Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is both a philosophy and a code of conduct aimed at preserving the beauty and pristine nature of our wilderness areas for ourselves and future generations. It is a way of thinking that can be applied to our daily lives as well as when we are camping.  All scouts should be familiar with and practice Leave No Trace principles whenever they are in the outdoors, and ask themselves continually what impact their actions will have on their environment.


1. Plan ahead and prepare for your trip.  Call and find out about special environmental concerns, permits required, and limits on the number in your party.

2. Be prepared for possible bad weather and circumstances, as well as accidents. Carry the proper equipment (at least the Ten Essentials) and know how to use it.

3. Plan your meals carefully so there is a minimum of waste, and repackage your food in reusable containers that you pack out.

4. Having the proper equipment and taking care of it will reduce your impact on the environment (a lightweight camp stove and a good tent with a rainfly, for instance). Clothing of modern wicking/insulating fibers will also reduce the amount of impact you have on the outdoors and the amount of weight on your back.

5. Try to stay away from popular areas during high use periods, such as weekends and holidays


  • Hike on established trails and stay off of “volunteer” trails whenever possible (no cutting switchbacks)
  • Walk through mud rather than tearing up the trail on either side of it (wear gaiters to keep it out of your boots)
  • Hike single file when in a group
  • Avoid traveling in especially muddy areas after heavy rain or during the spring melt season
  • Try to avoid cross-country travel if possible (bushwhacking). If you must do so, try to hike on durable surfaces such as gravel, sand, rock or snow. Dry alpine meadow and grasslands are also fairly damage resistant. If you are traveling cross-country in a group, fan out rather than walking in a single line so the damage to any given route will be less.
  • Obey any trail closure signs
  • Avoid getting lost. It is bad for you and the environment.
  • If you encounter horses on the trail, pull off the trail on the downhill side until they pass and avoid making loud noises or sudden movements.
  • When you encounter other groups of hikers, LNT etiquette calls for the party that will cause the least amount of damage to the trail (this means the smaller party) to step aside, regardless of whether that party is going up or downhill – this sometimes contradicts the older rule that the party traveling downhill should always yield. If you find yourself in such a situation, (a troop of 12 going downhill and meeting two day hikers coming up a trail, for instance) the group leader should politely ask if they would mind stepping aside, since they will cause less trail erosion by doing so.

Campsite Selection:

  • Try to pick a campsite out of view from the main trail and at least 200 ft. from any water source
  • The most resistant surfaces for camping on are slickrock, snow, sandy or gravelly beaches, dry grassy meadows and open forests with a grassy understory. To be comfortable on many of these surfaces, you will need a good pad (Thermarest, Ensolite)
  • When visiting popular areas, use an established campsite that shows signs of human occupation to reduce wear on less spoiled spots
  • In pristine wilderness areas where there is little sign of human disturbance (ie. no fire rings or flat eroded areas where tents have been pitched previously), camp at a spot that appears not to have been used rather than one that shows slight signs of use. This will allow the lightly used site to recover. Try to use a site that has a durable surface, and camp only for one night at that spot.
  • Avoid pristine areas if you have a large group or pack stock
  • Wear lightweight shoes or sandals when in camp rather than heavy-soled hiking boots to reduce wear on the campsite.  
Preparing to camp on a cold, durable surface
Preparing to camp on a cold, durable surface


  • Use a camp stove and avoid fires altogether when there is no evidence of previous fires (no fire rings). In popular areas where there are multiple fire rings, it is considered proper LNT etiquette to dismantle unnecessary rings. Any fire creates an ugly scar and can damage the soil and the organisms living in it to some depth. If you come prepared, it is very rare that a fire is necessary.
  • If you decide to build a fire, first make sure that it is allowed in the area you are in. If you are using an established fire ring, make sure that its location is safe and free from underlying tree roots or other flammables. Gather only loose twigs and branches no bigger around than your wrist and never cut or break off branches even if the tree appears to be dead. (If you are car camping, of course, you can bring wood from home).
  • If you decide to build a fire in a pristine location with no evidence of previous fires, you should build your fire in such a way that no trace of it remains after you leave.  The two suggested methods are the Pan Fire and the Mound Fire. Both will require some planning, since you will have to bring the pan or sack/ground cloth with you. Keep these fires small and burn them completely down to fine ash. Bury all evidence of your fire and return any soil or sand to its original location.


