Updated: Sep 10, 2022
The seven principles of ‘leave no trace’ hiking have been around for many years and are an important part about how we as hikers protect the parks and natural spaces we visit. Every time you set off on an adventure you should try your best to follow these seven basic principles to keep our parks as beautiful as you found them and if you've never heard of them before, now is the time to find out!
1. Plan and Prepare
The first principle of leaving no trace is to plan and prepare and this is important because in order to protect our wildlife, parks and trails you need to plan how you will hike and what you will bring with you.
This includes knowing what food you will pack and planning what to do with that waste it might create, this also applies to being prepared for the terrain so that you know what you are going to undertake and how to minimise the damage to the trail you will be walking along.
2. Travel on the path
Staying on the path doesn't sound like it would be that important in leaving no trace but this couldn't be further from the truth. Leaving the well beaten path can cause huge damage to the local wildlife and plants through crushing and trampling habitat that insures the strength of local ecosystems and habitats.
Keeping off the trail isn't just about stopping people damaging the local habitat though, as some areas have already been damaged and are undergoing revitalisation making keeping off these areas even more important.
3. What came with you comes home
Taking everything home with you is one of the more well-known parts of leave no trace but too often newer hikers stray from this simple principle because they simply couldn't be bothered.
Bringing anything into an environment that it wasn't there before can cause damage to the local area and this includes anything like plastics, food waste and human waste. Any of our natural spaces have fragile ecosystems so protecting them by taking these things home with you is very important.
4. Leave what you find
Similar to taking what you bring home, what you find on the ground or in a tree should stay there. Most things on the ground should be left where you find them as they can all play important roles in maintaining a healthy ecosystem and habitat for wildlife in the area.
You never know what animal relies on what and what role the things on the ground play like propagating seeds, forming parts of nests or providing shelter to animals from storms, so it's always best to leave them alone and take a photo home with you instead.
5. Camp with minimal impact
Camping on overnight hikes is usually one of the best parts of hiking especially when you light a campfire on cold nights but it's important that where you camp and how you set up your camp isn't damaging a possibly fragile environment.
For this reason should always try set up camp within an established campsite with established facilities such as clear camping areas, fire pits and toilets when possible. These established campsites stop further damage to any habitat and plant life around the where you are camping.
6. Respect the nature and wildlife
Leaving no trace is all about protecting wildlife, habitat and bushland so when you see animals and plants on the trail always remember to respect them and be careful not to disturb them.
If you see an animal, try keep clear and walk around it in order not to disturb them, when walking in and around bushland also try to leave plants and trees alone by not trampling or breaking branches or leaves off so they get the chance to grow and establish themselves in the local environment.
7. Think of others
Finally you should always think about the people who will visit the area you are in after you are done with your adventure. As hikers we all appreciate the beauty of nature and the areas we walk but keeping it beautiful is up to us. So when you are next out on the trail you should above all, think of others and let everyone enjoy the beautiful spaces too, by simply following these simple steps.
So those are the seven principles that govern 'leave no trace' hiking, next time you set off for a hike make sure to keep these seven principles in your mind and follow them so that everyone not just you can enjoy pristine trails for many years to come.
Written by Josh Welch
For more information on leave no trace visit the the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.