Sustainable Trekking

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Sustainable trekking and mountaineering refers to journeys in the mountains which try to create the least possible negative impact on the environment and local culture, while aiming to make a positive difference to the host communities and to the local ecology.

Some basic concerns that proponents of sustainable or ethical trekking and mountaineering share, are –

  • Leaving no trace behind, by picking up every bit of garbage they generate.
  • Preserving delicate local flora and fauna by strictly not disturbing any animals if they chance upon them. Also, being aware that many mountain plants are extremely rare and delicate, so they avoid trampling or destroying any foliage.
  • Supporting the integrity of local cultures by respecting religions and sacred places, as well as by favoring businesses which conserve cultural heritage.
  • Supporting local economies by purchasing local goods and participating with small, local businesses.
  • Conserving resources by seeking out businesses that are environmentally conscious, and by using the least possible amount of non-renewable resources.

Ordinary Trekking Vs Sustainable Trekking

In ordinary treks, the tour guide is often the cultural broker who mediates contact between the trekker and locals. Sustainable trekking companies are interested in developing Rural Tourism, so they encourage trekkers to stay in village homes and interact directly with locals.

The earnings from ordinary trekking may not always be equitably distributed in the local community, whereas in ethical trekkers ensure that by staying in village homes, buying and eating local produce, their money goes directly to the local populace.

Ordinary trekkers need not necessarily be as concerned about preserving local ecology as ethical trekkers are. Traditionally, trekkers often disposed off garbage by burying it, but ethical trekkers ensure they carry all waste back to their base camps.

Traditional trekkers have not concerned themselves overly with the welfare of the porters and guides who do most of the physical work on a trek. Sustainable trekkers, on the other hand, aim to ensure that porters are fairly treated and properly paid.

Did You Know?

  • In 2005, a Czech backpacker burned 7 per cent of Torres del Paine National Park in Chile by knocking over an illegal gas portable stove!
  • It helps to wear thick wool or synthetic blend socks designed to wick moisture away from the feet, as wet feet is the primary cause of blisters.
  • Here's a simple way of telling how comfortable your backpack will feel after days of trekking -- when properly adjusted, the base should sit on your hips and the top should be at least one hand-width below the base of your neck.
  • Altitudes above 14,000 feet or vertical gains of more than 2,000 feet per day demand excellent physical fitness. If in doubt, be conservative, especially when it comes to the dizziness and shortness of breath associated with high altitudes.

Pointers for the Ethical Trekker/Mountaineer

  • Be conscious of your environment.
  • Find out about the local culture. What sorts of behaviour and clothing are considered appropriate? What are the local ways of greeting and saying thank you? Are there any gestures they consider taboo?
  • Be open. Maybe drinking tea with yak butter floating in it,

is not your idea of the perfect cuppa, but understand and respect the Tibetans for whom this is a part of their everyday lives.

  • Be conscious that it might be your holiday, but it is also their home. Never take pictures (especially of children and women) without permission.
  • Do not give money to people just because they appear needy. This encourages begging. If you wish to contribute, make a donation to a local project, health centre or school.
  • Try to buy local handicraft and produce. Remember, if you haggle too much just because the guidebook says that it is the done thing, your bargain may be at the seller's expense.
  • Never pluck flowers, trample on plants unnecessarily or cut groves into trees for tent pegs – when you leave, the mountain should look like you were never there in the first place.

The Pitfalls of Sustainable Trekking and Mountaineering

Critics argue that the basic tenet of Sustainable trekking / mountaineering, that travelers should not leave any mark on their hosts, is false. The closer interaction that ethical tourists have with their host community naturally results in a certain degree of cultural inter-mingling. Contact with richer Western tourists may, studies show, result in many negative impacts on local populations, spreading new concepts relating to work, money, and relationships. Critics have also pointed out that local youths are particularly susceptible to the seduction of Western culture – jeans, Hollywood movies et al, and this could lead to social conflicts.

Moreover, when any trekking route or mountain trail becomes popular with tourists, pollution and deterioration of the environment are bound to ensue. Tourist facilities are built, trails are marked out, and the local flora and fauna has to adapt to a greater number of people invading their habitats.

See Also


  • Eco Travel
  • Sustainable Trekking
  • Wilderness Journeys
  • Some Sustainable Trekking Options in the Himalayas
  • Find some of the best Sustainable Trekking websites