Rethinking "Leave no trace"

Hammockhead

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Oct 22, 2019
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I have never actually looked into the official ways or ethics of the “leave no trace” organization, so I use that term very loosely, but I hear it a lot from a hunting buddy who lets me use his suppressor and hand loads all my ammo(so he’s not too hippy nuts). One of the attributes that I have always appreciated about the hunting community as a whole is our respect for the land we roam. Yes, there are those that take their ATVs off designated roads, leave their beer cans and garbage at campsites, etc. But as a whole I feel it is the norm to discourage these behaviors and promote practices that show we care about the good earth God gave us. I would say that most of us that at least casually identify as “a hunter” like to think that we do our part to not destroy the land we hunt, and would like our children to enjoy it after us.
But what if our choices ARE destroying the land. Just maybe not that land we hunt and see, or not as directly. Would you feel any different? What if despite all our “leave no trace” efforts we are still very much leaving a trace, around the whole planet?
Let me clarify a few things before I continue. This is not some backdoor, left wing, eco-nut political agenda that I am trying to sneak in. I am mostly speaking to myself here, but am also just looking to share some thoughts, and spark some conversation.
A few weeks back I read an article about how it is no longer safe to eat any fish from the river I grew up near(and also ate a ton of pike from this year). The water was polluted, and contaminated the fish meat. This event got my emotions involved a bit, because I love eating fish, and by golly that was my hometown which was supposed to live on in glorious nostalgia forever. I started actually thinking about my own choices, what I buy, and who I support, and what I throw away. I will fast forward a bit and skip a lot of long conversations that occurred to get me where I am at this point. So, here it is…
Many of the products I own and use as a hunter are awful for the environment, or were made with some real shady ethical standards, or will shortly end up in a landfill where we just bury them in a mountain for who knows how many hundreds of years while they slowly leak toxic sludge into our ground so that I can’t feel right about keeping and eating that really nice northern pike my boy caught. I am going to stop here and say that right now, this is not about carbon emissions or “climate change”. This is about the undeniable fact that we are burying all our old stuff in the mountains. Salted with the other fact that some of it was made in working conditions that are outright barbaric. I am mostly going to direct this towards synthetic materials and pretend that everything else will biodegrade in the landfills (which it doesn’t).
On one level there are the disposable items. Rubber gloves, plastic ground sheets, hand warmers, etc and all the packaging that all your food and new toys come in. Here is an experiment for you: for one season don’t discard anything, but instead just keep all your hunting garbage in a big bag in the garage and see just how much (or little) you end up with.
On a deeper level though, is our gear and apparel. The stuff we researched, and saved up for, and carry around with us everywhere. Once we are done with it, what happens to it? I think sometimes we trick our minds because we don’t throw it away. We donate it to a thrift shop, we sell it online or pass it on to a friend. But there are no two ways about it, at some point, it gets buried in a mountain. And thanks to the genius advertising in our fashion industry(no, we are not exempt), when Sitka releases a new camo pattern or Kuiu comes out with some new tech, they have us hook line and sinker. We like to think we are not like “those vain people” that buy a new $900 purse every six months, but seriously. Many would not be caught dead wearing 90’s realtree or *gasp* woodland camo. Now yes, I know this does not apply to everyone. Some still proudly wear and use stuff from “the past”, but in large the hunting industry is heavy and growing with consumerism. But that is its own beast, and worthy of its own discussion. What I am more calling to attention is the fact that our stuff is almost all made out of plastic. We live and breathe nylon and polyester. Gore-tex, primoloft, thinsulate, cordura, blah, blah blah….it’s all plastic. I get it, it’s light, it’s cheap, it’s wicking, it’s waterproof, it’s you name it. But it’s all plastic, and it isn’t going anywhere for a long, long time. In the meantime they will just leak dyes, glues, additives, conditioners and chemicals. The effects of which we don’t even fully understand.
So, where does this leave me? Well, going cold turkey I could simply eliminate all synthetics from my future purchases. What’s funny, it’s that natural materials are often arguably better, and if not better, at least still pretty solid options. Wool is making a comeback, and thank goodness, because wool is awesome. Down hasn’t gone anywhere, and is still unbeatable in many ways. The biggest kicker with all natural materials is wet. Nothing beats the wet like plastic. Wool gets heavy, down becomes useless, and the only real options for “waterproof” seem to be waxed canvas, which, well you know. Personally I think there are many natural fibers and materials that have tremendous possibilities. But we spend more time developing plastic tech because it’s cheaper, easier and it sells. Side note, haven’t we all noticed how old down sleeping bags, and old wool jackets still have value and function and appeal, but a 10yo synthetic sleeping bag is nearly useless, and old poly stuff is just gross? Also, I have to admit, and maybe it’s just me, but I have always felt a little out of place hiking miles back in the hills covered to head to toe in plastic. It doesn’t feel “right”. Maybe I would feel less out of place if I was covered in fur, wool and leather...lol, I don’t know.
So where does this really leave me? I likely won’t sell all my synthetics right now,, if not just because they already exist and selling them won’t keep them from still going to be buried in a mountain. But moving forward, yes, I am going to be giving my money for products that if I happen to lose while in the hills, will just back into dirt. Yes, it will be heavier. Yes, it will be bulkier. But one more reason to just take less crap and to get in better shape. The consumer rules the world. If we stop buying, “they” stop making. If enough people put their money towards products that will actually last a lifetime made from living material, then that’s what will be developed and sold. I really don’t think cost is the issue for most of us. I bet we spend more on disposable fashion and equipment than we would on a true quality piece of gear. It’s just going to require that I don’t value convenience over conviction. I tell my kids almost every day, “hard isn’t bad”. Just because something is difficult doesn’t make it bad. Much can be gained from difficulty. None of us go hunting because it’s something easy, right...right? How often do we tell ourselves, “I like hunting elk because it’s challenging”, and then go spend hundreds of dollars on gear to make it easier. Did our fathers enjoy it less in their wool pants and jacket than we do in our huntagucci? Perhaps it’s the other way around. Perhaps, we are missing out on something more. So, I want to find out. I will try and let you know how it goes
 

