Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly

Why I’m Not a Fan of Everlane

Revoke my Millennial card now – I’m about to commit internet blasphemy.

I don’t like Everlane.

The brand has made its name touting its transparency and ethical wares, but I feel strongly that it doesn’t belong on the same racks as truly sustainable, ethical clothing. Yes, it is fantastic that Everlane is making an effort to show consumers where there clothes come from and break down the real costs that go into each piece. But I don’t think the clothes they are making right now are deserving of the praise they’ve been getting. (And there’s an ongoing debate about if they are actually radically transparent.)

It may seem unfair to complain about a company that is trying to do better than most fast fashion brands, but that doesn’t mean that it belongs on every list of ethical clothing brands or in every conscious consumer’s closet.

Why I'm Not a Fan of Everlane

Before I get into my reasons, I want to be very clear. I have only bought from Everlane once and visited their pop-up shop in San Francisco once. Outside of my time in their shop, I have only tried on and touched three of their pieces: crew neck cashmere sweater, v-neck cashmere sweater, and a cotton v-neck t-shirt.

Let’s get into it.

Why I Won’t Buy Everlane

1. It’s Fast Fashion Lite

Trendy? Check. Cheap? Check. Built to last? Definitely not.

Everlane may not add new items to the site every day, but they certainly pump out their fair share of new styles and colors. Most of their clothes are on trend, which means they will quickly become dated. Are they the same as H&M and Zara. No. But they are more like fast fashion than most people would like to admit.

Why I'm Not a Fan of Everlane

2. Poor Quality

Their low prices should have been a dead giveaway, but my biggest disappointment has been the poor quality of their clothing. All three of the pieces I ordered, including two cashmere sweaters, were see-through thin. The same can be said for most of what I saw in the store. The fabric is not high quality and the pieces do not feel like they are built to last.

You cannot pay fair wages, produce things well, use high quality materials, and sell a shirt for $15. The math just doesn’t add up. Something has to give.

Every time I wash my only Everlane piece, a dark gray v-neck t-shirt, I am paranoid it’s going to rip. I wash it on delicate and in a garment bag because it’s so thin.

3. Materials

Ethical comes in all shapes and sizes, but to me ethical clothing needs to be sustainable. Everlane does not use organic cotton or other low-chemical, low-water alternatives. They do not tell you what kind of dyes or process they use. They do not use leather that has been safely tanned without harmful chemicals. Their jackets are stuffed with polyester and polypropylene. Pants and dresses from their work wear collection contain viscose from unspecified origin, polyester, polyamid, and nylon.

That said, most of their materials are natural and not man-made. They have gone out of their way to manufacture their jeans in a sustainable denim factory. The sustainability of their materials and production is something that Everlane clearly cares about, but they haven’t gone far enough for me across their entire line. (If I had to guess, the cost of organic materials is likely their biggest barrier at this point to more sustainable materials).

4. Personal Reasons

It would be unfair to leave these out. I have struggled to find pieces that fit both my style and my body. However, it’s all of the things above that keep me from trying new pieces or giving them more chances.

 

Take a look inside my minimalist wardrobe or read why the ethical clothing blogger behind Gretchen’s Closet Stopped Buying Everlane.

This Is Garbage

We need to talk about trash.

There have been some important stories about trash in the news lately that are weighing on my mind, and yet they seem to be going unnoticed.

GoodFor Aukland Zero Waste Bulk Grocery Store

If every grocery store looked like GoodFor in Aukland, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

The biggest is that China is no longer taking our trash. Before the new policy went into effect on January 1, 2018, China recycled about half of the entire world’s paper and plastics. Now they are refusing to take on our dirty business due to environmental damage, poor quality of the materials we send, and hazardous waste and trash that’s mixed in and bring down the value of the recyclables. Countries including England, Ireland, Germany, and Canada are already reporting a buildup of plastic recyclables according to the article in the New York Times.

As more plastics and paper products build up in cities and ports around the world, the article reports that many are looking to export their waste to other countries like India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. But what are these countries going to do with this overflow of trash? Without proper recycling facilities and a capacity to actually process the massive surge, these countries will be inundated with our castoffs and left with the same problems that has left China reeling.

Sure, it feels like you’re doing the right thing by recycling – and yes it’s better than throwing things straight into the trash – but this is yet another (7.3 million ton) reminder that recycling is not enough. So what is?

