Leave No Trace

The other day I stumbled across a book on the internet with a very extraordinary title: "How to Shit in the Woods" by Kathleen Meyer. Our love of nature is taking an ever-increasing toll. But many people are not always aware of the impact their outdoor activities and generally their "green" outdoor life have on nature. This topic is by no means new. As early as the 1960s and 1970s, the steadily growing number of visitors pushed some national parks in the USA to the limits of their capacity. Rules of conduct for outdoor activities became necessary and the "Leave no Trace" idea was born.

The Leave no Trace principle was introduced in the mid-1980s by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. It summarizes seven principles for our stay in nature. Some of the principles may sound obvious at first. But once one dives deeper into the details, one realizes just how wide-ranging each point is. Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics eingeführt. Es fasst in sieben Prinzipen Regeln für unseren Aufenthalt in der Natur zusammen. Einige der Prinzipien mögen sich zunächst selbstverständlich anhören. Aber wenn man dann mal tiefer in die Details eintaucht, dann merkt man erst, wie umfangreich die einzelnen Punkte sind.

The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace

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

© Leave No Trace: www.LNT.org

in german:

  1. Plan ahead & prepare
  2. Travel & 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 Others

Below I have written down additional explanations and details to the seven "Leave no Trace" principles that I have learned from various sources and that are important to me from my personal experience on tour. We all have a responsibility when we are out in nature. For ourselves, for the animals and plants, and for everyone else who wants to enjoy nature as well.

The principles are easy to implement - no matter where and no matter what outdoor activity!

#1 Plan ahead & prepare

You are not only doing nature a favor, but also yourself. If one starts a tour unprepared, one often ends up in a mess. And those who get into trouble on the tour often act rashly and recklessly against nature.

ood preparation includes thorough research of the local conditions and the boundary conditions of the tour. Equally important is adequate training of fitness and one's own outdoor skills, as well as foresighted assembly of the equipment.

Without good preparation, you'll quickly end up in a mess and harm nature.
  • General information about the area and orientation: terrain, altitude, trail markings, pack a map, compass, and GPS.
  • Are there any regulations, special features, protected or restricted areas (e.g. nature reserves, military terrain)? Is there hunting in the area?
  • How well visited is the area? Can the tour be done at times when there are fewer visitors?
  • How difficult is the route? Is your own level of fitness and experience adequate? Is the equipment adequate (warm, rain gear, appropriate footwear)? Is sufficient time/buffer days planned?
  • What dangers can occur? For example, falling rocks, and avalanches.
  • Fauna and flora: are there any specially protected or poisonous animals or plants, wild and grazing animals, herding dogs, mosquitoes, or bears? Are any bear safety precautions to be taken?
  • Weather: expected temperatures, precipitation, thunderstorm tendency (e.g. afternoon in the Alps)
  • Tourist infrastructure: accommodation and refreshment facilities, bus routes, trekking sites
  • Safety: prepare for emergencies and take a first aid kit. Are there official rescue points, shelters, net connections?
  • Where can drinking water be refilled. Does it need to be treated?
  • What is the forest fire danger level?
  • Is wild camping allowed? Are there any restrictions?

#2 Travel & Camp on durable surfaces

If you stay on the trails and camp at campsites, you're already doing a lot right. However, in off-the-beaten-path areas, such as northern Scandinavia, route planning often takes you cross-country through nature. Not always without consequences: When the tracks become visible (in the case of larger groups or particularly sensitive ground), they attract other hikers magnetically and a new trail quickly forms.

Tip: look at the area beforehand on Google Earth, so you get a better impression of the terrain.

If trails / camps are available:

  • Use existing trails, recommended routes, camping and bivouac sites.
  • Avoid shortcuts and do not follow new trails.
  • Comply with any trail regulations, for example in national parks. Respect signs and barriers. This also applies to photographers.
  • Walk on narrow paths one after the other, even if they are wet and muddy.
Here it is natural to stay on the path.
Our camp in Greenland.


In pathless terrain - if generally allowed:

  • Find out about the area you plan to hike. Are there any special features to be aware of? Are there protected plants or particularly sensitive areas? Which route will have the least impact on nature?
  • Look where you are going and accept small detours. Rock, stones, sand, gravel, snow, dry grass are much less sensitive than moss and marshy terrain.
  • Run side by side staggered so that no path is formed and less damage is done to the ground.
  • Avoid running through thickets. It's a refuge for animals and you minimize the risk of a frightened animal attacking you (bear, moose, wild boar...).
  • Good campsites are found, not made.
  • Protect shorelines and pitch your tent at least 60 yards from lakes and streams.
  • Pitch multiple tents scattered around.
  • Avoid sites where impacts are just beginning.


