Leave no trace: The boondocker's code

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March 10, 2010

By Bob Difley
trash_campsite_0930My inclination is that all boondockers know and practice the Leave No Trace principle. Unfortunately, I find that idea does not always match reality. I’m sure we all have found trash when we pull into a new boondocking site, and probably blame it on “those damn kids” that come out here in our territory and mess the place up.

But on the off chance that there are a few boondockers who haven’t subscribed to the Leave No Trace principal, this short piece will bring them (you?) around, and hopefully instill in them/you more earth friendly habits.

The concept behind the seven Leave No Trace camping and hiking principles were conceived to limit the impact of camping and hiking in the backcountry. Though aimed at backpacking campers, they apply equally to RVing boondockers.

They have been formalized and are managed by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics which promotes the education and adoption of these principles throughout the country. The center works in cooperation with The National Park Service, National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Here is the condensed version of the seven Leave No Trace Principles.

* Plan Ahead and Prepare: Have the right gear and information to minimize your impact on the environment.
* Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Hike and camp on surfaces that minimize impact.
* Dispose of Waste Properly: If you pack it in; pack it out. This includes human waste in some cases.
* Leave What You Find: Do not disturb historic sights and don’t take rocks or plants home.
* Minimize Campfire Impacts: Use stoves for cooking and know local fire regulations.
* Respect Wildlife: Don’t feed the animals and observe them from a distance.
* Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Yield to other hikers when appropriate and respect your camping neighbors.

If everyone were to follow these guidelines, the boondocking experience becomes better for everyone.

Check out my eBook, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, for hints and tips to enhance your boondocking life.

Leave a Reply


  1. Right on, Bob. My parents taught us a similar principal, “When you borrow something, return it to the user in better condition than it was before.” I like to apply that principal to camping as well. No matter where we go, we make sure we don’t leave anything behind, and we even carry a rake with us to even-out our footprints and tire marks. Sure, it sounds a little extreme, but it’s always nice to think of the next people who might be there, and make sure to leave it looking undisturbed and clean for them to enjoy.

  2. It was really neat to see the phrase “Leave no Trace”. My boy is in scouts (Boy Scouts of America) and that is something they teach with the same exact phrase!

  3. truman

    My two cents . In this day and age we live in a throwaway society. Just look around trash every where! Down every road! In every Beautiful country side! When i camp i clean the site up better than it was when i got there ! Pickup beer tops cig.butts paper wood chips you name it . I will leave it better than it was But thats just me. And Iam hoping the next camper does the same but i:ve seen KIDS of campers trash bathrooms for no apparent reason and mark up walls ect ect ect Thats just too bad for good campers that try to take care of the place they like to camp just so others can trash it I hate to see the future for all that love to camp and have fun in the outdoors!!!!!! THANKS

  4. Geoffrey Pruett

    Was raised that leaving little of no trace was just good manners. Should put in a plug for our favorite pastime, Square Dancing. When my now wife and I went to a special event at Penticton BC the main dancing was on a outdoor soccer field on playwood floors with food services around the edges. Being new dancers and still young enough to stay till the last tip (pair of dances) we could look at an empty floor that had emptied of several thousand dancers. There was not enough debris left to make a dent in one trash can. Manners are stressed during lessons, they were practiced here! Have heard children and dog owners both accused of leaving trash behind, it is manners and respect for others that count, not groups or company at events.

  5. Jim


    You stated “But now that these folks can carry guns and are just itching to kill something or someone I dare not.” Where did you you get that information?
    The vast majority of “those folks” are law abiding straight laced citizens who never even entertained the thought of “killing” something much less someone.


  6. Pat

    Yes indeed a good reminder for us all.

    We have lived in the UK for a time and I was always impressed with the “country code:’ a set of rules for hikers and the many users of country lanes and pedestrian tracks across farmland, etc. What was cool was the fact that everyone seemed to follow them at least back in the day when we lived there. It was wonderful to walk in the country unspoiled by trash.

    However, much of that has changed in some parts of the UK. Like here there are those selfish, self-centered folks who think the world is their garbage can or their ash tray. And so many dog owners just don’t care.

    Last spring I handed a teenager a plastic bag after I saw she didn’t clean up after her dog. She took it with a sullen look on her face, and then I didn’t see her with her dog in our part of the park again. But now that these folks can carry guns and are just itching to kill something or someone I dare not. The good news is they are the minority even if they are irritating.

  7. NO Rock stacking – you hike in 5 miles and there are rocks stacked – why?
    In Alaska last year we stopped at a great pull off for the night. A “local” came
    by and asked us to move and then showed us a spot 25 feet away in which someone had dumped their black tank. Even in Alaska.

  8. Dave

    Great to see these but need to add one more.

    Pick up after your animals.

    Dog feces everywhere are as repugnant as garbage.

    Your little dog leftovers are as unsightly as the large dog’s.

    Seems many campers overlook this fact.

  9. Constance

    I was taught to clean up the area around me when at the beach or camping. I am amazed at the stares and comments I get while picking up trash with my bag and grabber. I guess it makes others feel guilty that they don’t do it….

  10. PeteB

    Also wholeheartedly subscribing to this age old principle: take all the photos you want but only leave footprints in as much as possible.

  11. Dean Tecklenburg

    Agree wholeheartedly with you Bob. The wife and I are also ATV’ers who use our toy hauler for rv park and boondocking camping. It is amazing the trash left by others. We carry kitchen size plastic bags (11gallon) and a grabber for picking up the mess left by others while out riding the trails/camping…