Leave No Trace camping: how to upgrade your sustainable camping skills

by Elske

Camping enthusiasts amongst each other, we think it is safe to say that we all love nature. And that is why it’s important to educate ourselves on how to keep our outdoor surroundings safe and unharmed, now and for the next camping generations. Encountering trash during our hikes is something none of us want, but unfortunately it happens more and more often. To help us out, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has formulated a method to raise awareness and to make sustainable camping a little easier.



What is this Leave No Trace Principle exactly about?

Leave no trace logoMore and more people find their way to wilderness, and of course we would encourage everybody to get out there. But increasing numbers of visitors means a bigger impact on visited locations as well. This is why the Leave No Trace approach was developed.

With its motto take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, Leave no Trace means to raise awareness. Not only about the major harm our trash causes nature, but also about the micro-effects that our presence has on ecosystems. Effects that might seem insignificant, but are damaging all the same when accumulated over the years.

What’s there to learn?

Let’s assume we all know better than to throw a loud party in the middle of the woods. Still it might come as a surprise that even taking a shortcut off a designated hiking trail can cause problems on the long haul like erosion. And this is just one example of outdoor know-how that is not self-evident.

So initially, following the Leave No Trace camping method might feel like jumping through hoops. You’ll find out there are so many things to keep in mind before you start! What products are biodegradable, how do you move around, which places are safe for nature to sleep or cook, and what about going to the toilet when there is none? Leave No Trace has all the answers, and luckily, half the work comes down to good preparation.

Start with studying your designated area

First of all: research the area you are about to visit! Are there hiking paths you want to stick to, or do you actually want to avoid creating a path where there is none? In that case, walk on durable grounds such as rocks and dead grasses and disperse your impact by not following in someone else’s footsteps. Like they explain on their highly informative but slightly comical YouTube channel!


This goes for pitching your tent as well. Especially if you go outside of official camping areas and especially when you intend to stay in one place for more than one night. If you find a place that has recently been camped on, leave it to recover some more and look a little further. Try not to place your tent on top of delicate plants, or near to a stream where animals come to drink at night.

Speaking of animals, inform yourself on the species you might encounter. You don’t want to disrupt their natural habitat, so limiting your noise is essential. Also, leaving food (or even feeding them) affects their natural diet, so this is a definite no-go. And did you know your poo can cause distraction as well? It can, so this is another thing you want to consider!

The seven principles of Leave No Trace camping

Not all of us are scientists. So going into great detail about microbiology (although important) will only confuse people who want to learn more about conscious camping. That is why, as we already mentioned in our blog about hiking, the Leave No Trace Center for Ethics came up with 7 easy to adhere principles: rules to keep in mind when working towards a more sustainable way of enjoying the outdoors.

Here’s how you make a huge difference in 7 easy steps:

  1. Plan ahead
    Bad planning often results in problems that demand high impact solutions. Like getting lost and needing to mark your route. Instead, study your route in advance, educate yourself on the rules and regulations in the area and bring a map and compass so there’s no helicopter needed to safe your butt ;-)Edelweiss flower Switzerland
  2. Choose durable soils to walk and camp on
    Neglecting to do so can lead to vegetation and organisms being trampled on until nothing but barren lands and erosion are left. Also, you don’t want to harm endangered flora and fauna like wild Edelweiss flowers.
  3. Don’t leave any trash, take home what you brought along
    Warning sign for dog owners saying 'Here starts my cow's salad bowl! This is not a toilet for your dog, nor is it your trash can!'Not only is your trash a pain in the eye of your fellow traveller, it can seriously harm theecosystem. So take your garbage with you, even compostable fruit and vegetableleftovers. Some aren’t as biodegradable as you might think, like orange zest. Only use biodegradable detergents to clean your stuff, and preferably don’t use them in open water. And keep your poo away from water as well! Bury it at least 200 feet (60 m) from water sources and trails, in a hole at least six inches (15 cm) deep. Shovel it closed afterwards and take your toilet paper with you. The same goes for dog poo! Dog poo contains harmful bacteria that hurt other animal species, and when it touches water sources it is just as polluting as human poo. So, clean up after your four-legged friend.
  4. Leave nature as you found it
    So no adjustments in nature: don’t dig, don’t break or cut any branches, don’t hit nails into trees, don’t take sticks and rocks and don’t haul with logs. Animals and organisms live under there, so taking logs means spreading them, taking them out of their indigenous environments into others.  That’s why in many Canadian national parks you have to buy fire wood and cannot get it from the forest around you. Already on the right track? You can step up your Leave-No-Trace-game by also looking out for trash left by others and taking it along with you. This way you leave nature even better than you found it!
  5. Watch out with campfires
    Not only do you risk your campsite catching fire, but it requires collecting firewood as well and as we said: no adjustments to nature. Bring a gas-powered gas stove or use an existing fire ring and buy and bring your own firewood. And NEVER leave before your fire is completely out.
  6. Respect your neighbours, flora as well as fauna
    Don’t make too much noise. Never try to get in contact with animals. Make sure not to bother them during mating season and never feed them. Consider yourself a guest in their natural habitat and try not to do anything that might disturb their usual behaviour.
  7. Respect your fellow travellers
    Say hi to one another, keep quiet, give uphill hikers or passengers going faster than you the right of way and keep your dog on a leash. You don’t want Buster to go after wild animals.

