3 Reasons #LeaveNoTrace is Pointless | Prove Me Wrong

I would like to start by saying that I personally and strongly support the #LeaveNoTrace movement. I am NOT trying to minimize the progress they have made in helping to better preserve the outdoors, specifically our nature preserves. Remaining aware of our personal and collective footprint that we leave on this earth is valuable and something I firmly stand behind.

I simply want to expound on opposing arguments to present some viewpoints that might be worth considering. I’ll be taking a stance that I do not necessarily agree with, and arguing in its favor.

Also, I’d like to announce that theDIHEDRAL is now on Facebook! If you’d like to interact with us a bit more, check out what the team is up to, or strike up a conversation with us in messages, click here to like our page! It definitely helps us out.

Lastly, I’ve taken the liberty of abbreviating “Leave No Trace” to LNT. IPIWDITAE.

LNT is an organization and movement that has set the standard for outdoor recreation, and how we are to eliminate our impact as we engage in outdoor activity. They have been working since 1994 with their Seven Main Principles to protect the nature and wildlife that remains on the planet. Here are some of the most popular criticisms against its existence.

Criticism #1

People take #LeaveNoTrace waaaaay overboard.

Anyone who is covering their tracks with the amount of effort it takes to TRULY leave no trace is NOT someone I want to get caught up with. You’d have to be some kind of criminal to want to move through the woods that discreetly. If you see someone covering up their footprints in the woods, REPORT THEM. It may sound silly, but some people take the words “Leave No Trace” to be literal. This isn’t necessarily the stance of the actually LNT organization, but that doesn’t stop these zealous naturalists from holding their friends (and anyone else near them) to their own high standards.

The fact is, a person who can move through any natural environment without leaving any impression has never lived on this Earth. We leave a trace, and we always will. If you REALLY subscribe to true LNT principles, you just shouldn’t go outside in the first place.

So the expert criminal I referenced above is running from the police. He somehow manages to cross a huge forest without stepping on a single blade of grass, and without disturbing any wildlife. He hasn’t stepped on an ant, and he hasn’t scared any birds from their nests. (He really cares about the environment, so he takes the saying “Leave No Trace” seriously) At this point, he’s going through so much trouble, that turning himself in and serving the time might be easier.

It’s getting late, so he lays his body down on a flat, smooth boulder. He’s careful not to crush a dandelion leaning against his newfound bed, soaking up the last bit of light from the setting sun. Shutting his eyes, he wonders why the boulder is so smooth. Then it hits him. The sound of rushing water meets his ears as his eyes snap open.

A river is about 100 feet to his right. He’ll have to find another place to sleep. The LNT guidelines require that he must sleep outside of a 200-foot radius from a water source. He doesn’t see any other smooth rocks around, and he can’t lay down on a bed of fresh grass and risk a disturbance.

Guess he’ll have to keep moving. And that takes us to our next criticism.

Criticism #2

LNT principles are simply unrealistic. They aren’t making a very big difference, and in some ways, they are just downright pointless.

“Pack it in Pack it Out” is a large part of leaving no trace. This one takes things a bit too far. Of course, we should pick up our trash, but this rule also mandates that we pack out all fluids, extra food, and papers as well. Haven’t you ever heard of a compost bin? I want to throw my apple core into the woods, and some lucky squirrel would probably LOVE to have it.

Even if a squirrel doesn’t get to indulge itself in that sugary goodness, the plants growing in the area would love the soil it enriches as it quickly decomposes. By this standard, does an apple tree violate the LNT principles when it’s apples drop off to grow into more trees on the ground? If I packed myself a delicious granny smith apple and decided to throw it next to a conveniently placed granny smith apple tree after I have finished eating it, have I really harmed the environment? According to the LNT website, I have.

Do we really need to be this strict with the things we can or can’t leave behind after camping?

Criticism #3

There seems to be a bit of hypocrisy, as the people who subscribe to LNT are parking their cars in parking lots paved over where trees used to be. Roads, power lines, and constructions cut their way into the national parks so that hikers, tourists, and (yes, even climbers) can enjoy the beautiful terrain.

