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Leave No Trace Seven Principles ► Protect the Environment When You Work Out


Trash-littered trails, sunscreen oiled water, and critters hopped up on junk food. These are just a few things that can happen when athletes don’t protect the environment by practicing The Leave No Trace Seven Principles©. Whether you’re training to build bigger glutes or increase running stamina, it’s up to you to protect the environment.

This post teaches athletes how to practice the Leave No Trace Seven Principles© no matter what surface they run on so that our training grounds’ mountains and forests remain pristine and wild. 

BONUS: adidas TERREX pro ultramarathoner and Pacific Crest Trail FKT record holder Timothy Olson also shares his three tips for protecting the environment at the bottom of the post.

What are the Leave No Trace Seven Principles©?

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles© are a framework for decreasing human impact on wild spaces. Everyone, especially athletes, should practice the Leave No Trace Seven Principles© whenever possible. Here’s how you can protect the environment as an athlete using the Leave No Trace Seven Principles©:

Leave No Trace Principle 1©: Plan Ahead and Prepare

No matter what level of athlete you are, always have a plan before heading outdoors and make the proper preparations. This is for your safety as well as to protect the environment. Here’s how you can practice this Leave No Trace Principle©:

  • Plan your route ahead of time and ensure it stays on known trails.
  • Check the weather and bring the right gear.
  • Ensure your skill matches the route and trip goals (i.e., don’t get in over your head)
  • Consider natural phenomena like lightning risk, flash floods, wildfires, etc., in your trip planning.


If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.

Leave No Trace Principle 2©: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

When we head into wild spaces, we impact nature. Practicing this principle decreases the impact we have on wild spaces, but it does not eliminate it. Practice this Leave No Trace Principle© by doing these things:

  • Run, walk, hike on constructed trails whenever possible.
  • Avoid loud noises that could disturb other people and animals.
  • Consider surface durability when traveling off-trail. More durable surfaces include rocks, sand and gravel. Less durable surfaces include wet meadows, fragile vegetation, living soil, desert puddles and mud holes.

Leave No Trace Principle 3©: Dispose of Waste Properly

This is probably the most challenging principle for athletes to abide by. Playing outdoors for several hours (or weeks or months) means you will need to go to the bathroom outside at some point. This is especially true if you have a high-fiber diet and are hydrating properly. This principle also applies to garbage people pack into the wilderness. Here’s how athletes can dispose of waste properly:

  • Bury solid human waste where a toilet is not available; however, pack it out if near sensitive areas like river canyons. Packing out human waste is becoming more common and better for the long-term sustainability of wild spaces. 
  • Cat holes for solid waste should be about 60 meters (70 adult paces) from any water source, trail and camp. The hole should be about 20 cm deep, 15 cm in diameter. Cover the hole with natural materials once finished. 
  • Pack out toilet paper and wet wipes. Never burn toilet paper.
  • Pack out tampons as they do not decompose.
  • Urinate on durable surfaces (see above).
  • Pack out all waste, even leftover food, apple cores, fruit peels, etc.
  • Wash yourself away from water sources and rinse off with water carried away from the water source. Lotion, insect repellent, sunscreen, and even body oils can contaminate water sources!

In a survey from UNEP’s recently published mountain waste survey, survey respondents said they saw enough trash to fill several compartments of a backpacking backpack.

infographic leave no trace behind

What kind of waste would fill that backpack? Here’s what the survey said about that:

Types of waste infographic

Leave No Trace Principle 4©: Leave What You Find

People head into wild spaces because they’re beautiful and awe-inspiring. It can be tempting to take an object that triggers those emotions home (a souvenir). Don’t. Here’s how to leave it like you found it:

  • Don’t carve, nail, cut down trees or other vegetation.
  • Don’t take vegetation, rocks, or anything else you didn’t bring into nature back home with you.
  • Wash your shoes before going to a different wilderness to avoid bringing invasive or non-native organisms with you.

Leave No Trace Principle 5©: Minimize Campfire Impacts

Campfires are a symbol of camping… and environmental degradation. Do not build a campfire if you cannot ensure it will Leave No Trace©. Don’t build fires unless there is a designated place to build a campfire (e.g., a fire ring).

Leave No Trace Principle 6©: Respect Wildlife

Observe animals: do not interact with them. Do not feed or chase animals, no matter how cute they are. Securely store your food (especially in bear country). Avoid water holes at night. When you play in wild spaces, you play in animals’ homes. Treat their homes like you want your home to be treated.

Leave No Trace Principle 7©: Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Be an ambassador athlete for the outdoors and model good behavior. Don’t give people, animals or nature a reason to dislike athletes working out in wild spaces. Here are some examples of how to be a role model athlete and ambassador for the outdoors:

  • Make space on the trail—yield to trail traffic, especially horses. Downhill travelers usually have the right of way. Mountain bikers should watch their speed and signal their presence from a reasonable distance. Runners need to make space for hikers.
  • Keep music to a reasonable level. Playing music out loud might be acceptable in a designated campground during suitable hours; however, it is obnoxious everywhere else in nature. If wearing headphones, make sure you can hear other people and animals.
  • Running with your dog? Make sure they are under control. Clean up their waste too! Respect leash laws.

Ultramarathoner & Pacific Crest Trail FKT Record Holder Timothy Olson’s Leave No Trace© Tips

By following The Leave No Trace Seven Principles© and Timothy’s tips, you will help ensure future generations get to enjoy the outdoors as much as you do. 

© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:

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