Leave No Trace on Your Next Hike
June 14, 2016
Whether you are brand new to hiking or a seasoned hiker, keeping the principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) in mind when you head out on a hike is the best way to ensure that you respect the wilderness. Developed by the Leave No Trace Centre for Outdoor Ethics, the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace are designed to make certain that we leave nature as unchanged by our presence as possible. That way, each time we go on a hike, it is as pristine as the first time someone trekked there.
The intent of the LNT Principles is to be guidelines, not rigid sets of rules to be enforced. So everytime you go on a hike, ask yourself: “Is my action impacting the land in a negative way? What can I do to minimize my impact and leave it unchanged?”
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
Don’t just prepare for your hike: prepare to Leave No Trace on your hike so that you can can both minimize resource impacts and ensure your safety. If you plan ahead you are less likely to violate other Leave No Trace principles due to ignorance or emergency.
- Know the weather forecast to make sure you have the right gear for the conditions.
- Pick a trail that is within the abilities of your group and is appropriate for the weather conditions and season.
- Check local regulations to find out about closures, permits, fire regulations or other policies that might apply to the park or wilderness area you will be visiting.
- Prepare for emergencies by carrying the 10 essentials including a first aid kit.
- Avoid getting lost: carry a map and compass (or GPS and extra batteries) and know how to use them.
- Repackage food at home to minimize packaging or food waste that might end up as litter (and so you can carry less!)
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Hiking is becoming more and more popular which stresses both trails and campsites. By sticking to durable surfaces, you can ensure that your favourite trail doesn’t get loved to death.
- Instead of cutting switchbacks or detouring around mud puddles, stay on the trail to prevent erosion, trail braiding and trail widening. This also protects sensitive areas like alpine meadows and marshes.
- Plan to camp in a designated or previously impacted campsites that already has a tent pad, wooden platform or bare ground surface instead of making a new campsite on meadows or other vegetation. Remember the best campsites are found, not made.
- If you are travelling in an area with no trails (for example an alpine meadow) spread out your tracks and try to walk on rocks, gravel, sand, dry grass or snow to minimize your impact and avoid creating a new trail.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
When you are on a hike, you want to see incredible views and beautiful nature – you don’t want to see used toilet paper or the remains of someone’s lunch. Disposing of your garbage and human waste properly is an important aspect of Leave No Trace.
- If you pack in in, pack it out. This rule applies to all of your trash including apple cores, orange peels or other food. While they will biodegrade eventually, it can take months for them to break down fully. In the meantime other hikers have to look at your trash and animals could get habituated to eating human food.
- When you have to go to the bathroom, pick a spot away from trails, campsites and water sources (about 70 paces away is best). Use a small trowel, a stick or the heel of your boot to dig a hole 6 inches deep, then bury your poop. You can use natural toilet paper like leaves or moss and bury that too. Or if you use conventional toilet paper, pack it back out with you in a zip-lock bag (the best practice) or bury it in your cathole.
- If you are camping, use biodegradable soap to wash dishes or yourself using your largest pot as a sink. Dump your dirty dishwater away from a water source. (Biodegradable soap is actually bad for fish or plants so never wash directly in a stream or lake.)
4. Leave What You Find
It’s tempting to pick a few wildflowers since at the height of the summer bloom, it seems like there are millions of them, but if everyone picked them, there wouldn’t be any left all.
- Leave flowers, rocks and historical artifacts where nature put them. Take a photo and then leave them for others to enjoy.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Avoid building structures or digging trenches.
- Graffiti is never acceptable. If you need to prove that you were there, take a selfie instead of carving your name into a tree.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
Campfires are an important part of the wilderness experience for many hikers but fires can leave scars on the landscape that last for decades.
- Plan to use a backpacking stove for cooking, not a campfire.
- Consider having a campfire-free night by using a lantern instead.
- Always respect campfire bans. Seasonal bans are put in place when the forest is very dry. Regional bans (like those in Garibaldi Provincial Park) are intended to protect sensitive ecosystems from forest fire, soil damage or excessive firewood harvesting since trees grow very slowly in the alpine.
- If you must build a campfire, always use an existing fire ring and avoid building new ones.
- Standing trees provide important habitat for animals. Burn only dead and down trees and choose smaller branches that you can break apart with your hands. This keeps your fire small to reduce your impact.
6. Respect Wildlife
Spotting a deer, an owl or even a bear while hiking is always exciting but remember that you are visiting the animals’ home and they deserve respect.
- Your human food isn’t healthy for animals so never feed them. This includes squirrels, whiskey jacks and ravens that have learned to beg for food on some popular local hikes.
- Give animals their space and don’t get too close. Use binoculars or the zoom lens on your camera for a better view. Use the “rule of thumb”: Close one eye and hold up your thumb in front of the animal. If you can still see the animal you are too close: back up until your thumb covers the animal.
- Your dog may be your best friend but that doesn’t mean he won’t scare the animals. Keep your dog under control and on a leash where appropriate.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Chances are you won’t be the only person on the trail. We choose to go hiking to experience nature, not to hang out with crowds of loud strangers (that’s what Metrotown is for!)
- Be courteous to others: say hello or greet other hikers with a smile.
- Move off the trail to let other hikers pass and give them space in camp or at viewpoints.
- Keep your voice low and leave the music at home (or wear headphones). Let nature’s sounds prevail.
- Keep the size of your group small to reduce impact on hikers and on the environment.
Check out leavenotrace.ca for more LNT tips and info or to find listings for Leave No Trace awareness course providers in your area. Keep LNT in mind when you go on a hike so we can keep the wilderness unchanged by our presence, so we can keep the wilderness wild.
Taryn Eyton is a Squamish-based outdoor and adventure travel writer and Leave No Trace Master Educator. She is the founder of the hiking website HappiestOutdoors.ca and the author of Backpacking in Southwestern British Columbia: The Essential Guide to Overnight Hiking Trails (Greystone Books, 2021).