Whether or not you are following the LNT principles, do you think the manufacturer of your North Face Jacket leaves a trace? Probably. It might feel good to imagine that you’re “just a part of the landscape” as you take a day hike into the mountains, but all your expensive equipment screams otherwise. Stop holding others to a high standard, when you don’t follow that standard in the first place.

Maybe we really only have two options. We either forget our rules and just do what we want with the Earth, or we stop expanding, stop having offspring, and stop going outside at all.

I want to know where you stand. Feel free to refute any of these points below. Bring it!

Click here to check out the Official LNT Principles including the ones I mentioned in the blog.

If you feel strongly, consider volunteering with Leave No Trace. You can check out some awesome opportunities HERE.

Don’t forget to share! I look forward to hearing from all of you!

Casen Co-writer theDIHEDRAL


66 thoughts on “3 Reasons #LeaveNoTrace is Pointless | Prove Me Wrong

  1. Martha Kennedy says:

    I stand with “educate people not to mess up heavily trafficked natural places.” That’s where I stand. My little walking spot where I’ve been able to take my dogs and my bad hip for the past year or is also the destination for a lot of ignorant and/or selfish folks who don’t know HOW to pay attention to the fact we’re in a drought, the land is fragile, the plants have shallow roots, mountain bikes dig ruts in mud, cigarette butts might not have been extinguished when they’re carelessly flicked onto the trail (and maybe they miss!), animal trails are for animals, vodka bottles are NOT meant to be thrown into bushes, used condoms are disgusting. Just because there are 900 million billion trillion empty acres in this part of Colorado doesn’t make nature a commodity. I guess I’m with the “Clean Up Your Room” contingent. I basically want most people to frequent city parks and walk on sidewalks.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Miss Sylvia says:

      Your comment, Martha, reminds me what happened to The Dark Hedges (Northern Ireland). It used to be a long truly dark path. Now is somewhat creepy when the sun goes down. What happened to the darkness? Well, selfish stupid people have been parking their cars anywhere they please. As those are ancient trees, the roots aren’t all too strong and the wood and branches tend to fall off. So people parking anywhere next to the trees or almost on them, damage the soil and the trees and the poor things started to fall or get tumbled by storms and heavy rains.
      If people would stop in the beginning of the hedge and walk it through, they would actually enjoy the place and wouldn’t harm nature.
      I hope one day people will learn not to throw Vodka bottles in the bushes and not to park on the trees’ roots.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. VanMarmot says:

    Yes, there’s hypocrisy associated with trying to ignore the long trail of “trace” one leaves behind gearing up for a hike or backpack and then getting to a trailhead. I get that, but I still think the LNT ethic is a good one and it’s better to try to follow it (within reason) than not. It’s just NOT THAT HARD to avoid littering as you hike or to leave your campsite as nice or better than you found it or to pick-up some trash (yours or someone else’s) on your way out or to not cut switchbacks or to not throw uneaten food out in the woods (where it’s not good for the wildlife and just might attract something much bigger and hungrier to your camp than a squirrel), and so on. My experience is that LNT gets followed better and better the further one gets from a trailhead.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. MK says:

    I’ve lived in the desert for a long time and people throw their “biodegradables” on the ground (orange and banana peels, toilet paper). In a desert these things last forever. The dry up into husks just sitting there for a very long time.

    Second…animals should eat what’s in their surroundings. Feeding apples ect could harm them and teach them I’ll meaning humans are cool food sources. Jus sayin.

    I really like your counter argument though…fun critical thinking.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Anna B. says:

    I had no clue LNT was an organization with a full set of guidelines… It was always just a bare basic sort of etiquette that I grew up with- and it pretty much only meant 1. Being careful not to let your trash get too strewn around in the first place; 2. Picking up all your trash (and cigarette butts, etc) before you left and either burning it, or ensuring it got into the proper receptacles provided on site by the groundskeepers.

