Hiking is a year-round, eco-friendly way to enjoy Nature and to stay fit. Here are some tips for enjoying your surroundings while leaving them intact for future generations.
By David Peacock
Finding a place to hike is always fun. Whichever method you use, I like to look at maps, a lot of maps. Late into the night I pour over maps. I marvel at the place names, I look up the sources of rivers that meander from one corner to the other, I pour over contour lines in order to figure out the elevations. In addition to this, the Internet is a powerful tool with websites like Wikipedia furnishing me with a bounty of knowledge on the area I plan to visit, knowledge that I once perhaps would either have never discovered or had to go to a library to seek.
With the discovery behind you, it’s time to plan your hiking adventure. You check your calendar and pick a date, you check with your friends and they jot it down too. You’ll want to take with you the essentials of course: a small first aid kit, insect repellent, sunscreen, maybe a compass or handheld GPS. Next, you need to think about food and water. At first thought, this is an effortless task. You might choose to buy disposable plastic cups, plates, knives, and forks to save on cleaning later. Perhaps you will buy drinks in plastic bottles
that you don’t have to worry about taking home. Some may choose to buy food that is heavy on the packaging – meats and cheeses that are individually wrapped in portions for convenience. But please remember that most things considered to be disposable aren’t. “Disposable” is a huge misnomer…and the greatest threat to our natural world.
But you can do better than this! You can enjoy your day out without doing so much ecological damage. Those plastic items will last indefinitely in landfills or littered around the very park that you are there to enjoy. So it’s important to adopt the “leave no trace” ethos; perhaps a more appropriate mnemonic would be “leave only footprints, take only photographs.”
Pack a Green Lunch
So let us begin our quest for a greener hiking experience. Why not buy a reusable (non-plastic) water bottle or thermos? Fill it with water from your kitchen tap instead of purchasing water that comes in “disposable” bottles. If it’s the fact that the water is especially filtered that floats your boat, remember that you can buy water filters for your own home. Purchase your food based on the least amount of packaging you can get away with; if you eat meat, go to the deli counter at your favorite grocery store or market so that you can select cheeses and meats that haven’t been laminated in plastic. Refrain from the cookies that come individually packaged for your convenience, but to the detriment of the planet. Maybe take fruit instead of a candy bar for your post-sandwich treat.
Once you have purchased the food and drinks for your hiking adventure, why not take another five minutes to prepare your food before you set off? This way you won’t take the packaging with you or knives that you don’t need to use. And you will find that you then have less garbage to shed or things to carry. Another benefit of this is that you can spend your time enjoying the vista instead of wasting it preparing your lunch!
Driving to Walk?
Next you should consider how you’re planning to get to the trail head. Perhaps you have arranged to meet there with your friends, with everyone driving independently. Once again, you can do better! Consider arranging to carpool; there are few sights as soul destroying as a full parking lot in a supposedly protected area. Better yet, if it’s feasible, why not take public transit or ride a bicycle?
Pack it Out
Arguably, the most important aspect and, of course, the ultimate goal is to take care of our surroundings when we are actually out on the hike. Pack out what you pack in! That is, if you took it there, it is your responsibility to take it home. You don’t need to toss your garbage, bury it in the ground, burn it or even look for a garbage can provided by the park. This applies not only to empty wrappers, but to food waste also. Think twice about throwing that apple core into the woods. There may be animals close to the trail that will wander over knowing they can get an easy meal. Will this help them long-term with exposure to humans? Most of us know that it’s prudent to be bear-aware with our food waste, but the rationale behind this is not purely to protect us from the bears. What about protecting the animals from humans? Even the smallest of animals get tempted by the food left over by hiking humans and it would be a tragedy to upset their hunter/gatherer world.
The ecosystem that you are enjoying is very delicate. What if the seeds from your fruit take root (however unlikely this may seem) and you introduce a new species of plant or tree to the area? The existing habitat could be damaged by your newly introduced competition.
Remember that if you take your waste home, you can reuse and recycle everything to your existing standards and you don’t place an additional burden on the environment that you went to enjoy.
Leave it Alone
Last, but by no means least, leave your environment alone! How many of us shake our heads in disbelief that our predecessors have destroyed the coral reefs around the world by each taking a little chunk that surely wouldn’t be missed? But how many of us will also carve our name in a tree or take particularly pretty rocks home to put in our gardens?
Finally, if you’re following a hiking trail, then be sure you stick to it in order to avoid trampling the fragile undergrowth around it. Your mission is to leave that pristine place exactly as you found it. If you can’t quite tell where you have been as you look back, you did an excellent job. Enjoy your hike and enjoy your surroundings, but leave them intact for the future. Every little bit helps.
David Peacock is a British expatriate who has been living his Canadian dream since 2005. He enjoys discovering Canada’s beautiful wilderness areas; a notable experience being a wolverine encounter, up close and personal, during a hike in Banff National Park. This article was first published in Natural Life Magazine.