As hikers, we already travel off the beaten path. In an age of single-use plastics, disposable toiletries and landfills the size of small islands, walking the trail for months at a time is a step forward in helping our beloved planet. Being able to put all my trash in a plastic bag for days at a time showed me how much trash I was saving by living on the trail. However, there are always areas for improvement and ways to reduce our waste even when we live with a 50 liter pack.
1) Take advantage of the TerraCycle program
If you’re the type to rely on freeze-dried meals on your hike, you know how bulky those plastics can be. Instead of throwing them in the trash, several companies are encouraging consumers to participate in TerraCycle. Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House both offer this innovative recycling strategy as a free waste reduction option for backpackers. With an online order at Backpacker’s Pantry, you can request a return recycling shipping label, which can be easily mailed from any city stop. Yes, it’s one more thing to carry, but it’s worth it. For Mountain House products, you can print shipping label rifight in town, pack it and send it. All for free.
2) Buy quality equipment
We’ve all heard it: buy well, buy once. Before making any big purchases, like a tent, sleeping bag, or backpack, do your research. Choosing items specifically designed for backpacking and long-distance touring helps prevent early wear and tear, saving both money and the environment in the long run. Sale and discounted items can be extremely appealing, but may result in an additional purchase sooner than necessary.
3) Shop REI garage sales and other used equipment programs
We all know about REI’s generous return policy, but we may not enjoy the full cycle of these products. With equipment returned as new and usable, REI hosts garage sales for its members. If you can’t make it to one of these events, REI recently launched a used equipment store online as well as. Quality gear can be expensive, so keep gear out of landfills and in the backcountry.
4) Replace single-serve bars, trail mixes, and instant coffee with bulk options
This applies to restock boxes and grocery shopping in town. It’s convenient to have individually wrapped bars and snacks, but that extra plastic adds up quickly. Many grocery stores have bulk sections where you can stock up on nuts, dried fruit, and other goodies for a bag of homemade trail mix. Plus, you won’t have to choose all the raw raisins. Replacing single-serve snacks with bulk items significantly reduces waste and can also save money. This also applies to instant drinks such as coffee. Instead of buying single-serving pouches, consider a larger box and transfer it to a plastic (or reusable!) bag. Being aware and reducing single-serving snacks and using TerraCycle programs means almost zero food waste. Pretty impressive for a hiker.
5) Use reusable hygiene replacements
We will all have to wipe our butts. But there are ways to make sure those few precious squares of toilet paper we use are as eco-friendly as possible. For ladies, invest in a Kula fabric is a complete game changer. This absorbent, reusable pee square saved us from having to choose between using extra toilet paper or dealing with slightly damp shorts. For situations where single-use toilet paper is unavoidable, there are post-industrial recycled content options available. This company uses bamboo and recycled paper to make its toilet paper. Investing in this sustainable swap is certainly no cheaper than stealing a few squares from the occasional pit toilet, but will have an impact nonetheless.
Women unfortunately have another hygiene issue to consider. A menstrual cup not only saves the waste of single-use tampons and pads, but also saves a lot of space and weight. There are several different brands to choose from, many of which are available at CVS stores, Target or online.
6) Follow the principles of Leave No Trace
In order to stay up to date on all the latest Leave No Trace guidelines, it is imperative to check their website and keep up to date with all updated rules. In recent years, lnt.org has included a new resource on how to geotag and consciously use social media. It is up to all of us to keep these trails as wild and pristine as possible for future generations to come as social media draws more visitors to the regions. Plus, we could all use a reminder to make sure our campsites and footprints leave as little of an impact as possible.
7) Use a microfiber filter laundry bag
This is an investment that will help our water systems at home and on the trails. These laundry bags are designed to protect our clothing from the release of harmful plastic fibers into our waterways. On the trail, it’s a crucial way to ensure our clothes don’t harm the streams and rivers we all benefit from in the backcountry. Also note that it is best to collect water and wash clothes elsewhere to prevent the flow of sunscreen, insecticide and other unnatural products into our waterways.
8) Keep a reusable garbage bag
To be honest, I didn’t think twice about tossing my gallon-sized trash bags with all my trash every time I restocked. There was absolutely no reason for me to do this. I could have just as easily emptied all the trash out of the bag and refilled it. Or, better yet, bring a lightweight, reusable trash bag to avoid the use of all plastic.
9) Carbon offset air and car travel
Most of the hikes I plan require a bit of travel. Carbon offsetting isn’t a perfect solution to reducing our impact on public transit, but it’s a step in the right direction. Basically, for a tiny purchase (around $2 or more if you want), you can offset the miles you’ve driven with those funds going directly to emissions reduction projects. The good traveler is a wonderful resource for all questions regarding the benefits of carbon offsetting.
10) Replace toiletries with plastic-free options
Bamboo toothbrushes are growing in popularity and are a lightweight option to replace plastic brushes. Replace plastic toothpaste tubes with bite-sized pieces of toothpaste is also an environmentally and weight-friendly way to reduce waste. It also saves us frugal hikers squeezing every last drop out of a long, empty container of toothpaste. Another simple tip to save money and plastic is to avoid buying single-use travel toiletries and invest in reusable tubes to fill with soap, lotion, or whatever helps you clean. feel clean while living outdoors.
When it comes to protecting our beloved trails and the environment as a whole, it’s up to all of us. Many of these tips may seem insignificant, but every little reduction in plastic use adds up quickly. As we approach the time of year when we’re all dreaming of hitting the trails and perhaps planning trips for 2020, it’s imperative to consider ways to reduce our impact.
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