LEAVE NO TRACE: Pack in Pack Out Rules of Camping

Pack in, pack out and leave no trace are the most important rules of camping, hiking and other outdoor recreation. But what do we do with the careless people who are totally ignoring the concept of pack in pack out mantra?

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Isn’t it infuriating to see, hear or read about irresponsible people desecrating our National Parks and public lands? They have no concept of what leave no trace even is or what it means to pack in, pack out.

Or, maybe those people just don’t care!

The leave no trace and pack in pack out principles were put into place to educate others to preserve and protect our public lands, National Parks, preserves and wildlife refuges.

But, it seems because of a few, we all will lose our privilege to enjoy our public lands.

But let’s for a moment, hypothetically blame this epidemic on their ignorance. Perhaps there are some out there that really don’t know.

So, we put this article together to not only remind ourselves but also to teach others the importance of the 7 camping principles of leave no trace and pack in pack out mantra. 

Always On Liberty - Leave No Trace - Campfire Trash

LEAVE NO TRACE: Pack In, Pack Out Rules of Camping

Plan and Prepare

While it’s fun to just load up the RV or car and head to your favorite camping spot, it still would be prudent to plan and prepare for your camping adventure. Regardless whether you’re headed for the mountains to tent camp or the public beach to boondock, there’s things you need to put into action before even putting your camper or car in drive.


      • Try to schedule off season
      • Become familiar with the rules and regulations of your camping area
      • Research the area
      • Be attentive of weather
      • Know basic first aid
      • Repackage food to minimize waste
      • Know how to use a compass
      • Let loved ones know your coordinates and ETAs
      • Have an emergency exit plan


      • Go blindly
      • Mark your campsite or route 
      • Camp in large groups

Stay on Solid Ground

Always On Liberty - Leave No Trace - campsite public land

This sounds like an oxymoron but, the point of leave no traces is to show you’ve not been there.


      • When arriving to a dispersed camping area, always use a pre-existing campsite.
      • Stay on existing trails and parking locations
      • Camp more than 200 feet from natural water sources streams or lakes
      • Keep your campsite small


      • Create a new campsite.
      • Move fire pits or barriers.
      • Drive on or disturb foliage or flora
      • Relocate logs and brush
      • Veer off trails
      • Rut up surfaces with vehicles

Be aware of campsites in flood plains:  What RVers Need to Know About Flash Flood Safety

Manage Your Waste Responsibly


      • Pack in, pack out. Leave nothing behind.
      • Utilize restroom facilities if available.
      • Use biodegradable trash bags
      • If no toilets exist, dispose and deposit your human waste in a 6 to 8″ hand dug cat hole.
      • Always cover your human waste.
      • Use biodegradable soaps for dishes and body washing.


      • Create a cat hole 200 feet from water’s edge.
      • Bury toilet paper or hygiene products in cat holes
      • Bury any trash or food
      • Wash your dishes in natural watersheds
      • Leave any leftover food or remnants (cooked, animal carcass, fruit and vegetable waste, etc.)
      • Dump dish water or gray water into lakes, streams, creeks or ponds.

Always On Liberty - Leave No Trace - camping night

Leave What You Find


      • Take lots of photos and record your findings
      • Learn the history and all that’s around you
      • Wash or wipe off water craft hulls (kayaks, paddle boards, canoes, etc.)
      • Wipe off shoe bottoms of moss, foliage, algae and fungus before leaving your campsite


      • Take anything for souvenirs (artifacts, rocks, plants, wood, etc.)
      • Create or build rock towers or cairns
      • Build structures or dig trenches
      • Transport non-native species
      • Pick flowers or dig up plants
      • Carve into trees or soft rocks or surfaces

Minimize and Manage Your Campfire

Always On Liberty - Leave No Trace - campsite campfire

Campfires have long lasting affects to the environment. 


