5 Ways to Protect, Explore, and Enjoy Your Favorite Outdoor Spaces

Words by Katherine Oakes Englishman
Photos by Katherine Oakes Englishman

Whether you are a professional weekend warrior or a proud dirtbag-in-training, you make an impact while spending time in the outdoors. The Leave No Trace principles exist to help equip outdoor lovers with the best information on how to tread lightly and responsibly enjoy these wild places. These aren’t always hard and fast rules, but guidelines to follow that restore and preserve parks, beaches, forests, and more. With statistics like, 80% of wildfires are caused by humans and 9 out of 10 people in the outdoors are uninformed about their impacts, there’s so much room to grow and become better stewards of our environments.

Want to be a more mindful outdoor recreationalist this summer? Check out these five ways to protect, explore, and enjoy your favorite outdoor spaces.

The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace

No matter the setting, the seven principles of Leave No Trace can always be applied when you’re spending time outside. Familiarize yourself with these standards for the next time you head out. Here’s a quick and dirty version of the Leave No Trace ethics:

  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 impact
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors

The vast world of Leave No Trace runs deep and wide! Dive into their website for even more detailed explanations of each principle and how to do your part. Remember that the best way to be an advocate is to share them with friends while you’re outside, and continue to stay educated on best practices in the outdoors.

In the meantime, use this guide in tandem with the LNT ethics for five simple ways to make a seriously positive impact when you are…

On the Trail

Hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers who are unaware of their impact can damage their favorite trails. Always stick to the marked trails (these count as durable surfaces) to avoid causing erosion or trampling vegetation. Breaking trail can ruin natural habitats, harm fragile plant species, especially in the alpine, and even cause some areas to degrade to the point of no return. Volunteers and park management often have to put a lot of time and effort into trail maintenance, so respect any signs for trail closures and don’t be tempted by the “social-trails” worn in by disrespectful or ignorant visitors. Follow the narrow path, literally, and you’ll always have happy, well-maintained trails.


Around the Campfire

There really are few things in life better than spending a night under the stars, gathered around the campfire with friends. A well-tended fire is good and well, but careless campers can cause significant damage, welcome in critters, and even start wildfires. Keep your flames under control and minimize your impact by doing the following:

  • Know the current regulations and fire danger by checking the campground website
  • Only build a campfire in a designated spot with an existing campfire ring
  • Don’t throw any food or trash into the fire — you’ll have a serious pest problem
  • Bring local firewood only. Buying it from out of town can spread invasive species
  • Always have enough water to completely extinguish your fire, then use a stick to rake the ashes. You’ll know it’s good when you can hold your hand above it without feeling any heat.


At an Overcrowded National Park

Everyone loves to visit a National Park. Sometimes, we all do it at the same time. As you might imagine, it can cause things like trail degradation, soil erosion, unwanted wildlife encounters, and at the worst, get trashed. The best way to Leave No Trace in an overcrowded National Park is to simply plan ahead and prepare to go during a better time.

To avoid being a part of the problem make plans in advance to go mid-week and get an early start. If you can’t help going during peak hours, choose a less popular trail that is likely to have less foot traffic, and again, go early. Not only does this help preserve the area, it’s also a way to be considerate of other visitors by not adding to an already overcrowded outdoor space.


At the Beach, Lake or River

Leave what you find at the beach, at the beach. Shells, driftwood, or sand from the dunes are all essential to preserving the area’s ecosystems. The same goes for your visit to the lake or the river, where it may be hard to resist that beautiful mussel shell or perfectly smooth stone. Be respectful of the environment and remember every part matters.

In that same vein, you can be proactive and instead take home trash that’s washed up on shore. Water pollution is a serious issue, and trash that has accumulated in these bodies of water get washed out to sea or ends up contaminating the water itself. The next time you go, grab a bag and a pair of gloves for an impromptu clean up when needed.

In the Backcountry

Backpacking in the remote wilderness is an incredible way to surround yourself with a beautiful and pristine environment. It’s a confidence-booster for sure, and helps you establish an even deeper connection to your favorite outdoor spaces. Here’s a few tried and true ways to implement the Leave No Trace ethics while you’re backpacking in backcountry areas:

  • Pick out an established campsite ahead of time to avoid degradation
  • ALWAYS carry out what you carry in and bring plenty of garbage bags to do so
  • Securely store your food in bear canisters or a bear bag to avoid wildlife encounters
  • Stick to marked trails only
  • Learn how to dig a cathole and know what to bring for relieving yourself in the woods
  • Only use biodegradable soaps to wash and clean yourself, and stay 200 feet away from water sources
  • Leave only footsteps and take only pictures
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