A couple weeks ago I posted a blog about the 7 principles of Leave No Trace when hiking, backpacking, and camping: Click here to see blog post. This week, I am following up on that topic. I interviewed Zane Wolf, who used to work for the Forest Service. He had some awesome tips and insights on how to effectively care for the environment, prevent damage, and enjoy it simultaneously!

man with a mustache smiling

Zane Wolf

Question: What were the top mistakes you saw people make in regards to LNT (Leave No Trace)?

The answer Zane gave surprised me, but made so much sense. He said, “Leave No Trace has a kind of polarizing effect when it’s used unhealthily. You can see somebody who’s not practicing a LNT principle, and you could jump down their throat about it…but that isn’t going to solve anything. If you approach them in a healthy manner and give them some pointers on what they could do better in the future without being confrontational and rude, you are perpetuating a true outdoor steward lifestyle far better than if you were to act like an elitist.”

If we want to protect our environment, then we have to be aware that sometimes our attempts might come off as judgmental or confrontational. No one wants to be lectured, so if you see someone not abiding by LNT, take a moment to be sure your words won’t sound argumentative.

Question: What was the most shocking effect of people not practicing LNT that you saw while working for the Forest Service?

Nothing could have prepared me for the answer that came out of Zane’s mouth. While working on the Forest Service, Zane got a call from some hunters asking if they could shoot an elk with a tracking collar. The hunters were told that was fine, but to return the tracking collar to the Forest Service. Not long after, Zane recalls, “they called us back and told us that the elk didn’t actually have a tracking collar on at all, but that it was a toilet seat.” He said that when they saw the elk’s body, the skin on it’s neck had grown around the seat. This meant that the poor animal had been living with this for over a year. It’s hard to think about something like this happening, but it’s important to realize the damage we can cause if we don’t practice LNT principles.

male elk in a field surrounded by female elk

Question: What LNT mistakes are often made that create more of an issue than people realize?

Something that Zane saw all too much of during his time with the Forest Service was people failing to hike and camp on durable surfaces. Most hikers who don’t know about LNT often assume that going off trail, or pitching a tent wherever they see fit, couldn’t cause THAT much damage. Unfortunately, it really does effect the environment significantly. Zane gave a great example of these effects on trail switchbacks. Because water flows downhill, switchbacks are put in place for shedding water as slowly as possible. This reduces the amount of sediment being taken by the rain. When people hike up a mountain and go off of the designated switchback trail, it defeats the purpose entirely. The less functional a switchback becomes, the more vegetation is killed. This then forces animals to move down the mountain for food. When that happens, the population of animals forced to relocate is often decimated by hunting. Again, a sad reality, but an important truth to remember.

Question: What are some of your tips and tricks for effectively and easily practicing LNT?

Zane stressed the importance of principle 5, which is to minimize campfire impact. As I discussed in the last LNT blog, it’s always best to not use a fire at all. Instead, try to use a camp stove, which will automatically leave no trace. If you do build a fire, here are a few pointers from Zane:

  1. Make sure to put the fire in a hole that is at least 7 inches deep if there is no pre-existing fire ring.
  2. If you are in an environment/climate that allows you to burry your fire to put it out, there is a specific way to do this. Zane said that if you stick your hand in the dirt and it is still hot, then the fire isn’t sufficiently put out.

Campfire at night

Another way Zane likes to use LNT is in his personal life. This viewpoint is one I hadn’t thought of, but really love. Here are a few of his methods for applying the LNT mindset to your everyday life:

  1.  “As far as traveling and camping on durable surfaces, that applies directly to building a foundation with your life upon something that you know is sound.”
  2. “You can plan ahead and prepare, and make a good life plan. You can be prepared for what the consequences may be if you decide to go out on a limb.”
  3. “Minimizing campfire impact, to me, applies directly to burning bridges. Don’t burn a bridge that you might need someday.”
  4. “Disposing of waste properly is something that applies directly to your mental health. Don’t stuff something down in a corner emotionally where it doesn’t need to be. If you need to dish something out, then dish it out right then in a healthy way instead of letting it fester.”


I’m really glad Zane agreed to do this interview, and am happy to say I gained a lot of valuable information and advice. My hope is that I can spread this insight to all of you. If you can adopt the LNT principles, both on and off the trail, then your relationship with yourself, others, and the environment will be more fulfilling and enjoyable.



Shallow focus photography of backpack on top of boulder

Anyone who loves the outdoors knows how important it is to protect and preserve it. Leaving no trace is one of the most important rules for any hiker, backpacker, camper, or nature enthusiast. In order to help spread awareness about what it means to respect and maintain the natural world, here are 7  guidelines laid out by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to help you know how to be responsible on your next adventure! You can check out the organization’s website here for even more information and tips on protecting and respecting nature!

Come Prepared

Planning your trip ahead of time is definitely one of the best ways to reduce the chance of damaging the environment. By thoroughly researching the terrain, weather, and rules/regulations of an area, you will be better prepared. This makes you less likely to damage surrounding wildlife, yourself, and others.

A map with various hiking gear on top of it

Quick Tip:

Plan for one-pot meals! One-pot meals are exactly what it sounds like: they are dishes that can be prepared using a single piece of cookware (pot, pan, etc.) By preparing and packing ingredients for meals that can be cooked using a pot and your camp stove, you are automatically reducing the amount of waste you create. Take time before your trip to remove all ingredients or snacks from commercial packaging, and transfer them into reusable bags and containers. This way you’re eliminating unwanted trash from the beginning!

