Natural Fitness: How To Be A Zero Waste Trail Runner

6 Mins Read

Trail running, already one of the most popular sports with a growing community in Hong Kong and throughout Asia, is gaining additional momentum amid travel restrictions this year. While experienced athletes are taking on numerous running challenges as a replacement for canceled races, many beginners and amateurs are hitting the trails to explore and get to know Hong Kong better. And lucky us – they are literally on our doorstep.

Unfortunately, long trail runs often come with a lot of waste. And we’re not just talking about leaving trash on the trails. Hopefully, that’s a conversation that’s not relevant in 2020 any longer? Surely you know enough about the plastic waste crisis and your own responsibility not to litter in nature! We are talking about the products that help maintain the runners engaging in this highly expensive activity. Think protein bars, electrolytes and gels in small sachets, coconut water & sugary beverage bottles – and we haven’t even gotten to the clothing, shoes, and accessories!

Is it even possible to be a zero waste trail runner given the intense conditions we put ourselves through and the support we do require ?

Courtesy: Matthieu Simeray

You don’t only need a pair of shoes to start

The famous saying about a pair of shows being all you need to become a runner is not really applicable to trail running. Certainly, the right shoes are extremely important and will help prevent injuries But trails require more preparation and consideration. Think: backpack if you go further than your backyard trail, headlamp: if you run in the darkness, visor or hat: to protect you from the sun, GPS watch: to not get lost…The list gets even longer if you add poles, compression socks & sleeves… 

Such a big list of necessities means shopping more, and buying new things all the time. The more you run, the more you will wear out your shoes and it’s literally impossible to run with the same pair of shoes for years as they lose their grip, which can get you into trouble. So, how can you reduce your environmental footprint?

For most of the items you need, consider buying them second-hand. Resell app platform Carousell is perfect for this (tried and tested by yours truly), and you should definitely consider joining Facebook groups like Hong Kong Hikers Market and Hong Kong Trail Running Community, as well as Whatsapp or branded running clubs, like Gone Runners and Midnight Runners- these online communities are full of passionate folks like you who are more than happy to exchange and share gear- especially since many of us will try and test specialty trail brands that may not end up working for our foot/body type/needs, so you can bag some really high quality items in great condition.

Source: Unsplash

Plastic-free hydration

Proper hydration, especially in the hot and humid conditions that define Hong Kong weather, is crucial! At the same time, carrying water adds extra weight, which can slow you down, which is why most runners plan their long runs with stops at gas stations and villages to ensure they can stop for a refill/ get more supply. Luckily, there are more and more water vending machines available even in remote areas, meaning you can continue running sans plastique.

Water for Free App 2.0 and HK Running Water map have become must-haves for runners in Hong Kong, offering an easy to find directory of the best places to refill your portable water bottle or reservoir.

Corporates are also working to make water available without the packaging: Swire Coca-Cola announced plans to roll out 300 refillable Bonaqua water stations across Hong Kong back in 2018, which would have made water replenishment substantially easier for us runners. That being said, progress is slower than hoped: of the 300 planned stations, 84 were installed in 2019, according to the company’s latest sustainability report

We have spotted some of these machines next to Brides Pool, Tai Mo Shan Kiosk, and near the Tai Tam reservoirs. But what about the big island? If you choose to run on Lantau’s gorgeous trails, be warned- there are almost no water stations on the island. What’s a zero waster trail runner to do? Use a water filter (get one at any reputable running shop) and drink straight from the streams (just make sure they are on your route when you are planning).

Courtesy: LifeStraw

Plastic-free nutrition

Ask any elite or veteran runner about nutrition and they will tell you it’s a key consideration. Well that and training consistency! Electrolyte packets with all the necessary nutrients, recovery shakes, and tablets – there are hundreds of brands to choose from, and many are excellent except for the fact that 90% come wrapped in (non-recyclable) plastic.

An easy solution to this? Make your own energy balls – you can find some delicious, nutrient-dense ones in our Green Queen Zero Waste Vegan Meal Plan. Another easy fix: make your own trail mix- grab some dried fruits, nuts and seeds at a bulk shop and voila! Packaging-free grocery store Live Zero even sells a ready-made “trail mix” blend. We love to fill our Stasher bags (reusable ziplock bags) with the stuff, it’s so light and easy to carry around. But there’s no need to invest in a Stasher if you don’t already have one: you can simply reuse a plastic ziplock you have lying around at home.

Courtesy: LiveZero

Green your laundry routine

There’s not two ways about it: trail running leaves you sweaty and smelly, so you need to do a ton of laundry. There’s not way to “re-wear” your soaking wet apparel after a mega trail run. And if you run every day, that’s a lot of laundry. So how to do right by the planet?

  • Well first of all, make sure your laundry machine is energy efficient and uses as little water as possible.
  • Secondly, quit your dryer- just hang your sports clothes on a drying rack after you take them out of the washing machine.
  • Use eco-detergent / softener that does not fill our waterways with toxic ingredients.
  • Invest in a microfibre filter (like Guppy Friend) to prevent microfibres (tiny little pieces of plastic that come off synthetic materials during washing and end up polluting our oceans)
  • Minimise the clothing you wear, get inspired by Sportsbrasquad, a body-positive movement started four years ago by a marathon runner Kelly Roberts made up of thousands of women across the globe who “ditched their T-shirts and insecurities”

Choose planet-friendly & wildlife-friendly sunscreen

If you run during the day, you are going to need to apply a generous amount of sunscreen. The sun’s rays can seriously damage your skin and leave you looking aged. Don’t skimp on sun protection. But, make sure the brand you choose is 1) toxin-free for you 2) toxin-free for wildlife and 3)comes in reusable/compostable packaging. Here’s our complete guide on the best eco & safe sunscreens to choose from.

Courtesy: Dicky Lee via Asia Trail Girls

Whether you are planning to apply all of our above suggestions above or just a few, remember that safety comes first with trail running. Being properly equipped, hydrated and prepared for any force-major situations (getting lost or injured, feeling sick due to heat or running out of water) is key. If you are new to the trails, make sure to start small and go out with a group – and implement each zero waste tip one at a time. Eventually you will grow as a runner AND as a low waste trailer, and before you know it, you will be giving out the tips to newbies.

Lead image courtesy of Pexels.


  • Flor De Luna

    Having previously reported on climate change and environmental issues for the media outlets in South America, Flor De Luna decided to make a bigger change when she moved to Hong Kong. Combining her storytelling and leadership skills, Flor has co-founded two startups focused on zero waste lifestyle and mindfulness, organized a number of events – from small meetups to big-scale conferences, including StartmeupHK Festival with Invest HK and multiple sustainability-themed Startup Weekends with Techstars.

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