Choosing sustainability can take some effort. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend that taking care of the earth is for someone else. But protecting the environment is for all of us. Whether you’re new to outdoor recreation or a seasoned outdoors person, there are practical things we can do to make outdoor adventures more sustainable. It might be easier than you think.

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Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island.

Most of us have seen outdoor adventures go wrong.

Litter in the campground.
Dog poop on the trails.
Short-cuts through sensitive ecosystems.
Visitors feeding wildlife.

I’m not an environmental scientist. Nor am I a pinnacle of sustainable living. But I’ve learned some better ways of being outdoors to limit my impact on the environment. For example, now I bring a reusable water bottle and pack out food and pet waste. I also protect water sources from contamination and follow Leave No Trace principles. Alas, I still have a long way to go, but we all have to start somewhere.

What is Sustainability?

This year, I became an Ocean Bridge Ambassador through Vancouver-based Ocean Wise. They’re an environmental conservation organization. We participated in online modules and in-person learning activities. Through the program, I’ve become better equipped to promote conservation and sustainability.

So, what is sustainability? I think about making something last. Indigenous folks talk about seven generations ahead: What will the impact of our actions be seven generations from now? No matter our background, most of us want flourishing ecosystems around us. We all need healthy lands, lakes, rivers, and oceans to thrive ourselves. When we recreate outdoors, we can help ensure that the places we love last for generations to come.

Here are some ways to make outdoor adventures more sustainable:

Make Time for Outdoor Adventures

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Spirit Island on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park.

Do you spend time outside each week? Every day? Most Canadians say they’re happier outdoors, though time spent in nature is often neglected. However, a recent study suggests that Canadians value nature now more than ever. We care about what we’re connected to. So getting outside is a great way to build an ethic of care for nature.

But what if you just don’t like being outdoors? I’d encourage you to find ways to get out now and again. Visit a local trail or eat lunch at the park down the street. Start where you’re comfortable. If you want ideas to get started, you know where to find me!

Read more: Your Complete Guide to Hiking the West Coast Trail

Choose Human-Powered Outdoor Adventures

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Sarah standup paddleboarding on the Georgian Bay.

Human-powered activities are great for the environment. They’re also healthier for all of us. It’s a win-win! These activities include paddling, running, biking, hiking, and so on. What would it look like to choose human-powered recreation more often? This would mean fewer fossil fuels. Plus less noise pollution from engines. Motorized boats, for example, can collide with whales and other marine life. Self-propelled activities tend to have less harmful impacts on nature.

Explore Close To Home

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Peace River in northern Alberta.

Perhaps one of the silver linings of the pandemic is exploring close to home. There’s so much to do and see in Canada. There’s limitless opportunity for outdoor recreation. Sticking close to home can reduce long flights and our overall carbon footprint. This can also support the local economy and promote domestic tourism.

Read more: Lion’s Head Lookout: Beautiful Bruce Peninsula Hike in Ontario

Select Destinations Deliberately

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Sea kayaking with Seascape Kayak Tours near the Fundy Isles.

Social media has changed the game. Popular spots can fast become crowded and polluted for the sake of the Gram. New Zealand Tourism created Travelling Under the Social Influence to encourage local tourism during the pandemic. There are great lessons for us all in this two-minute clip. Namely, don’t forget to try something new and different! While it can be fun to visit popular places, let’s not let social media determine everything we do.

Getting Good Gear

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Tenting on private property in Letang, New Brunswick.

Gear options are nearly endless. Making deliberate consumer choices doesn’t have to mean buying expensive items. Eco-friendly brands are responding to consumer demand for sustainable products. Ask questions like, “Is this a product built to last? Does the company use sustainable materials?” Also, good gear doesn’t always mean new gear. Second-hand markets can provide quality products at affordable prices. Buying high-quality, second-hand, borrowing, or renting are all great ways to be sustainable with gear.

Limit Single-Use Plastics

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Backpacking Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park.

Billions of single-use plastic items are entering Canada’s landfills, rivers, and ocean every year. Globally, over 11 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean on an annual basis. This pollution devastates wildlife on the land and in the waters. Alternatives to single-use plastics, including reusable containers, are increasingly available. As we’ve seen, single-use plastic is becoming less acceptable. I recommend a reusable water bottle. Bring snacks without packaging. Find more about the environmental impacts of single-use plastics from NCC.

Learn About The Places You Visit

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Learning about rock formations in Bruce Peninsula National Park.

Dive into the places you visit with the people who live there. Spending time with locals can provide rich insight into an area. For example, chat with staff at the visitor centre or book a guided tour. If this isn’t possible, spark a conversation with locals on the trail. I usually gain helpful insight (that isn’t found in the trail guide!). This can nurture greater appreciation for the place, too. It’s the shift from being a visitor to becoming a guest.

Read more: Your Complete Guide to the Bagwa Canoe Route in Saskatchewan

Leave No Trace—Ethics for Outdoor Adventures

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Hiking Tent Ridge Horseshoe in Kananaskis Country. (Photo by Donna Ng)

Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but photos. If you’re new to the outdoors, I recommend the Leave No Trace outdoor ethics. The seven principles are:
1) Plan Ahead and Prepare
2) Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3) Dispose of Waste Properly
4) Leave What You Find
5) Minimize Campfire Impacts
6) Respect Wildlife
7) Be Considerate of Others.

Check out Leave No Trace Canada website if you’re not yet familiar with these principles. They’ll help you become more safe and sustainable outdoors.

Connect with Outdoor-Loving People

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Camping with good friends.

Some of my fondest memories are with friends in the great outdoors. Connecting with other outdoor lovers helps me stay motivated and informed. So where do you find other outdoor enthusiasts? Try connecting with local clubs (like hiking or paddling clubs). Social media groups can also be helpful. Lastly, check out this new online community called Trip Reports from Voyageur Tripper!

Read more: 7 Things To Do in Fernie in the Summer

Support Conservation Organizations

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Can you see the ocean?

Conservation groups work hard to keeps natural spaces sustainable. Follow their blogs and news to find ideas for sustainable action. Some conservation groups I’d recommend include Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC), Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Ocean Wise, and Leave No Trace Canada. Also, check out Paddle Canada, Parks Canada, and provincial/local parks and recreation organizations.

How do you make your outdoor adventures more sustainable? What would you add to the list? Leave a comment below!

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Thomas is currently participating in the 11-month Ocean Bridge program through Ocean Wise, a globally-focused conservation organization on a mission to protect the ocean. As an Ocean Bridge Ambassador, he is creating a series of blog posts for the outdoor community to share information and spark motivation for ocean and freshwater conservation in Canada. Thanks for reading!

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