7 Leave No Trace Principles – Outdoor Ethics & Etiquette

The 7 Leave No Trace principals are the most important rules that are to help protect and preserve the outdoor natural environments and wildlife habitats. These rules apply to camping, on the trail, and on the water. But what do we do about careless people who ignore the concept?

Leave No Trace Principles - Always On Liberty

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Isn’t it infuriating to see, hear or read about irresponsible people desecrating our National Parks and public lands? Apparently they have no concept of what leave no trace even is or what it means to pack in, pack outOr, maybe they just lack respect and just don’t care!

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

And we ALL need to follow them; not just a select few. Because if we ALL don’t get a handle on protecting our outdoor environments, we ALL will lose our privilege to enjoy our public lands.

So, we put this article together to help teach others the importance of the leave no trace principles. But also, they’re to remind ourselves why we need to adhere and follow these simple outdoor rules and etiquette.


Outdoor Ethics & Etiquette

Leave No Trace Sign on Hiking Trail - Always On Liberty

Plan and Prepare

While it’s fun to just load up the car, motorcycle or RV and head to your favorite camping spot or hiking trail, it still would be prudent to plan and prepare for your outdoor 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 adventure vehicle in drive.

DO this!

        • 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

DON’T do that!

        • 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.

DO this!

        • 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
        • RVs should use stabilizing tools that don’t leave impressions, holes or ruts in the ground.

DON’T do that!

        • 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

✰ PRO TIP ✰ Be mindful about where you camp and hike in low lying areas and flood plains. Read What You Need to Know About Flash Flood Safety.

Manage Your Waste

DO this!

      • 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 bury your human waste (and pets!).
      • Use biodegradable soaps for dishes and body washing.

DON’T do that!

      • 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 It as You Found It

DO this!

      • 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

DON’T do that!

      • 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. 

DO this!

      • 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

DON’T do that!

      • 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

✰ PRO TIP Always mind your campfire as well as any heat producing equipment. Read our 10 Campfire Safety Guide

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 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 the USFWS national law enforcement site.

DO this!

        • 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

DON’T do that!

      • 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 & Respectful

DO this!

        • 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

DON’T do that!

        • 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.

✰ OUTSIDER TIP Not only out of respect to your fellow campers but also, it’s important for your own safety when camping. Learn how Camping too Close to Other Campers Could be Dangerous!

What can you do to help support the Leave No Trace principles?

Just being good stewards of the land by following all of these 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 unlawful activity, 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 exact location on Apple or 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.

Most important, 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. 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 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 principles; highlight the pack in, pack out mantra.
      • Educate younger generations of the importance of taking care of our public lands, National Parks and the environment.

✰ OUTSIDER TIP We all share the outdoors with wildlife and each other which is why it’s important to recreate with a sense of responsibility and respect. Learn how to RECREATE RESPONSIBLY.

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

✰ READCheck out National Geographic’s article: Why National Parks Trashed During Government Shutdown.

Wrapping up the Leave No Trace Principles

Leave No Trace Sign on Rocks - Always On Liberty

“Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints”

We hope by sharing these 7 Leave No Trace principles will help make us aware so we all can enjoy the outdoors. We have just one planet. So, we need to be proactive in our collaborative efforts of support. But, it takes ALL of us! Let’s all put our best foot forward to help protect, preserve and conserve our natural resources. 

✰ READ Check out Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics public service announcement explaining the necessity of following the leave no trace principles of outdoors.

Always On Liberty - Leave No Trace

More articles worth the read:

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

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