We, as an entire global community, need to make less trash. It starts at home, but we also need to hold companies accountable for the packaging they use and demand better options.

For more of what you can do to reduce your waste right now, go here.

 

17 Things I’ve Been Doing to Resist

It’s been a full year. A full 356 days of standing up for what I believe in, fighting for what’s right, and bracing myself for the next New York Times notification.

Many of the things below are not necessarily new to my life – some have been around for at least a decade – but they have taken on new meaning to me. Here’s a fairly exhaustive list of what I’ve been doing to resist (in no particular order).

Resist Reading List: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

1. Reading

Books are powerful. Written language carries weight and meaning beyond the letters on the page. There’s a reason the current administration doesn’t want anyone reading newspapers or getting their right to free education.

Newspapers, magazines, blogs, and books illuminate other perspectives and immerse you in someone else’s experience for a brief moment. They add context and gravity to the things happening around us and help us better understand the real stakes. While I think any reading can be an act of resistance (and self-care!), here are a few of the books I read in the past year that fired me up or gave me much needed understanding:

The first two are must-reads.

2. Supporting Real News

It’s vital to support valuable sources of truth with money. I have a NYTimes subscription, but just remembering to turn off my ad blocker and spending more time with their content can make a difference for newspapers and journalists.

Resist: Bike to Farmers' Market

3. Riding My Bike

Every time I pick up my helmet instead of my car keys, I’m giving this repulsive administration a massive middle finger. Oil money has bought them off, and I refuse to put any back in their pockets. Instead I make every effort to ride my bike and pay for public transit. Each time I buy a ticket for the local train I am voting with my dollars and insisting that we need more funding and investment in our shared resources and sustainable transit. Riding my bike improves my community’s air quality, reduces traffic and road congestion, (hopefully) inspires other people to bike, and makes it safer for everyone. It also makes me really happy.

Who knew riding could feel so damn satisfying.

4. Calling My Representatives

I am lucky to live in a state/region that has politicians who are fighting for equality and justice. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need to hear from the people who support them. Actually calling makes me nauseous (and I totally cried once while talking to a staffer about health care and how much the Affordable Care Act has helped me), but I always feel better when I do.

Resist: Shop at Farmers' Markets

5. Eating My Values

I’ve been vegetarian for more than a decade. This year we’ve made an even bigger push to eat local foods by skipping the grocery store and getting our produce at our farmers’ market instead. Our veggies are from fields around the area and our money goes straight to the farmers instead of filtering through Amazon’s pockets. I refuse to give Monsanto or other massive agro-companies my money. We buy organic to protect our local environment, the workers, and ourselves. We’ve also been paying attention to foods with big carbon or water footprints and trying to eat them less.

Resist: Ditch the Trash

6. Working Toward Zero Waste

In general packaged foods don’t fit my values or come from companies I feel good supporting. Even more so, I can’t stand the idea of sending chip bags and granola bar wrappers to a landfill where they will either end up in the ocean or be buried in other plastic junk longer than I will be alive.

Reducing our trash has pushed us to support local business and farmers, discover new resources around us, reuse what we already have in different ways, and slowly cut down on our environmental impact. (You can see more about the changes we’ve made here.)

7. Refusing to Support Companies Who Support Hatred, Racism, and Sexism

A simple Chrome extension let’s me know when companies support the current administration. Before I purchase anything I do a quick search to make sure that the company ethically produces their goods, has sustainability practices, and aren’t in favor of the current regime. (Here’s a good list to get you started, compilations of dirty donors, or dive into the ultimate list of people and companies to boycott.

8. Keeping an Ethical Wardrobe

Creating an ethical wardrobe is about more than just buying from ethical retailers. Instead I have been taking good care of the clothes I already own. I have refused to buy from companies who don’t use sustainable materials and practices, don’t treat their workers fairly, and don’t pay fair prices for their raw materials. For much of the year, I just didn’t shop at all. When I did need something, I checked for used options first.

9. Reducing Online Shopping

Online shopping is a hard habit to break. I still research every purchase online before I buy it, but I’ve been trying to make purchases in a store rather than online. Sure, online shopping may be cheaper on the surface, but going to stores (especially when I ride my bike) saves carbon and helps starve oil companies. It takes untold amounts of oil to get all of our Amazon packages to us. Most things I can easily buy within 10 miles of my home. This also helps me cut down on packaging/waste.

