Essential Outdoors Conduct
Exploring the beauty of nature in cottage country can be an unforgettable experience. One way to keep nature pristine for others, and keep the local environment healthy is by following the Leave No Trace principles.
There are seven Leave No Trace principles that were created by an organization called the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and these principles are endorsed by the United States National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. By following these principles, you can preserve the beauty of pristine nature and the property you are renting, and also keep your party safe.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
Planning for your trip and preparing is the first way you can follow the Leave No Trace principles, and proper planning can make your trip smoother, safer, and more enjoyable for both you and the local wildlife.
Your Blueprint for Adventure
- Always be in the know about the area’s rules.
- Ready yourself for weather surprises and unexpected events.
- Sidestep overcrowding by visiting in off-peak times.
- In big groups? Split up into tinier teams to reduce your collective footprint.
- Clever packaging reduces waste. Less trash equals a cleaner path!
Things that you should plan for and research include rules and regulations in the area you are visiting, the weather, potential hazards in the area, how you will handle emergencies, as well as what you might need when outdoors, when you should visit trails and other outdoor attractions, and which route you will take.
You can also plan to minimize waste by repackaging food into containers beforehand or bringing a dedicated garbage bag you take with you when you leave.
What you bring and plan for will vary with each trip into nature. Still, some basics you should bring are water, food (ideally in containers to minimize garbage), a map or compass and GPS, a trash bag if you plan on making any waste (or desire to leave things better than you found them by picking up litter along the way), and attire suitable for the elements (jackets, boots, umbrellas).
If you are camping, you might also consider bringing a camp stove rather than lighting a campfire and a smaller tent.
Planning your route and sharing it with someone you trust, not going on the expedition, can help rescuers find you with less disturbance to nature and expense if you need help, eliminate your need to create markers on your paths (avoid using ribbons, string, rock piles, paint, or other markers), and help you find times there are fewer people on paths or at attractions so you can better enjoy the nature around you.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Walking and camping on durable surfaces, which are classified as maintained trails and designated campsites, as well as rock, sand, gravel, dry grass, and snow, can minimize the impact you have on the terrain.
Untouched Nature: Tread Lightly
- Stick to the path and use existing trails and campsites.
- Paths and sites that are meant for your tent are your best bet.
- Camp away from the water’s edge to safeguard delicate ecosystems.
- Keep it single file on trails to minimize erosion.
- Select small campsites that are already free of vegetation.
- Keep to spots already established to avoid creating new ones.
- Avoid giving away the presence of a pristine area!
Going off-trail in areas where vegetation is growing can lead to the trampling of plants and the compacting of dirt, which can both stunt the growth of vegetation in that area, and encourage others to travel the newly beaten path. Even on the maintained paths, it is recommended to walk in single file lines, even in muddy or wet areas, so it would be prudent to bring some boots if you know the area you wish to explore may be wet.
When making a campsite, do not modify the surroundings, as the best campsites are found, not made. Stay at least 200 feet from rivers and streams and keep your campsite small. Using existing campsites decreases the number of overall campsites and keeps environmental damage to a minimum, allowing plants to grow unimpeded, and also preventing soil erosion. If you have to camp on a non-durable surface, Leave No Trace recommends spreading out and avoiding areas where there are already impacts in the terrain (i.e. crushed grass, bare soil).
This rule can also apply to walking on the paths of the property you are renting, as some owners might prefer an immaculate lawn that is seldom stepped on. Be sure to ask the owner if he or she is okay with you spending a lot of time on the grass, or if it is preferred you stick to paths made of durable materials.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
This rule applies to camping and trail hiking more but applies to maintaining the property you are renting, as well. Both on the property and in nature, take home anything you brought or dispose of it in a provided garbage bin. This includes organic litter, such as banana peels and leftover or dropped food. Wash dishes indoors and go to the bathroom indoors.
The Way of Water
- If you bring it in, make sure you carry it back out again.
- Toilets are nature’s best friend. No facilities? A cathole is your go-to, far from water and trails.
- Toilet paper and hygiene products should hitch a ride back with you too.
- Keep water sources pure: clean dishes and yourself 200 feet away, and a little biodegradable soap goes a long way.
If you are out in nature, wash dishes at least 200 feet from bodies of water, using small amounts of biodegradable soap, and scatter the strained dishwater. Similarly, use designated facilities if possible, or wash yourself 200 feet away from the water, and bury any solid human or animal waste the same distance away from the water and your camp, six to eight inches deep in the ground. Cover up the waste and then disguise the hole afterward.
This prevents pollution in the bodies of water, by either soap or waste and also preserves the aesthetics of nature by removing any indication of human activity, especially eyesores like garbage and human waste. Cleaning up and using facilities when available will keep nature as beautiful as when you found it.
4. Leave What You Find
Whether you are on the trail or on the property you are renting, it is good to take pictures of beauty and admire both nature and manmade structures, while it is common courtesy to avoid touching or removing parts of the environment.
