Why ​Every Hiker Should Take a Leave No Trace Course

Leave No Trace Principles (also referred to simply as LNT)​, are the golden rules for outdoor ethics. Backpackers, climbers, hunters, bikers… all follow the seven rules to help minimize their effects on our trails and recreational spaces. Being a thru-hiker, or anyone that regularly spends a good amount of time outside, means having the responsibility of not only following these principles, but fully understanding them.

Seasoned hikers are easy to spot—their confidence, ease on difficult terrain, and muddy hiking boots are giveaways to many day hikers on the trails. Being considered an experienced hiker often means you know the low down on gear, you can climb mountains with ease, and know all the best trail foods, but these privileges come with responsibilities.

We as experienced hikers must set the example for the new comers. It is us after all who use the land and trails most weekends out of the year. Aside from taking care of it ourselves, we should be urging every person who steps foot on the trails to follow LNT and protect the places we love.

By taking a Leave No Trace course, you are not only arming yourself with the skills needed to minimize your personal impact on the trail, but learning ways to successfully teach novices how to follow the principles as well. It is easy to get bent out of shape and yell at the day hiker who carved their name in a tree and then threw their trash on the ground. But, by taking a LNT course you can learn effective ways to respectfully and kindly call them out on their actions and quickly teach them why it is wrong.

Let’s be honest though, it’s not only day hikers or the inexperienced who make mistakes – sometimes even a badass Triple Crowner may have a few questions about specific principles. For many hikers, we sometimes follow the principles because we know we should, but we may not know the exact reason why. Taking a course gives you clarity and finally gives the answers to questions such as: “Why shouldn’t a cat hole be deeper than 8 inches?” “Why can’t I leave my dog’s poop on the trail?” and “Why can’t I throw my apple core on the ground to compost?” By gaining personal clarity and awareness, you will become a better teacher and follower of the principles, which in turn will help make our trails that much better of a place.

My favorite part about taking a Leave No Trace course? Access to professional advice from the trainers. Every hike and every trail is different, and this is your best opportunity to ask really specific questions about exactly what to do in certain tricky situations.

With courses ranging from Awareness Workshop (30 minutes – 1 day), Trainer Courses (2 days), or Master Educator Courses (5 days), there is an option for every interest level and need.

Awareness Workshops

These workshops are the lowest level on the 3 tiered structure for LNT training, regardless this course is perfect for anyone who wants to dive a little bit deeper into the principles but only has a few hours to do so. The course will give you a more in depth look at why we follow the principles, and touches on ways to educate others in correctly following LNT.

Trainer Courses

This 2 day course is the second tier in LNT training and is essentially a condensed version of a Master Educator Course. This makes Trainer Courses perfect for those who want to learn how to better educate their coworkers, family, friends, and those they meet on the trail. The courses can take place at a large variety of locations such as National Parks, State Parks, schools, and camps. Successful graduates receive a certificate of completion and the ability to teach an Awareness Workshop!

Master Educator Courses

The final tier in LNT training includes an intensive 5 day course. Master Educator Courses are designed for people who are actively teaching backcountry skills, and the completion of this course is highly respected throughout much of the outdoor industry. The first day of the course is spent in the classroom, but the remainder is taught during a 4 day backpacking trip where you actively practice and perfect following the principles. Successful graduates gain the ability to teach both Trainer Courses and Awareness Workshops as well as better access to LNT teaching resources through the organization.

Nationally, there are over 6,200 LNT Master Educators, and 32,000 LNT Trainers – let’s keep this number growing. Together, by learning the principles and sharing with others, we can help keep our trails and wild places beautiful for generations of hikers to come.

As a little refresher, the Leave No Trace 7 principles for outdoor ethics are:
  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

For more information on Leave No Trace courses, visit lnt.org!


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Comments 5

  • John Edward Harris : Jul 14th

    Thanks for keeping LNT before readers of The Trek. I decided to take a LNT Master Educator Course in Shenandoah National Park when it was offered in 2005 because I wanted to learn about and practice LNT principles in the ecosystem where I would be hiking and backpacking most often. As a resident of West Virginia at the time, I was hiking a lot in the Appalachians. Two years later I moved to New York City where for six years I kayaked extensively in the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge and still practiced LNT principles. Now that I am back in West Virginia, once again hiking and backpacking as well as kayaking and now cycling, I am still practicing and refining my LNT techniques. Learning about the principles of LNT has helped me be a more responsible and more aware use of both front country and back country recreational opportunities.

    • Nunya : Jul 21st

      “call them out on their actions and quickly teach them why it is wrong.”

      This is exactly why people have a bad taste in their mouths for LNT police.

      LNT should be common sense.
      Some of the “principals” however are not based on science but rather an idea. Not throwing an apple core into the woods is silly and packing out TP is dangerous and disgusting. We should be mindful of our impact and respectful of others, but it seems that some of these so called experts have a holier than thou attitude. Use common sense, don’t be a jerk, and hike your own hike. 😉

      • Nunya : Jul 21st

        Sorry John if that looked like a reply to you mate. It was supposed to be toward the article.


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