Leave No Trace Camping; The Harmful Side Effects

If you are looking for an interesting read about Leave No Trace camping, this article from masterwoodsman.com is a good choice.

Recently while stumbling around the web I came across a great article from masterwoodsman.com about Leave No Trace camping. The article is titled “Leave No Trace Killed Woodcraft…Almost” and can be accessed through the link. It is certainly worth the time to read if you have a few minutes.

Basically the author, Christian Noble, gives a solid dissertation on the harmful effects of the Leave No Trace (LNT) camping protocol that is so popular today. Generally is seems his beef with LNT is not the environmental impact, but the negative human and cultural impact it has. He states LNT has created a society of visitors to nature, not participants. One good section reads:

“Inevitably, groups wanting support (and protection) for wilderness meant supporting some sort of recreational access. Minimal impact camping was born. A new “modern” wilderness ethic based purely on aesthetics. There was no working knowledge (read understanding) of nature needed. All one had to know is that if nature was altered, it was wrong.”

Another good excerpt:

“Instead, we should learn about nature as a participant. By doing to so in a respectful manner with the proper guidance, you will find a conservation ethic allowing you to tread lightly across the landscape the way it was intended by our Creator.”

Tripod cooking.
A pot of water comes to boil over an open fire using resources from the immediate area. Certainly not LNT.

In my personal opinion, I think the author is touching on something big here. While LNT does do a good job protecting our environment, it has degraded the body of knowledge we had. Most folks no longer look to nature as a place as a place they were created to live, but rather a place where they can go visit from time to time. Also, when most people do head into our wild places, they do so with a pickup load of gear from their favorite sporting goods store, or with a giant camper with electrical hookups. While I can’t/won’t demean people wanting to get out and experience nature in those ways, personally I’ve found much more satisfaction heading out with less.

The best part of this article is the balance it provides. Many times in life the sweet spot is where balance can be found. Noble rightly argues for the use of LNT practices in certain areas. Here is an excerpt:

“Don’t get me wrong, in high traffic and sensitive areas I am a huge fan of treading lightly, even using a stove. Personally, I use a supercat stove I make from used diced chili cans with denatured alcohol for fuel, when and where it makes sense.”

The reality is that in a world of 7 billion people, and 323 million in America, we can’t all go building lean-tos at our favorite destination. If that were the case, we would soon not have much nature left in those areas. On the other hand, if people do not practice living hands-on in the world, the working knowledge our cultures have gained about “survival” is threatened to be lost as well. Everything in moderation.

Finally, it seems worth excerpting one more quote from the article:

“We are NOT visitors here on Earth. This is our home and the home of our ancestors.”

How true. It seems this fact is being lost and more people are seeing themselves apart from nature, rather than our home. If you take the time to read the Softtracks About section, you should be able to grasp our thoughts on the subject. Practicing skills of self-reliance may not be the norm these days, but can truly reveal some great insights if you are willing to put the work in.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this great article concerning its harmful side effects in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article about building a primitive shelter.

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9 Replies to “Leave No Trace Camping; The Harmful Side Effects”

  1. “The land is not ours, we are only caretakers of the land, for our grandchildren. treat it with respect”
    Does not insist on LNT, but to care for the land, and live within its boundaries.

    1. Well said David. We certainly should behave more like caretakers rather than breaking the bank on this one lifetime. For me the big takeaway would be for those folks who are too scared to cut down a live tree, or take the life of an animal. Part of good conservation is learning how to live within nature in a way that can be sustained for the long term. LNT is a good frame of mind, but if taken to the extreme can harm the cultural traditions in an adverse way. Like a clear cutting of the mind and of history. Thanks for the comment.

  2. The further we get from nature, the less human we become. Eventually there will be no access to wilderness for the people. The wilderness will be all either strategic resources or world heritage resources. Enjoy it while you can. We maybe the last generation of real humans who were still connected to the earth, and allowed to be part of it.

    1. I really hope you are wrong Glenn. Thankfully we have groups resisting the transfer of public lands in this country so for the time being we still have the opportunity to get out and enjoy nature. It doesn’t seem like something we should have to fight so hard to keep, but apparently we do in these times.

  3. Lots of good points. As being a person who is out in the public lands quite often, I see the after effects of people. Some do follow LNT and others leave all their trash(Not what I want to see) it’s this last bunch that really get my goat.

    1. Certainly would have to agree with you on that point as well. No place for garbage dumps in the middle of our lands. I think more than anything the point is that participating as a natural player in the arena of nature is an ok thing to do when you aren’t in high traffic areas. Making a bed of spruce boughs for example shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, even though you are certainly leaving a trace on several surrounding trees. Knowing how to use the natural bounty is a good thing, but you can’t do that without disturbing it.

  4. As you said, “We are NOT visitors here on Earth.” I agree that we’ve been taught to be visitors when we’re enjoying the great outdoors– not to be part of it. Like you said, given how many of us there are, it’s important to not overuse public places and the LNT ethos is SUPER important in these spaces. However, you’re right that we shouldn’t consider ourselves just visitors in nature. We’re fundamentally a part of all this and I believe that seeing ourselves as separate from it, leaves us bereft of meaning and sense of place. Nice article!

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