Flowers and trees should be left undisturbed, uncut and unpicked. Carving into trees or stripping their bark, especially the entire circumference of a tree’s bard, can kill them or leave them vulnerable to infection, so it should not be done.
Don’t take any rocks, artifacts, plants, or animals from the environment, and don’t bring any new wildlife into the environment. Don’t build or dig unless you must, either protect yourself from the elements or to dispose of human waste.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
While it is recommended to avoid campfires in favor of a camp stove and a lantern due to wildfire risks, Leave No Trace permits campfires. Different hosts may have different views on campfires, so it is prudent to ask property owners what their guidelines on fires are, whether they be prohibitions, a desire you leave no trace, or permission to burn logs on the fire so long as it occurs safely.
Regional fire bans might also be at play, so make sure your fire is legal to start, as well as within the legal size (many jurisdictions have restrictions on how big a fire you can have, with flame height being one thing to look out for).
In the wilderness, or on properties where you are requested to leave no trace, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. Keep the fires small and only use small, dead kindling you picked up off the ground.
Warning: Don’t use river stones to make a ring around your fire. They can explode due to the pressure of the boiling water inside of them, hitting you with shrapnel. If the owner provides you with bigger pieces to burn on their property, you may use it, but it may be harder to fully burn.
After you are done with your fire, burn all wood and coals down to ash, fully douse it with water, and spread the cool ashes. If the property owner does not mind some coals and ashes left in the firepit or ring so long as they are cool, you may leave them there. Be sure to practice fire safety and always keep water ready to extinguish a fire.
6. Respect Wildlife
When observing wildlife, it is best to observe animals from afar, not interacting with them. This is for both your safety and theirs, as animals can be unpredictable at times, or dangerous predators.
You should never feed wild animals as it habituates them to humans, altering their eating patterns, damaging their health, and opening up risks for them and other people. You should also secure your trash and food so wildlife, especially bears, does not try to access them.
Don’t scare wildlife by pursuing, making noise, or having uncontrolled pets around it. Don’t disrupt mating, nesting, or wintering animals, and do not interrupt the raising of young animals, either.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Perhaps the simplest of the rules: treat others the way you want to be treated. Let nature’s sounds prevail; refrain from making excessively loud noises or being disruptive. Yield the right of way to hikers taking a more difficult path, and let others enjoy nature.
Don’t disturb the neighbors of the property you are renting. If you are boating or hosting a party, be aware of noise regulations and keep noise levels down later at night so people and animals can sleep in peace.
Be friendly and respectful toward all people you encounter on the property or out in nature.
Common Questions About Outdoor Ethics
Guidance for Enjoying Nature Responsibly
Curious about how to relish the great outdoors without leaving a mark? Imagine taking a stroll through the woods and no one could tell you’d been there. That’s the heart of the ‘Leave No Trace’ movement. It’s all about making smart choices to keep nature pristine, like sticking to trails and minding where you set up camp.
Tips for Reducing Your Footprint in the Great Outdoors
Heading out for an adventure? Keep it green with these tricks: Pack out your trash (yes, even that banana peel), use existing campsites to avoid tramping new ground, and build campfires only in designated spots or use a portable stove. Small acts, big difference!
The Impact of ‘Leave No Trace’ on Nature’s Well-Being
Ever wonder why ‘Leave No Trace’ is a big deal? Each action, from picking flowers to veering off the path, can upset the delicate balance of ecosystems. By sticking to these principles, you’re not just a visitor, you’re a guardian of the great outdoors!
Roots of the Outdoor Ethos
The ‘Leave No Trace’ concept isn’t new—it’s woven into the fabric of conservation history. Born from a partnership between outdoor agencies and conservationists in the ’80s, it’s a set of values that unites us in preserving the natural world for tomorrow’s explorers.
Educating the Young on Nature’s Code of Conduct
Teach a kid about ‘Leave No Trace’ and you’re not just talking to them, you’re talking to the future. When children learn to treat nature with respect, they grow into adults who’ll pass that wisdom down, creating a ripple effect of conservation for generations to come.
Ethical Outdoor Conduct Across Varied Landscapes
Whether you’re scaling mountains or crossing deserts, ‘Leave No Trace’ has your back with terrain-specific advice. In deserts, avoid cryptobiotic soils; in alpines, stay clear of fragile vegetation. It’s like having a rulebook tailor-made for every spot on the map!
Final Thoughts: Preserve the Beauty of Undisturbed Nature
By following these principles, you can preserve the beauty of undisturbed nature, keep yourself and your party safe, respect the property you are renting and the regional community, and enjoy your vacation, all while leaving no trace so others can have the same wonderful experience you did.
This timeless guidance is nurtured by organizations like REI and the Boy Scouts of America, and gets continuous support from the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. It’s not just about following rules; it’s about embracing an ethic that keeps the great outdoors, well, great.
Knowing and following these principles makes nature better for everyone, so do your best to follow them, and maybe even leave things better than you found them.