Hiking is undoubtedly the best way to take in our surroundings and appreciate nature.
The more hikers in the world the better.
But, not just any hikers – we need sustainable hikers.
Many of the planet’s best trails run through stunning but fragile areas.
As responsible adventurers, it is only fair that we give back by protecting the places we visit.
It’s not just littering which is the problem.
National parks like The Lake District receive up to 16 million visitors every year.
That amount of footfall can have a seriously damaging effect in ways we might not even realise.
Below we have pulled together some hiking best practices to help your inner eco-warrior shine strong.
Do Your Homework
Before setting off, read up on the trail that you’ll be walking and find out if there are any specific regulations around camping.
Wild camping is sometimes not allowed so make provisions and don’t try to bend the rules.
Find out what rubbish disposal is like along the trail, if there are any public toilets and whether you’ll need to pay any environmental fees or levies.
Websites and guidebooks will also have handy information around wildlife, breeding/nesting seasons and other hints and tips for reducing your impact.
For hikes that require a guide or organisational agency, opt for a locally run set up.
Supporting the local economy can play a major part in respecting the natural environment as long as they are working in a sustainable manner.
Some companies donate a percentage of their profits back into the environment or local conservation efforts.
Others train up locals on the importance of preserving the natural habitat.
A growing awareness of and demand for eco-agencies has led to improved services but it never hurts to double-check that you are using a reputable business – particularly in developing countries.
If you’re going further afield then be sure to look for accommodation that operates ecologically in protected areas.
Buy from Companies Renowned for their High Eco-Standards
Reducing your own footprint is a great start but it’s important to look at the bigger picture.
Buying from sustainable outdoors brands will be of huge benefit in the long run.
Next time you go shopping, look out for certifications from companies like Bluesign, Fairtrade or vegan symbols on the garments.
Ethical clothing choices are better for the environment and the individuals who are making them.
Brands who are pioneering responsible clothing include Arc’teryx, Berghaus, Columbia, Deuter, Haglöfs, Helly Hansen, Kathmandu, La Sportiva, Mammut, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, Norrøna, Patagonia, REI, Salomon and The North Face.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repair
Each new season brings with it a new release of clothing and hiking equipment. We’re all suckers for shiny new stuff but most of the time we don’t need it.
Reduce the amount of new items that you buy. By investing in high-quality kit first time round, you’ll save yourself a bunch of money in the long run.
For example, merino base layers might cost you twice as much as polyester but feel nicer and will outlast cheap, man-made fibres.
High-end technical gear in particular can serve you for years if you take good care of it.
It’s also worth investing in designated cleaning products for particular types of fabric.
Harsh detergents and dryers can damage clothing irreparably overnight. With the right products you can renew the DWR layer or refresh the Gore-tex, polish up or reseal your boots, etc.
Try to repair whatever can be fixed in between outings, whether its a torn sleeping bag that needs a few stitches or a pole that can be taped up to get another few hikes out of it.
If you have a small tear on your jacket, just fix it with a patch and remember that this is nature, not a fashion show.
If you’re really over your gear, try exchanging it with other hikers or selling it online.
n which note, there’s plenty of barely-used second-hand hiking gear online and in shops that costs you and the planet far less than out-of-the-packet products.
Dodge the Single-Use Items
Instead of buying a new water bottle in every shop you pass (even if you manage to recycle each time), just refill the bottle you have.
Reuseable plastic and metal bottles are a little heavier but you’ll have them for years to come.
When there’s not a clean water source then filter water bottles and purifiers are the best way of reducing your waste. If you need a bit more capacity, treat yourself to a bladder.
Just make sure that you identify refill points along your route – whether that is from a tap, a stream or a lake.
Next up take a look at your toiletries. Instead of buying travel-sized shampoo/conditioner and soap, buy a small bottle that you can refill for each trip from a bigger container at home.
There are also all-in-one biodegradable cosmetics created for wilderness use. In one single bottle you can have your shampoo, soap and dish soap.
Have one cloth for washing dishes and one for yourself. A small fast-drying towel is superior to baby wipes, particularly if you get an anti-bacterial one.
If you really have to buy wet wipes, choose biodegradable ones.
Leave No Trace
‘Leave No Trace’ is a global movement that outlines the basic seven laws of the trail.
Make sure you read up and stick to them, with particular focus on respecting the land by staying on designated trails and camping where allowed, as well as packing out all rubbish and waste.
As tempting as it is to take souvenirs home with you, it’s better to leave things as they are, exactly as nature intended.
Take Proper Food
When we’re prepping for a hike it seems so much easier to just pack lots of pre-purchased snack bags of nuts, jerky and carb-heavy items.
But with a little extra effort, you can save yourself money. Make your own meals and snacks to reduce food waste and unnecessary packaging.
This way you’ll cut back on the amount of rubbish you have to carry back out with you.
It’s tricky to go completely waste-free so be sure to bring a bin bag – ideally a biodegradable one.
If you’ve prepped your own sandwiches and snacks, package them in beeswax wrapping instead of clingfilm or a reusable tupperware instead of sandwich bags.
Instead of wasting money at the cafe and walking away with a disposable cup, bring a thermos of coffee and bag of home-made trail mix.
There are plenty of online recipes for homemade muesli bars, soups, wraps and protein balls.
If you’re taking on a multi-day hike, package foods together. You don’t need to have each and every meal in its own separate plastic bag.
It is wasteful and uses up unnecessary space in your pack.
Ditch the Chemicals
The products we use on ourselves ultimately have an impact on the environment too.
Shampoos and soaps, sunscreen, bug spray and deodorant are all frequently used items that should be given a little consideration before you pack them.
A lot of sun creams and insect repellants contain nasty chemicals that can reap havoc on the flora and fauna.
The impact is worst during warmer months as flocks of hikers take to lakes, rivers, waterfalls and other water sources, rinsing off parabens, octinoxate and oxybenzone amongst other chemicals.
The good news is that there are plenty of eco-friendly personal products available that are just as effective and won’t damage your surroundings.
PETA has its own list of vegan and cruelty-free sun creams but there are hundreds of options online.
Natural insect repellants have grown in popularity too, using a combination of lavender, lemon eucalyptus oil, citronella and tea tree extracts.
Consider making greener transport choices
Sustainable travel can begin before you’ve even started your hike.
How are you getting to the trail and home again? Hindsight is a wonderful thing and each time you get back from a trip, take time to reflect on what you might have done differently.
Instead of driving, could you have travelled by public transport or shared a ride with other people in your group? If you’re hiking locally perhaps you could even cycle to the trailhead.
Spread the Word
Once you’ve got this all down, be sure to always lead by example. Encourage others to act in the same way!
If you see someone dropping litter, politely remind them of the impact they are having and how lucky they are to be in such a beautiful place that has been left untouched by others.
Spread the word to family and friends on best practice and you could even organise an occasional litter pick.
Charlotte walks anywhere and everywhere she can. Although she hasn’t ticked off as many official routes as she’d like, she has walked her way around large parts of Latin America, Southeast Asia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
Bucket list routes: