Historical background: Putting LNT in Perspective

The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) gained popularity in the late 1970s and 80s. No doubt the application of these principles by backcountry users started to produce real impacts on wild lands. In the High Sierras of California, ecologists have shown that LNT best practices helped in the recovery of denuded alpine tundra and helped reduce Giardia contamination of waterways.

The establishment of LNT as the dominant paradigm of outdoor ethics was also in part due to the outdoor industry.  The LNT approach to ‘bringing what you need’ to the outdoors required more specialized equipment than the woodsman approach to ‘finding what you need’ on the land. At the same time, LNT also became an uncontroversial way for outdoor companies to brand themselves as environmentally friendly without associating themselves with the more radical environmental movements of the 1960s and 70s. And today, the board of directors of the Center for Outdoor Ethics (the governing body of all official LNT training programs) is now made up of representatives from corporations like REI and Patagonia. These corporate entanglements of the COE have led some scholars to criticize the LNT paradigm as part of a wider culture of thinking about “consumption as an antidote to land degradation” (Simon and Alagona 2009:23). Others have suggested expanding upon on the original Seven Principles to include seven more principles as part of a new outdoor ethical paradigm known as “Beyond LNT.”

Beyond LNT Seven Principles

Learn the fundamentals of ultralight backpacking and Leave No Trace practices with Wyoming Mountain Guides' Intro to Backpacking Courses. Photo of a midsummer Wyoming sunset over lower Paint Rock Canyon, near Hyattville Wyoming.

The main aim of Beyond LNT is to rethink who we are as backcountry users.  We are not just individuals who love the outdoors and consumers who love titanium sporks. We are also stakeholders with the power to hold ourselves, others, governments, and corporations accountable for making decisions about the future of wild lands. Again, the following Beyond LNT seven principles should be considered in addition to, rather than in place of, the original LNT Seven Principles:

  1.  Educate yourself and others about the places you visit

The idea is that the more people know about an area, the more they will care for it, get involved in planning and management decisions, and vote for people who don’t try to sell it all off.

  1. Purchase only the equipment and clothing you need

As a climbing gear connoisseur let me tell you this is can be hard to take, but it’s important to not let the commercial “high” of buying more and more cool gear come to rival that of getting high up on the rock.

  1. Take care of the equipment and clothing you have

This is easy to overlook because at the end of the day we’re tired and we want to just shove everything in our bag and go home and deal with it the next day.  But we should spend as much time cleaning up and properly putting away gear as we do getting it ready beforehand.

  1. Make conscientious food, equipment, and clothing choices

Just don’t let those choices consume you…

  1.  Minimize waste production

Just as important as cleaning up your waste is reducing how much waste you generate in the first place.

  1. Reduce energy consumption

This isn’t easy considering the distances we travel to get to some of our favorite climbing areas, but the more human powered you can be the better, the more you can travel by train the better, and the more you can avoid flying the better.

7. Get involved by conserving and restoring the places you visit

Unfortunately public lands are on the chopping block right now and that won’t change anytime soon.  But we as a public have the right to decide the future of public lands, and we need to be more adamant about asserting that right at local, state, and federal levels of government.

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