If you’re a hiker — and face it, if you’re reading this, you probably are — you’ve committed to becoming a good steward of the wild places we all spend time in. Maybe you’ve memorized Leave No Trace’s 7 Principles by heart. Maybe you even play trailside good-cop-bad-cop with your hiking companions and strangers alike, explaining why no, they can’t pick the flowers, or patiently describing how to navigate icky-‘til-you-try-it hurdles like packing out toilet paper.
If this sounds like you: Thank you! Mother Nature and other hikers owe you a debt of gratitude for wading into the messy business of keeping our wild spaces clean. But nobody’s perfect, and even the most diligent LNT evangelist has room for improvement. We’re here to help: Some of the best ways to reduce your impact often occur before you hit the trail. Nipping them in the bud can make a massive impact on the planet at large — especially in the age of climate change, where choices in our cities and backyards impact ecosystems thousands of miles away.
1) Buy Better Gear There’s a saying I’ve heard from some practical, penny-pinching gear testers: “The best jacket is the one you have.” The sentiment rings true, since the best way to eliminate your footprint from the manufacturing supply chain is to not participate for as long as you can. (If you’ve bought ultra-tough stuff like Royal Robbins Performance Flannel, you’ll get decades out of it.) But most gear (especially apparel) eventually fails, and when it does, it’s doubly important to vote for the environment with your wallet. Pay attention to the labels: Retailers who participate in watchdog partnerships like BlueSign commit to reducing air and water emissions, eliminating toxic substances, and improving health and safety for workers all along the supply chain. This is no easy task, but Royal Robbins offers 31 products that meet these rigorous standards — from Traveler Stretch Pants to the Field Guide Vest. Look for double-bonus gear like the Astoria Waterproof Jacket, which uses a revolutionary non-fluorinated DWR fabric [[link to Ec-0 DWR story]] to ensure waterproofing without toxic chemicals or carbon-intensive processes. The potential impact is enormous: Buying wisely can eliminate thousands of pounds of harmful emissions, and sends a strong signal to retailers and gear companies to purify their supply chains than packing out a six pack ever could.
2) Focus On Your Food When you hike or backpack, keeping energy up is key — and it can be tempting to just throw a couple bars in your pack and buy a coffee on the way to the trailhead. This causes a couple of problems. Anything with packaging means an industrial process was involved — which boosts its carbon footprint. On top of that, bringing packaging with you increases the likelihood of accidental litter, or you leaving trash in trash bins at the trailhead. This is bad: Garbage that goes into trailhead receptacles still has to be removed and sent to a landfill, which results in carbon emissions from transport and potential methane emissions from the landfill itself. Instead, consider making your own trail food. Assemble trail mix from bulk bins in grocery stores, dehydrate your own jerky, and even consider baking your own energy bars. Then bring them in reusable containers — we guarantee it’ll taste better, cost less, and help keep the wilderness clean.
3) Give Wild Spaces A Break You can limit your personal impact all you like, and it may not matter: Skyrocketing popularity in our wild spaces means they get stressed from sheer numbers of people, even if each individual exhibited a monk-like devotion to LNT practices. There are two potential fixes: Instead of adding to the road and trail traffic in a national park, consider hiking at local parks served by mass transit, or easily served by a friendly carpool or local meetup. The second solution is even more fun, though. When you visit national parks, consider going in the off-season and on weekdays. Ask rangers to issue permits to areas that see little traffic. There’s a massive bonus to this approach, as you’re more likely to encounter the essential solitude that makes a good hiking trip great.
4) Give Back Despite our best efforts, wilderness areas that see frequent use will see impacts — and they don’t clean themselves. What’s more, the national and state agencies tasked with maintaining our wild spaces frequently don’t have the manpower, money, or time to get even close to keeping up. This is where you, the diligent hiker, come in: Look for trail cleanups trips in your area, and commit to completing one a season. It’s even more rewarding if you pick a high-stress area close to your heart. Royal Robbins has partnered for 40 years with Yosemite to solicit volunteers and donations to shore up the budget and volunteer shortfall. Every September, Royal Robbins organizes Yosemite Facelift to help clean the literal rock faces of Yosemite. Restoration programs are sponsored year-round through the Yosemite Conservancy. There are similar programs in every part of the country — volunteer.gov is a good place to start.
What are some of the ways you reduce your footprint on your favorite hikes? Let us know in the comments!