What Are The 7 Leave No Trace Principles?

You know that feeling when you duck under the last tree standing in your way of a truly phenomenal landscape? That feeling as if you’re the first human to discover such a paradise? Your whole body seems to overflow with emotion as you stare breathlessly at what mother nature can produce… And then you look down to find a scrunched up wad of dirty toilet paper right next to the goat track you’ve been following. Instantly, the whole moment crashes to a disgusting halt.

Sadly, we’ve all been there.

But this doesn’t have to be our future. Some 25 years ago, the 7 Leave No Trace Principles were created as a global guideline for us to follow in order to save and preserve our natural environment we so love to explore. And now it’s our time to help educate fellow adventurers to ensure we as humans reduce our impact on mother nature.

What are the 7 leave no trace principles?

  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 (be careful with fire)
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors

These guidelines are simple, yet effective. It doesn’t take a life-altering change to make sure we are complying with them and their simplicity enables us to remember the 7 leave no trace principles with ease.

Imagine for a minute life without our incredible wilderness. Life without our fellow animals. Life without exploration into the wondrous world of mother nature, void of human architecture…

That’s not a life to strive for. So let’s strive together to keep our wilderness wild and our mother nature clean and healthy.

Glowing sunrise in Thredbo while exploring one of the best hikes near me

Who Should Follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles?

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles have been designed by outdoor enthusiasts for every human being. Whether it be camping, hiking, adventure sports or a walk in the park, it’s all relevant.

But why stop there?

Keeping our earth healthy should be a number one consideration for any and everything we do… Not just outdoor activities.

Chances are, these guidelines are naturally a part of your everyday life, so you’re already on your way!

Let’s look at the 7 principles of leave no trace a little closer and find out how we can help keep our earth beautiful.

Misty mountains on the best hike in the Warrumbungle national Park

Plan ahead and prepare

Coming up with a foolproof plan entails much more than just picking your ideal destination. It encompasses everything. What you need to bring, who you need to tell, what you need to be aware of…

It helps to think about all the potential worst-case scenarios, even the ones you’d rather forget, so you’re ready to tackle anything.

It’s no secret that we are terrible at pre-planning our adventure destinations. And there is a great sense of excitement that comes with the unknown.

HOWEVER, once we finally choose a destination, we plan as thoroughly as humanly possible to avoid any unnecessary mishaps. Our bag is always ready with our essential safety items and checking the parks website or calling a ranger for information is at the top of our list.

Planning a trip correctly creates a sense of security and means you as adventurers can enjoy your travels to the fullest potential, without the added stress!

Finding the best hikes near me wearing all of my hiking gear

Why You Should Always Plan Ahead

  • It ensures the enjoyment and satisfaction of everyone
  • It keeps everyone involved as safe as possible
  • It prepares you for the unlikely circumstances
  • It reduces our impact on the environment
  • It teaches us new and important things about our destination

