A sustainable hiking trip in the French Alps, Sous Dine

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 will help you appreciate your surroundings, can make 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.

In every country you’ll find a plethora of hiking trails, leading you to some of the most fantastic, and often fragile, natural areas around the world. 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. 

This simple guide will help your inner eco-warrior shine strong, so you can explore that trail knowing you’re respecting the local wildlife and conserving the natural environment for many years to come. 

In this guide you’ll find:

  • Ethical tips for before the trail (incl. gear, food, equipment and planning)
  • Sustainable tactics to use on the hike (cooking, camping, rubbish, poopin…)
  • Extra sustainable hiking tips to help the trails and community
Man walking through mountains in France on an eco hiking trip
These sustainable tips will help you hit the trail as a responsible wanderer

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 which is completely blowing your mind. You’re on the trail, absorbed in your surroundings, hiking through pristine nature without any signs of human life. 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. 

Now, it’s not just littering which is the problem. When your hiking trail is taking you through national parks, protected areas and reserves, that land is mighty fragile. The flocks of eager adventurers coming at all times of the year can have a seriously damaging effect in ways they might not even realise. This is especially true in the most popular hiking destinations around the world.

Though we visit to embrace the natural beauty, without realising we can actually be damaging it. But, this doesn’t have to be the case!

If you’re new to hiking you might want to check out our guide to hiking for beginners, or find out why we’re so crazy about spending time in nature.

Introducing: Sustainable hiking tips & planning!

Sustainable hiking 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 that slice of nature!

Stage 1 – How to plan a hike like an eco-pro

1. Picking the right hiking trail

First things first, if you don’t pick the right hiking trail all of your eco-efforts could be wasted. 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 or quieter destination. 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.

Girl in the mountains on hiking trip sitting in nature
Picking the right trail at the right time of year means overcrowding isn’t a problem

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 sustainable outdoors brands

The gear and equipment you use might not have a direct impact on the trail that day but picking sustainable outdoors brands will be of huge benefit in the long run. 

This is all made quite a lot easier by certifications from companies like Bluesign, Fairtrade or even vegan symbols. This is normally a good sign the outdoors brand is making efforts to produce ethical clothing which will be much better for the environment.

Some brands which are pioneering responsible clothing are Kathmandu, Marmot, Merrel, Patagonia and Vaude.

Most of these brand can be found on major outdoors clothing websites like Cotswolds or REI

Looking for ethical outdoor gear? You might like:

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 don’t have loads of air miles, perhaps making your own snacks, like these vegan energy balls.

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.

If you’re not sure about vegan hiking snacks you might like this article, and if you’re not sure about vegan protein sources then this one’s for you.

This also means trying to wrap and package your foods responsibly. Invest in a good quality food container which 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 water purification tablets. Most water purifying straws or bottles are made of plastic and the filter will need to be replaced. These tablets are incredibly cheap, can be used in any regular water bottle or bladder and have only a tiny amount of waste. 

Sustainable hiking girl drinking from water bottle
Take a reusable water bottle  to avoid single-use plastic

5. Choose sustainable suncream and ointments

It’s important to consider all the products you’re using and how they impact the environment. A lot of sun creams and insect repellants contain nasty chemicals that can cause havoc to the natural world.

Check out this list of vegan and cruelty-free sun creams from PETA plus this natural insect repellant, free from all those unwanted chemicals. 

6. Consider making greener transport choices

How are you getting to the trail? Could you travel by public transport/lift-sharing/cycling or even walking? 

Sustainable travel can begin before you’ve even started your hike. Consider how far away the hike is and whether there are hikes closer to you that don’t involve so much travelling. 

If you find driving is your last option, could you offer a lift to fellow hikers? Networks like Blablacar are a great way to get around and meet like-minded people! 

Make the most of your time on the trail with these 10 hiking tips

Man on bike cycling to hiking trail
Can you cycle or even walk to the trail?

7. Check you’ve got everything!!

Before you leave the front door make sure you’ve packed everything. There’s no point investing in sustainable outdoors clothing or a tasty vegan lunch if you leave it at home. 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. 

You’ll find all of our gear and reviews here if you want some extra advice

Stage 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. Leaving a trail of waste is always going to suck. In the outdoors, however, it REALLY sucks and that plastic bottle or crisp packet could be there for centuries. 

Besides being a real eyesore, 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 can be bad for the whole ecosystem.

Apple cores, banana skins, cigarette butts etc also shouldn’t be left, no matter how small they are, even if they’re biodegradable.

There’s a super simple answer: leave absolutely no trace! This is where those bin bags come in handy…

2. What do you do with the 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!
Man opening bar on hiking trail
Think about where you’re going to put that rubbish mister!

3. Respect the land whilst hiking

Although it can be tempting to pick those wildflowers as a souvenir from your hike, try to avoid the temptation. What might seem like something pretty to keep a jar for you is 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!). 

Respecting the land also means keeping to marked trails, ‘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. 

Sticking to the path ensures it stays its intended size, you don’t disturb any habitats and won’t damage any plants that are being protected. More often than not the path exists for a reason, straying off course could not only harm the environment but you too! 

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

Want help picking the right camping spot?

Leave the flowers for the local wildlife to enjoy

5. Light fires responsibly when hiking

On a multi-day hike the perfect way to round off a day on the trail is with a cosy fire to cook on. We all know this is a real highlight. 

Now I don’t want to rain on your parade (or fire in this case) but it’s important to light fires responsibly. 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, 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

If mother nature calls, which let’s be honest is more likely then not, 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.

A few poopin’ tips…

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. 

Sustainable hiker sitting on rock near stream
Think again when nature calls, a stream is a bad place to pee

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. This is a natural reaction. These animals are used to having to defend themselves on a daily basis and may see you as a threat.

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.

Don’t have much time or experience? Accessible adventures could be right up your street!

Stage 3 – Keep up the sustainability when you get home and spread the word!

All these awesome sustainable efforts don’t have to stop once you’ve kicked off your hiking shoes. Everything we do has an impact, so try and let this ethical streak spread into every aspect of your life. You can find more inspiration in our Green Adventures section. 

Check out our guide on outdoor gear repair and maintenance to help you gear last for adventures to come

Another great step you can take is to spread the ethical vibes! Make sure your hiking buddies are also exploring in a sustainable way and protecting the trails, they might appreciate reading this article. Remember, the more hikers in the world the better. But, not just any hikers: sustainable hikers!

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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.

What steps do you take to make your hike as sustainable as possible? Drop us a line in the comments and tell us what you think, or if you have any of your own sustainable hiking tips?

Keep exploring…

Ditch Flying and Embrace Local Adventures

What Ethical Adventures Means to Us & Why They Should Mean the World to You 

Zero Waste Adventure Tips for You Outdoor Trip

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles and How to Follow them in the Outdoors

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