With the days of summer winding down, we’re quickly approaching fall. Aside from football, pumpkin spiced lattes, and Halloween, this also means changing leaves and cooler weather … both of which make hiking a highly attractive pursuit.
If you’re going to be hiking this fall, though, make sure you leave the trails better than you found them. Here are six ways you can do your part.
1. Come Prepared
Nobody ever sets out on a hike and says to himself, “I’m going to be super irresponsible today.” Instead, most mistakes happen because hikers come unprepared and then make the wrong choices to compensate or “make do.”
“On hikes of any length and difficulty level, be sure to come prepared,” explains Powerstep, a leader in orthotic supports. “Bring water, insect repellant, sun protection and appropriate clothing and gear. Dress in layers and wear closed-toe shoes with ankle support and a shoe insole that provides the necessary support and cushioning.”
You’ll also want to make sure you tell someone where you’re going, in case something untoward should happen.
2. Break Up into Smaller Groups
Group hikes can be a lot of fun, but most people don’t realize how disruptive they can be. When you put a large number of people together on the same isolated stretch of a trail, you can end up impeding others from passing, making too much noise, and likely scaring off wildlife.
Not only does this lead to a less enjoyable hiking experience for at least some, but it also puts extra wear and tear on the trail.
3. Stay on Designated Trails
You’ll often hear people tell you to stay on the trail (and you’ll see signs to this effect too), but the logic behind the rule isn’t what you might think. Although getting lost is always a possibility, the real problem is that people can easily damage parks and natural landscape by going off the path.
As one park ranger says, “Going off trail causes erosion problems and could force land managers to close trails that we have fought so hard to keep open and negatively impacts our ability to open new trails.”
4. Collect Any Trash You Run Across
Not only should you avoid littering while you’re on the trail, but you should also do your part to clean up after the less responsible hikers that have tramped before you. It may be unsavory and irritating to have to clean up someone else’s mess, remember that you’re working to maintain sustainable environments that you and other hikers will be able to enjoy for years to come.
Carrying a small trash bag in your backpack is a great idea. It enables you to clean up without worrying about getting your own gear and supplies dirty or contaminated.
5. Respect the Wildlife
When someone comes into your home, you expect him to treat your things nicely and clean up after himself, right? Please remind yourself that you’re a guest on the trails you choose to hike.
In fact, from the perspective of the animals, you weren’t even invited. Respect the wildlife and do your part to stay as quiet as you can. If you see local critters, stop and admire them, but do not touch!
6. Follow Hiker Etiquette
Hikers have a sort of code of conduct. It involves fairly simple little rules, but following them means less general frustration and ensures everyone has a good time.
For example, uphill hikers have the right of way on small trails: You should step to the side if you see them coming. People hiking behind you should be given room to pass.
When you approach other people, let them know if you’ve seen anything they need to know about (snakes, trail obstructions, and so on). These may seem like small things, but all play a role in making you a responsible hiker.
Leave it Better Than You Found It
The moral of the story is to leave every trail better than you found it, if possible. Hiking trails are designed for people to enjoy, certainly, but you should remember that you’re trekking through a natural habitat that plants and animals depend on for their very existence.
Treat every trail well and leave nothing behind.