Leave No Trace

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For the awards that incorporate Leave No Trace elements, see the:
Outdoor Ethics-related awards

Leave No Trace is a set of principles for participation in outdoor recreation that seeks to minimize the impact on the natural environment. Proponents of Leave No Trace believe that individual impacts caused by recreation can accumulate to degrade the land. Therefore, the Leave No Trace message encourages people who spend time in the out-of-doors to behave in such a way that they can minimize unavoidable impacts and prevent avoidable impacts. It is often summarized: "Take only photos, leave only foot prints."



The roots of Leave No Trace can be traced to the 1970s and 1980s. In those decades, the United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service started to teach their non-motorized visitors how to have a minimal impact on the land. Also in the 70s, groups such as the Sierra Club were advocating minimum impact camping techniques. A pilot program in the 80s between the Boy Scouts of America and the High Uintas Wilderness tried to reach a wide audience. Finally, a national education program was developed in 1990 by the United States Forest Service in conjunction with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

The Leave No Trace program is managed by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, formerly Leave No Trace, Inc., which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and inspiring responsible outdoor recreation through education, research and partnerships. Leave No Trace tries to build awareness, appreciation, and respect for our wildlands.

Backcountry Principles

Leave No Trace is an outdoor code of ethics. The backcountry principles of Leave No Trace are commonly referred to as the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace.

The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace:

Plan ahead and prepare
Travel and camp on durable surfaces
Dispose of waste properly
Leave what you find
Minimize campfire impact
Respect wildlife
Be considerate of other visitors

Plan ahead and prepare

Some things you will want to plan and prepare for before you leave on a trip are as follows:

  • Check the weather forecast
  • Make sure you know the rules and regulations of the area
  • Know the anticipated food consumption
  • Make a meal plan
  • Make a duty roster
  • Identify your trip's goal
  • Make sure you have brought the essential outdoor tools
  • Know the ability level of your unit's members

Travel and camp on durable surfaces

Prepare correctly for different types of terrain.

  • Rock, gravel
    • Very durable
    • Can tolerate repeated trampling
  • Snow
    • The effect of trampling is temporary, making it a good surface
    • Make sure you have dressed correctly
  • Vegetation
    • Vegetation varies in sturdiness
    • Select areas with sparse vegetation
  • Desert puddles/mud holes
    • Do not walk through these. Water is a precious resource in the desert.

Dispose of waste properly

  • Do not bury trash!
  • Strain dishwater and broadcast the strained water over a wide area at least 200 feet from the nearest water source.

Leave what you find

  • Preserve the past! Give others the same opportunity you had to find things.
  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

Minimize campfire impact

  • Campfires can leave a lasting impact on the environment.
    • Use a lightweight stove for cooking
    • Use a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire areas.
  • Keep fires small, use only sticks that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cooled ashes.

Respect wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals! Feeding animals can alter their feeding behaviors, making them prone to loss of food and predators. Animals can become dependent on humans for food.
  • Store rations and food securely.
  • Control pets at all times. If possible, leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times.
    • Mating season
    • Nesting
    • Raising young
    • Winter

Be considerate of other visitors

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to others on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors
  • Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

Frontcountry Principles

In Cub Scouts, the frontcountry principles are termed the Leave No Trace Principles for Kids:

  • Know Before You Go
  • Stick to Trails and Camp Overnight Right
  • Trash your Trash and Pick Up Poop
  • Leave It as You Find It
  • Be Careful with Fire
  • Keep Wildlife Mild
  • Share Our Trails and Manage Your Pet

External Links

Leave No Trace-related links

Leave No Trace Awards and Advancement Requirements

Advancement Requirements

  • Second Class rank - 1b. Explain the seven principles of Leave No Trace and tell how you practiced them on a campout or outing.
Ecology-related awards
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