Keep the Great Outdoors Great: Reducing Food Waste on a Hike

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This past weekend, I treated myself to a sunrise hike up Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park. And it was spectacular.

sunrise hike up Old Rag mountain in Shenandoah National ParkWhen starting a hike at such an odd time (2:45 a.m.), it is important to pack food and drinks that will help keep energy levels up. This hike promised some chilly temperatures, so I brought a portable camping stove to make some instant oatmeal and coffee. This was one of the first times I have ever cooked food in the wilderness. It got me thinking about ways I can maintain energy levels during hikes while also making sure I leave nature as splendid as I found it.

To celebrate Great Outdoors Month, here are some practical tips on ways to reduce your mark on the trail while also enjoying snacks and meals outside:

1) Don’t litter even if it is biodegradable.

It might be tempting to throw out an apple core into the woods once you are done eating. Apples are a durable, healthy snack for the trail, but any food leftovers diminish the hiking experience for others. Also, leaving food scraps might habituate animals to human food. As a rule of thumb, pack out whatever you bring in.

2) Bring water and drinks in reusable containers.drinking from a water bottle during a hike

Along the trail, I noticed people had ditched their plastic water bottles and sports drinks. An important part of enjoying nature is to leave the trail better than you found it. To help do this, pack your liquids in reusable bottles or hydration packs. You will be far less tempted to toss out a reusable thermos or water bottle. And remember, hydration is key when enjoying the great outdoors. For day hikes, two to three liters per person is a good rule of thumb.

3) Pack your own trash receptacle.

Trash cans are not very common along many trails. Additionally, some parks require patrons to pack out their trash and do not provide public trash cans. Since many nutritious trail-worthy foods come packaged—such as trail mix, granola bars and jerky—you will want a secure place to store these wrappers during your hike. Bring a bag that you feel comfortable packing trash into during your hike. Make sure it can seal so that you know you aren’t leaving any trash or food behind on the trail.

4) Be realistic about your needs, and only pack the necessities.

It is easy to get carried away when packing food for a hike. I love snacking along the trail. But packing only what you need has several advantages. First of all, your pack will be lighter. For longer and steeper treks through the woods, you will appreciate a lighter load. Additionally, you will reduce the risk of letting food go bad. Food can melt and spoil during a hike. To avoid tossing out all that ruined food you didn’t eat, don’t pack it in the first place. Your goal should be to leave the trail using all the food you packed.

Pack a nutritious snack, get outside, breathe some fresh air and take in a summit or two. Summer is a great time to explore a trail or park near you.