A Deeper Commitment to Leave No Trace

The image is a late afternoon in a landscape with fall colors of green, orange and yellows. There are trees framing the image with a small river in the foreground.

#50 of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Sterns Scout Camp, South Haven, MN

I want to acknowledge this hike took place on the traditional territory of the Wahpekute and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ.

Trash Collected: Only my own garbage. This weekend was held at a Scout camp and the expectations are pretty high for cleaning up after yourself.


This summer has definitely challenged me to get some of the outdoor activities and projects I’d hope to complete. In a fit of optimism this spring while cooped up at home on the initial round of Covid-19 self-quarantine I registered for a class I’ve been wanting to take for a long time. Through the BSA there was a scheduled opportunity to take an in-person, camping included Leave No Trace Trainer weekend. I’ve been moving solidly toward making LNT practices part of my everyday life. Having the ability to teach others about LNT seemed the next logical step.

Photo shows a cardboard box and paper packing materials, a plastic flat pack envelope, a clear plastic bag with materials ordered in it. These are sitting on a gray counter top surface.
As I think about LNT practices, I look closely at packaging.
What do you see in the picture above that could be reduced or reused?

Prior to the weekend, I ordered a few materials from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics website. The order included the Educators Toolkit and Bigfoot’s Playbook: A Youth Educator’s Guide to Leave No Trace Activities, Games, and Experiential Curriculum. I had been pre-assigned the responsibility of teaching my fellow attendees about a mound fire, something I had never heard of before. The kit and some google searching lead me to the basics of why and where this technique would be used and how to accomplish it. I just needed to muster up the confidence to sound like I’d done it before.

Image of a tree in the right side foreground that has a black strap around it. Under the strap are thumb sized sticks. In the background there are more trees, including another from which a green hammock and rainfly are suspended. The leaves on the trees and covering the ground are shades of red, orange, yellow and pale green. A blue sky is in the background.

With my research complete, I packed my pack and headed to Sterns Scout Camp early on Friday afternoon so I could be sure to have my campsite set up before the class and dark. I checked in, selected a site that would provide me distance from the other participants and got to work. As I set up my hammock, I took time to place sticks under the straps for the hammock and tarp to relieve stress on the tree trunk to help prevent girdling. Once set up, I headed back to the building which would serve as our base for the weekend.

Masked, we gathered inside to begin our course. The first few hours of our education were comprised of learning the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace and discussing our own perceptions of LNT. The team training us explained the importance of understanding we would be spending the weekend discussing the guidelines, not rules, of Leave No Trace. That LNT is based in science. We discussed the BSA being the largest single land user in the U.S. How users impact the land, water and even social interactions. We played a game of Leave No Trace Jeopardy and were reminded that answers often are “it depends” responses. We finished up the evening with a better idea of what the next day would entail, including that we’d do nearly all of our learning out in the field.

The Seven Principles

These principles are based in scientific research as illustrated in the graphic to the left:

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

The evening was cool and quiet. I enjoyed time journaling to reflect on the evening in my hammock before drifting off to sleep.

Our full day of learning started with breakfast and coffee. All our meals would be prepared for us to be able to take single serving packets. I appreciated the thought and consideration put into making sure we could have the class as safely as possible. My favorite part of breakfast was a large bag of granola. I didn’t eat all of it so I tucked what was left into my daypack to snack on for the rest of the day.

The day’s learning started with a discussion of the Outdoor Ethics Code, followed by defining Front Country and Back Country. We learned some places you might first consider one or the other could be the opposite. The group shared their preferred learning styles – not surprising most of us felt that learning by doing was the most beneficial. We dissected backpacks to be sure they had the essential items we felt we needed for a day hike.

Throughout the afternoon we hiked and provided demonstrations assigned to share with the group. At every turn there was a lesson learned, another question raised and critical thinking required. The mantra of “it depends” was driven home. The examples provided opportunity to experience our content through action.

One of my favorite demonstrations was around the concept of “I’m just one person” We stood in a distanced circle with candy wrappers gained from previous activity. We all dropped our wrapper saying “I’m just one person”. The visual of all those pieces on the ground was so impactful. Equally so was the next step where we all reached for our wrapper and picked it up while saying “I’m just one person.” again. As I watched all those wrappers disappear, it was a visual reminder all the work I’ve done this year picking up trash is worth it.

A lively discussion of peeing and pooping in the outdoors was punctuated with a cat-hole digging activity. The activity illustrated why it’s important to take time to do so properly and how long it can take to actually dig a proper cat-hole. It’s a lot longer than you’d think!

We enjoyed dinner outside where I shared an example of a camping meal which had more packaging than actual food.

Our third and last day in camp include more activities to illustrate the complexity of making decisions about Leave No Trace principles. We completed an Ethics Game challenge. The group was presented with two LNT scenarios and asked to move to the position which was the “worst” of the two. After several rounds it was clear the decisions we were confronted with are not always clear cut to define what is worse. We had discussion after each round about why something was our “worst” of the two, which helped to also see differing perspectives based on background, activity and location.

Leaving camp on the last day I realized that I’d come away with a deeper, more complex understanding of why the Leave No Trace principles are just that – principles. Not rules. Because it all depends on where you are, what you are doing and who you are with to make the best decision you can.

Interested in having a session on LNT for your group or company? I’m available to provide both virtual and in-person sessions as current health regulations allow. Reach out for more information or to schedule a session!

Next Post Preview: With Minnesota cold settling in, its time for a quick look at a cold weather jacket option for the next Gear in Review.


GEAR: Merrell Women’s Siren 3 Mid Waterproof, Columbia® Women’s Arcadia II Rain Jacket, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Women’s Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA trekking poles, ENO DoubleNest Hammock with Atlas Straps, Guardian Bug Net and Pro Rainfly, Paria Thermodown 30 down quilt, REI Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Seat™, MSR Pocket Rocket Stove, GSI Pinnacle Dualist Cookset, MSR® IsoPro™ Fuel. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets or check out my posts titled “Gear in Review”.

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Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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