 10. Supporting Independent, Ethical, Environmental Business

You don’t just have to shop to do this. I’ve been including more business that I believe in in the things I write (especially for other publications), following them on social media, and telling my friends about them when they’re looking for something in particular.

11. Staying Off Twitter

I refuse to fuel or partake in the distracting name calling and hatred that goes on in the space. It goes without saying, but not following the president and never retweeting him goes a long way. He takes power from people listening to him. Even retweets that are meant to show his idiocies or dispel lies turn into proof that people care what he says and that he’s being heard. Let him yell his lies to an empty void. (Related: Why I deleted my Facebook.)

12. Ignoring Clickbait

I refuse to teach publications that it’s okay to use the frequently unfolding horrors to drive clicks and revenue. I will not let publications get away with stories meant to inflame or needlessly entertain. This includes political ‘you won’t believe!’ stories, almost all celebrity stories, and anything that looks like it came out of a tabloid. I can’t stand the current president’s obsession with this “tv ratings.” I’m not watching. (That doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention or informed.)

13. Listening to New Voices

I’ve spent an outrageous amount of time listening to podcasts in the last 12 months. Top of mind are Seeing White from Scene on the Radio, Pod Save America (and its offshoots), and Call Your Girlfriend. They keep me up to date about what’s going, tell me how I can help, and help me understand the world a bit better. I’m also a big fan of the Small Victories newsletter that highlights the progress and good things that are happening.

14. Talking

There have been some falling outs in the last year over social and political beliefs within my extended family. But that hasn’t stopped me from seeing how important it is to talk to the people in my life candidly about what’s happening, how it’s affecting everyone, and what we can do to help one another.

15. Supporting Public Services

The library is one of my favorite places. It is one of the public services that I use the most, and I am so thankful for it. We have a great library system in our county. Not only does it mean I can read 79 books without having to spend a dime, but it offers so many programs to the entire community. When I go stir-crazy at home it’s the first place I pack myself off to for some quiet work or a much needed browse.
There are so many other things that fall into this category, but the others that I use or try to visibly support is bike access/parking in my community, public transit, and farmers’ markets and other open events.

16. Refusing Greed and ‘Me First’ Attitude

This obnoxious, toxic behavior is what got us here. We’re all trying to grab what’s ‘owed’ to use before the next person can, and it’s destroying our societies and our happiness.

I’m actively working on not getting mad at people who cut in front of me when driving, being mindful to hold open doors, wave other people through at stop signs, and generally reassess whenever I feel like I have to have something before someone else gets it. This also includes not chasing after the latest and greatest things and instead being thankful for the things we do have.

17. Recognizing Humanity

American society is weird. We pride ourselves on giving each other personal space and being self-reliant individuals. And yet we close ourselves off from others and ignore the humanity in the people around us. I’m all for gliding through the background unnoticed, but there are times when I think it does more harm than good.

This one is as easy as saying ‘hello,’ ‘thank you,’ or even ‘good morning.’ Start with people who hold doors open for you and move on to every service worker who helps you, homeless people, or strangers on your commute. Talk to the person in your office that you’ve never actually met. Get to know the people who take care of your yard or your local park. If an introvert like me can do it, anyone can.

Noticeably Absent:

This year I didn’t make it to any protests. I let my still healing ankle and fear get in the way. 2018 seems like a good year to change that.

 

The Best Things I Bought This Year

This might seem like a weird thing to write about for someone who calls herself a minimalist, but this post really does have a place here. Part of cutting back on purchases and unnecessary stuff is being able to appreciate what you have and realize what has really made a difference.

I haven’t purchased much this year, although this list has reminded me that I bought more than I realized. This list includes most of what I bought, and for good reason. The things below all made a tangible difference in my life and were the best things I bought this year.

My Best Purchases of 2017

Used Trek Lexa 2

1. Bike

I was pretty devastated when my bike was stolen. It took me months of going to bike shops and relentlessly scanning the internet to find my new bike. I eventually found the perfect used road bike on Craigslist. When I brought her in to my local bike shop to get her all set up the (amazingly patient and super helpful) guy said he never sees used bikes that fit that well.

Since purchasing her (and an unfortunately expensive slew of other necessary things like a helmet and pedals), I have reduced my driving down to once a week. I love flying down hills and racing past traffic. Lexy (yes, she has a name) is by far the best physical thing I bought this year. She makes stupid happy and we go nearly everywhere together. She’s now my main set of wheels.

