When you're surrounded by towering peaks, huge lakes and thick forests, it's very easy to feel small and insignificant.
However, it is vital that each and every hiker considers their footprint (pun intended). For if these landscapes are to be enjoyed for many generations to come, the walkers of today need to minimise their impact on the environment.
Although caring for the planet is not difficult, it does require some thought and a little bit of planning.
Stick to marked paths
On popular routes, such as those to the top of a prominent summit, thousands of people tramp the same pathways every year.
This creates considerable erosion, which can lead to a number of issues. For starters, heavily eroded trails create unsightly scars on the landscape, which are also unpleasant to walk on.
As the National Park Authority (NPA) explains, erosion "can lead to habitat loss as well as damage to the heritage, archaeological and natural history qualities of the area" - something to which no self-respecting walker wants to contribute.
To reduce the impact of the millions of footsteps, the NPA requests that all walkers stick to the marked paths (don't be tempted to take shortcuts across vegetation or walk along the edges of the trail) and avoid removing stones to build cairns.
It's not just when you're on your feet that you can adversely affect your surroundings. Wild camping and the fire lighting associated with it can have a major impact on the flora and fauna.
As well as following the rules of whatever park in which you happen to be, there are some general guidelines to which you must adhere.
Aside from obvious points such as taking home your litter and using a shovel to construct a toilet well away from sources of water, you should also consider camping as inconspicuously as possible, by keeping sites small, out of sight of local residents and only staying for one night in a place. Our range of camping equipment
is in general, very lightweight and easy to pack away so there really is no excuse not to remove all trace of yourselves when leaving. Regatta brand tents
fit into this category in particular.
Fire lighting, while strongly associated with camping through romanticised stories and images, can have devastating consequences for the environment if care isn't taken. Not to mention that in many locations, open fires are prohibited. To reduce the chances of causing a wildfire, stick to a camping stove where possible.
You should also make sure that you keep food covered and hidden away, especially if you're camping abroad in places where potentially dangerous animals such as bears are on the lookout for an easy meal.
Packing food and drink in resealable containers before you set off not only helps protect it from inquisitive animals, but also cuts down on litter - reducing the amount of trash you need to carry home.
You can read more about wild camping on our blog
Observe, don't touch
On the subject of animals, you should also avoid direct contact with them, whether by feeding or touching. As well as potentially causing stress or behavioural change, you also put yourself at risk of being injured or picking up a disease. And if you pass through farm gates, make sure you close them securely behind you.
The same goes for the flora. Picking one flower might seem harmless, but multiply this by one thousand and you have a major problem. Just a few careless actions can result in damage that takes many years to repair.
Enjoying walking responsibly is not just about caring for the natural environment, it's also about showing respect for your fellow hikers. Large, raucous groups disturb the peace for others, and travelling in big parties also increases your footprint on the land.
As well as looking out for other people on the trail, you need to be aware of places that have particular cultural significance for locals. For instance, in the Australian outback, many of the rock formations including Uluru (Ayers Rock) are sacred to the indigenous people, who strongly disapprove of people climbing on them.
A perfect example of an environment that has been seriously damaged by overuse and a lack of respect and care from hikers is Mount Everest.
National Geographic writer Mark Jenkins recently described in graphic detail how two of the most popular routes up the mountain are 'disgustingly polluted, with garbage leaking out of the glaciers and pyramids of human excrement befouling the high camps'.
Such is the seriousness of the situation that the world's tallest mountain is now the subject of programmes such as the 'Saving Mount Everest Project', which in 2011 resulted in sherpas collecting an astonishing 8.1 tons of rubbish - including oxygen cylinders and discarded tents - from as high as 8,750m and carrying it back down to base camp for disposal.
While Everest's rubbish problems might seem like an extreme example for the recreational walker heading out into the rolling hills of Britain, it is a hugely appropriate reminder of what can happen when humans lose sight of what really matters.
It also shows the dangers of becoming obsessed with bagging the highest peaks, when there are more beautiful walks to be enjoyed on lesser climbed mountains. So next time you're heading walking, why not swap Scafell Pike for Skiddaw, or Ben Nevis for Ben Macdui?