Thru-Paddle Ethics

Style = Your Relationship with the Backcountry

Leave No Trace — The 7 Principles

By now, everyone knows the expression "leave no trace" even if if they cannot name the seven principles from memory. Below I have included the principles as outlined on the Leave No Trace website and written in red are my own additions specific to Florida.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

  -  Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
  -  Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  -  Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  -  Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
  -  Repackage food to minimize waste.
  -  Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  -  Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, or dry grasses.

  -  Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.

  -  Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.

  -  Always set up tents on flat, open sand, never within dunes.

    In popular areas:

    -  Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.

    -  Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.

    -  Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.


    In pristine areas:

    -  Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.

    -  Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

  -  Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack

     out all trash, leftover food, and litter.

  -  Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water,

     camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.

  -  Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.

  -  To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use

     small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

4. Leave What You Find

  -  Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.

  -  In Florida, Native American shell middons dot the coastline. Never dig in these shell

     mounds or remove shells or other artifacts.

  -  Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.  

  -  While it is tempting and favorite pastime of tourists, do not take shells, sharks teeth, or

     other objects from the beach.

  -  Never release or take non-native species into Florida's wild places.

  -  Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

  -  Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking

     and enjoy a candle lantern for light.

  -  Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.

  -  Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.

  -  Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

  -  The coastal ecosystems of Florida are very fragile, particularly the dune systems, and

     hunting for firewood tramples sensitive vegetation, so don't do it.

  -  Generally, you should not make campfires on the beach unless at a state park or private

     campground where firewood can be purchased.

  -  If you do have a fire on the beach, it should made below the high tide line so that the next

     high tide washes away the remnants of your fire.

6. Respect Wildlife

  -  Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.

  -  Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and

     exposes them to predators and other dangers.

  -  Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.

  -  Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.

  -  Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

  -  Do not approach dolphins or try to follow them.

  -  Do not feed manatees or give them fresh water

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  -  Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.

  -  Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.

  -  Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.

  -  Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

Leave No Trace While in Town

Hikers around the country have embraced something called Leave No Trace +Plus. We think of leaving no trace while in the wilderness, but we should also "leave no trace" when staying in towns along the trail. In the same way we want to leave our campsites clean for the next people who use the site, we should also leave behind goodwill in the towns where we stay.


Why do I need to say this? Well, people undertaking a huge journey like a CT thru-paddle might get the idea that they are somehow special and deserving of special treatment. They might ask a motel or campground to bend the rules for them, make unreasonable requests, expect preferential treatment, et cetera.


Arrogant behavior from one paddler can leave behind a wake of bad feelings in townspeople, who then poorly treat the next paddler who comes along.

LNT is not only a set of principles but also an organization which promotes those principles: the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Visit their website for information about workshops, trainings, local chapters where you can join the LNT community, how to support the foundation and more.