Allbirds Wool Travel Shoes in Iceland

2. Allbirds

It feels near impossible to find a relatively sustainable shoe that is also comfortable and not hideous. I pined after these wool shoes for nearly a year before I finally purchased some. They were my main travel shoes this year (they went all over Iceland and New Zealand wonderfully). They were also my main every day shoe. From commuting to riding my bike on errands, I take them everywhere.

Patagonia Women's Micro D® 1/4-Zip Fleece – The Best Things I Bought This Year

3. Fleece Sweatshirt

I’ll be honest with you, I have some guilt about this one. I am very aware that my fleece sweatshirt leaches plastic fibers into the environment and the water every time I wear and wash it. The synthetic fibers wash out of the garment and into the waterways, ocean, and even our drinking water. I’m planning to purchase a bag that traps the fibers and helps keep them out of the water, but it will still end up in the trash or blown away.

With that said, I couldn’t find a warm sweatshirt or mid layer made from natural fibers that I could afford. I also needed something that could pack small, get wet, and handle being shoved in a suitcase. This Patagonia fleece is ethically produced from recycled polyester, which made me feel slightly (just slightly) less terrible about the whole thing. It does everything I need it to do, and it will last me for years. I wear this sweatshirt every single day, and it’s on my must-have list for any trip. (Don’t worry, I wash it around twice a month, so it’s not too grungy and it sheds less.)

Zero Waste Handkerchiefs – The Best Things I Bought This Year

4. Handkerchiefs

I never thought I would love using handkerchiefs. I am a complete convert. My nose has never felt better, they wash and dry like a dream, and we have massively reduced our trash. I bought some handmade handkerchiefs off Etsy, but you can find them all over including in thrift stores and zero waste online shops like Life Without Plastic and Package Free Shop.

Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boots – The Best Things I Bought This Year

Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boots – The Best Things I Bought This Year

5. Hiking Boots

While hiking in New Zealand I would not shut up about how great of an investment these boots were. After 4 hours of rain and 2 hours of snow my feet were still completely dry. They handled plodding through an unexpected foot of snow for hours on end like a champ. It took me forever to find a hiking boot that my feet accepted, and I was happy to discover that these are made in Europe and that the company takes their impact seriously.

Dyson V8 – The Best Things I Bought This Year

6. Vacuum

I am a cleaning nerd, and I’m not ashamed of it. I dreamed of owning this vacuum* for almost a full year before we decided it was worth the investment (both money and space). I’m so glad we finally brought it home. It works great in our small space, and I’m thrilled to no longer have to sweep the stairs (which really just meant throwing all of the dust and debris into the air).

Kayaking Milford Sound – The Best Things I Bought This Year

7. Time Off to Travel

Of course this is on the list, and it’s definitely not really last. Sure, it’s not something physical, but it was my biggest expenditure this year. I took on extra clients and projects and gave up some weekends throughout the year to be able to spend more than six weeks traveling in 2017. From Iceland to New Zealand to Hawaii to visiting family, it was worth every extra bit of hard work.

Freelance has been a huge learning experience with some serious lows, but the ability to take off when I like and travel has made it all worth it.

 

PS. I don’t make any money off of the links I included here. They’re just for reference/ nosy people like me. 

*Much too patient boyfriend not included.

Why I Deleted My Facebook Account

For years I have been dreaming about this day, but I always told myself ‘I couldn’t possibly actually do that.’ Well past self, I definitely did.

I haven’t used Facebook with any regularity since college. In the years after I would go on and catch up with people’s lives that I never see or talk to. I don’t know about you, but this left me feeling more like a stalker than a far away friend. Once the timeline updated and stupid videos that acquaintances shared started to take over my feed like virulent mold, I stopped logging in altogether.

It’s been at least two and a half years since the Facebook app was on my phone, but I still couldn’t quite bring myself to delete my account entirely.

Why I Deleted My Facebook

Facebook Isn’t for Friends

My account was my ‘binders full’ of friends. I held on to it for so long because I had convinced myself that all of the people who were a part of my life in the past – elementary school classmates, high school friends and lab partners, family that moved away when I was child – were still relevant and connected to my current life. Deleting my account made me face the fact that I never interact with anyone on there. They give me a false sense of friendship when in reality we are strangers with each other’s names on a website.

