Living in the mountains every day I feel blessed to be able to walk from my front door and within 2 minutes find a yellow sign to multiple hiking routes. All over Europe there are thousands of well-marked and well-kept hiking trails, from the novice walker right through to those people who like to challenge themselves on the high mountain routes. The rest of the world is the same, with the majority of countries having some form of marked hiking trails system. Here at HikingYogi, we believe that Eco Hiking, and Environmentally friendly hiking should be the priority for anybody setting out.
With all these trails out there it is our duty as hikers to keep the trails exactly what they are “nature”, and to make sure that we are Eco Hiking. We are venturing out into a natural habitat where animals and plants alike grow and thrive, and we must respect this and consider this with every aspect of our hike and preparation.
I have highlighted two major ways we can make a positive impact on the environment, with a couple of follow up points to get you thinking.
Stick to the path
The majority of trails are well-marked and fairly obvious to even an untrained eye. Certainly in mainland Europe you will find trail numbers, timings, which huts are open and serve food and on the signs. These signs are normally very frequent and at major junctions. You may also see signs or symbols painted on rocks or trees to help you stay on the correct trails.
It’s always good to carry a local map with you, or have a good App on your phone. My personal favorite are Bergfex and Komoot. Both have excellent maps and tracking features. Most apps will run off GPS and have downloadable offline features. A compass is also a useful tool to have with you, again either one you hold in your hand or one on your phone.
Everytime I am out with a group I see people cutting off the path, and taking a shortcut. If this happens regularly the side of the path with become damaged and will start to look like the trail. All of a sudden people will start to think that this is the trail and follow this route rather than the set trail. Eroding away grass, plants and habitats, all to make your hike 5 minutes shorter.
- Regrowth Areas
Quite often you will see closed paths and areas shut off to the public. Maybe even paths deliberately blocked, with diversions in place. These are quite often regrowth areas, where the plants and vegetation need a chance to grow again. This could be specific plants that are needed for the ecosystem in this area, or it could be that the path has been worn away so much that it could be dangerous. Do not ignore closed signs, even if your navigation App is telling you it’s the right way.
If you are wild hiking, where you are plotting your own routes it’s always advisable to check websites or at the local tourist information office to see if there are areas not to be hiked through. You may find areas that are fenced off, again to not ignore these fences.
- Damage to animals and their habitats
In most hiking areas you will see a wealth of animals, majority being birds, but you may come across deer, marmots, squirrels and all kinds of insect. No matter the size or shape, whether you or dislike the animals, they should be treated with respect.
If you stray off the path, especially into thicker grass or dense undergrowth, you cannot see where you are walking, or what you are walking on. You could be walking through animals homes, stomping on holes and filling or covering them up, potentially killing a habitat.
- Your own
This seems pretty obvious, but not to everyone. Every hike I do it is pretty much guaranteed that there will be some form of litter on the side of the trail. I’ve even witnessed people dropping litter along the way. Parking areas are often covered in litter with overflowing bins. If the bin is full, don’t just leave your litter next to it. This will encourage animals, and who knows how long that rubbish will be stood there for. Just take it with you and deposit it when you can.
- Take a bag to pick up litter
It’s very easy to pick up litter along the trail. I personally try to reuse plastic bags that I have bought fruit or veg in. Tissues are the main litter I find scattered around the trail. Pick it up and pop it into the litter bin in the car park, or flush it depending on the litter. Not all public bins are sorted for recycling, so if you find tins and cans out on the trail put them in a separate bag and recycle them accordingly. They can be easily flattened and folded into a disposable size and slid into the front or back sections of your pack
- Think of plastic waste and recycling
This really comes down to planning. Just saying NO to single use plastic bottles is a huge way off cutting down on plastic waste. If you have a refillable plastic water bottle, then take care of it. Wash it regularly and keep it out of direct sunlight. There are loads of ideas on YouTube of what you can turn your bike bottle into when it has passed the point of no return. Metal bottles are the way forward. Prep well with what your are taking for food and snacks. Again there are easily solutions, use reusable tupaware or metal snack tins rather that supermarket packaged sandwiches or snacks. There will be a blog post in the near future all about preparing for your hike.
Of course here at Hiking Yogi we encourage you to look up and take in the beautiful surroundings you are hiking it, and not enjoy your hike through a lens, however we do also encourage you to look down. Be aware of where you are walking, and what you are treading on. It could be animals or habitat. Do not kill any animals when you are out on your hikes, this includes ‘bugs’ that might land on you. Just brush them off. They have just as much right to be there as you do. Do not disturb larger animals. If you do it could firstly lead to danger for the animals, but also for you. A lot of larger animals are very protective over their young, so keep your distance. In the ‘selfie’ culture it can be very tempting to approach wild animals for that perfect Instagram picture, but please just put the animals first. Finally, and hopefully obviously do not remove any animals from their natural habitat. If you find injured animals along the way, contact the relevant services for the country or area that you are in. If you hike with your children, please educate them on this subject so we can start wildlife conservation with the next generation.
Respect the water sources
I just wanted to put this in as a side note really, but definitely something to think about. The water system in the mountains, be it streams, lakes or rivers, are all Eco systems of their own. Providing homes for some animals, and a major source of water and nutrients for others. A few easy ways to help here. Do not go to the toilet near a water source, 100m away minimum. Do not wash anything particularly toxic or tip anything away that is going to affect the cleanliness of the water or the animals that live it or drink from it.
Changing your outlook
It only takes a few small changes in how you approach your days hiking, to become a more Eco friendly hiker and be more environmentally friendly. Taking these simple steps will make a world of difference. Share these ideas with the people you go hiking with. Please feel free to comment below if you want to add anything or discuss the points above.