Here is my slightly abridged, take no prisoners, version of the Leave No Trace Principles.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare. Know local regulations. Shelters may be full; bring a tent, tarp or hammock. Carefully map out your route before you arrive including potential water sources and natural obstacles. Consider contingency plans for bad weather or injury, particularly if traveling alone. Leave a trip plan with someone who is expecting you to return at a specific time and knows who to call if you are late.
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. Stay on the trail; don’t cut switchbacks. Camp in designated sites whenever possible to minimize your environmental impact. Fluff up compressed forest duff after you break down your tent to help natural processes resume.
- Dispose of Waste Properly. Pack out all trash and food waste, including garbage that someone else has left on the trail. Bury human waste at least six inches deep and at least 200 feet from a trail or water source if a privvy or outhouse is not available. Don’t bathe in water sources that people will drink from: no one wants to drink the DEET or sweat that washes off from your body. If you need to wash, use a washcloth and pour the grey water into a hole at least 200 feet from all water sources.
- Leave What You Find. Don’t take flowers, rocks, or other sensitive natural resources. Don’t pull rocks out of the ground and roll them down steep grades: this accelerates erosion. Don’t carve your name in trees or shelters. Don’t steal trail maintenance tools or supplies. Don’t steal other peoples’ gear or they will hunt you down and eat you.
- Minimize Campfire Impacts. Don’t ever start a campfire unless in an emergency situation, such as hypothermia. Use a portable stove instead. It’s faster, cleaner and has virtually no environmental impact. If you must burn wood, keep fires small; use only downed dead wood and established fire pits. Don’t create a new fire pit or ring. These are very difficult to undo and their impact takes a long, long time to mitigate.
- Respect Wildlife. Don’t feed or disturb wildlife. Store food properly to avoid attracting bears and rodents. If you must bring a pet, keep it leashed. Unleashed pets can scare the hell out of other hikers and if they get lost, frequently perish at the hands of coyotes, fishers, or other forest carnivores. Don’t expect that other people will want to share a shelter with your pet. If your pet can’t be leashed, just stay home.
- Be Considerate of other Visitors. Keep group size small: no more than 10 on overnight trips and 25 on day hikes. Minimize noise and intrusive behavior, including playing the radio, singing, public drunkenness, and throwing knives at shelters. Share shelters and other facilities. If you snore, bring a tent and camp at least 200 feet away from other people. If you are on a college orientation trip, avoid the woods and other natural areas. There are wild animals there and you might get dirty. If you just can’t live without your cell phone, only use it in the outhouse. Keep it turned off when other people are around or they’ll think you are stupid.