Whether it’s to stay fit and active, to escape the noise and distractions of your daily life or even just for the fresh air, it’s clear that hiking is a sport that offers benefits to everyone with little need for expensive equipment or technical know-how. When we venture off the beaten track, it’s incredible how quickly we forget our stresses and worries and bathe in nature’s beauty and serenity. But while we are busy benefiting so much from nature, we rarely stop to consider the impact our outdoor sports have on our surroundings. 

In a 2006 report carried out by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), the UAE was ranked the country with the highest Ecological Footprint per capita in the world. While this statistic has improved a lot in the last few years, there is still much work to be done to improve our own ecological footprints, and there are many small-yet-surprisingly-effective steps we can all take when hiking that will go a long way to keeping our hiking trails pristine and friendly – not just for our own use, but for our plant and animal friends too.
The Leave No Trace philosophy originates from the USA and Canada in the 1960s and 1970s in response to the increased effects of human activity on the natural resources available in public wildlands. It consists of a set of seven simple principles that you can adopt when out hiking a trail minimize your environmental impact and make sure that others can enjoy it time and time again long after you’ve hung up your hiking boots for good.

So, what are the seven pillars of hiking without a trace? Well, it’s pretty simple:
1) Prepare and plan ahead- the more prepared you are, the less likely you are to cause damage to your surroundings. If you know your trail and are able to stick to it, there’ll be no need to trample through a load of plants to try and get your bearings.
2) Hike on durable surfaces – favour existing trails and paths where possible – you don’t need to carve out a new one.
3) Dispose of your waste – take everything you brought with you back with you and dispose of it properly – even biodegradable waste such as leftover food. This one’s a no-brainer.
4) Leave things as you find them- this includes rocks and plants. Found a pretty flower? Leave it there!
5) Minimize the impact of fires – avoiding lighting fires whenever possible. If you absolutely have to then use a designated spot.
6) Keep wildlife wild – take care not to disturb or feed animals – The UAE is home to a number of vulnerable or critically endangered species of wildlife, including the sublime Arabian sand cat and the houbara bustard.
7) Be considerate of others – so that other hikers can enjoy the experience too!

These seven fundamental points of the Leave No Trace philosophy are easy to integrate into your own walking, and when adopted on a wider scale, form an extremely powerful set of preventative measures against erosion, pollution and other damaging factors to biodiversity and the landscape that arise from human activity. Together, we can all work to make sure that our hiking trails are kept in good condition, and the surrounding wildlife respected.

To find out more about the Leave No Trace philosophy, or for an easy way to spread its message, you can check out this helpful video, which aims to inform and advise budding hikers on good practices for sustainable trekking. Filmed as part of a free educational video program on hiking by the French NGO Sikana, the video is just one of over 50 all about hiking: teaching you all the essentials of basic navigation, staying safe, looking after your equipment and much more. ■

SIKANA is a not-for-profit educational movement seeking to democratize practical skills via a unique digital platform which brings together a community of experts, volunteers, and organizations. This platform is available to all those who wish to improve their lives and the lives of others. For more information on this program and many more like it: www.sikana.tv

Words by: Rebecca Large
Edited by: Adam Mian
Photos by: Supplied