Ethics Skills

Leave No TraceLow-Impact Camping

The Leave-No-Trace principle has been adopted by Scouting for activities held in other than established campgrounds. This page outlines the Leave-No-Trace principles. For more information visit the official Leave-No-Trace site, or pick up the excellent book Leave No Trace by Annette McGivney at a bookstore, or your local Boy Scout Shop.

Principles to Live by

When teaching LNT skills and ethics, NOLS stresses that the six basic principles around which the minimum-impact ethic has been built are not hard-and-fast rules, but guidelines aimed at helping backcountry users make ecologically sound decisions in various environments and situations. These guidelines are the foundation of what has become a new wilderness etiquette, an ethic toward recreating in the backcountry that is eons from the days when it was common practice to turn campsites into garbage dumps. Throughout this book, the principles of Leave No Trace are expanded upon, but here is the encapsulated version of six guidelines to live by when visiting the great outdoors:

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Call ahead to the place you intend to visit to find out about any special environmental concerns, regulations, or permits.
  • Be prepared for harsh conditions by bringing proper equipment and knowing how to use it.
  • Carefully plan meals so that there is no food waste. Reduce your amount of trash by repackaging food in reusable containers.
  • Invest in modern gear that aids in environmentally responsible camping. Use a lightweight stove to replace the need for cooking over fires; get a tent with a watertight floor; become the proud owner of a trowel to aid in the digging of cat holes.
  • Try to stay away from popular areas during times of high use, such as holidays and weekends. If you are in a group of four or more, take special care to avoid popular areas during busy times.

2. Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces

  • Help mitigate trampling and erosion problems by staying on designated trails; walk in single file in the middle of the path.
  • When traveling cross-country where there are no trails, try to stay on the most durable surfaces – rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow.
  • In areas frequented by visitors, camp at a designated site that shows obvious signs of use – soil is compacted, vegetation is sparse. and keep your activities concentrated in the impacted area.
  • If you are lucky enough to be in a pristine area that shows few signs of human visitation, disperse your individual impact by camping in a never-before-used site. Stay away from campsites that have already been lightly: impacted.

3. Pack It In; Pack It Out

  • Do not be a slob – be careful not to disrupt wildlife bv leaving food scraps around camp.
  • Keep your gear organized in camp so that you do not accidentally leave something behind.
  • Burying trash is not a good idea, because wildlife will just dig it up, and burning it is not environmentally sound either.

4. Properly Dispose of What You Cannot Pack Out

  • You can pack out your poop if you really want to, but it is perfectly acceptable in most wilderness areas to bury it in a cat hole that is 4 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet from water, camp, or trails.
  • Scrutinize your need for toilet paper; nature provides a variety of environmentally friendly tissue alternatives. if you must use toilet paper, pack it out.
  • Keep pollutants out of water sources by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 2 00 feet from streams or lakes, and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Strain dishwater with a cloth and then scatter the water or sump.

5. Leave What You Find

  • For starters, it is against federal law to disturb archaeological or historic sites. no not disturb these relics of our nation’s heritage, and camp well away from such sites.
  • Observe wildlife from a distance and do not feed the animals.
  • Avoid altering a campsite – such as driving a nail in a tree or making a ‘ bench out of a log – to accommodate your desires for comfort. If you move a log or rock to improve a sleeping area, replace it when leaving camp.
  • Take home memories instead of souvenirs such as interesting rocks or wildflowers.

6. Minimize Use and Impact of Fires

  • Although a cozy and longtime tradition, campfires can cause permanent scars to an area; use a stove instead.
  • If you must have a fire, use an existing fire ring or build a no-trace mound or pan fire.
  • For fuel, gather sticks from the ground that are no larger in diameter than an adult’s wrist. Do not pull branches off dead or downed trees.
  • When vacating the site, put out your fire completely, pack out all unburned trash from the fire ring., and scatter the cool ashes over a large area well away from camp.