    Knowing what I do as a civilian conservationist, you couldn’t convince me to knowingly risk introducing a cultivated invasive species to the environment by throwing any seedable food into the woods…. You definitely wouldn’t catch me going so far as to clean up my foot prints (really, that’s just absurd)… But I think I definitely like (at least the version of) the guidelines Io grew up with- even knowing the origins of them now.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Anna B. says:

        Hardly a professional; the real professionals are, of course, actual conservationists and scientists- and people who do Civilian Conservation in an actual professional and more scientific capacity! I’m more a layperson with a passion by comparison to some of the amazing people I’ve met in the field, lol… But I’m glad I could help add another perspective to the discussion ^_^

        Liked by 1 person

  5. brbtrade says:

    It’s not an all-or-nothing situation. The “rules” laid out by LNT are “best practice” guidelines. We need to do the best that we can in any given circumstance, knowing that no one can ever eliminate their environmental footprint entirely. Those rules are there to show us how to be perfect, but we all know that no one is perfect. They give us a “shoot-for-the-stars” goal so that we can be better, even if we can’t be perfect.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. thedihedral says:

      Great point. You’re saying It’s more of a aiming point than a strict set of rules. What then would you say to someone who is self-rightenously holding others to that standard of “perfection”?


  6. thedihedral says:

    I don’t completely think it has to do with whether you’re left or right on the political spectrum… Anyone can get caught up in self righteousness​ or tr​ying to gain some sort of moral highground.​

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anna B. says:

      The whole idea of “left vs right” in the first place is a fairly good example of “gett[ting] caught up in self righteousness​ or tr​ying to gain some sort of moral high ground”, even… And I definitely agree: LNT or any similar theory (conservation, protection, etc) really transcends any sort of man made political ideology derived from man made political structures. Or, at the very least, it should.


  7. Eilene Lyon says:

    It seems that in order to get to some sort of middle ground we have to be presented with polar opposite opinions. I will never meet all LNT standards. But I do my best to minimize my impact, because that is my personal ethic. If you make it sound too onerous, some people will just throw up their hands and say “Forget it!” Sadly, too many people feel that the world is theirs to trash. Promoting LNT is not likely to solve the problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thedihedral says:

      Right! I believe that almost all people have good intentions when correcting others when they may stray from LNT guidelines. However, it is important that they look at the way they are presenting the information so that the other person listens and receives the information! Good intentions do no good if they are not presented respectfully and with tact! Thank you for your insight.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Marguerite says:

    To be honest I had never heard of this movement, but think it is a good idea (even if it is hypocritical and some people go extreme brushing away their footprints) because during picnic season, the amount of mess people leave is actually dispicable. Quite upsetting actually for the nature lovers among us. It’s quite important for people who see others leaving their rubbish to call them out on it FACE TO FACE – as anal as you come across, it will most likely have way more effect than a hashtag movement.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thedihedral says:

      for sure. It is important, I might add, that we do it in a way that will be received well. If you are “anal” the uninformed may feel tempted to leave a mess just to spite you! Thank you for the great comment!


  9. halffastcyclingclub says:

    When I was a Boy Scout we had a simple rule: “leave it cleaner than you found it.” This seems to be a common sense adaptation of LNT, and for areas in which a trace is already clearly there. It also eliminated the argument (you might recall your 12 year old self saying this), “It’s not mine. I didn’t put it there. Why should I have to pick it up?” (P.S. I liked your image of the fugitive leaving no trace.)

    Liked by 2 people

      1. NGF says:

        Oh I also shared your post on my blog, don’t really have much of a following yet since I just started taking blogging seriously but it’s worth a shot 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. FreedomInMountains says:

    Never came across a LNT fundamentalist in Ireland – so far. It was a good read though.. had a chuckle with the criminal in the wood part. Alas LNT still has a long way to go overhere as every walk I am on I end up carrying out pieces of trash from somebody else (empty sports drink bottles, power bar wrappers usually the main items).

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Moxie Oliver says:

    Hey great article. I’m a huge hiker and appreciate showing both sides of a concept. Anytime my hiking partner burns her Ziploc bag after a meal she states ‘someone is going to cry about this’. I have a hiking blog (https://mandyo3.wixsite.com/vitamindirtblog) I am going to post this to, and see who we can’t get stirred up a bit, lol. Long live LNT! Happy hiking!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Moxie Oliver says:

      So I added a link to this blog post on my “guest bloggers” section of my blog on hiking on Wix. I don’t know how to share it between the two sites otherwise, lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. happyalfano says:

    I really like this article and began to write a response… it got long. I wrote a full response on my blog. I won’t link it here, but I have a link to this post in mine. Thanks for the insight!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. randomjanie says:

