Take to the trails as a true eco-warrior with these sustainable hiking tips and planning guide!
If you’ve spent more than 2 minutes on this website you’ll probably realise we’re pretty big fans of hiking. Heck, we’re pretty fanatical.
Hiking helps you appreciate your surroundings, makes you feel on top of the world and can quite literally take you there too.
The plain truth is, the more hikers in the world the better. But, not just any hikers: sustainable hikers!
Lace up your hiking boots and you can explore some of the most fantastic natural areas around the world. These are often the most fragile too.
It’s only right that, as responsible adventurers, we explore these places in the most respectful way possible. That’s where these sustainable hiking tips and planning guide comes in.
Taking the green route can often save you time, money and add to the adventure whilst helping to conserve the surrounding environment. This way, everyone is a winner!
In this guide you’ll find:
- How to plan an eco-friendly hiking trip (incl. gear, food, equipment and planning)
- Sustainable tactics to follow in the wild (cooking, camping, rubbish, poopin…)
- Extra eco hiking tips that help the trails and community
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Why is sustainable hiking important?
If you’re a frequent hiker you’ve most likely come across a similar situation to this…
You’ve found a hiking destination that completely blows your mind. You’re on the trail, absorbed in your surroundings and hiking through pristine nature. Time seems to stop and you don’t have a worry in the world. Then, you spot something alien on the floor. Standing out from the deep greens and browns is a pile of trash, just dumped there. It changes everything.
And it’s far more than just litter.
With hiking becoming more and more popular, our impact as outdoor users is completely changing the landscape. Some of the most popular hiking destinations around the world are literally buckling under the pressure.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can embrace the natural beauty and continue to be a hiking fanatic, just following some of these green hiking tips and tactics!
Making your time outside more sustainable
Hiking sustainably is all about embracing your surroundings, respecting the environment and inhabitants, whilst being sure to leave no trace.
Sounds simple enough, right? Because it is!
You don’t need to be a conservationist, just a few considerations before and whilst you’re on the trail will help you appreciate your surroundings and protect the awesome landscape around you!
Step 1 – Planning your hike
1. Picking the right hiking trail
Hiking and national parks have become so popular, in a lot of places we’re quite literally loving nature to death.
If possible, opt for an alternative hiking destination or a quieter trail. Not only will you appreciate having the place to yourself, you also won’t be contributing to the stresses some natural areas face from overcrowding.
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2. Hiking at the right time of year
Take into consideration all aspects when picking the time of your hike. Is there a particularly important time of year for wildlife? A crucial point for some of the local vegetation?
Though some natural events may be exciting to see first-hand, sometimes it might be better to just let nature run its course undisturbed.
3. Pick your outdoor equipment sensibly and opt for sustainable outdoor brands
Your adventure gear might not have an immediate impact on the trail but it has a huge impact on your carbon footprint, affecting the environment in the long run.
Invest in the right gear for your trips and steer away from fast fashion or poor-quality items that won’t last. Picking ethical outdoor brands is a big step that can help support environmental initiatives too.
Whether you’re shopping online or in-person, sustainable certifications like Bluesign or Fair Wear can help you be sure your gear was responsibly produced. Some brands which are pioneering responsible clothing are Kathmandu, Merrell, Patagonia and Vaude.
Don’t think you always need to buy new. You can buy great second-hand outdoor gear on places like eBay, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace or groups, and this can massively lower your carbon footprint too.
4. Take eco-friendly food and water choices to limit waste
When hiking, think about the food you’re taking with you to the trail. Try to opt for local foods that aren’t wrapped in heaps of plastic and don’t have loads of air miles, perhaps making your own snacks (these vegan energy balls are our favourites!).
Making your own snacks means you’ll be skipping out on all that unnecessary packaging plus you don’t need to worry about dealing with so much rubbish. It’s pretty hard to go completely waste-free on the hiking trail so make sure you take some bin bags with you too, biodegradable is best.
This also means trying to wrap and package your foods responsibly. Invest in a good quality food container that will last and a high-capacity water bottle or bladder so you don’t end up using lots of single-use plastics.
The cheapest, lightest and most sustainable water purification option is to buy a water filter or water filter bottle. We like the Sawyer Squeeze, which saves tonnes of plastic and means you can safely drink from freshwater sources.
5. Choose sustainable suncream and ointments
A lot of sun creams and insect repellants contain nasty chemicals that can cause havoc to the natural world, especially if you’re going for lots of outdoor swims.
6. Make green transport choices
How are you getting to the trail? Transport equates to a large portion of our carbon emissions and is an important point to think about.
Consider how far away the hike is… perhaps there are options closer to you that won’t involve a big journey.
For short journeys, maybe it’s possible to go completely human-powered? Perhaps you could start by cycling or even walking from your front door?
If you’re going further afield, the next best option is often to go by train. You can plan your travel and find discounted trains with companies like Omio, which will help cut down the carbon emissions of your trip. We often take our bikes on the train and then lock them at the start of the trailhead.
Busses are also good options and if you do end up driving, why not think about lift-sharing? Liftsharing networks are a great way to get around and meet like-minded people!
7. Check you’ve got everything!!
Before you leave the front door make sure you’ve packed everything – there’s no point investing in top-notch eco-friendly outdoor clothing or a tasty vegan lunch if you leave it at home!
Remember: it’s easy to sway from the green path when you’re in a rush. Take your time and check you have everything you need so you don’t end up buying a load of plastic from a nearby shop on the way to the trail.
Step 2 – hit the trail like a true tree hugger!
1. Leave no trace
This is a biggie but probably the simplest and easiest to implement: leave no trace on the trail you’re wandering.
