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Leave No Trace: Responsible Hiking Best Practices

While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the thrills of hiking while preparing for your next adventure, don’t forget to hike responsibly and adhere to all Leave No Trace principles. This’ll help ensure your own safety, and it’ll minimize your impact on the natural world. Remember, when you’re traveling through or exploring a natural environment, you should “leave only footprints and take only memories.” This simple act can help preserve and conserve areas of natural beauty for years to come.

A few simple and responsible best practices can make a big difference. As a member of the hiking community, it’s your responsibility to not only follow these practices but also to act as an example to others.

Leave No Trace: Responsible Hiking Best Practices

What’s Leave No Trace?

The principles of “Leave No Trace” were developed in part by the US Forest Service and National Outdoor Leadership School. These principles aim to minimize the effect of humans on hiking trails and the natural surroundings through which they pass. The National Parks Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other major governmental outdoor policymakers endorse Leave No Trace, and the outdoor community at large embraces it as well.

What Are the Leave No Trace Principles?

Stick to the trail in single file.

When hiking, stick to the actual trail and well-defined paths to avoid disturbing the natural surroundings and negatively impacting fragile ecosystems. Walking in a single file helps to avoid widening the trail and trampling wildflowers, animal habitats and endless less-noticed but vitally important parts of surrounding flora. Never cut trails, even when it appears others have already done so and formed new trails.

Backroads Pro Tip

Cuts in the trail are extremely damaging to the trail networks and lead to increased water runoff, erosion and destruction of trails and habitat. If you see someone cutting trails, speak up!

Leave animals and plants alone

Leave No Trace means leaving the trail and surrounding nature exactly as they are in their most natural states. Don’t bother or approach wildlife. If they’re aware of your presence, you’ve already approached too closely, and you should quietly back away. Never attempt to feed wildlife—no matter how docile or friendly the animals might appear. Not only does feeding wildlife teach animals unhealthy and dangerous habits that harm their ability to survive in the wild, but it also puts you (and them) at risk of serious diseases or injury. Never remove rocks, plants or soil from nature. Again, if you see someone not adhering to these practices, say something.  

Come prepared

One of the best ways to leave no trace is to be prepared when you begin your hike. Check the weather conditions, map out your itinerary, and tell people where you’re heading. All this’ll help prevent a disturbance you might cause by getting lost or wandering off the trail.

Dispose of all waste and trash

If you brought it with you, make sure you take it out with you. Dispose of all trash properly, and don’t leave anything around your campsite or on the trail. If you brought your dog, make sure to dispose of its waste as well.

Backroads Pro Tip

Always pack a spare trash sack to gather your own refuse and any other trash you encounter along the trail that less-mindful hikers might have left.

Pick your campsite wisely

Just as you should stick to well-worn paths, make sure to set up your camp in established campgrounds. There should be well-defined tent sites and other camping amenities so as not to disturb local wildlife or wear away terrain. If there are no toilet facilities, be sure to do your business a few hundred yards away from any fresh-water sources that might be part of the watershed or someone’s drinking water farther downstream.

Respect other hikers

To make sure everyone has a good time on the trail, be courteous of others. Let other groups pass, keep noise to a minimum, and, if you need to take a break, do so on the trail edges so other hikers can maneuver around you.

If you and others want to experience wild places in their most pristine conditions, abiding by these principles is your responsibility. Think of it like paying a toll that ensures the preservation of the natural environment for anyone who wants to enjoy it. Do your small part—even if it means periodically picking up small bits of garbage as you hike along the trail. It might seem like a small gesture, but it means others can appreciate the trail at its best. The next time you’re on a trail, take a moment to realize there were probably hikers before you that made the same kind gesture to ensure your positive experience. Doesn’t that sound like a movement worth being part of?

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