    There was an article I once read that spoke on the compost (wanting to throw your apple core into the woods) and while I semi-agree with what you spoke about I also agree with that article. It spoke about if too many of us were to ‘compost’ in that manner then it would lead to the same affect as ‘feeding the animals’. This would cause them to rely solely upon the foods that were tossed into the woods and they would stop attempting to forage for themselves. It could lead to a disaster. But, at the same time, it would feel as though one apple core wouldn’t be a horrible issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thedihedral says:

      exactly. It might FEEL like not a big deal, but this is definetly a time where we may be making a bigger impact than we think with that apple core. “Brad Nixon” made some great points to that subject if you’d like to read his point of view in the comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Brad Nixon says:

    I appreciate your skepticism. It may be impractical to adhere to all the LNT guidelines, but they’re extremely helpful in creating mindfulness about how and where we walk, what we do, how and why. Your criminal example is the sort of reducto ad absurdum not permitted in serious debate, so I’ll ignore it. However, I’ve hiked in the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico, an example of a landscape that not only retains every footprint one makes, but may preserve it there for several years if there’s no rain; there’s nothing else that will alter it. No, I didn’t try to tamp out my footprints; I tried to walk on stonier ground so I would erode the stunning landscape.
    No, your apple core doesn’t belong in the woods. It’s a hybrid, it’s been fertilized, treated with insecticides and fungicides, probably coated with wax, and may have come from another continent. It’s not the native food for the squirrel, bird or any other animal that’ll encounter it there, and not part of that ecosystem. An extreme possibility is that the seed in any vegetable or fruit might take root, and represent one more of the countless invasive species we humans introduce that can wreak genuine havoc. Take it home and compost it there.
    Thanks for inviting comments, and keep hiking and climbing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. thedihedral says:

      Thats a very good point. The truth is, I thought the Apple point was the strongest point, but you guy’s have torn it to shreds! It’s great to go in depth and learn more! Thank you for your great comment and very good point!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Brad Nixon says:

        And I appreciate the point of view you took. It’s a worthwhile discussion. Thanks for the open minded manner in which you’ve taken opposing views. I’m considering a blog post in relation to it, but it may not pan out. Thoughtful. Happy hiking.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. 2 More Miles... says:

    Finally, a voice of reason! LNT has seemingly become a “religion” for some. As far as I’m concerned they have reinvented the wheel. When I was young(er) the motto was “Give a hoot, Don’t pollute”, and more importantly, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This basically meant be responsible and conscientious in EVERY facet of one’s life. This (outdoor) value apparently got lost when virtual recreation (video games) became the norm for kids as opposed to playing outside in the dirt. If LNT helps people be more mindful, AND get outside, then more power to the movement. But it’s just silly to think we are capable of Leaving No Trace. You’d have to die to do that, oh wait, that doesn’t work either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thedihedral says:

      Great point, ALTHOUGH I would disagree with you on the video games part. It’s very arguable that the majority of the destruction we’ve done to the Earth was done before they were even invented during the inustrial revolution. We are really seeing much of the Earth-Concious ​individuals in the millinieal​​ generation, many of which grew up with video games.


      1. 2 More Miles... says:

        I agree with the destructive consequences of the Industrial Revolution, but then those technological advances allowed the expansion to the West, and frankly our ability to communicate electronically. It’s a Yin Yang kinda thing. Championing the environment and/or outdoor recreation is not new or exclusive to the “millennials”, but in fact became “Vogue” with the conservation movement championed through Theodore Roosevelt, via his personal experiences that includes influence by the likes of John Muir. If you’re looking for a good read, check out “The Wilderness Warrior” by Douglas Brinkley. My point about the video games, was the fact that the concept and/or desire to play outside as well as an “innate” outdoor ethic, such as LNT seemed to have been “lost” (as the “need” to practice such values was not reinforced, with active and regular outdoor recreation) with introduction of virtual reality, video play. I saw this early in my professional life, but am glad to see the swing back to active and early introduction to outdoor recreation, thus the resurgence or reintroduction of the active practice and social norms of LNT.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. sibellabeyondtheveil says:

    I think you’re right. It is impossible to not leave some trace behind unless you just don’t go outside and there’s no benefit in that. Our ancestors were always outside, so as long as you clean up after yourself and respect the wildlife you should be fine.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Nathan Rogers says:

    There is a quote at the visitor centre at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo Australia by Yvonne Hill, an aboriginal, that sums up my view:
    “…nowhere is empty, nowhere is wilderness, because everywhere is story. Different peoples have left different marks on country. What marks will you leave?”

