How to reduce your impact on the trail

Help keep your favourite tracks in pristine condition by taking these tips on board.

Store your food in reusable containers

The scourge of any natural environment is plastic. It’s hard to avoid it as it’s embedded in many aspects of our lives.

So how can you minimise plastic use and lower the chance of leaving any plastic waste on the trail?

Make a conscious decision to go through all the food and drink you plan to take on your hike. Remove the plastic packaging and store your foodstuffs in reusable containers. Weight is obviously an issue, so try using:

  • Silicone bags – for nibbles, vegetables and dinner ingredients
  • A hydration pack – to store your water or electrolytes
  • Beeswax wrapping – a super eco-choice for your loose snacks
  • A reusable water bottle 

Organise your rubbish

We may want to avoid taking any rubbish into the mountains, but sometimes that can be difficult. Being organised with the rubbish you expect to build up over your hiking adventure is essential. Consider bringing:

  • A single trash bag – to store all your waste until you get back to civilisation
  • Only biodegradable food and rubbish
  • Your own homemade snacks and food – to avert excess packaging

Stay on the trail

Staying on the trail is a given, yet most long distance routes have short cuts where walkers have created their own alternative paths.

It’s tempting to wander off the trail for a different perspective, but within national parks your footprint will wear down the natural environment.

Overland trail in Tasmania

Stick to the middle of the track

Bunches of dead plants skirting the side of a trail isn’t what you came into the wilderness to enjoy. The forest floor’s covered in fragile plant life – and probably doesn’t enjoy getting trampled on – so walking down the middle of the path will help preserve its neighbouring vegetation.

What about the mud?

The spring thaw can bring wet muddiness to some trails, and dodging muddy patches can be a natural human instinct for many hikers.

The negative impacts are significant – including unnatural erosion and damage to native vegetation. By navigating slightly off trail you’re reducing the ability of these plants to store water and nutrients, which support their survival.

With the right footwear for your hike there shouldn’t be any need to widen areas of mud. A pair of waterproof boots with gaiters will let you confidently walk straight through the muck. 

Find a pair of hiking boots that suit the type of habitat you intend to trek through.

Image of man and a woman walking down a long path through the Tasmanian forest.
Getting off the beaten trail doesn't apply in this instance.

Camp at designated campsites

Choose established campsites if they’re an option. If you’re going a bit wilder, look to camp on a worn area of ground like hard-packed dirt. Opting to set up camp on some soft grass can cause long-term damage.

Protect waterways

Without water we wouldn’t have many trails to enjoy. Waterways – our lakes, rivers and creeks – need to be resolutely looked after.

Save your fellow trekkers and the local ecosystem from unwanted waste. Keep streams and lakes clean by:

  • Digging a 20 centimetre (8 inch) cat hole at least 50 metres (165 feet) away from any water sources – when you need to do your business
  • Washing your dishes away from waterways
  • Choosing biodegradable soaps – and washing some distance from watercourses
  • Packing out your waste – these days you can utilise human waste bags that seal and can be easily disposed of when you return to town

Switch to eco-friendly products

There are suggestions that sunscreen and bug sprays release chemicals that threaten the surrounding environment.

How can you prevent this, yet still protect yourself from the sun and mozzies? Choose natural brands of sunscreen and bug spray – or even make your own homemade natural blend.

Respect the native flora and fauna

Observing wildlife from a distance is important when you’re outdoors on the trail. Whether spotting native birds or encountering stock grazing in a field, the last thing you want to do is disturb their natural environment.

Feeding birds or animals can put their health at risk and even change their natural behaviour. Aim to avoid sensitive times such as nesting and lambing, as startled animals can abandon their young.

Grab a pair of kids or adults binoculars to enjoy wildlife from a distance.

Leave no trace

The concept of leaving no trace is growing globally. It’s vital we preserve the delicate environments that support our favourite trails by:

  • Removing any food leftovers
  • Taking photos instead of rocks or plants
  • Leaving only footprints

Take out what you bring in and if you stumble across litter, leave the trail cleaner than you found it.

And while planning your next outing into the wilderness, be sure to clean your clothing, shoes and hiking equipment to reduce the chance of spreading weeds and plant diseases.