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Hiking or walking off marked trails is another big issue when it comes to leaving no trace.  Avoid going off trail when possible so as not to damage the surrounding vegetation. If you have to go off the trail, however, here are a few tips to help you minimize your footprint:

The Three W’s: Watch Where you Walk

A “durable surface” is one that is capable of withstanding being walked/camped on without sustaining significant damage. Rock, sand, and gravel are great examples of durable surfaces. Always choose to walk on a durable surface before anything else. When it comes to walking off trail through vegetation, you can take certain precautions to help maintain the plant growth in the area. If possible, try to choose a spot with either sparse or durable vegetation (such as dry grass). By choosing these areas, you can step carefully and even avoid the vegetation entirely so you may rest assured that you caused the least amount of damage possible to the surrounding plants. Try to avoid wet meadows and other more fragile vegetation during any off-trail excursion.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Camping

When choosing the perfect campsite, it’s always best to go for the ones that other campers have already used responsibly and carefully enough that further camping will cause no more noticeable damage. Finding these durable surfaces, where there is no vegetation growing (either naturally or from repetitive use), is the best way to leave no trace when setting up camp. If you can’t find a place that is already a designated camping spot to pitch your tent, then make sure to take certain precautions during your stay there such as:

  1. If you are traveling in a group, spread the tents out to avoid concentrated damage on a small area.
  2. Wear soft shoes at the camp to help prevent damaging plants and insects. Or better yet, try to avoid stepping on vegetation at all if possible.
  3. If you are out camping more than one night, move your campsite daily to minimize damage to one spot.
  4. When breaking camp, try to return the area to the way you found it by covering your tracks with pine needles or dead leaves. This will help ensure that other people won’t camp in the exact same place and end up killing off the plant life in that area (people tend to set up camp in places where it’s obvious that others have too).

orange tent in the forest

Disposing of Trash Properly

A great rule of thumb for leaving no trace is the popular saying “Pack it in, Pack it out.” It is every individual’s responsibility to ensure that whatever is packed up and brought into nature, is also packed up and brought out. There are so many ways to do this, from packing food in reusable containers, to simply carrying a bag to properly dispose of your trash afterwards. And no matter what, do not dispose of trash in your campfire or bury it in the ground. Campfire burning or burying trash does much more harm than good.

Make it Fun

If you have little ones with you, there’s always room for making mundane tasks into fun games, and cleaning up trash is no exception! Challenging your kids to find as much litter as possible and asking them to collect it to dispose of later is not only a fun challenge, but a great opportunity to teach them about the importance of respecting nature.

Leave What you Find

It may not seem like a big deal to bring home a few flowers from your hike or a handful of river rocks from your day on the water, but when everyone does it, a problem starts to arise. Not only is it respectful to the environment to leave things where you find them (except trash of course), but it also preserves the experience for others looking to appreciate nature. If you see something you like on your hike, snap a picture instead, then leave it be.


Be a Tree Hugger:

Trees do so much for us and our ecosystems, so respecting them is the least we can do. When you go out on your next outdoor adventure, make sure to avoid hammering nails into trees, breaking their limbs, and especially carving things into their trunks.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

Sure, it’s always fun to build a big campfire and roast marshmallows and hotdogs with friends, but if not done properly and responsibly, this seemingly innocent act can cause a lot of damage to the surrounding environments. It is ALWAYS better to use a camp stove instead of a fire, because camp stoves leave no trace. If you are going to build a fire though, the best spot to build one is in an existing fire-ring at a campsite. Assuming you don’t have access to a fire-ring, here are a few reasonable precaution to take when building your campfire:

  1. Be aware of the location you choose to build your campfire, and the seasonal fire risks involved.
  2. Build your campfire out of dry, dead wood that you find on the ground instead of chopping branches off of living or fallen trees. These trees function as homes for small animals and insects.
  3. Put your campfire out properly. You can do this by burning the wood you used to white ash, grinding up the remaining coals in your hands, soaking them with water, then scattering them over a large area away from your campfire site. As always, be extra careful and make sure that there are no remaining embers after you scatter the soaked coals.

Respect Wildlife

Respecting wildlife is a key component to leaving no trace, so here are a few tips on how to interact with the animals we share environments with:

  1. Don’t yell at, chase, or harass any wildlife. This disrupts their natural behavior and routine, and is just downright rude.
  2. It’s never good to condition wild animals to think that humans are a food source, so refrain from giving them your leftovers or some treats from your snack bag. This often leads to either the animal or other people being harmed due to false trust and misleading signals.
  3. Be respectful and understanding of the fact that animals don’t like quick movements and loud noises, so be mindful when in their habitats (if you are in bear country however, a bit of noise is good to help warn the bear of your presence and avoid startling him or her).
  4. If you are camping, pitch your tent at least 200 feet away from the closest water source. This allows the local wildlife to get water without the fear of humans being in their path.

Mother deer and fawn standing in green grass

Be Considerate of Others

When you hit the trail, don’t forget to keep the other nature lovers in mind. That means conducting yourself in a respectful and appropriate way, and teaching anyone under your care how to do the same. Most people don’t want to immerse themselves in the peacefulness of the outdoors, only to be met with the sound of screaming children, or an unruly off-leash dog. Understanding that you aren’t the only one out there is both beneficial to others and the environment you are in.

Now that you know the 7 basics for leaving no trace and respecting the place we are lucky enough to call home, it’s time to spread the word and help others understand how their actions impact the ecosystem.