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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. It is important to ensure your safety and the protection of our 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. While this principle reduces our impact on wild areas, it doesn't eliminate them. Practice this Leave No Trace Principle© by doing these things:

  • Run, walk, hike on constructed trails whenever possible.
  • Be careful not to make noises that may disturb others.
  • When traveling off-trail, consider the durability of surfaces. 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. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, whether for hours or weeks or months, it is likely that you will eventually need to visit the toilet outside. This is especially true if you have a high-fiber diet and are hydrating properly. The same principle applies to people who dump garbage into the wild. 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. For the sustainability of wild places, it is better to pack out human waste. 
  • The distance between a cat hole for solid waste and a water source or trail should not exceed 60 meters (70 m.e.m.) The hole should not exceed 20 cm depth, and be no more than 15 cm in circumference. After the drilling is completed, you can cover the hole with natural materials. 
  • Use wet wipes and toilet paper to cover the hole. Toilet paper should not be burned.
  • Tampons should be thrown away as they are not recyclable.
  • Urinate on durable surfaces (see above).
  • You should dispose of all food and other waste.
  • You should wash your hands with clean water. 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

How much waste could that backpack hold? 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. Sometimes it can be tempting (a souvenir) to carry an item that triggers such emotions home. 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.
  • To avoid any invasive and non-native species, wash your feet before you go to another wilderness.

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. Don't feed, chase, or play with animals no matter their cuteness. Keep your food safe, especially in bear country. Avoid drinking water at night. When you play in wild spaces, you play in animals’ homes. Respect their habitats and treat them as you would your home.

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. Downhillers usually have the right to proceed. Mountain bikers need to be careful about their speed, and should signal their presence at a safe distance. Hikers need space.
  • Limit the volume of music. Playing music Loud music is acceptable at designated campsites during the appropriate hours, but it can be disruptive anywhere else in nature. Wear headphones so you can hear the sounds of other animals and people.
  • Running with your dogWhat are you doing? You must ensure that they remain under control. Make sure they don't waste anything! 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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