The past few years has brought environment, green living, zero waste, and minimalist living to a forefront in hiking and the outdoors (and beyond into daily life). The pitch is your life choices will save (or help) the environment.
From articles to products, there is a lot out there. But are these recommendations actually good? More than often the articles are peppered with products to look at – replacing plastic bottles with metal, silicone versus plastic single use, natural fiber clothing or items made of recycled plastic bottles. To use a pee rag (a bandana) instead of toilet paper, buying bulk versus prepackaged meals, using digital maps and books and so forth. All claim that these will change your life, your world and the Earth.
What is the worst thing you can do?
Drive or fly to a trailhead.
I’ll own this.
I used to drive insanely long distances to hike a few miles. I would even fly to visit life bucket hikes. I am not innocent in this. When I lived on the mainland I thought nothing of driving 200 miles round trip to go hike for a few hours. Multiple times a week. Wake up at 6 am and it is sunny? Let’s go to Sunrise at Mount Rainier and hike the same trails I have hiked 100+ times. Because I could afford the gas.
Now I am going to say something highly offensive:
Buying a brand new electric hybrid car doesn’t make you green. The car has to have electricity from somewhere – and most of it isn’t produced very friendly. New cars use many toxic substances to make them. Slave and child labor is used in making Lithium for the batteries – and what becomes of the batteries as they age out?
Buying carbon credits doesn’t negate flying 6,000 miles to visit somewhere exotic. It doesn’t negate the use of petroleum in our world.
Buying new wool, or other so called eco-friendly fabrics doesn’t either if it is bought from large corporations, produced on massive scale farms that are not healthy to the Earth.
Not even one bit. Consumerism isn’t helping at all. We have to buy less crap. We have to use less plastic, less oil. We need to be more reliant on older things, and to keep them in good shape. JUST USE THE ITEMS YOU HAVE UNTIL THEY FALL APART. Your gas car is paid off? Awesome. Keep the engine going. You are no less “green” than the person bragging about their ride. WE NEED TO DRIVE LESS. Make the miles you hike count.
The take away:
When you go into the outdoors, do the best you can. Carry as little as you need. Buy only what you need. Use your gear well – let it be in tatters before you acquire more (something I was simply awful at a decade ago). Choose your trails with thought. Make those miles in the car or plane worth the footprint.
Change your life, yes. Everything does count in the end, but the biggest things are what matters first. I came to a conscious decision that we had to travel less, not more (which goes against everything Instagram would have you believe). Hike local, save the big trips where they count – not just because I am bored. If I am that bored, a local trail I can walk to and then weeding on the farm all afternoon must make up for it. And drive less – a lot less. To make better choices when shopping. We practice zero waste on our homestead (rather intensively). But I don’t sweat if I carry a few single serving packets with us, nor do I worry about using a few sheets of 2-ply toilet paper, and packing it out. Because overall we have changed our lives so much we have flex on that.
Make the changes in your day to day life, live aware and conscious. Don’t buy grapes from Chile in December. Don’t toss out a coffee cup daily from Starbucks. Don’t go to Target and wander because you are bored. Quit buying produce at Costco that comes encased in piles of hard plastic (or maybe worse, the emergency kits of Mountain House they sell, that come in a hard sided bucket….). Quit hanging out in REI buying more gear – it isn’t going to make your hike that much better (if you already have a good working version of said items). If you have a functional 1 man tent, you don’t need a new 1 man tent. When we moved, I gave away over 20 cooking pots to local Scouts. I had 3 massive bins full of cooking gear. At least my excuse was it was work related. Just slow down on the buying of man made fabrics and plastics.
And enjoy your time in the wilds. It helps heal the brain and soothe anxiety.
Because you don’t have to carry a stinky pee rag hanging off your backpack. To be green.