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Leave No Trace – The 7 Principles of Backpacking Ethics

Last updated May 16, 2022| Guides

The seven principles of Leave No Trace offer an easily understood framework of least effect practices for anyone visiting the outdoors. Although Leave No Trace has its roots in backcountry settings, the Principles have been modified so that they can be applied anywhere — from remote wilderness areas to local parks and even in your own backyard. They also apply to almost every leisure activity. Each Principle includes a particular topic and provides detailed information for minimizing impacts.

The Seven Principles are well-formed and commonly known, but they are not constant. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics continually examines, evaluates, and reshapes the Principles. The Center’s Education Department conducts research including publishing scholarly articles in independent journals to make sure that the Principles are up to date with the latest intuitions from biologists, land managers and other leaders in outdoor education.

Leave No Trace - The 7 Principles of Backpacking Ethics

What does Leave no Trace mean?

You must be thinking that what actually is Leave No trace? It is easily understandable by the name it suggests but to elaborate, Leave No Trace is a non-profit organization that has created an easy-to-understand framework of ethics and best practices for minimum impact when we are on the trail, camping, and recreating outside to protect the eco system. The objective is to build a base of respect for our wild places and so we can preserve the integrity of the land that we love getting out and facing.

The 7 principles of Leave No Trace are a framework for making responsible decisions when we spend time outdoors so that we can continue to have wild and healthy places to explore for generations to come and to not cause any trouble for them due to our enjoyment at our times.

It is not about placing rules on what we can and cannot do in the outdoors as a replacement for Leave No Trace is what allows us to have fewer rules. If we all take care of the places that we play, then there is no need for rules but once we begin to leave our trash, go off trails, and do our dirty business anywhere we want that is when we begin to see areas damaged, closed to use, and rules implemented.

Leave No Trace - The 7 Principles of Backpacking Ethics

The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace

There are 7 Principles of Leave No Trace and they are all quite very common sense. The principles and techniques for minimizing impact vary depending on the activity you are taking part in, the environment you are in, and how many people are in your unit.

Here we will cover the 7 Principles on a very basic level, and if you are involved in more specific techniques or the science behind the guidelines, you may visit the Leave No Trace website or take a Trainer or Master Educator Course to get certified and enhance your knowledge.

#1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

The first principle of Leave No Trace is to plan ahead and prepare. This will not only make your trip more pleasant, comfortable, and safe but will also help avoid harm to natural resources.

Here are some of the tips that will help you plan ahead and prepare for your adventures:

  • Do your study ahead of time; this totally depends on your trip this can take 30 minutes or many months.
  • Know the regulations. For instance, are fires allowed? is a permit required? what wildlife lives in the area? is bearproof food storage needed, etc. etc. 
  • Make Sure about the forecast so you can pack and prepare for proper weather. Be prepared for extreme weather and the unforeseen.
  • Be conscious of dangers like flash floods in the desert and have an emergency plan, know what you are going to do if somebody gets hurt or lost.
  • Plan your trip during non-peak times.
  • Repackage your food to reduce potential waste when you’re out there. Leave the cardboard box at home.
  • Double check that you have everything you need to have a fun and safe time. 

Leave No Trace - The 7 Principles of Backpacking Ethics

#2.  Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces

The general rule here is if a trail or campsite exists. If a trail or campsite does not exist – do your best not to create one. The reason of this Leave No Trace principle is to help us prevent creating new scars on untouched areas and trampling on vegetation and communities of microorganisms such as those that live on cryptobiotic soil.

In popular areas:

  • Focus on existing trails and campsites.
  • Stay on the trail – no cutting corners!
  • Learn how to be an environmentally friendly outdoor adventurer with all the 7 basic guidelines of Leave No Trace

In pristine areas:

  • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
  • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

#3.  Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack it in, pack it out. check your campsite, food preparation areas, and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • Use toilet facilities whenever possible. Else wise, deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails.
  • Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap.
  • Scatter strained dishwater.

#4.  Leave What You Find

  • Do not pick wildflowers. The seeds are needed for future seasons, plus if everyone picked a few flowers on every trip the collective impact would be large.
  • Do not have a collection of shells, rocks, or other natural items. Rather, let them be and enjoy them where they are.
  • Do not cut branches off of trees, hack into them, or hammer nails into them to hang things.
  • Do not carve your initials into trees or draw on rocks.

Leave No Trace - The 7 Principles of Backpacking Ethics

#5.  Minimize Campfire Impacts.

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the environment. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use down and dead wood from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

#6. Respect Wildlife

Observe wildlife from a safe distance and don’t disturb them by trying to get nearer for a pic. Let them do their thing in peace.

Here are some tips to be respectful of wildlife:

  • Do not touch wildlife. Some animals can harbor rabies or other illnesses, and it’s possible that if you touch young animals they may be neglected by their parents.
  • Never feed wildlife.
  • Store your food and garbage safely. If you are in bear country read this: Being Safe in Bear Country
  • Keep your dog under control and do not let them disturb or chase the wildlife.
  • Camp at least 200 feet from water sources so animals have plenty of space to access.

Leave No Trace - The 7 Principles of Backpacking Ethics

#7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

You should know this one from your mom or kindergarten – it is the Golden Rule! Think about how your actions affect those around you and be respectful. Most people go out in nature to find peace so keep that in mind and be respectful.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep excessive noise to a minimum.
  • Everyone loves music but not everyone loves your music. Sound travels far, so if you must play music, ensure that the volume of your tunes is kept to a minimum so your neighbors cannot hear it.
  • If you like to use earbuds to listen to music, keep the volume at a level where you can hear what is going on around you in case.
  • People tend to get outside to get away from people so the more we can be out of sight and out of sound of people makes it more enjoyable for everyone.
  • If you are looking for peace and quiet, head out early in the day before the crowds and avoid planning trips in the high season or on busy weekends.
  • Know proper hiking good manners, such as when to allow people to pass and who has the right of way.
  • Keep your pets under your control at all times and pick up after them.


Is it that difficult to be ethical? These are easy things that we can all do to reduce our impact and help preserve the health of our wild places and the experiences that we share out there.

Remember that Leave No Trace is not black and white but about making the best possible decision to minimize our impact in the particular environment and circumstances that we are in. Not a set of do’s and don’ts, but a set of guidelines to help us leave the places we visit as good or even better than we found them.

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