Planning Ahead: A Zero Waste Day Hike

With the advent of spring weather (thank goodness) comes time spent outdoors. Living in a city, most of my outdoor time comes from taking long walks and sitting in the park with a book or a friend. But, I love taking longer hikes whenever I can get away. My friend Julie asked me to share a few tips for staying zero waste while day hiking. Hiking is one situation in which planning ahead is important for both zero wasters and non-zero wasters alike; since you already need to prepare a daypack, why not take a few extra minutes to make it zero waste?

To be clear, these tips are meant for day hikes only - longer overnight backpacking trips require many more supplies and planning. And, you should of course pay attention to the weather, conditions, and specifics of the day and route you're planning to take, and pack extra food/clothing/water/supplies accordingly. But here's a peek at what I usually take:

Water, water, water.

Nothing makes a good hike miserable (or dangerous) like being stuck without enough water. On a recent hike in the desert in March, I was bummed when I blew through my two bottles right away and had to turn back early. Though I use a stainless steel or glass water bottle in my everyday life, I keep a few plastic Nalgenes around to use when hiking (I've found that steel and glass are too heavy to carry for long distances). If you feel like a hike isn't a hike without a Gatorade or sports drink tucked in your pack, try making your own - add a spoonful of bulk honey or sugar to homemade iced tea or fruit-infused water.


Granola bars are the hiker's gold standard, but there are so many zero waste snack options that are almost as easy. Put together a few pieces of fruit and some nuts in a cloth produce bag for a quick and healthy snack. Or, bring a spoonful of peanut butter, a handful of celery sticks, and some granola in a lightweight stainless steel container. You can even make your own granola bars at home! (And, you can find lots more zero waste snack ideas here, if you'd like). If you're going to be gone all day, use your lightest bags or containers to pack simple, mess-free foods like sandwiches, cut vegetables, fruit, and a treat.


Does anyone else still wear bandanas anymore? I love the idea of bringing one on a hike because they're so versatile. One can be a handkerchief, napkin, necktie (for sun protection, or for cooling off when dipped in water), headband, or wound stancher (though hopefully it doesn't come to that!).

Whatever you need to be safe.

When it comes to the importance of zero waste versus the importance of safety, the latter wins. Always. Sunscreen, bug spray if you're in an area with West Nile or Zika virus, water purification, a small first aid kit...if you think you need something to stay healthy or safe while out on the trail but are worried about the trash it makes, do what you need to do. Try to source the product the to the best of your ability (Can you buy it in a recyclable bottle? Can you buy it in bulk near you? Can you make it at home? Can you spend a little more to purchase the reusable version?), and then don't worry about the waste, but instead remember that safety and the ability to spend time outdoors are paramount. And, if you have a genius, low-waste solution to any of these - would you please share it in the comments?

Photograph taken while hiking in Death Valley, California this spring. If you'd like, you can read more tips about how planning ahead can help you stay zero waste in tricky situations, here.