Leaving No Trace: How to be an Environmentally Friendly Outdoor Steward
April 18, 2019

Leaving no trace is an important element that all backpackers and any outdoor enthusiasts should practice. Responsible hiking is critical to the survival of our natural elements.

Too much waste and destruction to the forests and natural lands of the world could essentially result in the loss of many natural areas for the generations long after us.

It is our responsibility as a civilized species to protect the resources we need so much, and we can do this by leaving no trace as we’re outside enjoying them.

Leaving no trace
isn’t always possible

Some people argue that we cannot always leave no trace and that the only solution is to stay away from natural areas. Obviously, this isn’t going to be the answer. We, as humans, love to go outside and explore nature. And while we will always leave traces, we can still try our best to leave less of a mess that we need to leave. There is a difference between leaving no trace and just not paying attention to what we are doing in the forest and natural areas.

Pack it in
pack it out

If you bring something with you into the forest, you should make sure you bring it back once you leave. Obviously, you can bury your waste as instructed in Leave No Trace guidelines but everything else should return with you. For example, don’t throw empty drink bottles and snack wrappers on the ground. Don’t put cigarette butts down.

Responsible hiking means you are trying to not leave anything behind that doesn’t need to be there. The only exception is when you need to leave something behind for the direct safety of others. For example, markings to inform other hikers of hidden dangers on the path.

Responsible hiking means you are trying to not leave anything behind that doesn’t need to be there.

Leaving no trace
means leaving no cairns

In recent years, there has been a significant increase of the construction of cairns in the forested environments throughout the world. If a cairn is made for its true purpose, navigating the wilderness, then it is important for safety of your fellow human beings. That is understandable.

However, if cairns are being made for weird artistic meanings, it completely violates Leave No Trace. It is also important to note that there are living things under rocks that need those rocks in order to survive – how can we take that away from these creatures?

Teaching others
to leave no trace

One major suggestion I always give to other hikers and backpackers is to help spread the word about why we shouldn’t leave any trace when enjoying nature. If you have friends or family members that might not be following this important step, feel free to educate them about it.

Tell them why it is important. It is also important that we instill leaving no trace practices to our children as they will be the next generation of forest protectors once we are gone or unable to do it anymore. We must keep teaching young people the importance of leaving no trace when they are out enjoying nature.

There is a difference between leaving no trace and just not paying attention to what we are doing in the forest and natural areas.

Leaving no trace

Many of us go off trail when hiking. I find it fascinating to go off the trail to follow bluff lines. You can find all sorts of neat formations along bluffs. But it is very important to always watch where you are stepping.

A lot of special plants and flora exist off trail and stepping on them can kill them. Smaller forms of wildlife are also often present off trail such as snakes and other critters. We don’t want to destroy botany and wildlife due to our curiosity of what it off the beaten path. We can mitigate that by simply watching where we are stepping next.

Clean up
after the next person

One piece of gear that I commonly take with me on my hiking trips is a trash bag. I’ve made it a habit to pick up all the trash I can get when out in the forest. If I return to my vehicle after a hike with a full bag of trash that I picked up, I almost get a natural high of happiness because I know that I’ve made a difference.

You could even add trash collection to fitness routines as well, such as with trail running which is often called plogging by outdoor enthusiasts. If anything, try to designate a few days a week to trash hiking. It really does great wonders for helping your fitness levels and making you into a stronger hiker after it is all said and done.

Treat the forest
like you would your own home

When outside enjoying nature, treat nature like you would treat your own home. Keep it clean by leaving no trace and try your best not to destroy anything. We have a comfortable home to go to after our outdoor adventures.

We leave the forest behind to the plants, flora, and wildlife that depends on it in order to survive. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that we are leaving no trace in nature so that what lives in nature can continue to live without too much human disruption.


Leaving no trace while enjoying the outdoors is a significant issue for all human beings. Imagine a world without forests, a world without natural grasslands or a world without natural bodies of water. If we didn’t care about Leave No Trace, in the end, we’d lose everything that is natural and then it would become very difficult for humans to continue existing on the earth because Earth needs its natural environment.

So, the next time you are out hiking or enjoying the outdoors, keep in mind that you should be also protecting the outdoors and ensuring that you are leaving no trace. And consider my suggestions of bringing a garbage bag with you and picking up any trash you might come across – you will feel so much better out it after bringing back a full bag of trash. It is addicting!

Shawn Gossman


About the Author

"The outdoors to me is the best medicine for stress and anxiety. "

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