Low-Impact and No-Trace Camping & Hiking

As an American, I will do my best to:
Be clean in my outdoor manners.
Be careful with fire.
Be considerate in the outdoors.
Be conservation-minded.

— The Outdoor Code


Back-country areas are places to seek solitude and a “wilderness experience” away from crowds, noise, and daily pressures of life. By using Leave No Trace skills, trail users can reduce their impact on the diverse, fragile, and spectacular areas in our country. The following are guidelines that will assist trail users in successfully enjoying the American wilderness.


Leave only footprints

Take only memories


7  Keys to Low-Impact and No-Trace Camping

1. Pre-Trip Plans

  • Wear a uniform or other clothing that will blend into your surroundings.
  • Obtain as much information as possible before venturing out. This includes topographic maps, recreation maps, information sheets, and guidebooks.
  • Learn about regulations and restrictions of the area prior to traveling.
  • Avoid popular areas during times of high use.
  • Select areas that are right for your activities.
  • Plan 12 or fewer in your group or patrol.
  • Check ahead to see if the area can accommodate and/or will allow your group size.
  • Repackage food into lightweight containers that can easily be carried out with you.
  • Be prepared to filter or boil all water during your trip.
  • Leave a detailed itinerary with someone prior to venturing out.
  • Take along trash bags and use them.

2. Travel

  • Stay on designated trails and avoid any cross-country travel.
  • If unavoidable, select hard ground or snow for cross-country travel.
  • Do not cut across switchbacks.
  • Read your map carefully to avoid having to build cairns.
  • When encountering equestrians, step to the downhill side of the trail and remain quiet.

3. Campsites

  • Use designated or already impacted campsites when appropriate.
  • Choose sites free of fragile plants.
  • Hide your campsite from view, out of site of trails, streams, and lakes.
  • Stay as few nights as possible in one place. Before leaving the area, naturalize it as much as possible.
  • Select a campsite 200 feet or more from trails, lakes, streams, trails, and wet meadows.
  • Avoid constructing structures or digging trenches.
  • Do not ditch tents.

4. Fires

  • Use a lightweight stove for cooking rather than building a fire.
  • If having a campfire, use existing fire rings instead of building new ones.
  • Build fires only were approprate, away from trees, rocks, shrubs, and meadows.
  • Make sure the fire is dead out.
  • Scatter the ashes and naturalize the area.
  • Use only dead and down wood. Never cut green trees or bushes.
  • Know the fire restrictions for the area.
  • Replace sod or ground cover to erase burn scars.

5. Sanitation

  • Burn food scraps completely in a fire or put them in a plastic bag and carry them out.
  • Pack out everything that you pack in.
  • Do all washing 50 feet (about 75 steps) away from camp and water sources.
  • Dig latrines 200 feet or more from camps, trails, and water sources.
  • Bury sump holes and latrines when you are through with them, and restore ground cover.

6. Horses and Pack Animals

  • Keep groups small and carry lightweight equipment.
  • Keep the number of animals to a minimum.
  • Select a campsite that has enough feed for your stock.
  • Keep stock 200 feet or more from lakeshores.
  • Bring pellets, grain, or weed-free hay to areas where feed is limited or grazing is not allowed.
  • Remove (or scatter) manure; Remove excess hay and straw.
  • Use hitchlines, hobbles, and pickets to constrain pack animals. Hobble or picket in dry areas.
  • Tie to sturdy trees or rope.
  • Move picket pins and temporary corrals several times per day.

7. Courtesy

  • Hikers step off a trail to let horses pass.
  • Do not pick wildflowers. Enjoy them where they are, then leave them for others to see.
  • Keep noise down when you are around other campers and hikers. Leave radios and tape players at home.
  • Attempt to be as courteous to others as possible. Excessive noise, unleashed pets, and damaged surroundings distract from the quality experience in the backcountry.
  • Please remember that visitors can help preserve these sites for future generations by not disturbing them in any way.