Outdoor adventures are food for the soul at any point in our lives. But during a pandemic, getting out into nature is a necessity for many of us to maintain a positive mindset. We must remember that the ability to explore the wilderness is a privilege, and it will only exist so long as we sustain it.
Whether you’re new to hiking or are a seasoned pro on the trails, it’s important to recognize the impact that your actions have on the environment. Designated routes and guidelines for mountain adventures are created for the benefit of your own health and that of the natural world, so take these steps to ensure you are exploring respectfully and consciously.
Do not go off trail
It might seem fun to bushwhack and forge your own path, but the trail is there for a reason. Not only does going off-trail pose a risk to your own safety, but it can also inflict irreversible harm to the environment. Trampling off the designated route can break down vegetation and reduce ground cover, and it can also lead to a change in species diversity and reproductive ability. Remember that any human interference with nature can have a severe effect on the entire ecosystem, so it’s best to stick to the designated paths.
Pack out what you pack in
Nature is not your dumping ground, fellow hikers—take that however you wish. Leave the wilderness just as you found it, taking care to leave minimal impact on the environment. Avoid introducing any substances that could be harmful for animals or nature. For example, there are incidents of hikers that defecate in the woods with drugs in their system, leading to ingestion by dogs or wildlife that transfer toxins into their system. The lifespan of any substance that you bring into the wilderness can have severe impacts on other beings and the entire ecosystem. Be conscious to not leave any trace!
Keep dogs on leash
There are certain etiquette rules to hiking and they exist for the enjoyment of your fellow hikers as well as the health of the environment. We know you love to let your furry friend run wild, but the flora and fauna in sensitive areas need to be protected and respected. Dogs running wherever they please can cause the vegetation to break or land to erode, or they may start interfering with an animal’s home such as a beaver dam. Off-leash dogs are also prone to chasing wildlife such as deer or squirrels, causing discomfort to the animals that live there.
Give everyone their space
If there’s anything this pandemic has taught us, it’s to abide by social distancing recommendations—and this goes for other hikers, animals and plants while hiking. Humans are guests in the natural environment of hiking, and we should treat this space just as we would a guest’s home (if this doesn’t set a high standard for you, you are not invited into my home). Admire from a distance and refrain from getting too close to or touching plants or animals, as you may alter their composition or lifespan without even realizing it. Take a photo if you wish (no hate to the ‘gram game) and carry on with your journey.
The impact of every hiking adventure extends beyond just your immediate surroundings, so your environmentally conscious decisions must start with the preparation for your trip. Pack only the necessities, and when shopping, opt for sustainable gear that supports sustainably minded companies. One of the golden rules of hiking is to pack ample food and water, so be sure to use a reusable bottle and avoid single-use packaging with your snacks—these reusable Abeego food wraps are a great alternative. Pack local food that didn’t have to travel far from their source through a CO2-emitting vessel, and don’t forget to use multi-functional tools whenever possible—“spork” is not just a fun word to say, you know!
Each outdoor adventure brings a special experience with nature that cannot be replicated, and we must do what we can to keep the wilderness as pristine as possible so this gift is not lost to us or future generations. We hope these tips will help set your next hiking adventure off on the right (environmentally friendly) foot.