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Leave No Trace Over Likes

We must refuse to sacrifice LNT for the sake of a photograph. Otherwise, what will become of these wild places we love exploring?

By: Emily Noyd + Save to a List

I love the early morning view out of my tent. I crave that first glimpse of amber light filtering through the trees or rising on the mountain top as I emerge from my cocoon. Evidenced by the abundance of ‘view from the tent’ shots online these days, I’m guessing others love it too. Please, keep ‘em coming for the mornings I head to the office instead of hitting the trail.

I play the Instagram game, I’ll admit it. I’ve been known to set up my tent strategically for a glimpse of REI’s name in the photo. Recently, as I’m scrolling for wanderlust inspiration, I see that a reputable outdoor company has shared a follower’s photo of their tent set against a breathtaking alpine lake. Wait… why is that tent pitched so close to the water? Why is it covering grass instead of rock? Far too often, photos that ignore Leave No Trace are being featured on social media. I feel strongly that we must reject the promotion of illegal camping and poor decision making for the sake of that hashtag-worthy shot.

If I see another tent crushing an alpine meadow, I might lose my marbles. Part of what makes instant-sharing of the outdoors so special is the construction of a common wilderness ethic. Members of the outdoor community see awe-inspiring photos online every day that drive our adventurous spirit. Unfortunately, the increased glorification of poor wilderness stewardship misses the entire point: go play outside, do it right, and encourage others to do the same. I suggest we start prioritizing Leave No Trace over likes. With the surge of people getting out there to backpack and hike, it’s our responsibility to share not only the cool photo, but the importance of respecting the resource. Realistic representations of the outdoors keep our community authentic and our favorite places preserved.

Sometimes the absurdity of outdoor photos online makes me giggle. You did not sleep on that exposed ledge! (Or at least I’m hoping you didn’t.) Other times, it’s straight up scary when I’ve been to that location and can tell you’ve climbed over a railing for the shot. In national parks, rangers constantly encounter visitors endangering themselves or camping out of bounds. Who can take the most unique Yosemite photograph, no matter the rules or risks? It seems to be an unofficial competition online. If we portray a photo as realistically attainable, our followers may go recreate it. It goes beyond Leave No Trace principles; it’s about being leaders in the outdoor community.

Now if I sound like a curmudgeon, it’s true: I am saturated with national park visitors who don’t follow LNT. I put out their illegal fires and sometimes pack out their literal crap. But not everyone has the pleasure of enduring my How to Poop in the Woods lecture. In fact, seeing a social media post may be the last impressionable moment for folks before planning their next trip. So let’s take up the torch of preserving these places for endless years to come and set the example with our photos. Nothing’s more beautiful (and more rewarding) than that.


We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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