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What Is No Trace Camping?

Camping in the Mountains

With more and more traffic to our favorite outdoor spaces, leave no trace camping is becoming an important trending topic. 

To most of you, leaving no evidence that you’ve been in the woods is an unspoken moral rule. You don’t toss out garbage, if you have a campfire you do so safely, and you’re respectful to other outdoorsmen. 

But have you ever went to your favorite camping spot only to find it’s been thoroughly used and left in a sad state of disarray? You’re not alone, and sadly, this is becoming more and more commonplace. 

This article covers the importance of no-trace camping and outdooring, the 7 principles that make up the framework of minimally impacting the outdoors, and educating the younger generations. 

What Is No Trace Camping?

No trace camping is exactly what it sounds like. Leave no trace when you go camping! More specifically, it’s the practice of leaving no evidence or trail that you spent a duration of time in an outdoor area. It’s built around 7 basic principles, which we will dive into later on in the article. In short, don’t litter, don’t destroy vegetation, and thoroughly put out your campfires. 

Why Is No Trace Camping Important?

The number of people that visit or camp outdoors in the U.S. each year is over 40 million. National parks receive over 327.5 million visitors each year. That’s a lot of foot traffic, and if we want it to be available to future generations, a focus on minimal impact is essential. 

Recall for a moment, if you will, what going to the woods was like when you were a child. Were there gates? Was it clean? Could you explore for hours without seeing signs that people had already been there?

Will your children or grandchildren get to experience the outdoors the same way?

That last thought can be depressing. BUT, if more and more people adopt the principles of leaving no trace, future generations to come may be able to enjoy the outdoors the same way you did. 

The 7 Principles Of Leave No Trace Camping

Legs in boots of woman camping in forest

There are 7 main principles that make up the framework of minimally impacting the outdoors by leaving no trace. 

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics continues to examine and evaluate the principles based on the Center’s Education Department’s research to ensure they’re up to date with the most current insights.

  1. Plan Ahead & Prepare

When preparing for a hike or a camping trip, you need to consider several elements; weather, terrain, land boundaries, and food & water. If you’re planning a trip to a location you haven’t been to, study the map and familiarize yourself as best as you can. Use a printable camping checklist to ensure you don’t leave anything out!

  1. Travel & Camp On Durable Surfaces

Travel on durable surfaces and don’t go waltzing through the pretty field of daisies. Stick to already worn paths, rock or gravel, or sand. Try to steer clear of blazing a trail through uncharted territories, as tempting as that may be. 

  1. Dispose Of Waste Properly

Packing it in? Then pack it out! The Center for Outdoor Ethics can get into the specifics of that one… (Click here).

  1. Leave What You Find

As tempting as it may be, leave what you find means leaving those pretty wildflowers alone. It also includes not carving your initials into trees.

  1. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Use a fire ring or an existing campfire area. If you’re camping in an area that hasn’t had a campfire, then be sure to burn all wood to white ash. And of course, like Smokey Bear taught us, “only you can prevent wildfires,” so be sure to extinguish campfires thoroughly.

  1. Respect Wildlife

Properly store and secure your food and garbage so that animals don’t get into it. Keep in mind animals, such as raccoons, are smart. They can open coolers and tents. Just ask anyone who has camped at Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco, Wa. 

  1. Be Considerate Of Other Visitors

The first 6 principles of leave no trace make up this final principle. Be courteous to others who are or will be adventuring to the same space. Practice hiking etiquette

For example, if you’re traveling downhill on a narrow path and a hiker is coming uphill, step aside and allow him or her to pass. Or, if you’re coming up on someone whose pace is slower than yours, announce your presence before passing. 

Resources For Youth Outdoor Education

Family camping in the forest

There are a ton of games and activities that can help educate the younger generation. Here are some great resources, most are even from the Center for Outdoor Ethics!

  1. Bigfoot’s Playbook
  2. Leaf What You Find
  3. Who’s Hoo
  4. PEAK Pack
  5. Leave No Trace Activity Guide
  6. Leave No Trace Activities (PDF)
  7. 3 Leave No Trace Activities For Kids


The majority of this article may elicit a “well duh” from you. However, our outdoor spaces are still bombarded with trash. It comes down to doing what is right for generations to come. 

If you’re planning an outdoor excursion, visit our camping department! They have everything you need to help minimize your outdoor footprint, and they can answer any questions you may have. 

Happy outdooring!

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