Most people who enjoy walking and hiking as a pastime also tend to be aware of the environment to some degree or another. However, many do not realise the effect that some of their behaviours can actually be harmful to the environment that they love so much and want to protect. Often it is not the individual impact of one trekker, but the behaviour of the hundreds or even thousands who are all doing the same thing, that collectively impacts an environment or leads to ecological damage. And while most trekkers are already environmentally conscious, there are a number of ways that we can improve our eco-footprint to help preserve the environment for future generations to enjoy. We’ve listed our top tips for a lighter footprint while trekking:
Avoid Plastic Bags and bottles.
While you might want your memories to last a lifetime, you certainly don’t want to leave evidence of your visit. We recommend that trekkers avoid taking plastic bags and plastic bottles on your trekking trip. These can take up to 500 years to biodegrade if not disposed of correctly, particularly in developing nations there is just no proper waste disposal, yet there are many alternative options that are much more environmentally friendly. Here in Tasmania, consider taking a reusable bottle, and fill up on some of nature’s fresh water along the trail. Our water sources are incredibly pure, and where possible we use rainwater and tap water along the trails which is clear and safe for drinking. In some of the more remote destinations, we may access natural water sources, which have been given the tick of approval by Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife. Handy hint; if you are trekking in an area where the water is not confirmed to be clean, there are many ways to sterilise the natural water, including boiling, using UV light devices or purifying tablets.
Stick to the Path
While we pride ourselves on taking the paths less travelled, that doesn’t mean we recommend you literally stray from the path! While trekking we recommend you always stay on the marked trails to avoid stepping on protected or endangered plants. Walking in a single file in the centre of the path will ensure you leave only the lightest of footprints. This is especially true if you’re walking through wet and slushy mud. If you walk around mud on a trail, the path will not only become wider, but become even muddier in the future. Instead of trying to dodge the mud, make plans to protect yourself against it and wear waterproof pants and gaiters. After all, what’s a trek without a little mud? Our only exception to the rule is if you are travelling cross-country on durable surfaces with no established trail. If walking off-trail on durable surfaces such as sand, gravel, rock or dry grasses, spread out so that your group does not create new trails, leading to vegetation damage and erosion.
Dispose of Waste Properly
One of our favourite tips, and one we align ourselves to very closely, is to leave no trace. That means that whatever you bring in to the national park, campsite, or trail, you take out with you. Make sure your campsite has no evidence of your stay, so on pack up of your tent, spend a few minutes looking for any trash or misplaced gear before you leave. Burying your rubbish is not a solution, as animals may dig it up, or it will be exposed over time and taint the area. We encourage our guides and trekkers alike to pick up any plastic or trash they find along the trail, and take it out with them to ensure the environment is left in a better condition than how we found it.
Leave What You Find
Spending time in nature gives you access to some of geologies most beautiful items. Petrified wood, dried leaves, stones, shells and artefacts may scatter the grounds you walk along, however we strongly encourage our clients to resist the temptation to bring home souvenirs. Leaving these items along the trail allows others to enjoy them, preserving the landscape and history of the area. Though if you really want to take something with you on your trek, we encourage trekkers to take any rubbish they spot along the trail to help preserve the environment.
Camp on Durable Surfaces
Our guides are trained to select campsites that are located on pre-established camping bases, or on durable surfaces that are able to stand the effects of camping overnight. Camping on fragile surfaces can take a while for the land to heal after you leave, sometimes affecting the long term ability for native, endangered or protected plants to grow back. If an established campsite exists, such as the raised platforms on the Overland Track, we encourage our clients to make use of this so that the land does not become scarred from our presence. To minimise damage around the campsites, we also recommend camp shoes such as sandals and sneakers are used to minimise impact while in camp, and reduce the tearing up of the soil that heavy boots with deep treads tend to do.
If you are walking in a rugged and remote location, remember that you are a visitor in the area, and that the animals that you encounter live in the area. Always respect the wildlife and observe from a distance. Feeding animals along the trail is a BIG no-no, as once animals learn to depend on human visitors for their food, they rely less on their natural hunting and foraging behaviours. This loss of self-sufficiency can put them in danger once the trekking season finishes. To protect your food and the local wildlife, store your food in airtight containers, never leave food out at night time, and be careful not to leave food residue on the trail or at your campsite. And of course, if you encounter wildlife along the trail, give it a wide berth and do not make an attempt to approach the animal – especially if it is a mother and her offspring.
Travel in small groups
One of the best things about travelling with Tasmanian Expeditions is our small group sizes, which means we have a smaller environmental impact than larger group operators. Smaller groups mean less people on the trail, reducing erosion, noise, and waste.
Spread the word on how friends, family and other trekkers can reduce their environmental footprint. If you meet people on the trail who are damaging the resources, violate area regulations (such as fire bans) or litter, report them to the proper authorities, or better yet, teach them how to correct their behaviour. Many times, it may not be their own individual impact which is causing any great harm, however if you multiply their tiny effects by hundreds or even thousands of people who are all doing the same thing, they may have an active part in destroying the environment that they aren’t even aware of.
Think of Others
We encourage all of our travellers to respect the other trekkers and groups on the trail by travelling and camping quietly. Keep your radio at home and enjoy the sounds of nature during the evenings. While your music may create the ambiance you are after, it may ruin the experience for others who visit the wilderness to escape from the hustle, bustle and noises of the city. Other trekking etiquette includes giving uphill hikers the right of way, and not contributing to “visual pollution” by refraining from wearing bright colours such as blue, red, yellow and white which can be seen from miles away and contribute to a crowded feeling. If in doubt, make your trekking decisions not only on how your actions will impact the environment but also how they may affect others as well.