There are few things more unsettling than enjoying a beautiful mountain hike or a stroll along a lonely coastline than happening across trash and debris that obviously was not created by nature. While stray pieces of trash do find their way out of place even by the most well-intentioned of campers and hikers, it just reinforces the importance of creating less waste and making sure it is accounted for when it is created. Leave No Trace is an ethic that all outdoor enthusiasts should know and follow, and an important one to teach those who have yet to learn. For the sake of repetition, let’s review the tenets of Leave No Trace.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
This is one of the most valuable tenets of Leave No Trace because it teaches you to be aware of how much waste you create. Many campgrounds and parks are equipped with garbage and recycling cans as a supplemental measure to help encourage people to properly dispose if their waste, but try retaining your own waste to take back with you. If there are no disposal receptacles where you are, do not just leave your trash for someone else to dispose of. Take an active role in nature conservation by picking up after yourself!
Stay in Designated Areas
Most regions of the US have park services that are dedicated to creating a place for people to enjoy the outdoors in harmony with existing nature. Trails, campsites, and recreation areas are all created based on the impact that human activity will have on a particular area, primarily steering human traffic away from sensitive habitat for flora and fauna. Be respectful of these boundaries and stay on designated trails when hiking. If there is no established site where you are camping, look for durable surfaces like dry grass, gravel, bare dirt, or snow. Stamping down a perimeter to build your camp in a wilderness area could be doing untold damage to that ecosystem, not to mention putting you in the way of anything wild that happens to come along.
Take Nothing But Pictures, Leave Nothing But Footprints
It can be tempting to take something you find in the wild as a souvenir, but it’s better that you document it rather than remove it. Even the smallest shell or rock could be a living creature’s home, or an important clue to the history of the region. The same goes for plants and flowers as well. If the most beautiful flower in the world were also among the last few on Earth, would you pluck it, or leave it for all to enjoy? Sentimental value can be just as strong without keeping an object, so there’s no need to take it out of the environment.
When you break your camp, be sure that every little bit of debris has been picked up, and that any trenches or holes that might have been dug are filled back in. If you’ve used string, nails, or staples to construct your camp, be sure to remove every last piece. Think of the outdoors like your own house. If you let someone use your house as guests while you were away, how thrilled would you be to discover they only cleaned some of their mess?