Hiking is pretty low-impact, right? Most hikers really do care about the environment and they, of all people, understand the benefits of leaving some areas as wilderness, but unfortunately outdoor enthusiasts do sometimes cause serious damage when they go into the woods or the mountains. Here are some simple hiking tips to help you hike sustainably.
Don’t Spread Weeds
Environmental harm comes about in all kinds of ways. For those working to preserve natural animal and plant habitats, one of the biggest problems is weeds. All it takes is a single seed and an introduced species can sweep across a national park, totally changing the environment and crowding out vulnerable species. Take rhododendron for example- in the UK it has found its way into Snowdonia National Park and now covers more than 2000 hectares.
Sometimes the seeds travel with birds but other times they travel with hikers. No sensible person would sow a handful of rhododendron seeds in a national park, but they can catch a lift on boot soles and boot laces, and on clothing. Unfortunately the rhododendron is a popular garden plant and each bush produces up to a million seeds so it’s very easy to pick up an unseen but undesirable hitchhiker or two.
Hiking Tip #1: It’s always a good idea to check boots and socks before a hike as well as after. Clean out the tread regularly and have a good look at your garden too. Consider getting rid of potentially invasive plants like rhododendron, Japanese knotweed, kudzu, and lantana (carefully!) and replacing them with native species.
Be Mindful Of Erosion
Erosion can also be a serious problem. If enough feet walk a particular path it soon wears down. This is a tricky problem to address, but trail associations and volunteer groups do a lot of good work in this area. By converting dirt paths into something more substantial it may seem like more harm is being done, but in the long term, a well-laid path is far better for the environment than a heavily eroded one.
Hiking Tip #2: Raised pathways are especially important in swampy areas. Not only is the flora in wetlands sometimes very fragile, this kind of environment is also under serious threat across the world and it’s almost impossible to cross a bog without causing damage. The installation of boardwalk paths lets hikers, birdwatchers, and nature lovers enjoy the bog without harming it. Again, a good many boardwalks are laid by volunteers and they can always use one more pair of hands.
But Do Get Out And Hike
It’s sometimes argued that hikers should stay out of wilderness areas altogether, but there is one problem with that argument — it’s hard for anyone to understand the true value of the natural world unless they see it up close. Visits to places like the Florida Everglades, Yosemite, and even poor Snowdonia National Park inspire and educate thousands every year. Few visitors leave without a deeper desire to see these beautiful places kept safe for future generations.
Hiking Tip #3: So don’t stop hiking. In fact, take friends and family along too, because the unspoiled environment needs every friend it can get. Just hike carefully — check your boots, stick to blazed or laid paths, and volunteer if you can. Even if all you do is take a plastic bag and fill it with trash from the side of the path, that still makes a difference.
Did you find this article useful? Do you have tips of your own? Please comment.
Jess Spate grew up hiking and camping in the Australian Alps and now lives in Wales, where rhododendron is doing such terrible damage. She works for two outdoor gear companies Appalachian Outdoors in the USA and Outdoor Equipment Online in the UK.