Customweld

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One thing is certain. The outdoor/ recreation industry has done a stellar job of marketing the newest, lightest, whatever , whatever. Who would have ever thought 20 years ago guys would plop down $30k for a recreation vehicle. Only to be hauled around in a $45k camper, pulled by a $75k dollar pickup .
 

Rich M

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20 yrs ago tjose items would have cost proportionately less but still would be expensive.

I remember the new $6,000 car and pickup truck. More than 20 yrs ago.

To OP, wool never lost itself, the industry is promoting all the fancy stuff. I wore wool often and would hang it to dry be the heater for the next days hunt. Prefer to hunt in jeans these days.

also dislike the toxins in the environment, but you should a seen it in the 70s. We're a lot better off now than we were then.
 

Nickofthewoods

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Oct 5, 2018
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I hear your message. I'm still trying to wrap my head around not hunting big game with lead anymore. I have a sheep hunt on the horizon and the only copper ammo I have left is for my 30-06. There is literally nothing else for sale at the moment. I really wanted to take my .270, Oh well.

My newest vehicle is a 2004 Ford F250 Super Duty. The others are Jeeps from the 90's. If I can't fix it I won't own it, or so I try to think. No matter what though, even trying to buy only USA made products, our lives are full of plastic shit from China. Some people have more than others. It's all going to the landfill at some point.
 

downthepipe

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It was only a couple of years ago that it dawned on me that every shot I take at ducks means a plastic wad floating in the river.
The fact is life comes down to “if everybody did this, where would we be”.
I do believe in a few hundred years humans will look back at us and wonder how in the heck we thought it was sustainable to have all of our food and goods wrapped in plastic. Then again it has revolutionized food safety.
 

Hoodie

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Oregon Cascades
I moved away from synthetic insulation to treated down for basically the reasons you outlined. I live in Western Oregon and I haven´t had a bit of trouble with down provided I´ve done my part to keep it dry. Which isn´t too much trouble.

