Respect the Wild: A Guide to the Leave No Trace Principles for Outdoor Enthusiasts

Discover the seven core Leave No Trace principles that help preserve nature's beauty. Learn how following these guidelines protects animals, plants, trails, and the wilderness for all to enjoy.

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

Hiker in boots moving across rocks
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What is the point of leaving no traces of the individual going out on a hike you may wonder? Well, the benefits to being able to roam out on nice trails are simple to destroy when people lose sight of this, much like cities gaining garbage and becoming unsightly, this makes following Leave No Trace crucial.

At its core, the leave no trace idea and principle is to leave nature unchanged by our presence. The intention is to help animals and also allow future generations can enjoy the outdoors also. What your goal should be is to leave only the wilderness in the wild.

Now we understand what it is but why is following leave no trace (LNT) important for all people who leave into the wilderness, and what then are the core principles to ensure you follow them correctly?

Why is Leave No Trace Important?

Nature takes a long time to recover from damage, some places and terrains can be decades or longer. It is not just the visual impact of litter and graffiti, but it can also be the disturbance to natural habitats, animals, and water supplies.

When we follow Leave No Trace principles, we help reduce our impact on nature so that everyone can continue to enjoy the outdoors for generations to come. You want the next person visiting the same place to not even be aware of the previous person’s presence.

The issues come when someone decides they need to leave an imprint of their visit, be it in the form of litter, carving into trees, building cairns, or demolishing natural environments. While all of these might seem like fun things to do at the time, they can have a lasting impact on the environment. And not in a good way.

Below we cover the seven core principles of leaving no trace, understanding, and following them will help reduce our impact when we visit the outdoors.

What Are the Seven Principles?

The core LNT principles(1) that have been adopted by hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, the seven core principles are ways to ensure you treat the outdoors well and keep it pristine for the next person or animal to come along.

Plan Ahead & Prepare

This one is all about being prepared for your hike or trip. Make sure you know the area you’re going to be hiking in, what the weather conditions will be like, and what supplies you need to bring with you.

Planning ahead can help you avoid making poor decisions while you’re out on the trail. For example, if you know that there is a chance of rain, you can pack extra clothes and supplies to keep yourself dry and comfortable.

This principle also applies to food. Make sure you pack enough food for your hike, as well as any snacks or drinks that you might need. It’s also a good idea to pack some extra food in case you get lost or stranded.

Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces

Whenever possible, you should camp on durable surfaces such as established campsites, picnic areas, or trail shelters. These surfaces are less likely to be damaged by tents and campfires than softer surfaces like grass or moss.

If you do camp on a softer surface, be sure to camp in a small area and avoid damaging the vegetation. Also, try to avoid walking on fragile surfaces like wet meadows or streambanks.

Dispose of Waste Properly

This principle is all about properly disposing of your trash and waste. When you’re out on the trail, be sure to pack out all of your trash, including food wrappers, empty water bottles, and used toilet paper.

In addition to always packing out your trash, you should also properly dispose of human waste so as to cause minimal impact. If there are no toilets available, bury your waste in a cat hole that is at least six inches deep and far from water sources. Be sure to pack out any toilet paper, Kula Cloth, or other feminine hygiene products.

Leave What You Find

This principle is pretty self-explanatory. When you’re out on the trail, resist the temptation to take rocks, flowers, or other items home with you. Leave them for others to enjoy.

Taking things from nature causes direct impact and damage to the environment, but it can also be dangerous.

For example, taking rocks from a streambed can destabilize the streambank and lead to flooding and other negative impacts from a simple change to the natural space.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

Most thru-hikers will skip fires in most cases as you are fried after a long 10-14 hour day hiking and the energy needed to gather wood, prepare a fire, and they tend to take away from time that could be used for resting or sleeping.

However, if you do decide to have a campfire , there are some things you can do to minimize the impact. First, only build fires in established fire rings or pits. Second, use small pieces of wood so that you don’t have to chop up larger logs. Third, avoid using toxic chemicals like lighter fluid or accelerants. Finally, make sure your fire is completely out before you leave it unattended.

Many feel that they put out a fire but if you aren’t using a large volume of water and a stick to stir this around can lead to coals being reignited by breezes and starting a wildfire.

Respect Wildlife

When you’re out on the trail, be sure to respect wildlife. This means giving them space and not approaching them too closely. It also means not feeding them or leaving food where they can access it.

