Submitted by Lukas Saville
There’s nothing better than getting out on to the trail and into the great outdoors. With both the Rocky Mountains and the Purcell Mountains just on the doorstep, a hiking or backpacking trip can be just the thing to get closer to nature, especially after the recent long period of lockdown.
Now more than ever, we’re all looking for ways to be more eco-conscious, making sure that we protect our national parks and natural spaces, as well as the trees, plants and creatures that live within them. If you’re thinking of taking a hiking or backpacking trip, there are plenty of small changes you can make to ensure that you’re eco-conscious and environmentally friendly out on the trail!
Here’s our list of top tips for how to be more eco-friendly on your hiking trips this year.
1. Take It Home With You
The principles of ‘leave no trace’ hiking and camping are simple – bring what you need on your hiking trip and take absolutely everything back with you. It may sound obvious, but this can be harder than it seems, and it’s easy to drop small pieces of litter or food if you’re not diligent.
According to Leave No Trace Canada, hikers should aim to leave the trail and campground exactly as you find it. This means packing out all garbage, ensuring that you create no damage to the terrain, and making sure you leave plants, flowers, rocks and wood exactly where they lie.
Human waste should be carefully buried (well away from any water sources). In some specific areas (such as narrow river canyons) you may also be required to pack out human feces, so make sure to come prepared and check the rules with local rangers and park authorities before set out.
2. Stick To The Path
When you’re out for a hike, you might feel as though you want to get off the beaten track and explore the wilderness. However, it’s crucially important that you stay on marked trails.
According to Richard Campbell, Founder of 10adventures.com and an experienced hiker and backpacker, “when large numbers of hikers stray from the paths in national parks this can seriously upset local eco-systems. Unwitting hikers can cause soil erosion, destroy delicate plants and flowers, and disturb animals in their natural habitat.”
Resist your urge to explore the wilderness and stick to the paths – they are there for a reason, usually to protect the beautiful landscape you are enjoying!
3. Buy Environmentally-Friendly Kit
Hiking usually requires a lot of equipment, from lightweight, waterproof clothing to tents and packs. Try to make sure that you buy from companies who are known to promote eco-friendly and ethical policies in their production and distribution methods.
Richard suggests, “to find eco-friendly hiking gear, look out for the bluesign® trademark, which indicates that each stage of the manufacturing process has followed ethical and environmental standards.”
There are plenty of small changes you can make to your hiking routine that will ensure you minimize your impact out on the trail. Opt for gear made with recycled materials, make sure your electronics use solar-powered or rechargeable energy sources, use bamboo plates and cutlery instead of plastic ones, and make sure to buy eco-friendly sunscreen!
4. Protect Water Sources
Most hikers and backpackers are usually concerned with finding clean water sources along the trail, for either washing or drinking. However, it’s easy to forget about the profound impact that human presence can have on essential water sources in natural wilderness areas. Simply touching the water in rivers, streams and lakes can have many unintended consequences for local wildlife, as many of our products and cosmetics contain pollutants that can harm local ecosystems.
When you’re out on the trail, make sure to camp at least 200m from any water source, in case overnight rains cause rubbish to drain into them. Wash dishes and equipment at a safe distance, using collected water, to avoid polluting water sources with detergents and toxic pollutants.
5. Eliminate Single-Use Plastics
Hiking is a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in nature and to enjoy all of the physical and mental health benefits of being out on the trail. However, hikers and backpackers can often use a surprising amount of single-use plastic, especially bottled water and plastic wrap.
Try to avoid using single-use plastics on your hike. Make sure to buy your own washable water-carrier and purification kit instead of bottled mineral water, and opt for lightweight bamboo plates and cutlery instead of plastic ones. Many trails and national parks across North America are now aiming to go plastic free, so get ahead of the trend and source alternatives for your next trip!
6. Go Local
Eco-conscious hiking isn’t just about adopting good practices out on the trail. Try to reduce your carbon footprint on your trip by avoiding unnecessary plane and car journeys. Explore your local area, by foot if possible, and use public transport whenever it’s available.
If you do have to travel further afield to get your hiking fix, make sure you use the opportunity to support local businesses and communities. As Richard suggests, “buy from local outlets, stay in ethically and environmentally-conscious guesthouses, and only use local tour companies that pay staff fairly.” Do your research in advance and source reputable local companies that adopt ethical policies that respect their human employees, local communities and the natural world.