Challenge: Can You Eliminate Single-Use Plastics From a Thru-Hike?
August 30, 2023
From food wrappers to water bottles, take-out containers and utensils, single-use plastics are everywhere in our day to day lives.... Turns out: you can't even escape them out in the wilderness. While thru-hikers are typically living for months with a much smaller environmental footprint than the average American, we wanted to challenge our Ambassadors to see if they could try to eliminate all single-use plastics from their thru-hikes. We knew it wouldn't be easy (or really even possible) but we were curious to see how they'd do and to share what they learned.
We started off by asking them to identify all of the single use plastics they are currently using on their hikes. The common culprits? Water bottles, ziplock baggies, and food wrappers. Next, we asked them to find a potential replacement for each item. Something that would be multi-use and durable, built to last. We supplied their replacement items and they tested them out on trail for a month. Here's what Journey Man found:
I was not able to replace all the ziplocks. We use ziplocks for nearly anything and everything. We use it to store our food, electronics, our trash and sometimes extra clothes if you want them to be water proofed. I was able to replace most ziplocks, but when I came to my trash bag I've continued to use a ziplock bag. The stench that can sometimes accumulate in these trash ziplocks is a bit too much to remove without a dishwasher readily available. So instead of ruining one of these reusable gallon sized ziplocks I've opted to remain with a regular ziplock.
Another item I was unable to replace was the waste from the wrappings and boxes after a resupply. It can be quite substantial at times. We don't have access to a Whole Foods or a Co Op where it may be easier to reduce the amount of waste when purchasing groceries.
The replacement for the pack liner was better than before. The 35L sea to summit lightweight dry bag has been very convenient in multiple ways. I can pack my sleeping system in it more efficiently than before. I also love getting to camp and being able to pull the whole thing out at once. It makes it easier to find things and takes less time for camp chores. Another big plus, it's a lot less noisy than the plastic pack liner was! That thing use to crinkle so much it must have woke up the whole forest!
The Bite tablets were another great replacement. I haven't had to worry about buying more toothpaste and won't for the rest of the thru hike! It was always annoying trying to figure out how many more uses I had out of a tiny toothpaste container. If I had enough to get to the next resupply or if i needed to carry a second tube of toothpaste. It was also sometimes hard to find the travel size toothpaste rather than the large ones. Now I don't have to worry about it! After taking the tablets out of their glass jar they didn't weigh much either. There's also a surprisingly efficient amount of toothpaste from each tablet. Definitely should have made this switch earlier!
This new bamboo travel toothbrush is lightweight and the bristles are a better hardness than the plastic one. The bamboo lid it comes in helps for easy storage in my diddy bag and I know the bristles won't get damaged or touch a bunch of other stuff in there. I love using this product and I wish I made the switch sooner!
The water bottle was a bit worse than before. A few main issues I have with this switch were harder to reach while walking, it's not a full liter and I can't see how much water is left in the bottle. I use to be able to calculate it out in my head pretty well when and where I was going to filter water next, but not being able to see how much water I have and it not being a full liter makes it a bit trickier. Do I fill up now or at the water source in 5 miles? It seems like an odd thing to worry about, but if we stopped at every water source to filter water we would never get to camp! I'm okay with the switch, it's just taking some getting use to. I might carry both a smart water bottle and the sports bottle just to have more carrying capacity and spend less time stopping to filter because I'll have enough water for longer stretches.
One thing I have noticed is how much waste we create every time we resupply and over the course of the days we are eating our food and the wrapping they come in adds up fairly quickly. It's a shame that we can't find better ways to package the food we need for resupply or be able to find more grocery stores with healthier and more eco friendly options.
We met Frankie near Apache Peak on San Jacinto. He was wearing his large straw hat and getting ready to go over San Jacinto with Georgia just because she told him, "C'mon Frankie." This dude is a chill, real one. He's always ready to send it and send it with a smile.
We met David all the way back in week one of the trail at a water source just outside of Julian, CA. He was very kind and our first in depth conversation was about photography; he gave me some tips and tricks. I've come to realize he is a humble and very, very talented photographer.