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Why RVers Must Leave No Trace?

Why RVers Must Leave No Trace?

Take a drive down a busy interstate, and what do you see? 

Yep, there are about as many RVs on the road as there are semis… or so it seems.

And the numbers don’t lie! Some RV rental businesses report a 650% increase in bookings to rent RVs! And, over the last ten years, there has been a 30% increase in US RV wholesale shipments.

Which means: yes – you are seeing more RVs on the road today.

With so many new people discovering the joys of RV Life, Leave No Trace is more important now than ever before.

What is “Leave No Trace”? 

Leave No Trace (or LNT) is a set of 7 principles that promote conservation while enjoying the great outdoors.

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics focuses on educating the public about the 7 LNT principles to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This is to preserve the beauty and wonder of nature; the whole reason we want to get out there in the first place!

The 7 LNT principles are not meant to deter you from enjoying the beauty that our world has to offer – in fact, far from it! Instead, they are guidelines to follow so you know exactly how to enjoy our wild places without destroying them. 

Leaving no trace whatsoever is almost next to impossible; humans belong on this planet as much as the bugs, birds, and other creatures do.

But as humans, we have the ability, the knowledge, and the wisdom to care for this planet, so that these creatures can live well. And so that we can continue to take our RVs into our beloved outdoors without destroying either one.

Without sounding too dramatic, if we don’t follow these principles, it might be the end of the world as we know it.  (Traveling in RV’s, not the actual end of the world.)


“The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace provide an easily understood framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors. Although Leave No Trace has its roots in backcountry settings, the Principles have been adapted so that they can be applied anywhere — from remote wilderness areas, to local parks and even in your own backyard.” (

What Is “Pack It In, Pack It Out” in Leave No Trace?

Pack it in, pack it out is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. If you brought it into nature with you, you take it back out when you leave. This includes all personal belongings, trash, toilet paper, and food scraps. Even the tiniest pieces of food wrappers, and even your apple cores.

Be sure to bring a small leakproof trash bag that you can seal. Keep it separate from your belongings in your pack for all of your trash and food scraps.

#1 Plan Ahead and Prepare

By planning ahead and preparing the gear you’ll need to enjoy your outdoor experience, not only will you have a better time and build confidence in your outdoor skills, but you’ll also have less impact on natural resources. 

One of the most well-known stories of not planning ahead is one told by Aron Ralson himself.

A well-known climber, Aron made the mistake once of not telling someone where he was climbing. It was that one time that he fell, resulting in his arm getting stuck between boulders. 

Nobody knew where he was. Nobody was coming to help him.  He had to cut off his own arm, and miraculously survived to tell his tale.

So, grab a map, a compass, and a friend’s ear.  Learn how to use the tools to plan for your adventure, whether that be driving to a National Park or climbing Devils Tower.

And, be sure to tell a friend or two, where you’re off to next! Not only could they save your life, but they’ll also be excited to hear about your adventures when you get back.

#2 Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

You might love to mountain bike or hike or go backcountry snowboarding. Or, maybe you just want to stroll along the beach collecting seashells. 

But this love of trails and beaches does not give you outright permission to traipse anywhere we want to go. By camping in designated spaces and staying on designated trails, ultimately you’re helping to keep the beauty in nature.

Some soil is considered “living soil”. In desert areas, this is referred to as “cryptobiotic crust”. This living soil takes 5,000 to 10,000 years to form, and it can be completely destroyed by just a few misplaced footsteps.

Unwanted trails can be created with only a few people walking the same path, and this can scar the landscape and diminish natural plant growth. People, organizations, and volunteers work hard creating trails for all to enjoy.  The least we can do is work hard to stay on them when we can. 

When you go out into the backcountry, stay on durable surfaces. This means walking, camping, and driving your RV on surfaces that have already been used for that purpose, or where it will cause the least amount of harm to the environment.

#3 Dispose of Waste Properly

Disposing of waste properly includes ALL waste. Your trash, your food scraps, even your own bodily waste.

Everything that you bring with you in nature should return with you. Every single piece, including:

  • Micro trash: tiny little pieces of paper that easily tear off of food wrappers
  • Food waste like orange peels, apple cores, bread crust, watermelon rind – everything
  • Toilet paper: if you must go in the outdoors, take your toilet paper out with you. Pack a trash bag for this purpose. Don’t stash it under a rock!

