For many of us, spending time in nature, going on forest rambles, or hiking in the wilderness is one of the best activities we can do to boost our mood and get back in touch with nature. The best part of hiking is often the clean, green, natural environment that we find ourselves in. This is all the more reason to act sustainably in the great outdoors. But what does sustainable hiking really mean, and how can we explore the outdoors in a sustainable manner? We have put together this list of tips on how to do just that, and on why sustainable hiking is so important in the first place.
Why is sustainable hiking important?
From litter strewn city streets, to beaches piled with plastic trash, it is becoming harder to find natural spaces that are untouched by the effects of human life.. To keep our natural world looking beautiful, we can all act in a more sustainable manner when we choose to explore it. The phrase “leave no trace” is especially important when it comes to hiking in the natural environment. For hundreds of years, humans have explored the outdoors, while co-existing with the flora and fauna that we find. However, in recent years, we are seeing the negative effects of human activity showing up on our favourite hiking trails and natural parks. Be that leftover trash, or irresponsible camping and fire setting, exploring unsustainably can harm these locations, often permanently. Hiking sustainably can help inspire others to do the same, and preserve our great outdoors for future generations to come.
How to be a sustainable hiker
Being a sustainable hiker may be easier than you think. If we can keep in mind the following tips while exploring our next route, we can keep damage to a minimum, while enjoying the beauty that nature can offer us.
Plan your route
It may seem obvious, but by putting aside some time to plan your route, you can hike more sustainably, and opt for a lesser known location to explore. This not only means you can avoid hordes of other hikers, it also means that popular locations have time to recover in between visits. By choosing to go “off the beaten path” so to say, you can avoid overtourism, and find amazing new locations to explore that you may not have known about previously. When going “off the beaten path”, this does not mean to crash through the undergrowth searching for mystery - if fact, by sticking to official trails, we can keep human impact to a minimum, and do our bit to preserve the surrounding environment.
When setting up camp, opt for established campsites, instead of creating your own. When you consider the number of visitors each year, each individual fire circle, or space cleared, can add up. Finally, make sure you stay informed of each destination’s trekking, hiking and camping requirements, so you can maintain your safety and that of others. Some locations require a permit, or have strict fire regulations due to the risk of wildfire. To hike sustainably means to educate yourself before you head out to the trails. If you opt to travel with a tour operator, choose an environmentally responsible operator, who takes the appropriate actions to ensure their business supports the local landscape, not harms it.
Hike at the right time of year
Although you may plan your hikes around your holidays and availability, try to choose the right season, or time of year to head to the hills. Local wildlife can be especially vulnerable, or aggressive to visitors, during the mating season or when they are raising their young. Many endangered birds are disrupted during these crucial periods, by hikers and holiday makers trampling their nests and disturbing their young. By avoiding these times when planning our adventures, we can support the local ecosystem and helping it regenerate and flourish, rather than unknowingly damaging it. When hiking with your trusty canine, this becomes even more important, with many locations requesting that dogs be kept on leads in certain areas for exactly this reason. Although your dog may be enjoying the great outdoors just as much as you, choosing to hike responsibly means allowing them the freedom to roam in locations that does not harm vulnerable wild animals.
Choose sustainable clothing brands
As hiking becomes more accessible to all, we are seeing brands produce full lines of cut-price outdoor gear, often made of poor-quality materials. Although we all love a bargain, opting for the slightly pricier, but longer lasting and higher quality options, can actually save you money in the long run. Most established outdoor brands produce equipment that is built to last, with many offering repair services and quality guarantees, meaning you can explore with the right equipment, knowing that it won’t let you down when you need it most. Not only does this cut down waste, it also helps reduce your carbon emissions, as you need to buy less often. Having well-made gear on hand is also safer, after all, it’s not like we can pop into a shop to buy a quick replacement when we are out in the wilderness.
Buy second hand hiking gear
When it comes to outdoors clothing and equipment, you can often purchase this gear second hand. Buying a second hand, quality item, is often a better bargain than a cheaply built tent that breaks after its first use. Try checking local outdoors groups for items, or online to find community swap groups to get your gear. This is a great option for families too, as the cost of clothing a quickly growing child can add up when you need a new size every year!
Wear natural sunscreen
We are beginning to hear more about the harms of sunscreen to coral reefs and the marine environment, but did you know that many sunscreens can harm the great green outdoors too? Choosing a natural sunscreen will protect us as well as the flora and fauna we find when hiking. Often, ingredients that are harmful to nature, are also harmful to us, so why not make the swap to a sustainable eco-cream to keep our skins protected from the sun’s rays? Try searching for brands free from harmful ingredients, or that are marked as ‘safe’ for nature; your skin and the local wildlife will thank you.
Don’t leave a trace
Making sure to collect any trash you bring along with you when leaving, is vital to keep our green spaces looking green. Not only that, but hiking trails covered in plastic wrappers are never as nice, so why add to the problem we are already facing? Worried about the weight of bringing it back with you? Try to reduce your trash from the beginning, by taking items in reusable contains, lightweight camping equipment and a dedicated sack to carry it back with you. You can also try a handheld water filter and reusable drinking vessel, to reduce the bottled liquids you bring with you, and have fresh water wherever your adventures take you.
Respecting the trails also means respecting the local wildlife. Although blaring your tunes from your portable speaker may seem amazing at the time, loud music or noises can disturb and frighten wildlife, leading to disrupted breeding patterns and decreased biodiversity in the area. By keeps your decibels low, you can explore in harmony with nature, instead of trying to drown it out. This leads back to our keeping to dedicated trails when exploring - as tempting as it may be to climb a tree to better see a nest or hive, remember that you are in a creature’s home, and a curious human may be terrifying or seriously harmful to their habitat.
Learn about Indigenous territory
When exploring wilderness locations, we often forget that people may live there too, often for hundreds of years before us. By learning about, and respecting indigenous territory, we can live in harmony and allow all cultures to live their lives the way they wish too. What may seem like a cute place to camp, may also have religious or cultural significance that you don’t know of. With this in mind, by doing some research before your hike, we can honour other traditions while still enjoying the bounty that nature can offer us. This helps supports indigenous populations, respects others, and you may learn interesting things too!
Long story short…
To sum up, there are many ways in which you can hike more sustainably, with the above list being a great place to start. Remember, when you set off on your next hiking adventure, choose and plan your routes carefully, avoid making fires where possible, and source the most sustainable outdoor clothing possible. You can also help preserve the beauty of the great outdoors by picking up any trash that you see and making sure that you leave no trace behind yourself. If we all choose to hike more sustainably in the future, we can keep our green spaces looking green, and nature flourishing for generations to come, and for everyone to enjoy.
Written by Cicely Sinclair