Bureau of Land Management, even a small amount of foot traffic can cause soil erosion on the side of the trail. Should you set up camp or hike in these areas, you may find yourself in danger very quickly.
In addition, quick movements made on soil that has already eroded can cause a castospthrophe if conditions are right. Things such as mudslides are caused by soil eroding away and large amounts of water. If the soil is already over-saturated, even small groups walking over it can cause a slide to begin.
Because of this, the best practices are to stick to identified trails and only to set camp where you know it is safe to do so. This could be good campsites that are in designated campgrounds or public lands that you are able to camp on for free. If you are not camping and are only hiking, walking single file through any wilderness areas you are not sure of is a great way help to protect the area and keep you and your family safe at the same time.
Dispose of Waste Properly
Next we have the call to dispose of waste properly and if you ask me, this is one of the most important ones. Human waste such as food particles, bathroom waste, hygiene products, or other forms of trash simply discarded wherever have a negative impact on natural objects and the local ecosystem as a whole. Since most of these types of products take years to decompose, they can really damage the surrounding areas badly. A good example of this is from the 80’s or 90’s with the plastic pieces from 6-packs of soda. These plastic rings were getting caught around the necks of wild animals causing death
A good way to manage these types of waste is by ensuring you have the correct gear. For instance, human bodily waste and hygiene products can be collected and properly disposed of simply by using a camping toilet. If you are hiking and can’t set up a camping toilet, urine collection bags like THESE are helpful (Those are the exact ones I use when traveling on the truck with my husband as well.). Just fill and toss. For food scraps and other trash, a pop up trash can is a great way to manage that waste and to avoid pests.
Leave What You Find
It can be tempting to pick up cool things as you’re hiking. Things such as dead wood, or archaeological artifacts like arrowheads are after all, very cool finds. These types of things though should be left right where they are. You may not realize it but it is never a good idea to pick up and take something from the woods or beach. Native species will often make their homes in discarded trash which means you may be actually upsetting an ecosystem by removing it.
Minimize Campfire Impact
One of the biggest risks to national parks and other wilderness areas is fire. And as the US and Australia has seen in recent years, it only takes a single spark to cause maximum damage. Minimizing fire risk can be done easily. You only need to think ahead a little bit.
A few simple ways to reduce wildfire risk are:
- Only starting fires in actual fire rings instead of digging your own hole or starting mound fires.
- Avoiding areas with dry grasses or high growth
- Keeping your fire near water sources in case they start to get out of control.
- Making sure there are only cool ashes in the fire ring before you leave the area.
- Opting to avoid starting a fire at all and instead using lightweight camp stoves to cook on. A lightweight stove with a manageable flame above the ground is safer due to the distance between the flame and flammable materials.
- Ensure your fire is a safe distance from any building structures
Whether you are camping for the weekend or are simply on a quick hike, it is important to remember that you are the guest. You are the one coming into the home of area wildlife and as such, it’s important to be as respectful as possible to those creatures. It is especially important if your camping or hiking in large groups although smaller groups can do just as much damage.
Respecting the wildlife around you essentially means you use the common sense you were given. Follow these seven principles, don’t introduce an invasive species, don’t disturb habitats when you find them and so on. For the most part, if you respect wildlife, they will respect you.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Finally, being considerate of others is the last of the LNT principles. This means not creating any issues for the people around you. It could be as simple as watching your noise level and not playing loud music or making any other excessively loud noises. Also making sure you control pets you have with you. In other words, follow the golden rule when it comes to others and treat them as you would want to be treated. This could be harder to do if your group size is large. But understanding and treating other campers or hikers around you with special concerns is
Why is Leave No Trace Important?
Now that you have read everything, you may still be questioning why leave no trace is important. The simple truth is that the only way to protect our natural areas for future generations is by practicing conservation efforts and protection efforts for a long time. These things are not complicated and in my honest opinion, they are not things people should even need to be told in the first place. However, if we do not learn how to leave things alone and to protect these areas, they will eventually not be there for us to enjoy.
That, my friends, is why it is important.
What About Leave No Trace for Kids?
It is also important to teach leave no trace for kids in your life. This is fairly straightforward to do. Start with an outdoor adventure to your local parks so they are learning in an area they are familiar with. This will make it much easier for them to learn. It can also be helpful to avoid times of high use when the parks may be packed so your kids can focus on learning rather than other people around them.
Our national parks, Bureau of Land Management Lands, state parks and other public lands are ours to enjoy for generations to come.
But only if we take care of them.