Facebook has not built my friendships. If anything, it made me feel less connected to the people who are in my life. When I actually used Facebook I would follow along with what all of my high school classmates were up to in their new lives while my college roommates sat in the room with me.

I no longer buy into the idea that social media deepens our relationships or helps us connect meaningfully with new people. Of course you can make new friends via social media, but the real friendship building happens offline.

 

My Last Straw

This has been building for years. Facebook’s lack of response to harassment, trolling, and blatant hatred toward women was reason enough. I was sick and tired of Facebook using predatory ad practices to market me more things I don’t need. I am still tired of all of the all companies selling my data to other companies who want to get me to give them money. Each and every update to the service feels more and more like it’s for brands and people who profit from the site.

The election pushed me over the edge. From the widespread infection of truly made-up ‘news’ and false events to the hate groups that grew their faithful lackeys to the constant barrage of outrage and poorly thought-out rants, I was done.

Facebook’s complicity in Russia’s hostile attack on our election was my final straw. I want them to suffer for what they’ve done, and deleting accounts and rapidly deflating their user numbers is one way that I can contribute.

 

No more fake friends.

Twitter and Snapchat were deleted years ago for failing to hold my interest (and taking up way too much of my tiny 8Gs of space). My Twitter account hangs on by a thread due to career obligations (but my do I salivate about cutting it).

Instagram is still on my phone. And I need to do a lot better about using it meaningfully.

From here on out I want to be better at interacting with the people I follow on Instagram. Like many, I follow people who I admire or who inspire me. As long as that’s still true, I think they deserve space in my feed. For everyone else, it’s time I reached out and used Instagram as a way to build our connection, not just watch from afar. An engaged comment on a friend’s posts, a quick text to start a real conversation, or, even better, a request to hear about their recent stunning vacation in real life would go a long way towards what I’m really after – richer relationships in my real (a.k.a. offline) life.

 

The End of Social Media?

I can’t help but hope so. This article by Nick Bilton in Vanity Fair about the future of social media gave me a little bit of hope.

 

Looking for a little peace in the digital world? You might like my posts about my Distraction-Free Smartphone, Minimizing Social Media, and a hearty Digital Decluttering.

Me in Other Places

I don’t talk much in this space about my daily work. It often feels weird to bring up the projects I’m working on or share endless links here. I can never quite figure out how I feel about posting my published pieces (too self-promotional? A nice change of pace? A smart way to share my work?).

But since I’m traveling this month in New Zealand (and am thus in another place), I wanted to give a better idea of what my life really looks like, how I spend my time, and the work I do. I also want to be able to share the words I write elsewhere with you, and this seems to be the best way to do it (at least for now).

Mount Cook National Park New Zealand

There is a lot of stuff here (and it’s not everything I wrote this month. In total I turned in 15 stories, which is far from what most months look like for me). If I had to only pick one, I’d suggest:

Let Me Tell You What It’s Really Like To Be A Minimalist

Includes more pictures of our tiny space : )

Hello, Holidays

October is often a crazy month for publishing. It’s the last big push for holiday content before everyone turns there gaze to New Year’s. I spent the month fully immersed in Christmas, and it’s been weird to say the least. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to working on holiday stories and gift guides when it’s still 80 degrees outside and I have yet to even eat a bite of pumpkin-flavored something.

15 Gifts Your Friends Will Love – Sunset Magazine

16 Great Gifts for Your Coworkers – Sunset Magazine

11 Gifts Your Parents Will Love – Sunset Magazine

13 Gifts for the Bon Vivant – Sunset Magazine

12 Gifts for People Who Love Camping – Sunset Magazine

15 Gifts for the Garden-to-Table Cook – Sunset Magazine

7 Gifts with Stylish Desert Vibes – Sunset Magazine

Gluten Free Gift Guide – Healthline

Always On the Go Gift Guide – Healthline

Essential Gifts for the Outdoors Adventurer – Healthline

Other Things

Let Me Tell You What It’s Really Like To Be A Minimalist

25 Ways to Fix Oily Hair

Even More Things

October was an exceptionally busy month for me. I was trying to squeeze in as much as I could before going on a longer trip. Even so, the things you see above weren’t the only things I was working on. I also do website production in house for Sunset, copywriting for a local startup, editorial work for an amazing book producer, and in theory, write here for you.

