Leave No Trace: The 7 Principles and Why They Are Important

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It’s no secret that we’re outdoor junkies and that we spend most of our free time enjoying this amazing planet that we all call home. In doing so, we’re always conscious that we’re following the seven principles of Leave No Trace.

This year, thousands of people have flocked to the great outdoors in search of adventure activities.

It’s wonderful to see so many new faces out on the trails, trying new sports like mountain biking, or taking camping trips with the whole family on the weekends. 

It’s more important than ever to follow the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. If you don’t know what that means, no worries! We’re here to help you learn how you can do your part when playing in the outdoors.

What is Leave No Trace?

Lina and David Stock hiking in Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ
Adventuring near Page, AZ at Antelope Canyon

First things first, let’s start with a little background on the movement. Leave No Trace is an environmental initiative that provides a framework of seven practices for anyone interacting with the great outdoors.

It became a known movement in the 1960s when people began taking time to explore the outdoors and US National Parks. In 1987 the US Government began encouraging low-impact outdoor behaviors and in 1990 the U.S Forest Service started the Leave No Trace education program.

Starting in 1994, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has managed the national Leave No Trace program. Through the LNT website, they provide updated information on current issues and provide ethical guidance for people to reduce their impact on nature.

The general idea of Leave No Trace is simple: when you get back into your car and leave the trail, no one should be able to tell you were there.

Did you know that 9 out of 10 people are unaware of the environmental impact of their actions?

Leave No Trace helps you keep in mind that everything you do in nature carries greater consequences.

Some of the problems Leave No Trace aims to circumvent include damage to trail systems, water pollution, overcrowding at parks, disturbing wildlife, and human-started wildfires.

All said, though, these seven principles are not rules but instead a set of guidelines. Think of it as the pirate’s code in Pirates of the Caribbean. Anyone who recreates in the outdoors, anywhere in the world, should strive to uphold and abide by these ethics.

This ensures that our planet will sustain and maintain its beauty for future generations to enjoy.

The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace

1. Plan Ahead & Be Prepared

Lina Stock crossing a stream on the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland
Wearing ALL the rain gear in Greenland while hiking the Arctic Circle Trail – preparation was everything for this hike

This first step will go a long way in ensuring you have a safe and memorable time in the outdoors. Nature should not be underestimated and as much planning as possible should be conducted before your adventure.

Taking the time to plan and prepare will ensure you have a safe and comfortable time on your trip while reducing your environmental impact.

Divergent Travelers Tips:

  • Do your research before arriving in the destination
  • Buy Travel Insurance – we do not travel outside of our home state without it. Not only does it protect your investment of getting to and from the destination, but you’ll be covered in the event that you need emergency medical care
  • Know the regulations – do you need permits? Can you bring a drone? Are dogs allowed? Can you have a fire? And so on.
  • Check the weather so you can prepare your clothing and supplies. This includes things like your tent, sleeping bag weight, sunscreen, layers, snacks, and water
  • Be aware of hazards – know what kind of environment you will be in, the temperature, types of animals you could encounter, pack a first aid kit and GPS unit
  • Travel in the shoulder or off seasons and on weekdays if possible – this will help to avoid large crowds
  • Repackage and strip your gear of as much waste as possible so that you don’t have to carry it or worry about accidently leaving it behind
  • Make a checklist for your gear to ensure you don’t forget any important gear
  • Bring a reusable water bottle and use it to refill at water stations instead of buying bottled water

Need recommendations for hiking gear? 40 Hiking Essentials: The Ultimate Hiking Packing List

2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces

Lina Stock hiking the Navajo Loop trail in Bryce Canyon National Park
Hiking on a trail in Bryce Canyon National Park

Trails and camping areas are there for a reason. They are designed to have the least amount of impact on nature, so as tedious as it may be, please, no trailblazing or camping outside of designated camping areas.

