What is leave no trace, and why is it important?

Leave no trace (LNT) is both an organization and a movement. The movement of LNT began in the early 60’s in response to the postwar boom in outdoor recreation and concern over wilderness areas being “loved to death.” The earliest forms of official LNT programming began as ranger talks at wilderness areas, and soon evolved into various booklets, rules and forms developed in collaboration between NOLS and the Bureau of Land Management.



Leave No Trace as a nonprofit organization began in mid 1990 and has been widely adopted since then.The center currently has a budget of over a million dollars and 60 full time employees. The Leave No Trace center is always tweaking ordinances and proper policy for various ecosystems, but the 7 primary guiding principles of leave no trace are:


  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.


These concepts are broadly applicable to every environment we visit as adventurers and vital to ensure continued access to recreation.


Why is LNT important?


We are representing a community:

We represent Shrpa to communities and other recreators. What we do as individuals has repercussions towards how we’re all perceived, as people and as a platform.


We are setting an example:

We are guiding people in more ways than just to a location. We are informing people on how to behave in that area, be it good or bad. If we are promoting a responsible precedent, we empower and inform others about that behavior, if we are promoting unsustainable behavior, others will be prone to do the same, compounding the negative impact we have on the area.


Principle 1; Plan Ahead and Prepare.


Shrpa empowers you to set the tone for adventurers by listing out the gear necessary for an adventure and preparing them properly for the undertaking. This could be telling dog walkers to bring poop bags and a leash. Briefing people on involved hikes to wear proper footwear for steep or wet hiking, or necessary backpack to carry all their gear. 


This trickles down to individual safety as well. Understanding the undertaking you are embarking on before you’re there is important. Like the eponymous Boy Scouts motto says “Be prepared.” This includes an understanding of the wildlife, weather and other external factors present in an area.

Through the power of Shrpa you can also empower others to actively improve areas you love with the right equipment such as bringing trash bags to pick up litter. Principle 1 is the cornerstone of the other LNT concepts because it trickles down to other responsible behaviors by empowering visitors to visualize their responsible behavior before actualizing it. 


Examples: Bringing the wrong footwear forces visitors to hike off trail to avoid wet feet, accelerating erosion of delicate shoreline areas. Bringing a map for an area to avoid becoming lost and requiring rescue. Wearing the right clothes for conditions to avoid cutting a hike short due to heat or cold.



Principle 2: Travel and camp on durable surfaces


Walking in the wrong area is one of the smallest yet most harmful impacts humans can have on their environment. In sensitive areas, less than 10 impacts can kill vegetation and create a social trail. This is a self sustaining problem, as a social trail develops, more individuals travel the path, creating and continuing the impact.


This can be precious ecological areas such as prairies, cliff sides, riverbanks. While we have a natural urge to explore, this can be destructive to critical habitat for animals and closure of natural areas. 


Examples: Avoid walking on the critical edge of trails. Critical edge is the outward edge of trail and trampling it causes the trail to narrow and degrade. Our creator, Shannon, shows us this example:


Principle 3: dispose of waste properly.


Pack it in, pack it out applies to every single thing you bring to the area. 

This is a simple lesson we all learned in kindergarten, pick up after yourself. Even better, actively contribute to the quality of an area by picking up small pieces of litter, it’s good karma.


Small tips for this include avoiding creating one piece of trash and designating a trash pocket. One piece of trash avoids the creation of minuscule pieces of trash such as wrapper corners, which are small but unsightly and just as harmful to wildlife.


Trash pockets are small but can carry over into your daily life. Find a spot in your jacket, backpack, purse or pants where you always put trash. Now you have a spot where you can put trash you pick up and trash you create. No more waiting for a trash can!



Principle 4: Leave what you find.


Principle 3 and 4 are connected. The best way to summate the two is “take only photos, leave only footprints.” Leaving no trace on an environment is both active and passive. If you remove an interesting artifact or natural specimen, you effectively ruin that experience for future users.


Another connection with Principle 3 is defining an artifact. What is an artifact but old trash? After 50 years, the item is considered a historical artifact of the area. This could be a native arrowhead or a an old 7-up bottle. By removing these, you deprive future users of historical understanding.


This includes structures as well. Do not vandalize or otherwise destroy historical or culutral structures and do not creat your own structures. Do not build A frames or “survival structures” and do not dig trenches or benches or chairs.


Wildlife, Waterfalls & Coffee in Grand Marais! (2)

Principle 5: Use fire responsibly.


If you are building a fire, be careful with it. One only needs to look to serious wildfires out west to understand the damage to natural areas and loss of life caused by irresponsible fire impacts.


Further, be attentive and responsible to the fuel sources for your fire.Only use deadfall and do not strip trees of small twigs to start your fire. When having a fire on a beach, bring your own wood. The process of gradual removal of fuel in proximity to riverbanks or shores accelerates erosion and kills trees on the banks, further eroding the fragile shoreline.


Fire is a tool and can add so much to an experience, but it is absolutely important we behave responsibly as a collective community. If you want to heat up food or drink, consider a small isobutane canister stove. Not only is a stove more efficient in terms of time but it doesn’t have a long term impact on the area.


Principle 6 & 7: Respect wildlife & Be considerate of other visitors.

When adventuring, it’s important to keep in my everyone and everything around you. You’re exploring the home of the wildlife around you, meaning you’re a guest. Therefore, be respectful of your environment and how you’re treating those that live there. 
Additionally, there will be other adventures sharing the space with you, during, before, and after your visit. Be considerate and think about how your actions are affecting other visitors.


Start practicing LNT principles on your next adventure!



Some final words


Leave no trace is a collective action of avoiding irresponsible activities outdoors. It’s not one person’s action that destroys an area, it’s the repeated and continued damage that destroys areas, habitats, and natural beauty.


The simplest summation of the entire Leave No Trace ethos falls to this: If everyone behaved in the same fashion, would it leave the area better or worse than we found it?