Everyone should be able to enjoy the benefits of the outdoors, so let’s make sure we leave it in the best shape possible
It’s unlikely anyone ventures into the backcountry to gaze upon the untouched beauty of a mound of used toilet paper, or to watch the sun reflect off the shiny metallic surface of a foil food wrapper.
Unfortunately, these sightings have become a reality in many of our busiest backcountry destinations. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s been intensifying as of late. And although it’s a negative, it’s rooted in something very positive—more and more people are getting out into the backcountry. The trend has been building for some time, but COVID-19 and the resulting restrictions have accelerated the process.
People are venturing outdoors for a variety of different reasons. They’re challenging themselves physically, working to improve their mental health and connecting with nature in a variety of other positive ways—at Kahtoola, we like to call this Leaving It All on the Trail!
More and more people are discovering the positive mark that the outdoors leaves on them. At the same time we’re all leaving our mark on it—often with unintended consequences. It’s not always toilet paper and food wrappers, but we all leave something behind—even if it’s only a set of footprints. And each time we do, it affects the experiences of those who come after us.
But, by following a handful of principles, we can all easily minimize the impact we have on the environment and leave it all on the trail knowing that we’ve contributed to keeping our wild places wild and in great shape for everyone to enjoy.
A Framework for a Pristine Backcountry
If you’ve spent a lot of time outdoors (or even if you haven’t), you’ve probably heard of Leave No Trace—or the concept of it, at least. For example, one of the oldest tenets of backcountry travel—”pack it in, pack it out”—has been adopted as policy by many parks, both large and small.
Or, maybe you’re familiar with the phrase “take only pictures, leave only footprints”—same idea. They’re both great philosophies for keeping the backcountry intact for all users.
But what may not be on your radar is that the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has taken these ideas a step further and come up with a set of principles to help keep our backcountry pristine. They’re simple actions that can have a big impact, and many of them can be applied outside the backcountry in places like city parks, or even your own backyard. And there’s a lot more to it than just packing out what you pack in.
According to the Center, “nine out of ten people who visit the outdoors are uninformed about Leave No Trace and minimizing their impacts”.
The 7 Leave No Trace Principles—in no particular order
1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
Planning ahead increases safety and decreases the chance that visitors will have to rely on, and possibly degrade, natural and cultural resources to make up for being unprepared.
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
Travel on-trail where possible and camp in designated sites. When these options aren’t available, choose to avoid traveling and camping on sensitive surfaces that are easily damaged and/or will take a long time to regenerate.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
Dispose of human and other waste properly to avoid polluting the environment and/or leaving it for others to discover.
4. Leave What You Find
Allow others the same untouched outdoor experience by leaving things as they’re found for the next party to enjoy.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
Consider using a camp stove rather than a campfire. “The natural appearance of many areas has been degraded by the overuse of fires and increasing demand for firewood”.
6. Respect Wildlife
Quietly observe wildlife from a distance. Wild animals can be dangerous and loud noises and movement may cause unwanted stress, forcing them to flee.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Be courteous toward other visitors by, among other things, avoiding excessive noise and keeping pets in control. Everyone should be allowed to enjoy their outdoor experience.
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics notes that these Principles, and how they’re applied, aren’t set in stone. In fact, the Center “continually examines, evaluates and reshapes the Principles…to ensure that the Principles are up to date with the latest insights from biologists, land managers and other leaders in outdoor education”.
Check back often! You can find the most up-to-date version of, and an in-depth discussion on, the 7 Principles here.
It Takes a Village to Keep Our Wild Places Wild
The 7 Principles set out by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics are a great starting point for keeping our backcountry intact. They can be practiced by anyone, but there is much more we can all do to get involved.
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has a number of ways that both individuals and organizations can go beyond the 7 Principles:
Current/upcoming events and initiatives
Check the LNT website for current or upcoming initiatives like youth education opportunities, and for events like the Hikes for Health Challenge.
Training & Courses
There are courses that teach how to teach Leave No Trace techniques to others as well as online courses and custom training.
Individual Membership & Donations
Membership dues and donations go toward bolstering the many environmental programs that are supported by Leave No Trace. Click here for more information.
Corporate, Tourism & Community Partnerships
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics Partners with organizations that have similar goals and values. They’re able to “contribute their voices and resources to further the important work of Leave No Trace”.
Individuals can contribute their time by registering to become a volunteer.
Stay up to date on the latest Leave No Trace techniques, tips and news delivered to your inbox.
Small Steps Can Have a Big Impact
Awareness is one of the greatest tools we have when it comes to protecting the environment. We at Kahtoola are such big proponents of Leave No Trace because it spreads that awareness and gives concrete principles that are easy to practice. Principles that anyone and everyone can apply and that will go a long way toward keeping the outdoors enjoyable for all.