Divergent Travelers Tips:

  • Avoid camping near water sources – this reduces your risk of flood exposure, wildlife and water contamination
  • Stick to designated campgrounds
  • If there is a well laid or beaten trail, stay on it to avoid damaging the area around the trail further
  • Follow marked trails and do not use or create unofficial shortcuts
  • When hiking in the backcountry or areas where there is no trail, avoid fragile vegetation and tread on rock, sand gravel or dry grass to avoid making beaten trails
  • When camping in the backcountry or areas where there is no designated campground, choose a site that can support your camp with minimal impact. Again using, rock, sand, gravel or dry grass.
  • If a place looks like it has already had a camp made, do not use it to avoid making it more permanent.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

David Stock hiking in Los Glaciares National Park - Patagonia Argentina
Hiking in Patagonia – not a view you want to share with used toilet paper and poop piles!

If you pack it in, then plan to pack it out, too. This goes for everything you bring into nature, including things you might think are biodegradable. If it is not natural to the environment you are visiting, then it shouldn’t be left behind.

Get used to carrying a small trash bag in your backpack if you want to keep everything together and in one place. Dispose of these items only in a designated trash receptacle, and if there isn’t one, it’s your responsibility to hold on to it until you find one.

Things that should always be packed out include:

  • Fruit peels or pits
  • Toilet Paper (for both 1 and 2)
  • All feminine products
  • Kleenex
  • Dog Poop (bagged or not)
  • Trash of any kind (plastic, rubber, metal, paper, etc)
  • Cardboard
  • Matches

Dealing with Human Waste

We also need to talk about human waste. Yep, when nature calls there is a proper way to deal with it. Follow our advice to ensure you are doing your part to reduce human waste contamination in the areas that you recreate:

  • Always use the bathroom if there is one available. Even if it smells. Do not go outside if you have the option not to.
  • If you have to commune with nature, make sure you are 70 steps away from any water source – stream, river, pond, lake, spring, etc.
  • For pooping, you’ll want to have a shovel with you and dig a cat hole at least 6 inches deep. Do not do this on or near the trail, either. Once you’ve gone, use the dirt from the hole to cover it up.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, leave your toilet paper on the ground. Instead, plan ahead with a ziplock back that is the designated TP trash and pick a spot in your backpack for it to live during your trip.

4. Leave What You Find

Hiker taking a nap on top of a volcano after hiking in Argentina
The only thing you should take in nature is a nap!

We’ve all been there—you find the perfect, smoothest rock, and you want to bring it home for your garden. Or the most colorful, vibrant wildflower that you know would look sweet tucked behind your ear.

But taking bits of nature away from where they belong means you’re leaving your mark, and potentially ruining the same unique find for anyone who comes after you.

So next time you see a beautiful wildflower, take a picture. It’ll last longer.

Divergent Travelers Tips:

  • Don’t pick wildflowers. Imagine if every person picked just one… there’d be none left for others to enjoy
  • Don’t collect shells or rocks
  • Don’t cut branches, hack into, or hammer nails into trees
  • Don’t carve your initials into trees or draw on rocks
  • Don’t stack rocks on land or in the water
  • If there are rocks stacked and marked on a trail, leave them like that. Do not knock them down as they are likely important trail markers responsibly made by park rangers to help hikers avoid losing the trail

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Lina Stock sitting at a campfire while backpacking in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan
Enjoying a contained campfire while hiking in Kyrgyzstan

Be careful with fire and ALWAYS check to see if there’s a burn ban before starting a fire. Even if there isn’t, keep those campfires small and manageable when you do light them.

Divergent Travelers Tips:

  • If there is a fire ring, use it
  • Never let a fire burn unattended
  • Do not put trash in your fire – even if it’s burnable
  • Do not leave trash in the fire ring or embers when you leave – pack it out!
  • Always drown your fire with water until you can physically handle the embers with your bare hands
  • As for smoking in nature? Don’t.
  • But if you have to, put your cigarettes out safely, and never flick or leave your butts on the ground
  • Better yet, bring a camping stove and avoid making a fire all together

6. Respect Wildlife

Coastal brown bear in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
Coastal Brown Bear photographed in Lake Clark National Park with a zoom lens

It sounds like common sense, but there are a lot of people out there who try to approach wildlife so they can get that perfect up-close picture, or feed them to try and make friends.

