Updated: Jun 22, 2020
This past week the United Nations Assembly met to discuss global climate change. While I don't hug the trees while I'm out on the trail, I do appreciate and value them. Our natural lands are one of our country's greatest resources. It got me thinking about what we can do as hikers to support the land while we enjoy it.
Leave no trace
Perhaps you've heard the phrase, "Leave only footprints, take only memories." This principle of 'leave no trace' (LNT) is a good one to follow for all environments, but especially our public and natural lands. This rule means that anything you pack onto the trail, you have to pack out, including 'natural' items. While an apple core seems harmless, it introduces non-native plant seeds into an ecosystem that may be delicate. It encourages animals to eat non-native people food, making them more apt to approach humans. And, it takes a long time to decay unless properly composted.
The LNT principle applies to other types of waste as well. If nature calls when out in nature, be sure to urinate at least 200 feet away from a water source. If you bring bathroom tissue, bring an extra baggie to pack it out. Do not leave it on the trail. Toilet tissue has plastic fibers in it that do not decompose and will harm animals. If you're going to be out all day and you want to know how it feels to be a bear in the woods, bring a trowel to dig a cat hole at least six inches deep. Bury your waste and again, any toilet tissue or wipes must be packed out with you.
Don't pick the flowers
Don't pick the weeds either, or approach animals. Take pictures and video to make your instagram gorgeous, but leave everything as you find it. If you come upon a baby animal, leave it alone. Chances are, the mother is nearby waiting for you to leave so she can tend to her baby.
Stay on the trail
Trails are built by hand with consideration of the environment. When you get off the trail you create new paths that may affect the water flow and result in washout. These variations from the original trail design can make the trail dangerous for others. Plus, going off trial impacts delicate plant life. Unofficial worn trails don't show up on maps and may confuse hikers new to the area.
Think about how life off trail impact life on the trail
The principles of repurpose, reuse, recycle, helps to minimize our impact in the greater environment. Much of the talk that came out of the climate meetings this past week focused on the fact that only change on a large government scale will make a difference in our climate's health. While governments throw around words in the global arena, it doesn't mean we can't do our part on the micro level. If everyone at the grass-roots level acted in a way that helped the grass's roots, then perhaps governments would get the message. Our earth is precious - let's take care of it both on and off the trail.
I didn't forget the follow up to last week's discussion about shoes!
In some ways, socks can be more important than shoes in keeping your feet healthy and happy while hiking. Firstly, decide what length of sock you prefer. You want it to extend up past your shoe to keep your shoe from rubbing, but also to help keep debris out of your shoe. Socks come in all heights from ankle to knee. Consider the weather when choosing socks as knee-highs add another layer of warmth, helpful in cooler temps.
Next choose your level of cushion. Select a thickness right for your environment and the weather. A thicker sock is warmer and provides more cushion when going over rocky terrain. Thinner socks are cooler, but may not give enough padding to prevent blisters. Use thin socks as liners under a more cushioned sock to help prevent blisters. These are particularly useful if your toes tend to rub together. Liners with separate toe socks (like gloves for the feet) help tremendously. Some socks now are two-ply and have liners built in!
Most hiking socks today are either made of synthetic material, wool, or a bit of both. All these materials wick moisture and add warmth. Personal preference is what's best here. While merino wool socks are much softer than the rag wool socks you may have worn in your childhood scouting days, some may prefer the smoother feel of synthetic material.
While hiking shoes should be at least 1/2 size greater than your fashion shoe size, buy socks true to size. Socks should feel snug and sit well on your heel, without feeling tight. If you intend to wear a liner, try socks on with the liner on to make sure your feet still feel comfortable and not constricted. Lastly, try on the socks with your hiking shoes to make sure the whole system works well for your feet.