Tips To Help Plan And Prepare For Your Trip

  • Research The Area – Researching destinations is becoming easier and easier, with the amount of valuable information available to you for free, there really is no excuse. A quick google search of your planned journey will provide images, articles, descriptions and anything else you could possibly want to know. Researching the area not only helps to increase your knowledge of the terrain but opens your eyes to restrictions, trail closures and potential water sources.
  • Plan Your Stops – Conserving energy with short breaks is an exceptional strategy in hiking. Finding a regular break pattern that works for you will do wonders in keeping your energy levels high. Picking these points to be close to water sources for refills or dense bush where toilet breaks are appropriate is key. Planning your camping sites also provides a clear goal to strive towards, not to mention reduces your impact on the environment when you choose them correctly.
  • Is There Water? – This is a common afterthought, yet one of the most dangerous things to forget. For those larger expeditions it’s impossible to carry enough water, so re-routing your planned route to pass a water source may be essential. It is always beneficial to call the ranger looking after the national park beforehand to determine whether your planned water sources are flowing. You shouldn’t rely on creeks to be running at all times, especially in Australia!
  • Know Your Ability – Knowing your limits are a saving grace, especially out in the backcountry. Pushing yours in a remote destination is a bad idea. As much as planning helps, it isn’t always foolproof and knowing when to turn back is a trait we should all learn.
  • Consult The Weather – Our beautifully wild mother nature can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Walking blindly into an expedition without checking the weather forecast could perhaps be the biggest mistake for your safety. While weather forecasts aren’t always correct and unpredictable changes occur, especially in the mountains, having a base to plan on is essential.
  • Pack Appropriate Clothing – Preparation is key and one of the most important aspects of preparing is packing the correct clothing. Choosing the appropriate clothing to suit the climate you’re exploring could save your life. And packing extra warm clothes for the incase scenarios is essential. Here’s a little quote we live by – There’s no such thing as poor weather, just poor clothing. If you’re not sure what clothing is best for cold weather, take a look at this post.
  • Choose The Correct Gear – Along with your clothing, your gear needs to be appropriate to the terrain and climate you’re exploring. Having a pack that can carry all of your equipment comfortably and boots that can carry the weight of your pack while keeping your feet dry and warm could make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful adventure.
  • Always Consider The What If Scenario – What if I get lost? What if the weather becomes horrendous? What if my phone dies? You need to think of the worst-case scenarios and have a back-up plan. Identifying potential issues and solving them before they happen may just save your life.
Reading a topographical map in the snow, looking for the best hikes near me

Travel And Camp On Durable Surfaces

Throughout the world, trails have been formed and built-in ways to minimise our impact on the beautiful surrounding nature. It’s our obligation to use these trails to keep our impact as low as possible.

We should always aim to stick to these trails, which not only play a part in lowering our impact but keeping us safe as well.

But what of those backcountry expeditions where set trails and campsites are non-existent?

The desire to explore where no human has explored before is a trait of many adventurers. To forge your own path through formidable terrain provides a sense of accomplishment no trail can produce.

But with this style of exploration comes a heightened need to preserve the landscape. To know where to walk and camp in order to leave minimal destruction.

How can we determine the most durable and appropriate terrain to follow?

Finding firm surfaces is a great way to minimise your impact. Terrain such as hard-packed dirt or rock are extremely resistant to damage and can be classed as durable. Knowing your grasses and plants is important to know which are hardy enough to survive your impact.

Ice and snow are another great option in those colder climates as their time covering the terrain are only temporary. The flora underneath is used to the weight of snow and freezing temperatures, meaning it won’t be compromised by you.

Camping next to the river in Wilkinsons Valley while climbing one of the best hikes near me

Why You Should Always Travel On Durable Surfaces

  • Save local habitats
  • Reduce damage to vegetation
  • Generally, the marked trail is the safest trail

Tips To Reduce Our Surface Impact

  • Resist The Short Cuts – We have all been tempted to cut out a part of a trail before. But if we all succumb to the temptation, there will be hundreds of illegitimate tracks in no time. Resulting in a greater impact on the environment we are attempting to enjoy.
  • Walk In Single File – There is a reason most natural trails are built so skinnily, to reduce the impact and land degradation. Walking on the fragile edges of a trail not only hurts vegetation but can cause the track itself to degrade.
  • Camp In Designated Campsites – This isn’t always possible for adventurers seeking the unknown exploration, moving deep into unknown backcountry. But where there are designated campsites, use them. If there isn’t, find a flat surface of dirt, rock, sand or grass and check for animal habitats before setting up.
  • Camp Away From Water Sources – Camping too close to a water source could cut off an animal’s daily route to rehydration. On many occasions, the vegetation surrounding a water source can also be less durable and your impact could cause harm.
  • Find Solid Ground – Sticking to solid ground not only ensures a higher level of durability but also makes the process of hiking and camping a hell of a lot easier.
Walking the muddy trail on the Walls of Jerusalem hike in Tasmania

Dispose of waste properly

The effort to dispose of our waste properly is perhaps the easiest of the 7 principles of leave no trace. So why is it the poorest performer?

All too often, we as outdoor lovers are stuck finding muesli bar wrappers everywhere or shit covered toilet paper scattered throughout the campsites.

Learning how to dispose of waste properly is ingrained in us from toddlers, so why should the rules change once we step foot in the wilderness?