But this does more harm than good—once animals are accustomed to humans or come to expect food, they can become dangerous and might even have to be killed.

Divergent Travelers Tips:

  • Keep your distance from ALL wildlife – even squirrels
  • Use bear-safe canisters when hiking or camping in bear country
  • Pack away your food waste instead of tossing it where critters will find it
  • Keep your dogs on a leash so no one gets into a dangerous situation
  • If you’re in your car and see a wild animal, stay in your car
  • If you’re hiking and come across an animal, step off the trail or turn around rather than continuing to approach – keep your distance and let it pass
  • If you cause an animal to move, you’re too close. It’s also illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within any distance that disturbs or displaces the animal in the US National Parks
  • Use a zoom lens to get great photos of wildlife instead of trying to approach them

Looking for photo gear advice? Find out what’s in our camera bag! Ultimate Travel Photography Gear List

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

David and Lina Stock hiking in Arches National Park
We’re always smiling at fellow outdoor enthusiasts! Don’t forget to say hi if you see us on the trail.

You’re not the only person on the trail, and that means you need to be respectful to the others you’re sharing it with.

Everyone is there to enjoy nature, so be considerate and remember that every single person you come across has just as much right to be there as you.

Divergent Travelers Tips:

  • Silence your cell phone
  • Speak softly to your companions to preserve tranquility
  • Avoid playing loud music
  • Take turns photographing and viewing popular sites and wildlife
  • If someone looks lost or needs help, stop and make sure they are ok. Offer advice, and any help they might need. Don’t just turn a blind eye.
  • Yield to hikers or bikers moving much faster than you, or to those coming uphill when you’re on your way down—they need the momentum more than you!
  • If you do not like crowds, then make a plan to avoid them rather than showing up at peak time and being angry about it.
  • Try to seek out less-crowded trails so you can enjoy the peace and quiet of nature without the crowds

Recap of the Leave No Trace 7 Principles

  • Plan ahead and be prepared
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize your campfire impact
  • Respect the wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Going Beyond Leave No Trace

Lina Stock hiking the Lavena Coastal Trail in Taveuni, Fiji
Hiking the Lavena Coastal Trail in Taveuni, Fiji

This collection of principles will go a long way in protecting the natural environment and ensuring that those that choose to recreate outdoors will have a safe and fun time doing it.

But it doesn’t stop there and we wanted to share a couple of things we do on top of the above Leave No Trace principles whenever we’re out hiking or enjoying natural spaces.

  • We strive to leave natural spaces better than we found them – this means we pick up trash when we see it, even if it isn’t ours.
  • Volunteerism – become part of environmental protection efforts but joining up with non-profits and volunteering some time to their efforts.
  • Minimize Your Environmental Impact when traveling to/from and when staying in the destination by choosing direct flights, booking hotels with green eco policies, etc.
  • Educate your fellow outdoor enthusiasts – remember that not everyone has the experience that you may have in the outdoors. Refrain from shaming people, instead be compassionate and use the opportunity to educate.
  • Be mindful of your social media impact – while we don’t agree with gate keeping on social media, we do believe in always advocating for responsible recreating. This means not sharing a fragile place if you feel it cannot sustain heavy traffic, even if you got a nice photo – and not posting dangerous or unethical behavior.

This post was created in partnership with Allianz Travel Insurance. However, all practices, thoughts, opinions, and advice are 100% ours, as always.

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Roadmap to Leave No Trace by America's Adventure Couple Divergent Travelers


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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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2 thoughts on “Leave No Trace: The 7 Principles and Why They Are Important”

  1. Thank you all so much for writing a blog about the LNT initiative and taking the time to explain what it means! Being in Colorado this is an important aspect of my outdoor experiences.

    • Absolutely! Knowledge is power and the more we can share about being responsible travelers and outdoor recreators, the more people will be aware of how their actions affect the places we visit. Thank you for practicing LNT and keep spreading the word!


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