#3: Dispose of Waste properly

Waste generated on a hiking trip includes packaging, food scraps, and our toiletries including toilet paper, as well as soapy water.

Good Job. A trash can at the edge of the pilgrim trail awaits emptying.
  • Plan how to properly dispose of your trash (wrappers, food scraps, toilet paper) and repack food into reusable ziplock bags if necessary.
  • Take enough and sufficiently sturdy trash bags with you.
  • Already littering along the trail? Do nature a favor and put it in your trash bag.
  • Take one last look at your rest/camping spot: all packed up? Always leave a place cleaner than you found it.
  • Organic waste such as banana peels, apple scraps or food scraps have no place in nature.
  • Burn waste (toilet paper) only if fire is generally allowed and when it can be done safely (danger of forest fire?). Plastic or coated packaging does not belong in the fire, because they develop harmful fumes.
  • Toileting: Keep at least 60 meters away from bodies of water. Now there are different methods: bury it (about 15-20 cm deep) or wrap it up and take it with you.
  • Soapy water (washing up, personal hygiene, toothpaste): Again, keep at least 60 meters away from water bodies. Use biodegradable soap as sparingly as possible and avoid soap when washing dishes. Spread used water over a large area. Do not spit toothpaste on a plant but spray it.

#4 Leave what you find

Take nothing but photos. Leave nothing but footprints.

Two sentences that really say it all. But if you like it a bit more detailed, I have listed here what I can think of. The list is not complete, there is certainly much more to add.

  • Leave your campsite exactly as you found it.
  • If you have moved rocks to pitch your tent, return them to their original location.
  • Respect historical sites and ruins and pitch your tent at a sufficient distance.
  • Do not build dams to impound water. Altering the flow dynamics of water will degrade or even destroy small-scale habitats.
  • Also, do not build ditches, outdoor furniture, shelters, or cairns. The latter could be misinterpreted as waypoints for orientation, and you'll rob all sorts of small animals of their shelter.
  • Keep an eye on your children, and what they use as building material when playing.
  • Have you built a campfire in the evening? A cozy campfire also includes the dismantling of the fireplace.
  • Do not take souvenirs from nature, i.e. feathers, shells, eggs, bones, etc. In some countries, it is even punishable if you take stones with you. All these things have a function in nature.
  • Find out beforehand if it is allowed to collect berries, wild herbs, or mushrooms. Take only as much as you need.
  • If you want to fish, get a license beforehand.
  • To prevent the introduction and spread of non-native species, clean the soles of your shoes, your boat, or the tires of your bike between trips. In Iceland, you even have to disinfect your fishing gear or your riding gear to avoid bringing in diseases.
  • I will come to the firewood at the next point.
Auch Muscheln bleiben besser da, wo sie hingehören.

#5 Minimize Campfire Impacts

With the increasing drought, the issue of campfires is becoming more and more dicey. In early summer, the forests are already so dry that in large parts of Germany there is a danger of forest fires or even water withdrawal bans are imposed from bodies of water. Nevertheless, devastating forest fires occur every summer.

The responsibility you bear as a hiker for nature and your fellow human beings is multiplied many times over when you light a campfire.

Check the current forest fire danger level on the website of the German Weather Service. Here you can read what exactly is forbidden at which danger level. Here kannst du nachlesen, was genau bei welcher Gefahrenstufe verboten ist.

Even if there is snow cover, do not break branches off trees for the fire.

Other countries also have similar websites where you can look up forest fire levels. Be smart about how you prepare food at camp then. Will there be cold food? Or are camping stoves still allowed? This varies from country to country.