Sounds not too hard, right?

Sustainable outdoor brands

Good news! More and more outdoor brands recognise the importance of working towards eco-friendly or Leave No Trace camping. So, packing in a sustainable way becomes easier as well. Take Patagonia for example, a brand that aims to create minimalistic, durable, functional and reparable gear. Moreover, Patagonia and also The North Face invest a percentage of their sales in green initiatives. About that, The North Face claims: ‘We were built on a love for the outdoors and it’s in our heritage to protect the places we love to play.’

Brands like these proudly declare their sustainability missions and visions on their websites, so upgrading to a more conscious packing-list does not have to be rocket science. Yet there are some brands we want to pay special attention to:

Big AgnesBig Agnes logo

Ever heard of Big Agnes? Big Agnes creates light-weights tents and sleeping gear for ‘camping in the dirt’, and in 2008 they launched their Re-Routt™ collection. Made out of recycled fabrics, this collection manufactured in the most environmentally sensitive way. And Big Agnes partnered up with Leave No Trace as well! We have a doublewide sleeping bag of Big Agnes ourselves.

Vaude tentVaude

Vaude produces tents in more or less the same way as Big Agnes. As we already pointed out in our product review, their tent from the ‘Green Shape’ line is made out of ‘sustainable materials and that […] manufactured under fair working conditions along the entire supply chain. From design, through production, care and maintenance, to repair and the product’s end of life. Some stuff of Vaude is made out of recycled coffee grounds and PET-bottles!’ What’s not to like about that? We have 2 tents of Vaude. One tiny tent ‘Power Lizard’ for trekking trips and one large one ‘Badawi’ for car camping trips.

EcoSoul Life

And then of course we have our all-time favourite EcoSoul Life! We wouldn’t go anywhere without their cups, plates, bowls and cutlery. Why? Because EcoSoul Life creates outdoor tableware that is not only made out of ecologically sourced materials, it is also 100% zero waste and biodegradable. You can return these products back to nature any time you like. How? Simply by putting them in the ground where they can easily resolve. Check our webshop to shop this super sustainable camp kitchen gear!

Baguette on an Abeego wrap.


You know what cool gadgets you can also purchase from our webshop? Food wraps made out of beeswax by Abeego! This is so cool: these wraps protect your food while at the same time they breathe, preserving it longer than ever. They are made out of beeswax, tree resin, organic jojoba oil infused into a hemp and organic cotton cloth. You can wash them in cold water with eco-friendly soap, and they will last over a year

Ready to become a Leave No Trace camper now?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, so it might take some time to figure out what works best for you. And of course, it’s not quite eco-friendly to replace all your camping gear at once anyway. But trust us: each time you start packing for a new trip, it gets easier to come up with zero waste and Leave No Trace camping solutions. Want to do more? There are several ways in which you can actively contribute to the Leave No Trace mission. Leave No Trace has more than one educational program you can get involved in, but you can also sign up as a volunteer, researcher or make a donation. Check their website to find out how!

We are excited, and hopefully after reading this you are too. So from now on: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, and enjoy sustainable camping!

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