Outdoor Diary: How Try to Be Earth-Friendly While Using Nature Every Day

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Is it possible to lean into preservation and conservation while also spending a ton of time outside? And if you want to be earth-friendly while also being an avid earth-user, how can you balance a desire to leave no trace while still getting out there?

In this episode of the Humans Outside Outdoor Diary, I talk about a few simple steps I take to be earth-friendly while still using nature daily. And they’re steps you can take, too. Listen now.

Some of the good stuff:

[:45] How do you balance use and not making it look like you use it?

[1:25] A change in my thinking

[2:27] “Outdoor minimalism”

[2:45] A few basic “leave no trace” ideas

[3:30] What “reduce, reuse, recycle” has to do with it

[3:55] The art of reusing in the outdoor industry world

[4:35] A few tips for reusing that are wallet and earth-friendly

[5:20] I will now talk about a pee cloth

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside

Can you use the outdoors every single day and still do everything you can to keep it from getting worn down through use?

I tend to be a black and white kind of person, so when I ponder this question the answer seems like it should be no. If I’m headed outside daily and therefore leaving my mark on the planet simply by being there, isn’t that the exact opposite of conservation?

How can you be a heavy outdoor user and still be earth-friendly?

This wasn’t a question I started to think about until at least a year or more into my outdoor habit. I obeyed the good outdoor user rules, like staying on trail and leaving no trace when I am recreating. I didn’t liter. I made sure I was keeping things awesome for the next person who wandered to where I was.

I wasn’t doing it because I had spent time thinking about caring for the planet. I was doing it because I cared for the person who came next down the path.

But the more days I went outside, the more I noticed a change creeping in to my thinking. While I still wanted to leave things nice for the next human to enjoy, I was also starting to care about taking care of nature itself. It was as if the more time I spent with the outdoors, the more it became like a relationship. The outdoors was my friend. And I want to take care of my friend — protect it, help it, make sure it’s doing OK. Maybe you feel that way too thanks to your outdoor habit.

The balance is also something I started thinking about more after I encountered the work of Meg Carney and her Outdoor Minimalist podcast and book by the same title. You have heard her in an episode of Humans Outside, and you can find it re-published as a “best of” episode in the several days before this episode you’re listening to now.

So how can we be earth-friendly while also using the outdoors every day? Because the only way to really, truly “leave no trace” is to simply not go into nature and recreate. And I don’t think that’s why nature is here. I think it’s here for us to enjoy and to live in harmony with.

The answer comes through what Meg talks about as outdoor minimalism. And here’s two simple things that looks like for me that you can join me in doing right now.

First, I practice the idea of leave no trace while leaving only the traces that are unavoidable. When I recreate outside that means taking simple steps to preserve the area I’m in by staying on the designated trail instead of making my own.

Doing that also means thinking through where I go before I go there — and sometimes making the decision to not go or go somewhere else instead. For example, if you live somewhere with a lot of spring melting, it can be important to stay completely off the trails and out of the recreation area as the ground thaws. Why? Because using muddy spring trails could mean you leave deep ruts and other scars that make the trails less useable for the summer season. Is there another place you can that doesn’t have that problem right now? A different adventure?

Leave no trace also means thinking through the trace your pet leaves — are you cleaning up after your dog? And what about you? Everybody poops, but not everyone does so in nature responsibly.

The next step takes more work than leave no trace. I don’t know if this was a regional thing because I’m from a pretty green-leaning part of California, but I grew up hearing “reduce reuse recycle.” And yet it wasn’t until the last few years that I understood that doing so wasn’t really about taking my cardboard to the recycling center instead of to the landfill. When it comes to being a responsible and earth-friendly outdoor lover, recycling is about something else: it’s a focus on the “reuse” part of the phrase.

Welcome to the outdoor industry, where we love buying the latest and greatest new gear. When we talk about repairing gear, we think about saving our pocket books. But what if it’s also about being more earth friendly?

Think about it: By reusing and repairing gear, buying used when you actually do need something new, and making conscious choices to skip the easy button and instead do the extra work to keep using the thing you already have, you are making earth-friendly decisions. You’re reducing the demand for new items on the shelf. It may seem like a small thing — you’re just ONE person making this decision. But if many people make small choices, they do add up.

What does this look like in my house? I am part of a hand-me-down train. My friend with an older kid gives me her son’s clothes, jackets, whatever is serviceable that he hasnt worn out. My son wears them. And then we pass them to the next friend. If we do need to buy something new, we pass that on too. I spend time dropping by the thrift shop to see if I can find the boots or whatever we need before I spring for new pairs.

For the adults, we resist the temptation to buy the new shiny things. We repair holes in our clothes. We take up manufacturers on their repair guarantees. Did you know many of your favorite outdoor brands have warranties that include repairs? Sending something in to get fixed takes extra work, but it is worth it from both a cash savings and a earth-friendly move perspective.

And Im an avid user of ski swaps, Facebook marketplace, freecycle or any other tools we have to buy used. Again, this is a great cash saving technique. But it also means lowering the demand for new items.

Finally, what things do you own that you can swap with reusable instead of one-time-use? There are probably plenty of these inside your house, but this is Humans OUTSIDE, so I’m going to share my favorite example: the kula cloth. A reusable pee cloth that you can hang dry, rinse out, wash and use on all of your adventures, it’s especially useful for anyone who squats when they pee.

Backpackers might regularly use a handkerchief for this, but the Kula is designed with a snap enclosure that makes the whole thing as sanitary and easy to use as possible. I pack one for trail runs and van adventures. Yes, I am suggesting you buy a new product so you can use less products. But I think the case is clear here. Also, totally unrelated to the sustainability of this product, the Kula cloth instagram page is hilarious, and you can hear Kula cloth founder Anastasia Allison on episode 149 of Humans Outside, or season 4, episode 15 for my Apple Podcast listeners.

I have no pictures of the kula cloth in action because my social media is not that kind of place, but you can see plenty of other pictures of me outside for my daily habit trying to live that sustainable outdoor life on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. I want to see your photos, too. Tag them with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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