When nature calls and you’re out in nature, there is a LNT-approved procedure to follow to ensure you do the least amount of harm to the environment.

Disposing of Waste Properly Includes ALL Waste To Leave No Trace

If you have to go #1, the best practices are to do so 200 feet away from any water source, trail, or campsite.

Liquid waste is mostly sterile, but you don’t want to have it anywhere near a water source or social area. Any toilet paper should be placed in a trash bag and taken back out with you.

Going #2 requires a bit of a different process. This process also requires you to be 200 feet away from any water source, trail, or campsite. Dig a hole that is 6-8 inches deep, bury the waste, and pack out your used toilet paper.

Waste also includes food and water waste, so be sure to pick up all food droppings that you may have left behind, as well… Everything, even tiny jelly drops!  By keeping food away from wildlife, we keep wildlife wild. Animals that learn to get food left behind by humans often have to be euthanized, especially bears.

If you need to dump your dirty dishwater, be sure to do so 200 feet away from any natural water source. Strain dish water before dumping so that food particles are not introduced to the environment (pack out the food particles), and use natural biodegradable soaps and sanitizers. When dumping the water, disperse it broadly, don’t just dump it all in one place.

If we want to continue enjoying RV campgrounds, national parks, state parks, and dispersed campsites, we have to take responsibility for our waste. We don’t leave trash lying around our house, so why would we think it’s ok to leave it lying around the woods?  

You also get to pick up other people’s trash. If we don’t, we won’t be enjoying the places we love to go, for long.  They will get shut down, and RVing and camping will become a thing of the past – the end of the world as we know it.

Leave No Trace Dispose of Waste Properly

#4 Leave What You Find

“Take only photographs, leave only footprints.”

Take as many photos as you like – but never take anything out of natural areas. This includes rocks, fossils, and even wildflowers.

Yes, they are pretty, but we want to leave them for others to enjoy, as well.  While that is an important component to this leave no trace principle, it’s also important to understand that it means more than that.

Leave what you find not only means not taking things home with you, it also means leaving nature as you found it.

Don’t create lean-tos or furniture out of fallen branches. Don’t dig trenches for your tent, and don’t create multiple fire rings. If you have to clear a space for your tent, do your best to put it all back it when you leave (so that you can’t even tell you were there).

Don’t mutilate or deface nature by carving into tree branches or rocks. This is not only bad for the environment, it is illegal in many places.

By all means, write a message in the sand on the beach, just don’t take all the sand with you, you’ll have plenty in your shoes.

Leave No Trace Leave What You Find

#5 Minimize Campfire Impacts

S’mores around campfires. It doesn’t matter if you live in an RV or just head out on weekends, s’mores and campfire conversations are a necessity. 

If there are no fire bans in your area, and you have a safe space for a campfire, by all means, enjoy one.  They offer a wonderful space to add warmth and conversation to any campsite. But how do you know you have a safe space?  

The best place to build a fire is within an existing fire ring in a well-placed campsite. 

If you are allowed to gather wood from the surrounding area, gather only if necessary and only if there is plenty of wood to be gathered.  If you are purchasing wood for a fire, purchase the wood from the same area you are having a fire so as not to introduce diseased wood into a new area. 

Burn only wood, do not burn your trash. This emits fumes and chemicals into the air, and most trash doesn’t fully burn down. Remember, you packed it in, you also get to pack it out. Dispose of your trash properly. 

It does not matter where you are, put out the fire completely…with water. It should be cold to the touch and no glowing embers left behind.  A calm beautiful evening could turn into a gusty night quickly.  Nobody wants to say that they started the most recent forest fire.

Leave No Trace Minimize Campfire Impacts

#6 Respect Wildlife

Seeing a bear or a mountain lion sounds exciting and exotic. Imagine the stories you can tell your friends! However, once you put some more thought into this, do you really want to see a bear or a mountain lion?

The answer is yes, but only from a very safe distance where you are not disturbing them, and they most definitely are not disturbing you. While the odds of you actually seeing these creatures are pretty small – you’re more likely to see a deer, or a chipmunk for that matter, you need to respect all wildlife.

