Sometimes it can be easy to become caught up in routine and slip into a life on autopilot. Days can get pretty stale and monotonous when you don't remind yourself to make time for the stuff that fills you up and freshens your perspective—which is exactly why we love hiking.
Stepping away from the sidewalks you've traversed time and time again and immersing yourself in a new kind of nature can be so liberating. It's a reminder of the beauty that's always out there waiting to be explored—a little taste of the peaks, ridges, waters, and treetops that somehow all coexist on this amazing planet of ours. And all we need to do to repay these landscapes for hosting us is leave them just as beautiful as how we found them.
As we slide into outdoor season, let's pledge to make our hikes a bit gentler. Here's how to do it:
The do's and don'ts:
1. Don't take or leave anything.
Cathy Dowd, an officer at the U.S. Forest Service in North Carolina recommends that hikers follow Leave No Trace Principles. You might remember these seven guidelines from your grade school years but in case you don't, Dowd and her team think that two of the most important items on the list are the "dispose of waste properly" and "leave what you find" categories. They say to take all your trash with you and resist the urge to collect rocks or plants on the trail. Leave those for the next batch of explorers to enjoy!
2. Do your homework and don't be a jerk.
Kindra Ramos of Washington Trails Association, an outdoor adventure nonprofit, adds that researching your trail is a crucial step in any eco-friendly hike. "One of the keys to being a responsible hiker is careful planning and preparation. Know the rules and regulations of where you are going and make sure you have the gear you need to stay safe, and tread lightly," she says. "Secondly, leaving civilization behind doesn't mean leaving civility behind, too. You're not the only one enjoying the great outdoors, so read up on hiking etiquette so the next person can also enjoy their hike."
3. Don't mess with the wildlife.
As exciting as it can be to see a new critter on the trail, remember that these guys aren't used to seeing us either. Don't frighten them, and make sure you're not stepping all over their habitat by staying on designated trails at all times, even if it gets rough or muddy.
Your packing list:
These essentials will make it easier to have a zero-impact hike. Throw 'em in your pack (along with a few snacks, of course) and get out there.
1. A water bottle.
2. A trash bag.
Bring one along so you're not tempted to leave any waste behind.
3. Reusable food storage.
Make the eco-choice and store any loose snacks in reusable Beeswax wrapping.
4. Eco-friendly sunscreen and bug spray.
Sunscreens can be extremely harsh on the planet, releasing chemicals that threaten the surrounding environment. (There's even research to show that sunscreen is driving the bleaching of coral reefs in the tropics.) Go with natural brands like Stream2Sea and Goddess Garden instead. The same goes for bug sprays, so try to make your own using essential oils, witch hazel, and water.
Can't decide where to go on your next outdoor adventure? Check out our list of the most Instagram-worthy hikes out there.