Rubbish

When it comes to rubbish, it couldn’t be more simple. There is one rule to follow…

Whatever you take in, you take out.

I have heard the excuse ‘It will degrade or decompose’ too many times. We are much more educated than that. It takes hundreds of years for waste to degrade and decomposing only happens in a timely manner if buried properly within the right soil.

Animals suffer from eating our leftovers and fires won’t burn it quick enough, so make sure you’re only cooking what you can eat and disposing of scraps in a secure bag in your pack.

There really is no excuse for littering in the wilderness. If you packed it in your pack, you take it out with you as well. Using a sealable bag is a great way to avoid leaving a mess in your pack. Our tip is to use the silicone zip lock bags that you’ve used for your first meal. Therefore, you aren’t adding extra weight to your pack.

Staying warm in the Macpac Duolight tent camping while cooking our backpacking meal

Poo And Toilet Paper

Ahh the topic no one wants to talk about…

When you’re remote camping, you still have to poo. And chances are, there won’t be a toilet!

If you love exploring, sooner or later you’re going to have to poo in the bush. Improper practices can lead to the spreading of disease and pollution of water – and frankly, it’s just nasty.

There is a right way and a wrong way to take a dump in the wilderness. And the more places I travel, it’s becoming more and more apparent that people have no clue.

So to help avoid confusion, here’s how you do it correctly!

How To Properly Take A Bush Poo

  1. Move away from any water source. At least 100 meters is a good starting point.
  2. Try and find a suitable location where practical (elevated ground, rich dark soil with exposure to sunlight)
  3. Dig a hole roughly 20cm deep
  4. Do your business
  5. Wipe your bum and put the plain, white non-perfumed, biodegradable toilet paper in the hole
  6. Completely bury it all

Toilet paper that is plain, white, non-perfumed and biodegradable will degrade if buried deep with your poo. Tissues, other toilet papers and wipes will not as efficiently. If you have no toilet paper and you need to use wipes or tissues, these will need to go into your rubbish bag in your pack.

Alternatively, you can experiment with plants or rocks to wipe your bottom.

Just make sure you know your plants… poison ivy would be less than ideal!!

Pooing in the snow and fragile alpine areas is a little different. For the same reason that snow is a good surface to walk on, makes it a poor place to leave your business.

Imagine what happens when the snow thaws if you leave a big stinker there?

Here you will have to take your poo and toilet paper out with you.

Displaying the 7 leave no trace principles while taking a poo hiking in the snow

How To Properly Take A Snow Poo

  1. Pack an airtight container lined with a rubbish bag (scented ones are best)
  2. Bring baking paper cut roughly into a 30cm by 30cm square
  3. Place baking paper in a dug out hole in the snow or hold down with rocks in alpine areas
  4. Do your business on the baking paper and add toilet paper to it
  5. Grab the four corners of the baking paper and place in the rubbish bag inside the airtight container
  6. Tightly wrap the rubbish bag and close the lid

Soap

You can buy biodegradable all in one soap from outdoor stores which are perfect for washing anything from your hair to your dishes.

But even biodegradable soaps are harmful to animals and water sources. When using any type of soap, make sure to be at least 100 metres away from a water source.

Leave What You Find

It’s an incredible feeling, the sense of discovery. Blindly following a goat track, unbeknown to what lies ahead on your journey and stumbling across something magnificent. If you disturb that, you affect not only the environment but also other people’s satisfaction.

Nature isn’t there to be taken, no matter how good it will look in the pool room.

Take only photos and memories. Leave only footprints.

In some cases, to create a suitable surface to camp on, we may need to move the loose surrounding vegetation. But we must do our best to put things back where we found them. Avoid making trenches around your tent or digging out seats. These are all detrimental acts for the environment and others who come along after you.

A beautiful sunstar over the creek running through Wilkinsons Valley just below Mount Kosciuszko

Minimize campfire impacts

When we think of camping, we think of a toasty warm fire everyone can sit around to cook and tell stories.

Fires are so beneficial yet can be the most harmful to the environment if not used and monitored correctly.

We are firm believers in the positives a campfire brings to outdoor expeditions and here is how to minimize the impacts greatly.