Feeding wildlife can cause them to become dependent on humans, which can lead to them becoming a nuisance or even being put down. Most animals aren’t friendly to people either so you shouldn’t approach them. If you must take a picture, use your zoom feature.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

This principle is all about being considerate of other people who are enjoying the outdoors. Be sure to follow all posted rules and regulations, and respect others’ property.

If you’re hiking in a popular area, try to hike single file to avoid damaging the trail. Also, be sure to yield to uphill hikers and horseback riders. Finally, keep your voice down so as not to disturb other visitors.

We should all be able to enjoy the outdoors, so act in a way that doesn’t negatively impact others’ experiences while out in nature.

What Makes the 7 Principles Important?

The importance of these principles is twofold. First, they help to protect the environment. By following these principles, we can minimize our impact on the natural world and help preserve it for future generations.

Second, these principles help to keep us safe while we’re enjoying the outdoors. For example, by respecting wildlife and giving them space, we can avoid dangerous confrontations. Similarly, by properly disposing of our waste, we can prevent the spread of disease.

So next time you head out for a hike, remember to follow the Leave No Trace principles! Not only will you be helping to protect the environment, but you’ll also be keeping yourself safe in the process.

What Problems Does Leave No Trace Solve?

Many consistent problems on the trail can be solved by applying these seven principles. These solutions are important not just for protecting the environment, but also for maintaining a safe and enjoyable experience for all visitors.


One of the most obvious problems that Leave No Trace solves is litter. When we pack out our trash, we prevent it from damaging the environment or becoming a nuisance for other hikers.

Improper Toilet Use

Another problem that Leave No Trace addresses is improper toilet use. By properly disposing of human waste, we can prevent the spread of disease. Additionally, by digging cat holes and burying our waste, we can help keep trails clean and sanitary for all to enjoy.

Damaging Plants and Animals

When we Respect Wildlife and Leave What You Find, we help to protect plants and wild animals from causing harm and from being harmed. This not only helps to preserve the natural world but also prevents dangerous confrontations with wildlife.

General Misinformation in Outdoor Areas

Most people have a general lack of knowledge when it comes to Leave No Trace. This can lead to many people damaging the environment without even realizing it.

By educating yourself and others on the Leave No Trace principles, we can help to preserve the outdoors for future generations.

Trashed Natural Areas

In the form of general littering, but also things like moving natural objects to build cairns or rock stacks, people often damage natural areas without realizing it.

When we follow the principles of Leave No Trace, we can help to keep the outdoor areas clean and beautiful for all to enjoy.

Damaged Trails

Damage on the trail is just bad for anyone trying to use it. By following the principles of Leave No Trace, we can help to keep trails in good condition for all to enjoy.

Making sure to not cut down areas that aren’t already developed for camping, as well as not blazing new trails helps keep everyone safe and the environment intact.

Destructive Fires

Each and every year fires are getting worse and worse, while some are from nature itself many are made by humans making them easily avoidable. Leave No Trace helps by educating people on how to properly use and put out fires.

Stop Name and Shame Online & In Person

One thing that has grown in the world recently is the ability to have the internet at close hand at all times, much of this in the form of Facebook and Instagram around shaming people who make poor decisions on LNT.

Instagram people have gone as far as to make accounts to “expose” these people and really approach the subject from a side that will only increase negativity and cause worse behavior, eschewing education for useless clicks and likes.

Everyone was once new, everyone wasn’t trained from birth on how to respect nature itself, many grew up in cities with all kinds of issues and may have absolutely no clue, especially now with people seeking outdoors from the pandemic.

Don’t belittle people when you see someone making a bad choice, instead, you need to encourage them by expressing the issues they may be causing for the next person or maybe their own next visit.

Unfortunately, we have become bad at talking to each other anymore, many want to instead show how they are “better” than the other person because they know this or know that.

For example, think about those gear shamers on the trail, unless you buy it for them don’t tell them that their decisions are poor unless they are asking for improvements.

Let’s just learn to be better together, especially while on the trail with day hikers and people who have frequently less experience. We don’t open discussions by putting people on the defense, instead figure out how to open up a real conversation.

Final Thought on the Seven LNT Principles

By following these seven core principles, we can help preserve the natural beauty of our planet for future generations to enjoy. When we respect nature, we help to protect plants and animals from being harmed.

When we are aware of our surroundings, we can avoid damaging the environment and when we take responsibility for our actions, we can help keep trails clean and sanitary for all to enjoy. The Leave No Trace principles are vital to preserving the outdoors for future generations

Can you think of any other principles that could be added to the Leave No Trace guidelines? Let us know in the comments below!

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