Good quality rain gear can last a long time, same with other synthetic items like softshells/fleeces. But synthetic insulation loses loft too fast with hard use or repeated compression for my tastes. It feels almost disposable. Not a quality I desire in a puffy jacket or sleeping bag.

My girlfriend has a Patagonia puffy with untreated down and it´s performed just as well as the Q Shield and Dri-Down stuff I have.

Good down will last for decades if you take care of it.

Wool is fantastic too, but it has its own durability concerns. Certainly not as bad environmentally as synthetics though.
 

Baron528

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Jun 3, 2020
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Regarding environmental effects:

I live near multiple paper mills and know many people that do/did work at them. They can tell what products are being made on a particular day by the dye colors exiting the plant into the river. The fishing is still good below these mills, but unless you take out the "mud line" as its referred to, the fillets smell like sulphur. Not to mention the high concentration of mercury and lead found in the river and it's impoundments. These have lead to health warnings regarding the numbers of fish it is healthy to consume. All these mills have met EPA laws/certifications.

I've worked at many landfills here in Wisconsin as a contractor. The older unlined landfills are the problem. One medical landfill I worked in had syringes laying around like leaves on top of the ground, and all the contaminates had leaked into the ground water for the surrounding area. Anyone working on site had blood drawn before and after to check for contamination, and was required to wear rubber boots/gloves, eye protection, and full tyvek suits.

Any new landfill here has a red clay liner underneath along with a pvc membrane. They are capped (closed) the same way to prevent contaminates from escaping the cell. There is still methane vented or burned off depending on the site. One new 40 acre cell I worked on, had all the garbage from Green Bay and the Fox Valley sent to it. It was open for roughly 5 years before being full and capped.

Sadly we have become a "throw away" society.
 

EastHumboldt

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Nov 14, 2020
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This is really sad. So sad that I dare not think about it too deeply or I get depressed. I have two grandsons and I’m hoping to have a hand in teaching them to shoot and cast and build a fire and so on. I’m very worried about the future for them though. The biggest problem as ive always seen it is that our species is just too successful and we’re populating ourselves into a hole in the ground. If we could just figure out how to slow and or stabilize that it would help a lot, while we figure out how to live sustainably.
 

ODB

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I see a lot of effort to create vegan leather...

Cow hide just turns into dirt with almost zero effort... not sure what we are trying to gain (other than some vacuous virtue) by putting so much energy into solving a question no one is asking..,.


I do not like synthetic anything and avoid it when I can - but I can't - but I try...

there is only so much one man can do...
 

slvrslngr

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Reduce, reuse, recycle. Regardless of how hard we try, we leave a mark on this world. Making conscious decisions to reduce that footprint is about all we can do. As far as shotgun wads and hulls, I’ve picked up way more than I’ve ever left behind.
 

DudeBro

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Mar 17, 2019
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Virginia
I like my synthetic gear. I like its weight, its wicking, its water resistance, its drying properties. I am a more comfortable hunter using it, and therefore more effective. I have far worse environmental habits than the 10 or so synthetic hunting items I own and use. How many in this thread drive a larger, less efficient vehicle than they really need? How many frequently drive distances less than two miles rather than walking or cycling? How many drive when public transportation is available? How many use plastic shopping bags from the grocery store rather than carrying a reusable canvas bag to and from the store? How many drink beer from bottles or cans rather than brewing your own and putting it in a reusable keg? How many buy milk in a plastic jug rather than buying it in reusable glass bottles? My point - I appreciate OP’s perspective, but synthetic hunting gear is an infinitesimally small piece of the overall consumption-based, polluter culture we live in.
 
OP
Hammockhead

Hammockhead

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[QUOTE="DudeBro, post: 1978746, member: synthetic hunting gear is an infinitesimally small piece of the overall consumption-based, polluter culture we live in.[/QUOTE]

You are absolutely right about there being worse habits. And yes, on a personal level I am addressing those as well. But sometimes I feel like we can easily disconnect ourselves from some of those conversations if not just for lack of interest. Sometimes it has to hit us where we care, so that we have someplace to start. I lived my whole life hearing about this stuff, and was not completely ignorant, but managed to never give it much thought. It took a different perspective (along with some other non mentioned reasons) to motivate me. Just trying to offer a different perspective. Any change is good change. Maybe someone won't quit using shopping bags, but will choose to get a down bag next time, or not replace their perfectly good equipment because the outdoor channel told them too. And maybe they'll even enjoy the hunt more.



