Leave no trace
Sustainability on the trail
When hiking, you are one with nature: you pass pristine areas, climb mountains and cross deserted regions. Despite the fact that thru-hiking is one of the most sustainable outdoor recreation sports out there, it will always impact nature in some way. We need to make sure we minimize our footprint as much as possible. Some things will come naturally, but other things might need a bit more thinking and preparation.
Leave no trace
Garbage does not belong in nature. Therefore, you always need to carry something with you to collect and dispose of it when you are back in civilization. Try to minimize the use of plastics and separate your waste when possible. For when you need to go number two, there is biodegradable toilet paper, which you can dispose of in a garbage bag. Use a trowel to dig a hole (at least 20cm deep) and away from other camping spots. Always check for special rules and/or regulations of the area you are in before you leave. Most places provide useful tips and tricks on how to hike as sustainably as possible in that specific area.
Do not disturb any wildlife on the trail and do not feed them. Try to maintain distance and do not startle them. Stick to the trail and take as few shortcuts as possible. It might seem like a small thing, but by doing so you prevent land erosion from happening. Do not pick or trample plants and other vegetation, and try to use your hiking poles on the path only. Passing through a gate? Always close it behind you!
To reduce your own ecological footprint, Leave No Trace, the center for outdoor ethics, has created 7 pillars:
- Plan ahead and be prepared.
- Camp on the right ground.
- Dispose of your waste in the correct way.
- Do not take anything from nature.
- Minimalize the impact of your fire.
- Respect nature and the animals.
- Be considerate of others.
Learn more about these principles at: Leave No Trace
How do you get to the starting point of your hike? The train might be the most sustainable and comfortable option. Especially in Europe the (international) train network is very good and can be a suitable option. Another option can be to carpool with other people or use a combination of both. Flying can be done when there is no other option, but don’t forget to compensate for the CO2 emissions!
Camping on your hike allows you to become really close to nature. When possible, try to use designated camping areas. If these are not available, choose a camping spot with little vegetation and hard soil. This will reduce the damage to the ground and prevents spots where others will put their tent. Do not leave any food or items on your camping spot and put everything back where you found it.
Obviously, there are many other ways to make your thru-hike more sustainable. Choose sustainable brands, cook vegetarian meals, use biodegradable items (e.g., soap, toothpaste) and minimize the use of plastics. Do you have other tips we should know about? Send us an e-mail at [email protected] and we can add it to the page.