Leave No Trace - Outdoor Skills & Ethics

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. - Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949)

Leave No Trace Outdoor EthicsForester and philosopher Aldo Leopold expressed this sentiment years ago. Today increasing numbers of backcountry visitors are coming to the same realization as they witness their favorite wilderness haunts being loved to death by recreationists seeking adventure and solitude.

This guide is part of a national educational program called Leave No Trace, whose mission is to educate wildland user groups, federal agencies and the public about minimum-impact camping. Leave No Trace principles apply whether you are planning a trip to your favorite lakeside campground or a remote wilderness trip off the trails.


Principles of Leave No Trace

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Carefully designing your trip to match your expectations and outdoor skill level is the first step to being prepared. Contact a local ranger district to check on current conditions, restrictions and popularity of your intended destination.

  • Select appropriate equipment
  • Know the area and what to expect

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Wherever you travel and camp, confine your use to surfaces that are resistant to impact - including trails, established campsites and common well-traveled areas.

  • In popular or high-use areas, concentrate use.
  • Hike on existing trails.
  • Choose a durable campsite and minimize impact at the site.
  • Respect other visitor’s desire for solitude.
  • In remote areas, spread use.
  • Travel in small groups, avoiding fragile vegetation.
  • Hike on impact-resistant surfaces such as rock, snow, gravel, and sand.
  • Restore pristine sites to prevent long-term impact.
  • Avoid places where impact is just beginning.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Reduce litter at the source by repackaging food.
  • Pack out all trash garbage, including food scraps.
  • Dispose of human waste in catholes, 6-8" deep, 200 feet from water, trails & camp.
  • Use toilet paper sparingly and pack it out whenever possible.
  • Disperse waste water from cooking and washing 200 feet from water, trails & camp.

Leave What You Find

  • Minimize site alterations.
  • Avoid damaging live trees and plants.
  • Leave natural objects and cultural artifacts.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Know regulations and weather concerns.
  • Use designated fire rings in developed sites and high-use areas.
  • Select firewood that is wrist size or smaller, burning completely.
  • Consider fire pans and mound fires when building fires in remote areas.

Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Use binoculars and telephoto lens for better views.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of trail when encountering pack stock.

For educational, master course, materials, partnership, and National Outdoor Leadership School information, visit the National Leave No Trace website.