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caesAR15

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IA
I work in the solid waste industry (we operate a landfill, recycling center, e-waste and hazmat facility).

Your perspective is valid @Hammockhead - not littering a campsite with PowerBar wrappers and Mountain House bags (i.e. Leave No Trace) is only a small part of the impact we all have from an environmental standpoint. As you point out the production, packaging, distribution, etc. of the "stuff" we use has its own impact that 99.9% of people never consider.

I always get a kick out of the tree hugger types that I bump into preaching about being "green" yet they are carrying around the latest iPhone. A device that's powered by rare earth batteries mined by children in 3rd world African countries and assembled by semi-slave labor in China.

Point being, our existence is a balance. I personally feel we have a responsibility to those who follow us to be stewards of what we've been given by those who came before us. Being deliberate about what I buy and do, making things last rather than chasing the latest Kuiu pattern or piece of gear is what I feel is the sweet spot.

Striking that balance is something that is different for every individual. But I do think that being mindful of "do I actually need this?" and recognizing that experiences and community are the path to happiness, not materialism--despite what Sitka, Gore, and other manufacturers would lead you to believe.
 
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EastHumboldt

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Makes me feel better about the fact that I carried my indestructible Samsung rugby flip phone for about ten years, and just got a smart phone last year for business reasons (ok boomer ). I also tend to use my gear until it’s in shreds and I will fix my old appliances etc... as long as it’s possible to do so... reduce re-use as they say.

I feel a little bad about the carbon footprint of my annual hunt... two trucks drive 10 hours round trip and the horse packer drives his big diesel 6 hours, it I suppose it’s somewhat offset that our trucks are then Parked for 10 days straight. not too much I can really do about it cuz NV is a draw state no otc.
 
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I think a lot about this issue and in very similar ways. I am trying to buy only natural fiber clothes for hunting and everyday life as well as being willing to pay more for quality. I try to limit my impact in nearly every aspect of life. Drive less, buy less, buy environmentally friendlier products and try to limit purchases packaging. It takes work and I can’t say I don’t fall short but my faith and convictions compel me to be the best steward I can. I don’t like that I can’t eat fish I catch more regularly without risk a lot of health risks. Part of this problem is caused by the manufacturer of my water heater. They’re 7 miles up the river I live next too and they have put a lot of junk in the water. The makers of shoes I have bought in the past have put PFAS everywhere in my area.

Of course life is a balance but I think we need a new mode of economics to match reality. As an engineer I think of everything as having embedded costs and external costs. The donut model of economics is one alternate I think more people should give thought to. 1611787147174.jpeg
 

Clarence

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Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without. Been trying to live by this. Great saying my kids get a kick out of.

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Voyageur

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Feb 12, 2020
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Good thought provoking thread. It motivated me to get a pair of these tote bags for my grocery shopping.
 

WCB

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It is a double edged sword. Natural materials (wool, leather, wood) have environmental impacts also. Large amounts of land, energy resources, etc goes into those also. So what is no trace from that stand point?

It really is a personal question I believe and not one that you can really say "that is less trace then that other thing" in most circumstances. It is not as easy as saying this synthetic uses a few chemicals and doesn't break down as easy and 100% wool rots away faster and is "natural". Well there was a whole infrastructure to raise the sheep for that wool. Farmers cut ground to feed that livestock. Tractors were built, fuel used, trees were cleared out etc.

Unless you have zero technology and living in the stone age basically everyone is a hypocrite. Something to remember... "stop drilling oil" drives away in their Subaru. "Modern farming practices are bad"...own an Iphone or a diamond ring. "stop cutting down trees"...builds a new house. Research the individual decision you make and base your selection off of the findings. Just saying natural or organic means squat environmentally.

To the OP it seems you have picked you hill to do battle on and not try to fight the whole war of pollution and the like...wish you well on your journey.
 
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