  • Plan your meals so you have the correct amount of food for your stay (if you have too much, you have to pack it back as well as in) and repackage your food in reusable containers so you don’t have a lot of paper and plastic to dispose of.
  • Keep your meals simple and stay away from greasy, aromatic foods. This will make cleanup simpler and reduce the attraction to wildlife. One-pot meals and add-hot water-and-stir meals are recommended.
  • Your cooking location should be well away from your tents and trails, and at least 200 ft. from any water source. If you are in a pristine area, try to do your cooking on a durable surface such as rock or sand, since it receives a lot of foot traffic.
  • When cooking and eating, pay close attention to any food scraps (even crumbs) that fall on the ground.  Pick them up and pack them out with your garbage. Never bury food scraps; animals will dig them up soon after you leave.
  • When doing your dishes, the preferred method is to use only hot water and a scrubber.  Soap is a hazard to the environment and should not be necessary if your meal isn’t greasy. Heat the water in your pot, scrub it, and filter the water through a strainer or cloth. The small pieces of food should be packed out with your garbage. The strained “grey water” may be scattered in the bushes (200 ft. from any water source and well away from your tents) or, if you’re really hardcore, you can drink it.
  • Never feed wildlife intentionally and try to keep your cooking area as clean as possible to avoid having birds or rodents eating the crumbs. Bear-bag your unused food to prevent animal access (not just bears) and if bears have been sighted in your area take the time to rig up a line between two trees rather than just slinging your line over a branch. Be sure to bring at least 50 to 100 ft. of nylon line and a stuff sack for this purpose.
  • Minimize the number of trips you take to your water source. Your impact is far less if you take a collapsible container and filter a few gallons of water into it than if you go to the lake or stream every time you need water.
  • Make a habit of packing out ALL of your trash, as well as that left by others. Inspect your campsite and cooking area thoroughly before you depart and pick up any food particles, pieces of wrappers, cigarette butts, cans or glass you see.

If you pack it in, you must pack it out!

Personal Hygiene:

  • Treat all water before using it by boiling, purification tablets, or filtering.
  • Wash your hands after pooping or peeing and always before preparing meals. Take a water bottle or pot of warm water at least 200 ft. from any water source, wet your hands, use a very small amount of non-phospated bio-degradable soap, and pour water over your hands to rinse.

If there is an outhouse provided, use it even if the odor is overpowering; doing so will concentrate human waste in one area.

  • Your pee is normally sanitary, although salt from human urine can prompt animals to dig up soil or damage plants. For obvious reasons, go away from trails or places where others are likely to walk or sit and avoid peeing on vegetation.
  • When you need to poop, a cathole (dug 6-8” deep and 4-6” across) is usually best. Try to find an isolated area, at least 200 ft. from any water source, with active organic soil (dark, live soil with living microorganisms) in an area that is moist but receives some sunlight. These conditions will hasten the decomposition of human waste. In some situations, such as when the area receives very heavy use or when a number of small children are in the party, a group latrine is the better choice. Be sure to include a small trowel as part of your toilet kit.
  • Human waste is slow to decompose, but toilet paper is very slow. LNT philosophy encourages the use of “natural” wipes, such as leaves, smooth rocks, snow, or moss. These can be buried along with your pile. If you use toilet paper, you should pack it out with you. The “Ziploc mitten” technique works well: Throw your toilet paper on the ground as you use it, then turn a Ziploc bag inside out and put your hand in it. Pick up all the used TP with your hand inside the bag and invert it by pulling your hand carefully out. Seal the bag and pack it out.