Respecting wildlife means:

  • Keeping your distance
  • Not approaching or walking towards wildlife
  • Do not attempt to pet or feed wildlife
  • Dispose of all food waste properly
  • Keeping your campsite away from water sources where they go to drink

And you also respect wildlife by following the rest of the LNT principles. Remember, you are a visitor in their home.

Leave No Trace Respect Wildlife

#7 Be Considerate of Other Visitors

You are not the only nature lover in this world. Whatever reasons you have for heading out into the wild blue yonder, others do too. Respecting others is just as important as respecting yourself and nature.

Your music and your dog are not immediate favorites of others, no matter how much you might think so. Keep your music and other loud noises down, and make sure your doggy is well-behaved and under your control at all times.  It’s exciting to be outdoors, but remember that others are outdoors as well.

Hiking trails can get crowded. Know who to yield to, and when you have the right of way. Generally downhill hikers yield to uphill hikers.

Be sure people know you’re coming up on them before you’re right on top of them.  Do your research and know proper hiking etiquette before you head out.

We all have stories and stressors that add to everyday tensions, and many of us find solace in nature.  Let’s encourage that solace in nature and remember to just be nice.

Why We Must Leave It Better Than We Found It

One of the greatest benefits of being human is free will.  We can choose to follow these 7 leave no trace principles, or we can choose not to.  However, if we choose not to, in the long run, we are also choosing to lose the beauty of this planet and everything that it has to offer. 

RV travel is great, but it is more about the destination than it is about the RV itself. We have to leave places better than we found them if we want to continue to have the same access to these places that we love.  

Nature is not only in wilderness areas. Nature is also in the middle of a bustling city, or right outside your back door.

Regardless of where you are living or recreating, if you see trash, pick it up!

You may think one small piece of trash won’t make a difference, but if we all picked up one piece a day, this world would be a better and cleaner place.

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  1. Jim says:

    I camped at a beautiful COE campground in Northern Minnesota this summer. When I arrived, I found my fire ring filled with half-burned trash, including food packaging, plastic water bottles, and dozens of cigarette butts. There were trash and recycling receptacles literally 15 feet away at the entry to the campsite. I filled a 13 gallon trash bag with the stuff that never should have been burned in the first place. That is the kind of behavior that is ruining the camping/RVing experience for the rest of us.

  2. Covid DJT says:

    You have reports about USFS campsites being closed in the Flagstaff, AZ area. First, the area is in a Stage 1 fire restriction due to an extended drought. This has been an issues for years and the the forestland is tinder dry. Second, both travelers (day use, campers, boondockers, etc) have been using the forestland as their person dumping grounds. At least one camper was threatened by a dumper if they reported him.

    The areas around Flagstaff have had several major fires in the recent past. The USFS is taking actions to protect the forest for use by everyone. Until people, both campers and non-campers can start to act responsibly and clean up their acts, expect camp and day use sites to be closed. This is not to say many RVers aren’t responsible. I seen RVers clean up around their sites (garbage at the site on arrival) and properly package and dispose. Personally, I’ve hauled several pickup loads of trash during volunteer cleanups. That includes tires, 2 engines and building materials.

  3. We lived in Nevada City ,Ca.until a week ago ( now in our Navion J) . This past summer , forced to travel locally ,our beautiful Yuba River was descended upon by thousands of Northern Californians looking for respite from Covid, Heat , and whatever else… SYRCL , a terrific local non-profit created to preserve the integrity and beauty of the Yuba organize a “Yuba River Clean-up” each year . We always participate . Last year , more that 30,000 # of tracsh was removed , that should never end up there in the first place ! Please be conscious , do your part and pay it forward….Let’s make a better world for All.

  4. Allison says:

    I just started RVing yet have been a hiker and backpacker for a while now. When I walked outdoors I could LNT yet when I wanted to do more by picking up the trash I saw I generally couldn’t at times due to not being able to add weight to my pack. Now as an RVer I found that I can and have picked up trash left behind by others and kept it in my RV outside storage until I could take it to a large trash can.

    Unfortunately, our natural settings have trash and it makes me sad but I’m happy that I have a means to take that extra with me now.