Remember: always follow the Leave No Trace principles when out in the wild.

Outdoor Skills:Leave No Trace

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Leave No Trace is an important part of any outdoor activity, and is part of outdoor ethics.

The philosophy is simple. If you're going camping '"When you leave camp, make it look like you've never been there." The same holds true if you're out on the trail, or just spending a few hours in the park or the woods. Following the principles of Leave No Trace helps to protect the environment, and enhance the enjoyability of your visit for both you, and those who will come after you.

Remember, you are only a visitor in the woods. Take good care of them!



The Leave No Trace organization offers these seven principles.

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces (keep on the trail!)
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate to Others

Plan Ahead and Prepare

We all do this when going on a trip, things like what food to bring, were we plan to visit, what time we should leave, and so forth. But, there are some specifics in regards to Leave No Trace.

Before visiting an area, you should first find out the regulations and special concerns for the location you'll be visiting. In some cases, you may need a permit to travel in the back country (as is the case with most national parks). There may also be restrictions on group sizes, or you may not be able to dispose of human waste on the trial (yes, you may be required to bag it, including urine, and pack it out with you). In some areas, especially in the western united states, there are black bears that can pose a problem for campers. While usually not aggressive, they will rip a car apart if they smell something-- including bug repellent.

Plan ahead on how much food you should bring. Figure out exactly how much of what your group will be eating, then repackage it for the trail or camping trip. Doing so will free up more room in your car, thus making a more comfortable trip, and also minimize the waste you or your group will produce. Generally, it is best to avoid foods which require refrigeration for a number of reasons. One is the difficulty of keeping an ice box cold, and the other is that foods requiring refrigeration take up a lot more space that foods that do not.

Now, there is no need to go run off and by those expensive dehydrated meals (in fact, it's down right foolish to do so). You can do perfectly fine with canned meats or beef jerky, and other dry goods. You can make a soup meal with beef jerky, noodles or rice, and dried tomatoes and other low-water vegetables. Eggs can last for weeks unrefrigerated (just remember to float them first--floating egg=bad egg), and prepackaged cheeses also keep well outside of the fridge for days. Also, if pack size is a concern, use torillas instead of bread. They have the same calories as a piece of bread, and can often be used in a similar manner.

The Leave No Trace offers these seven elements to consider when planning a trip:

  1. Identify and record the goals (expectations) of your trip.
  2. Identify the skill and ability of trip participants.
  3. Select destinations that match your goals, skills, and abilities
  4. Gain knowledge of the area you plan to visit from land managers, maps, and literature.
  5. Choose equipment and clothing for comfort, safety, and Leave No Trace qualities.
  6. Plan trip activities to match your goals, skills, and abilities.
  7. Evaluate your trip upon return note changes you will make next time.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Always walk in single file on established trails when they are present, even if the trail is wet or muddy. It is also okay to walk on snow, rocks and gravel, or dry grass where your impact to plant life will be minimal. Always avoid stepping on the roots of trees and in streams or wet muddy areas (this isn't always possible).

In pristine areas special care must be taken to keep the land pristine. Travel in small groups. Disperse when traveling (ie, don't travel in a single file) to avoid creating trails. Disperse your campers to avoid creation of campsites.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Before leaving your campsite, do a check to see if you left any trash behind. When there is snow, keep especially good track of your trash because it can disappear into the snow rather easily (leaving a very nasty surprise for spring campers). Some campgrounds have trash cans, but it is still best to pack your trash out with you-- especially in the case of national parks (many national parks have a landfill IN the park).

Wash your dishes and yourself 200 feet (60 meters) away from lakes or streams to avoid contamination of the water supply. DO NOT BATHE OR PUT SOAP IN RIVERS, LAKES, OR STREAMS! Carry the water out, and wash yourself elsewhere. Feel free to swim in the lake after you've done your business. Use only small amounts of biodegradable soap. Strain dish water and pack out collected food particles. Disperse wash water over a large area.

Use provided restrooms/latrines when available. If you must relieve yourself, do so 200 feet (60 meters) away from trails, campsites, and natural water sources. Make a "cat hole" for solidish bodily secretions (small hole 6-8 inches deep), and ensure that all toilet paper used is completely covered (or pack it out instead). Some people recommend burning the toilet paper in the cat hole, but this isn't advised as it can start larger fires. Cover the cat hole with the dirt to allow for the bacteria in the top soil to help with biodegration.

Leave What You Find

Do not take or move artifacts or leave your mark or carvings anywhere. Leave plants and rocks in place. Avoid introducing or transporting non-native animals or plants (make sure all the seeds are out of your tent and gear before heading out). Do not build structures or dig trenches (yes, some books say dig a trench to keep water out of your tent--but don't listen to them!). If you do build structures, be sure to disassemble them and put the sticks back where you found them.

If you can, bring in your own firewood. Better still is to use your own camp stove.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

Use a camp stove for cooking and a lantern for light (besides, gas lanterns are a lot brighter than a camp fire). Use established fire rings where fires are permitted. Bring your own firewood where practical. When collecting fire wood, only pick up sticks than can be broken by hand-- keep fires small to avoid killing ground bacteria. Allow all fires to burn to white ash, and scatter the ashes.

Respect Wildlife

Do not approach or follow wild life (doing so could be hazardous to your health). Never feed animals! Doing so will cause them to become dependent on human food and damages their health. In the case of some animals, it will make them aggressive towards humans.

If you are bringing pets into the wild, keep control over them at all times. Better still: leave pets at home (especially dogs). Avoid wildlife with young, that are nesting, or during the winter months.

Be Considerate to Others

Leave radios and other music players off. Keep voices low, and keep other noises to a minimum. Take breaks and set up camp away from trails. Be courteous to others and yield to those passing on the trail. Bold text

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