    I love this. Everywhere is story.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. pkadams says:

    Every ‘tribe’ has its zealots, fanatics, and nutcases who take everything too literally and to the extreme. I would just be SUPER happy if people would stop littering the trails and parks and teach their children not to litter. As more third world people come to America, we must educate them that we do not litter here. (That is not racist, so don’t say it is.)

    Liked by 1 person

  19. PKBM Gesit says:

    I like our page! .to protect the nature and wildlife that remains on the planet
    I like our page! .to protect the nature and wildlife that remains on the planet


  20. Matt & Bailey says:

    Good read. For me, it’s mostly about trash. I continue to see trash on the trail and trash where backpackers normally camp. We passed by a couple of hikers a few weeks ago who informed us that someone had left a gigantic empty alcohol container at a campsite. We also saw our own fair share of wrappers and empty packaging left by other hikers.

    I feel like this is the main reason to continue drilling LNT principles. Not the overkill of the message, but the overkill of the trash along the trail. I tend to agree about it not being some holy grail, though. It should mostly be a common sense teaching lesson, because there are clearly still those without any from what we continue to see and hear on our trips.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Karen says:

    If you threw your Granny Smith apple core under a Granny Smith apple tree, it might be OK. As long as it was a local organic apple.
    Thanks for making us think outside of our nature-loving LNT boxes.

    Liked by 1 person


    I agree with the trash comments, its like being in your house, you wouldn’t just leave trash on the floor would you? but the apple, just like at home it goes into the garden for compost. i just feel man made products should be packed out, but poop is natural and is okay to be buried! that’s my two cents, if its worth that… good article to make you think differently. thanks dude!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. JOY journal says:

    I live in Appalachia, where the line between wild and anything less is a fuzzy one. Bears and pileated woodpeckers in the yard. Deer on the front porch etc. LNT is good, but working out some common-sense policies and lifestyle habits that don’t make such a strong distinction as to what is nature and what is not may be the better long-term option. All life is going to be living closer together. We’ve got to get along on multiple levels.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. sd says:

    LNT is a set of guidelines (principles)… not rules. The main purpose being awareness. No one is saying “you must do this or do that”… they’re just saying that these are best practices and if you follow the principles to the best of your ability, then you will leave the outdoors and our wild places as good or even better for the next person. As an LNT trainer… I do make this point in my classes, and also that everyone who learns LNT, to pass it on…. especially since more and more people are getting outdoors. Truly, our wild places are becoming too crowded so we all need to do our part.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Miss Sylvia says:

    Personally I’m not fanatic with the leave no trace. I just try not to harm others (including animals) and keep my rubbish in a bag so I can dump it as soon as I find a bin. I’m not concerned about food leftovers, they’ll be eaten by ants, worms, birds and a long etcetera.
    I understand what someone said about the desert. It’s pretty obvious that things in extreme dryness last forever (like the mummies in Ancient Egypt), but I guess many people just don’t think before doing.
    I enjoyed the article and I agree with it. OTOH, I think sometimes you need to get a bit extremist to get people to pay attention. Particularly the kind of people who doesn’t give a damn about anyone except themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Merl Yusten says:

    Yes, I’ve pondered that! But decided to do the best I can. As a 13 yr seasonal Wilderness Ranger got to practice what I preached to the public, gave talks at some Wilderness Rendezvous, & living the life.
    #1- You can’t LNT so = Minimum Impact
    #2- Tread Lightly = considering the terrain & vegetation
    #3- Cryptobiotic Soils= Following each other or travel in washes
    #4-Stoves or if Fire was needed= in a Pit if Possible considering environment. Proper Clothes preclude the need of fire!
    #5-Renaturalize Impacts
    My thot was that someone could come by 15 minutes later & only evidence would be footprints which the first Rain would Erase…
    Just 👍 like a gentle breeze…LNT

    Liked by 1 person

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