  •  In addition to the forest fire danger level, pay attention to the wind strength and direction as well as the litter conditions (combustibility or dryness of the leaves and needles lying on the ground).
  • If available, use designated fire areas.
  • Is the fire really necessary?
  • Choose a place for the fire where there is no danger of it spreading. Gravel or sandy soil is best. Forest soils, bogs and moss are not suitable, because the fire can spread unnoticed underground or flare up again at a later time. Rocks are also not suitable as a base for building fires, as they can burst from the heat.
  • Use only wood that is already on the ground as fire material.
  • Keep the fire small and under control.
  • Provide water to extinguish the fire.
  • Do not leave the fire unattended.
  • Do not store flammable materials, wood, functional clothing too close to the fire. Materials can ignite spontaneously with sufficient heat.
  • Extinguish the fire with water. Pouring sand on it is not enough. Make sure it is really out and the fireplace is cold.
  • Rebuild the fireplace. Spread the ashes.

#6 Respect Wildlife

It is always a great pleasure to observe wild animals in their natural environment. However, it is also not without danger - either for ourselves or for the animal.

  • If you want to observe or photograph wildlife, keep a safe distance and use binoculars or a telephoto zoom.
  • Do not chase animals or follow fresh animal tracks.
  • Do not feed wildlife. With a few exceptions, such as selective feeding of birds in winter, this harms the health of animals, alters their behavior, and can put animals and people in danger. Keep your food and food scraps and garbage securely packed. Again and again, bears have to be shot because they show conspicuous behavior towards humans. This usually results from the fact that the animals associate humans with food.
  • Do not touch any animals. Also no young animals, no matter how cute they are. These take on the human scent and could be rejected by their mothers.
Such shots are only feasible with telezoom and subsequent cropping.
Only look. Do not touch!
  • Never get between mother and young.
  • You have found an abandoned or injured animal? Observe it for a longer time before you take action. Often animals that appear abandoned are not abandoned but continue to be cared for (e.g., young birds on the ground). Are you sure the animal is injured? The wildlife help of NABU is there to help you with words and deeds
  • Inform yourself about occurring wild animals, especially bears, wolves, wolverines, and moose. How to behave in case of an encounter (e.g. bear spray) and how to avoid conflicts (e.g. bear-proof storage of food, cosmetics, waste).
  • Animals are especially stressed during the breeding season, migratory season, or in winter or extreme drought. Keep even more distance, and don't make noise or frantic movements. Stay on the trail. Any startling of the animals leads to unnecessary energy consumption.
  • Do not interfere with feeding birds by staying too close to the nest.
  • Respect the rules on leashes for dogs.
  • Even the supposedly tame grazing animals or even herding dogs can pose a danger and are to be avoided with the necessary distance.

#7 Be considerate of Others

As a hiker, you're rarely alone on the trail. Some trails and national parks can even be overcrowded during peak season. It's not for nothing that the U.S. has a permit system that successfully limits the number of visitors. Too many visitors harm nature and stress the animals living there. But also the hikers themselves are often stressed when they have to share the "lonely" nature with others. Mutual consideration helps! If no one pushes the other off the path or loudly noises up the break area, everything works out better for everyone. And a friendly hello, hej, hola or moin is part of it, isn't it?

Kora um den Kailash, Tibet
When so many people pilgrimage together, as in the Kora around Mt. Kailash to the Saga Dawa festival, no one gets to the destination without consideration.
Please do not disturb!
  • Greet other hikers. A little chat along the way about the weather forecast or trail conditions can't hurt either, especially in remote areas.
  • Make room for oncoming hikers and don't block rest areas and picnic benches with your pack spread out.
  • Don't block trails when you take a break.
  • Set up camp well away from the trails.
  • Don't walk through nature making loud noise, refrain from music and loud conversations (exception in bear area).
  • Be polite. If you want to pass someone, announce yourself or ask the other(s) to step aside for a moment. Say "thank you".
  • Watch your dog.
  • If you go into a cabin: this is where a lot of people congregate in a small space. Be especially considerate here.

Book Recommendations for Nature Lovers

Do you want to know more about nature-friendly travel? Then I can recommend you these books*.

You can order these books at Amazon with a click on the pictures. If you buy a product via one of these affiliate links, I get a small commission and you help me to keep filling Fernweh-Motive with interesting articles. The product will not be more expensive for you.

Do you already know the "Leave no Trace" principles and do you already apply them on your tours? Do you have any questions or suggestions regarding my article? If yes, then write me a comment!

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Recommendations for further Reading

Do you love long hikes as much as I do? Then you might also be interested in my articles about the Laugavegur in Iceland or about the The 9 most beautiful Hikes on the Isle of Skye.

Island Trekking auf dem Laugavegur
Isle of Skye – die 9 schönsten Wanderungen