How To Lessen The Impacts Of A Campfire

  • Use Designated Campfire Pits – If your campsite has designated firepits, use them. Though they may not bring about the sense of adventure in the same way, these pits have been constructed to reduce our impact.
  • Use Existing Fire Rings – Previous hikers may have already built a fire ring, rather than build a new one or move the rocks, build your fire in the same position. Fire scars take years to disappear and can cause great harm to the flora. Minimising the amount where possible is so important.
  • Don’t Fall Tree’s, Even If They Are Dead – If a tree hasn’t fallen itself, it may not be ready even if it looks dead. Only collect firewood from fallen trees or branches. And check for animals first, you never know who has chosen that particular tree to call home.
  • Collect Only What You Need – Only collect the amount of firewood you need, leaving enough for the next adventurer.
  • Keep Campfires Small – The bigger the fire, the larger the impact and the more firewood you’ll need. Be respectful of nature and others and keep your fire just big enough to warm and cook your dinner.
  • Pick A Suitable Location – Avoid dry bush and low hanging branches for your designated fireplace. Choose dirt and rocks to build your fire if possible. If your area lacks wood to fuel the fire, decide whether it is absolutely necessary. Fires should only be built if you’re in a naturally healthy spot with plenty of accessible wood available.
  • Watch The Weather – Avoid lighting fires in high wind areas or dense bush with low hanging branches. Use common sense, if conditions seem dry and hot don’t light a fire. Always remember, fires are unpredictable beasts that can get out of hand quickly.
  • Pay Attention To Restrictions – Some areas will have set restrictions on fires or total fire bans in place throughout certain times of the year or weather conditions. So always check and plan before you go.
  • Don’t Leave Fires Unattended – This one is simple, put the fire out completely before going to sleep and monitor at all times.
  • Clean Up Thoroughly – Burn all wood to white ash and cover it in water. If you are in an area where traffic is light, dismantle your fire ring.
  • Don’t Burn Your Rubbish – Plastics are made out of quite horrible materials and when you burn them, you’re releasing that into the atmosphere. The only rubbish that can be burnt is paper or cardboard. Scraps won’t burn fast enough to degrade completely, leaving a mess and potential harm for animals.
Camping at Moira's Flat Campsite half way up the Hannels Spur track in Kosciuszko National Park

Use Stoves Instead Of A Fire

Camping stoves are a great innovation that keeps getting better and smaller. There are many different options out there now, each of which has its own positives.

Stoves have become a staple item in hiking and minimal impact camping. When compared to a fire, they’re far quicker, easier and more portable. Not to mention, stoves are much more durable in most weather conditions.

Always carry one in case you can’t start a fire. They’re the perfect replacement for cooking and what’s better is they leave no trace.

Kathmandu Tent behind our gear to cook our backpacking meals on the Hannels Spur Hike in Moiras Flat Campground

Respect wildlife

No matter how cute they may be, resist the temptation to get too close to any wildlife. Observe from far enough away so they aren’t startled or negatively affected.

Too many times, you encounter animals that have become far too used to humans. The issues with animals eating our food are extensive. From becoming sick to altering their habits, causing them to become a problem. Let the animals stay wild and healthy. Otherwise, we may lose them entirely.

Touching animals can introduce sickness and disease into both parties and can cause mothers to abandon their young. Leave animals be and enjoy watching them from a distance… That’s why I bought a good camera!

Following the 7 leave no trace principles by observing a Kangaroo from a far

Be considerate of other visitors

The wilderness is large enough for all of us to enjoy. Be considerate and help the next adventurer to experience the same awe you did when you discovered a destination.

It’s as easy as camping away from the trail, hiding as best you can and cleaning up after yourself. Burying your poo and taking your rubbish with you. Being respectful of others and keeping your noise to a minimum. Wearing headphones if you find the need to listen to music on the trail.

These simple acts are the difference between a great adventure and a terrible one.

The 7 leave no trace principles represent who we are.

So let’s work together to preserve the land we love. Let’s help each other to experience wonder in a pristine environment. Let’s all strive to save mother nature.

Exploring the best hikes near me by walking through the woods