Five ways hiking helps sustainability

Hiking to a greener world

Text and CreativeCommons Drawing by Frits Ahlefeldt,

Drawing of leaves around Earth in space
Greening space, CreativeCommons Drawing by Frits Ahlefeldt

Benefits of hiking is more often than not solely about your personal benefits: How hiking helps against stress, strengthen the body etc. But there is a different and not so much talked about benefit of hiking. The sustainability benefits. How hiking can make us more aware and connected to the environment in ways that use fewer resources, pollute less and consume less

Five ways hiking help to connect us better to the environment:

# 1 Hiking is simple living

Hiking is the nomadic archetype of simple living, doing less with more. Not using/owning more than you can carry, and combining your stuff for multiple uses. Most hikers only carry one towel, one pair of walking boots, one pan, pot, fork, etc.  Compare that to the amount of knifes, pots,  towels etc. in an average home. Hiking work as a way to practice and understand the concepts of simple living… Doing more with less

# 2 Recycling on the trails comes natural

The more people hike, the more they become aware of the benefits of recycling, and the weight of not doing it. Take gas canisters or bottled water, if you use those things, you have to carry all the empty ones with you too. If it is on a weekend trip, on Mount Everest or the Appalachian trail… If you leave them behind, trashing them on the trail, as some people do, the next hikers will become even more aware of the problems of these one use systems – as they will pick up your old canisters, cans or bottles too, to stop them from pollution the environment.  But it is not only gas canisters and bottled water, also canned food and all that extra wrapping around anything from energy bars to tissues, adds up on the weight you have to carry on your shoulders when hiking.

Using the same bottles etc. many times:

Many hikers take only smaller amount of things like shampoo, soap etc. with them. Practicing both how to use less and how to use the same containers many times, refilling their supply of water, soap, shampoo etc. from sources along the way. New stove systems even let you fuel your cooking (and your smartphone) with small fallen twigs, you can collect along the trails.

So hiking is also a lot about smart recycling and some of the best thought-out recycling systems can be found along the hiking trails… to great inspiration to both hikers and others, looking for new ways to recycle.

# 3 Hiking gear designs last longer and can be repaired

On the trails you don’t need fancy, complex designs, but simple, non breaking / easy repairable and long lasting designs, that won’t let you down, when you are far away from new supplies or alternatives.

This is the same design-philosophies and traditions that green and sustainability designs builds on. So there is a lot to gain from asking if a new design would work on the hiking trails.  And both hikers and designers from other areas can find a lot of inspiration on how to create new and more sustainable designs by looking at the way hiking gear designs are thought out.

# 4 Building sustainability habits and awareness

When out hiking you often cross your own trail, so to speak… because you have to carry your comfort-zone with you and decisions taken earlier on the trail will meet you later on.

Wrong decisions and habits about what to bring and not bring, if to sleep that hour longer, if you should deal with that sour muscle, hunger or blister when you first encounter it, can snowball into much larger challenges, when you suddenly face bad weather, run out of energy, with blisters and late in the day as darkness approach you from all sides and you realize the nearest TV dinner is hundreds of miles away.

This is not all bad, actually these crises often help a lot to get a different perspective on what it means to procrastinate and close your eyes to basic needs and early warnings.

This is something that help builds a different set of habits – more sustainable habits based on getting things done, walking the miles while the weather is good, seeking shelter when it’s not and being prepared for and able to adapt to change and unseen challenges in new and creative ways.

It is an awareness many hikers experience after a few days or weeks on the trails, and an awareness that make it easier to consume less and live in more sustainable ways – also when back home, as you will be less likely to “consume your way” out of challenges. Instead you will have built habits to see further ahead, and instead of buying new things, you will be more competent and creative dealing with small and large challenges in smarter ways.

# 5 Connecting to the trees and the stars

Sustainability is often framed as being about “not doing”,  not buying, not wasting etc.

But hiking show a different picture… it is about an alternative, about being outdoors, not only to save energy or because your doctor say it is good for you…  but to watch the stars… to realize just how far you can see beyond the nearest planets, and just how much larger and how much further reality stretches, in places that are free, natural and where you didn’t even have to switch on the power or reserve a good seat to lean back and watch a 360 surround view of the universe expanding all around you



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