Jacqui and I are currently walking the coast to coast path in the UK with some friends. All our belongings, including cooking and camping gear are on our backs. We've done some camping and some nights in Youth Hostels. We wash our clothes in the shower when we have one. The hostels have drying rooms as the lake district is famously rainy so our wet stuff goes in there overnight. This effectively serves as a dryer for the entire population of the hostel, certainly more sustainable than individual dryers. When in the hostel we also share a kitchen or eat in the restaurant. Cooking for many is more efficient than cooking for a few. Much of the food is locally sourced and quite a few of the hostels are off grid. Two were renewably powered, one has a deisel generator. Due to the limitations of living off grid the buildings are designed to be very efficient with only essential devices staying powered as needed. I suspect that even a deisel generator is more sustainable than grid supply as it avoids the losses of grid transmission.
When we camp we use a military surplus stove with esbit solid fuel pellets. We tend to cook couscous or prepackaged rice or pasta meals. Waste is minimal. This mode of living is a real lesson in low impact living. We avoid purchasing anything because we don't want to carry it. We search for minimally packaged food.
Overall I think this mode of existence is lower impact if done properly. Some of the hikers have their bags ferried ahead so there is more automobile traffic as a result. Since we carry our own we avoid that impact. We also don't have a fridge (aside from the group one in the hostel kitchens, television, computer only occasionally, no clothes washer, dish washer, hair dryer, or cordless phone. We do carry a cell phone and an MP3 player but I charge them largely with a hand crank device built into my flashlight. We took public transportation, rail, to the start of the walk and will return the same way.
So, in conclusion I believe if done carefully, backpacking is a very sustainable lifestyle and has much to teach us about doing without.
What have you done today to lower your impact?
We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.
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