      • Use lightweight cooking stoves
      • Utilize existing fire rings
      • Gather only what’s on the ground and what can be only broken by hand
      • Keep campfires small
      • Disperse completely cooled ashes


      • Break or saw off live tree branches
      • Disturb animal shelters
      • Leave campfire unattended
      • Completely douse hot coals at bedtime and anytime you leave your campsite


Check out our 10 Campfire Safety Tips

Respect Wildlife

Always On Liberty - Leave No Trace - campsite wildlife

It’s important that we respect all wildlife and their habitats. We need to be remember that we are in their house; their living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms. It’s our responsibility to be prevent wildlife from becoming dependent upon humans. By interacting or interfering with animal natural behaviors, it exposes them to health ailments, predators and becoming habituate to humans.

Also, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reduces threats to plants and animals through the enforcement of federal wildlife laws such as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act both on America’s public lands and around the world. They also investigate wildlife crimes.

For a complete list of the laws protecting our nation’s wildlife, visit their national law enforcement site.


      • Observe and take photos of wildlife from a safe distance
      • Store your food and rations properly and out of reach of wildlife and predators
      • Always control your pets (or leave them at home.)
      • Avoid wildlife during mating season
      • Secure your trash responsibly


      • Approach, follow or try to catch wildlife
      • Feed Wildlife
      • Interrupt wildlife mating, nesting or parenting
      • Disturb animal shelters, dens and nests

Always On Liberty - Leave No Trace - campsite wildlife-2

Be Considerate and Respectful of Others


      • Be considerate and friendly to all you encounter on the trails, on the water or at the camping areas
      • Don’t crowd others; allow to have their own space
      • Share the trails
      • Yield to other users on the trail.
      • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
      • Avoid making loud noises
      • Respect quiet time 11:00 pm to 7:00 am


      • Camp on top of your neighbor
      • Park or set up camp in front of their view
      • Play loud music or be distracting
      • Run your generator excessively or during quiet hours

Always On Liberty - Leave No Trace - hiking

These principles were established by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and built on collaborative efforts by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service a few decades ago. And the effort continues.

But, those efforts need our help. Otherwise, we WILL lose those privileges of enjoying our public lands and National Parks.

What can you do to help?

Just being good stewards of the land by following all of those leave no trace principles isn’t the end all. It’s our job to not only educate and eradicate.

You can help protect our treasured public lands. If you see something suspicious in any NPS location, stay safe and tell us about it. Talk to any NPS employee for help in reporting suspicious activity, or give the Special Agents of the NPS Investigative Services Branch a call. We understand that it may take time to reach park personnel and/or areas with cell or internet service.

You don’t have to tell us who you are, but please tell the authorities what you know:

      • CALL or TEXT the ISB Tip Line 888-653-0009
      • ONLINE www.nps.gov/ISB and click “Submit a Tip
      • EMAIL nps_isb@nps.gov
      • EMERGENCY dial 9-1-1

When reporting try to provide as much information as possible, such as:

      • What happened?
      • Where did it happen? Be as specific as possible by providing coordinates. Even as simple as pinning the location on Google maps will help.
      • Who was involved? Describe the people including names if known, vehicles including license plate numbers, and names of other witnesses.
      • When did it happen? Date and time are very important.

But, never attempt to stop a crime yourself. Always be mindful of your own, your family’s or other outdoor enthusiast’s safety. But, be a good witness. You can call anonymously. Or you can work with law officials as a confidential informant. But, the sooner you contact enforcement, the sooner they can respond, gather evidence and catch the criminals.

Other ways you can help eradicate unlawful behavior on our public lands:

      • Grab a trash bag and pair of disposable gloves and set out to pick up after careless people. We all can do this one bag at a time.
      • Use social media to show the positive affects of your personal contributions in supporting the leave no trace and pack in, pack out principles.
      • Educate younger generations of the importance of taking care of our public lands, National Parks and the environment.

Related Articles:

Where to Find RV Dump Stations and Potable Water

10 Campfire Safety Tips

Which National Park Pass Should You Get?

Making the Most of Your National Park Experience

How to Succeed at RV Boondocking


Here’s a great short video by Explore Always that tells it like it is:

Also check out National Geographic’s article: Why National Parks Trashed During Government Shutdown

That’s a Wrap!

Finally, by sharing these seven camping rules of pack in pack out and leave no trace and other tips will help make all of us enjoy the outdoors. So, what will YOU do to be good stewards of the leave no trace and pack in pack out efforts?

“Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints”

Always On Liberty - Leave No Trace


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