“A new study on adventure tourism has revealed that hiking has become the number one most enjoyed activity for active travelers, overtaking a range of other popular past times such as kayaking, scuba diving and horse-riding”
– Lonely Planet
Adventure tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry, with hiking leading the way. Hiking can do wonders for sustainable/eco-friendly tourism as it gets travelers outside, appreciating all of the unique landscapes that the world has to offer. It also has the ability to introduce travelers to remote villages situated along various trails, providing authentic cultural exchanges as well as a new source of income for the local communities. Most importantly, by creating a financial gain (aka tourism dollars spent on adventure travel activities) local governments have more incentive to protect the natural environments that attract the visitors in the first place.
Of course, hiking and other adventure travel activities are only beneficial if they are conducted in a responsible way, with limited impacts on the natural environment and local communities.
To shed light on what responsible hiking entails and to find out the top 3 trekking experiences that need to be on every hiker’s bucket list, I sat down with adventure travel expert, Lauren Chu.
Meet Lauren Chu
Lauren is a trip leader at Live Out Loud Adventures, an adventure travel company that specializes in classic hikes around the world. She is also the blogger behind The Ridge Line Report, a blog that inspires travelers to embrace the outdoors via hiking, biking, and paddling.
Lauren, an avid nature lover and Toronto native, developed a passion for trekking while living in New Zealand back in 2015. Since then she has hiked thousands of miles around the globe including a 300 mile trek through the Appalachian wilderness and has cycled the length of Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh.
LMT: From your experience, what are 3 hikes that should be on everyone’s list?
LC: Just three is tough, but here are my favorites! (I also thought about including Mt Kilimanjaro, but I think these offer a slice of the remote and independence that Kili does not).
The Brazeau Loop in Alberta, Canada
The Brazeau is an 80km loop hike in the Canadian Rockies. With electric blue glacial lakes, an infinite mountain skyline, subalpine wildlife, ancient deciduous forests, and an epic mountain pass to overcome there’s something new and something epic around every corner! Hiking the Brazeau Loop is remote and wild, and showcases Jasper National Park in all of its glory. This route also included one of my favourite campsites to date: a night spent by Brazeau Lake. Falling asleep at the foothills of mountains to the sound of the river running from the lake is the stuff dreams are made of!
Mueller Hut in Aoraki, New Zealand
Mueller Hut is a backcountry hut with an unmatched view of Mt. Cook – the tallest mountain in New Zealand. The climb up to the hut takes a day, and it is steep but spectacular the entire way. NZ is home to so many of my favourite hikes. However, the night spent in Mueller Hut was one I’ll never forget. In the evening, you celebrate your achievement by looking up at the Milky Way and across to Mt Cook. In the morning, you are greeted by the sun as it rises over the ridge, painting the sky pink. That one can experience such beauty, comfort, and feelings of remoteness in just one night makes this easily one of my top three hikes.
Any Long, Self-Supported Hike!
The longest hike I have done is nearly 500km (over 300 miles). The Benton Mackaye Trail goes through Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. It overlaps at times with the Appalachian Trail, but is widely untravelled and unknown. For over 20 days, we trekked through the backcountry with little more than a tent and some food. Getting into a rhythm of walking all day every day was powerful in so many ways. I grew confident in my ability to navigate and take care of myself on the trail; I became more comfortable with my own thoughts and limits. While I’m not saying you need to go walk 500km, I think attempting a way such as the Caminos of Spain, the PCT/AT/CDT in the USA, or any other epic trail has the power to help change your perspective and person.
LMT: How can people make sure they enjoy these and every other hike responsibly?
Follow the Leave No Trace Principles
LC: Being a responsible hiker and adventurer is not only easy, its important! To ensure that you and future generations are able to enjoy these incredible outdoor places, we need to become familiar with the principles of Leave No Trace.
For hiking and camping, this means is that you minimize (or eliminate) your negative impact on the environment. You can do this by…
- By planning ahead – be familiar with the major environmental, biological or wildlife concerns
- Staying on the trail – travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Disposing of waste properly – Pack it in/Pack it out
- Leaving what you find – take only photos and leave only footprints. By doing so you’ll already be a leader in sustainability. Go a step further and pick up any trash you see along the trail!
- Minimizing campfire impacts – use stoves for cooking and ALWAYS put out fires
- Following the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Don’t leave trash for others to find; respect the wildlife (aka don’t feed the animals)
For more detailed info on these “leave no trace” principles, read Lauren’s full article on the subject Here
Follow Safety Guidelines
It would be remiss not to make clear that being responsible also means being safe. Do your research. Know what the trail conditions are, what the weather is going to be, and understand any wildlife threats. No photo is ever worth your life, so stay on marked trails and only attempt routes you are capable of completing. Know your limits. Learn to read a map. Inform people of your plans before you go. While these places and spaces look beautifully peaceful, they are equally as wild and powerful.
Choose a Responsible Tour Operator
If going on a longer trek where you’ll need to book through a tour operator, make sure you chose a responsible one! The best way to do this is to read reviews online and check if they have any special certificates that qualify them as a responsible/ eco-friendly company.
Other things to look out for are if the company follows, promotes and enforces “the leave no trace principles” and if porters are used (common in places like Nepal and Peru) that they are treated fairly, provided with adequate equipment and are paid living wages.
LMT: What’s a piece of equipment you should never do a hike without?
LC: Just one piece of equipment you should never hike without is a tough question!! With regards to safety, I rely heavily on a decent map & compass. I always recommend people learn how to read and use these things before any trip whether you’ll be in the backcountry or not. Hopefully you’ll be carrying a basic first aid kit and a GPS/phone regardless. The map & compass will just make certain that you can find your way out should anything happen.
The other piece of gear that has become essential is hiking poles. I used to think that poles were for grannies and weaklings. I now recognize that is not only ridiculous, but ill-advised. Poles save your knees! You’ll feel the relief both on the trail and in 20 years when you are still out there on the trails but your pole-less friends are not. Poles have also saved me on slippery and wet terrain countless times, and ensure that I cross rivers safely. Trust me, all the cool kids are using poles these days!
Lauren will be a guest speaker at the Women in Travel Summit May 3rd-5th in Portland, Maine – the premiere event for women travel influencers, creators and brands. If interested in attending the event and hearing Lauren’s talk on adventure travel and our responsibility as content creators to promote safe and sustainable practices in the outdoors Click Here.