Leaving rubbish on hiking trails is awful for the local ecosystem. Wildlife can mistake it for food and end up with stomachs filled with plastic or become injured by getting trapped in things like cans. On top of that, the chemicals they release as they slowly decompose are real crappy.
Apple cores, banana skins, cigarette butts etc. also shouldn’t be left, no matter how small they are, even if they’re biodegradable.
For some more detailed eco tips, check out our Guide to the Seven Leave No Trace Principles
2. What do you do with your rubbish?
- Keep rubbish in a bin bag and if possible split them up for recycling
- If you’re going to be camping, leave your rubbish in a safe place so animals don’t tear through the bag overnight
- If you find bins along the trail, try to recycle your rubbish and make sure you close the lid! This will stop wildlife from climbing into bins and potentially getting trapped or injured.
- You can secure rubbish bags in/on your rucksack until you find a bin. If you’ve packed the right food and drink you shouldn’t have too much waste, just make sure the bags don’t tear!
- IMPORTANTLY: even if there are bins, it’s always best to take rubbish back home if you can. Remote bins on trails can overfill quickly so best to avoid them if possible.
3. Respect the land whilst hiking
Although it can be tempting to take memories and souvenirs from your hike, try to avoid the temptation and leave them as part of the ecosystem.
Things like shells, pinecones, stones etc. might be pretty but are probably part of something else’s habitat or dinner. Leave nature as it was intended and preserve it for the locals who live there (yes I’m talking about bugs and birds!).
‘Braiding’ can become a big problem. This is when hikers walk along the edges of a hiking path, sometimes to avoid things like puddles, which over time makes the path much wider. To avoid this, stick to the trail or path and you won’t cause any unintentional damage.
Rock cairns: though these can look pretty to some, it’s still best to leave the landscape as it is naturally.
4. Choose that camping spot wisely (particularly if you’re backcountry or wildcamping)
Yes, everyone wants to find that perfect spot: nestled up in nature, with a cracking sunrise and a mountain view, but sometimes it can damage the environment.
Some good camping tips you can follow are
- Don’t move or damage vegetation to make space for a tent
- Try to pick camping spots with naturally cleared flooring
- Pick sturdy trees for hammocks, ideally a tree thicker than your torso
For lots more useful tips, check out our Guide to Finding Wild Camping Spots
5. Light fires responsibly when hiking
On a multi-day hike, lighting a campfire to cook dinner on can be the perfect finish to your day.
Before you go, firstly check you’re allowed to light fires in the area, again if you’re not there’s most likely a reason for this. Even if fires are allowed, if you’re in a particularly dry landscape fires can spread VERY quickly… use your own judgement, maybe it’s best to avoid them?
If you’re using a camping stove, make sure it’s on even ground to avoid falling over and when making a fire do it in an extremely well-cleared area, possibly using a previously made area, that avoids overhanging trees and branches.
If you’re unsure best to hedge on the side of caution, fire is a difficult element to tame, these fire building tips can be very useful.
6. Don’t sh*t where others eat
When mother nature calls, consider where you do your business. Assess whether it’s near a food or water source as this could ruin the resources available in the area. Some regions might require you to take all poop with you, so also make sure you know the rules of the land.
You should never do your business closer than 200 feet to a stream or river to avoid contaminating natural water sources. Just being mindful of the trail as well, nobody wants to know what you had for breakfast. The best practice is to dig a small hole, do your thing, and make sure you cover it. Look for ethical toilet roll too.
Peeing and pooing outside can be a bit of a predicament, especially for us girls – this guide has loads of advice and ace peeing positions.
7. Be respectful of the local wildlife
Spotted something peculiar and slimy or cute and fluffy?
The temptation might be to engage with it and take some snaps but this could be distressing. Wild animals are not used to humans or being the centre of attention and may react aggressively if you try and get too close.
Observe from afar, trying not to disturb the natural environment, and you’ll find you’re more likely to spot wildlife this way. And, as hungry as they may seem, it’s also best not to feed animals, they become reliant on human interaction and the food may be harmful to them.
8. Lead by example
Now you’ve got to this point you know pretty much all the tips needed to be a true eco-hiker – make sure you use them!
Lead by example on the trail and encourage others to do the same. If you see someone dropping litter then
chase them down with a wooden club remind them of the impact their having and how lucky they are to be in such a beautiful place. That’s normally enough to hit home.
You could even go on a hike with the intention of picking up any other litter you see. If everyone did this once in a while, and also reminded other hikers, our awesome landscapes could be cleaned up in no time!
Step 3 – Keep up the sustainability when you get home and spread the word!
Don’t neglect outdoor gear maintenance
When you get back from the trail, make sure you’re gear isn’t left in a state. Giving your hiking boots a quick clean or leaving your waterproof to dry will help give them a longer lifespan. This will save you money and cut down the environmental impact of your adventures
Check out our guide on outdoor gear repair and maintenance to help your gear last for years to come. And prolong the life of your shoes with this hiking boot waterproofing guide. Then, if you’re gear truly worn out, make sure to recycle it properly.
Another great step you can take is to spread the ethical vibes! Encourage your buddies to also explore in a sustainable way and protect the trails (they might appreciate reading this article ;).
Remember, the more hikers in the world the better. But, not just any hikers: sustainable hikers!
Sustainable Hiking Tips + Planning for Eco-Hikers
Incorporating these simple steps into your next hiking excursion will ensure you’re protecting the land in the best way possible. Hiking is one the easiest and most enriching way to explore your local environment but being conscious of your impact is also damn crucial!
Take the time to consider and integrate these eco-hiking tips into your next trip.