Leave No Trace Policies for Backcountry Camping

June 13, 2015 How to

Leave No Trace, or sometimes referred to simply as LNT, are rules for every outdoorsy person, camper, or hiker to live by while venturing in the wilderness. The idea is to leave no impact on the landscape so we can preserve nature. Practicing Leave No Trace benefits outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife, and plant life. Anyone from the novice hiker to the seasoned woodsmen could learn a thing or two from reading these policies. As we continue to use our natural areas for recreation, Leave No Trace principles are more important now than ever before. Don’t assume you know everything about Leave No Trace. From trails in my own backyard to foreign trails thousands of miles from home, I have witnessed many hikers breaking the rules of Leave No Trace. LNT is the most widely accepted outdoor ethics guidelines so we can responsibly enjoy nature and so others can continue to enjoy nature in the future. Here are the most important Leave No Trace methods to live by while out in the backcountry, even if it’s for a day trip or a multi-month-long adventure.

1. Prep and Plan

You should prepare your pack and your gear before you leave for your trip.
organizing your pack

Organize food in plastic bags. Use the plastic bags as a trash bag (that you pack out) as you consume your food on the trail. Photo: Dan DeChiaro via Flickr

  • Repackage food so you carry less trash
  • Travel in small groups no larger than 10 people
  • Check the weather and prepare for extreme conditions if applicable. This reduces the impact of campfires during the cold and the effort of searches and rescues.
  • Avoid high traffic times in the area you intend to camp.

2. Smart Camping

bowron lakes camping

Camp in designated spots. Spots might not always have signs but you can usually tell where campers have been setting their tents over time. This one is on Bowron Lake canoe circuit.

  • Camp on designated campsites. Try not to create your own.
  • Do not cut switchbacks or go off trail. Cutting switch backs increases erosion on the trail. During a storm, water flows through the path of least resistance (where you cut the switchback), therefore, that part of the trail there could collapse or have a lot of debris.
  • Walk in the middle of the trail. Do NOT skip around mud, a branch, or a puddle. This creates a wider and larger trail and also kills the vegetation around the trail.
  • Hang a bear bag. If you are in bear country, always hang a bear bag. This is not only safe for you and the bear but it also prevents a mess.
  • Camp at least 200 feet (60 meters) away from a water source. Our freshwater supplies in the backcountry are precious to campers and wildlife. Prevent the pollution of these crucial sources. Do not go to the bathroom near a water source and maintain your distance while camping.

3. Trash and Waste

Trash and debris in stream

Trash in a stream. Prevent this type of littering by practicing “pack in pack out!” Photo: cleanbreadandcheesecreek via Flickr

  • Pack out all trash that you packed in, also referred to as pack in pack out. Do not bury or burn trash. Do not deposit trash in a privy or backcountry outhouse.
  • Be smart about human waste. Bury your waste in a “cat hole” that is 15-20 cm (6-8 inches) deep and at least 200 feet away from a campsite, water source, and trail. Some people do prefer to bring a light weight trowel or shovel for this. Push toilet paper to bottom of hole with a stick and cover with dirt. If you are able, pack out toilet paper.

4. Don’t Mess with the Surroundings

graffiti on cliffs

Graffiti can ruin a good view and a good vibe. Please don’t damage our nature with graffiti.

  • Leave any artifacts or natural objects.
  • Don’t graffiti trail signs, shelters, or trees.
  • Don’t build trenches around your tent.
  • Use rubber tips on trekking poles.

5. Campfire Tips

burning trash in campfire

Do NOT burn trash in your campfire. Burning trash causes air pollution, leaves toxic ash, and smells downright horrible. Photo: Andy Arthur via Flickr


  • Only burn dead branches found on the ground, try not to burn green wood.
  • Do not burn trash.
  • Use a stove for cooking.
  • If possible, only create a fire in a designated fire pit or ring.

6. Respect Wildlife

restricted wildlife sign

Observe wildlife from a distant. Respect that you are in their home. Photo: Nic McPhee via Flickr

  • Do not feed the wildlife. Resist the urge to leave food out. This attracts creatures to campsites and shelters.
  • Use a bear bag to store not only food but other items that create a strong scent such as toothpaste, soaps, and lotions.
  • Do not approach wildlife. Some animals are more aggressive during mating or while with your young.

7. Consider Others

crowds near betlejemka in Tatra mountains

This is a busy trail in Polish Tatra Mountains. Everyone wants to enjoy the view, take pictures, and embrace the outdoors. Don’t ruin others’ time by blaring your music or being obnoxious. You could avoid busy trails by not hiking on weekends and holidays.

  • Do not blare music or your phone. Others go outside to escape everyday life. No one wants to hear your noise pollution.
  • Be respectful of sleep time in busy shelters or camping areas. Turn lights out and voices down when the sun goes down.


While hiking the Appalachian Trail, I witnessed numerous campsites littered with trash, I saw loads of hikers burning waste, and I came upon numerous shelters and signs marked with silly graffiti. Even if you are in the wilderness for one night or six months, respect what nature has provided for us and what trail maintainers have built for us. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to follow these guidelines. Once you implement these rules into your hiking lifestyle, they will become second nature. Now, go outside and enjoy the wilderness in a safe and responsible way!

 Leave No Trace is important. Do you agree? Tell us what you think in the comments below!

Madison Dragna