In hindsight, I don’t know how I did it all this month. But I’d say it was worth it.

 

What I Wish I Knew Before Starting New Zealand’s Routeburn Track

I’m spending most of this month traveling around New Zealand, and while I will certainly post more about what my boyfriend and I have done and all of the details (packing list, itinerary, must-sees, etc.), I thought I’d start with the part that most influenced everything else, our Great Walk.

We planned our entire trip around doing one of New Zealand’s famed Great Walks. We didn’t get our first choice (Milford), but we gladly signed up for the Routeburn Track. Outside of booking places to stay, planning for our hike took up most of our pre-trip preparation time. To be honest, we fumbled our way through and learned the hard way that we weren’t quite as prepared as we hoped.

Routeburn Track: The Divide Start

Routeburn Track Itinerary

Day 1 (Nov. 7): Drive to The Divide outside Te Anau. Hike 12km (7.5 miles) to Lake Mackenzie Hut. Sleep at the hut.

Day 2 (Nov. 8): Hike 11.3km (7 miles) to Routeburn Falls Hut. Sleep at the hut and eat as much of our rations as possible.

Day 3 (Nov. 9): Leisurely hike 8.8km (5.5 miles) to the end of the track at the Routeburn Shelter. Drive our thoughtfully relocated rental car on to our hostel in Wanaka before collapsing.

Spoiler Alert: This definitely didn’t happen.

Routeburn Track November Lake Hoden

What I Wish I Knew Before Starting New Zealand’s Routeburn Track

1. The Weather is No Joke

We booked our hut stays in July (4 months before our trip) when weather and the real details of our trip were completely unknown. Our hike was scheduled for early November with two hut stays along the way. We planned for inclement weather that could change on a dime. I had packed thermal tights (meant for running/hiking in the snow), fleece pants, a fleece sweatshirt, a down jacket, a raincoat, two pairs of hiking socks, 1 pair of socks for the huts, a baseball hat, two long-sleeve quick-dry shirts, and two short sleeve quick-dry tops. I figured I would layer up and strip things off as I went. HA.

We were not at all ready to be rained on for hours or to have that rain turn into thick flurries of snow. It rained on us for 4 hours and snowed on us for 2 on the way to Mackenzie Lake. I was in no way prepared to be this drenched. If we would have been able to continue on to the next hut, I would have had to hike all day in wet clothes or risk getting my only dry clothes soaked through. Another pair of clothes would have been essential.

I also desperately wished I had not worn my down jacket while hiking because once it got wet, it was useless. I shivered like crazy and wore my sleeping bag in the hut while being green with envy over other people’s warm, dry coats. I did my best to dry it out in front of the fire and then let it hang overnight, but it was still quite damp the next day.

Routeburn Track Mackenzie Lake Ranger Hut

Lucky for us, it kept snowing and the track was closed between Mackenzie Lake and Routeburn Falls. We were turned back and told to hike back to our car on day 2, which meant hiking for hours in untouched snow (gorgeous) before it started to melt from the trees and leave us just as drenched as the rainstorm.

Lesson: This was the best weather forecast we could find, but it only shows you three days at a time. Plan for the worst case scenario. And if the track may be closed due to snow, assume it will snow or sleet at the lowest elevation too. The weather when you pack your bag will not be the same when you get there.

2. Being in Decent Shape is Not Enough

Ouch. Our poor feet and calves were not prepared for this hike. Training would have made us much more comfortable, and left us with more energy to explore in the days following our hike. We physically could have completed the full hike, but two days of grueling conditions left us immensely thankful to be done.

3. Most Raincoats Are Useless (AKA Rent Real Gear)

I was dry for maybe 3o minutes before my raincoat became more of a wet plastic layer I was wearing for show. After 6 hours, I was drenched all the way through. I really wished I had rented a hardcore raincoat that would have gotten me at least 2 hours of dryness. One of our fellow Routeburn Track hikers had on all of her rain gear and a heavy-duty poncho. She was the happiest, and driest, among us.

4. My Boots Would Bring Me Great Joy

It took me months and painful trips to try on hiking boots before I finally found the right pair. And then the cost almost stopped me at the register. I am so glad I followed through. My hiking boots kept my feet dry and (mostly) warm through 6 hours of rain and 5 hours of stomping through snow/slush. They were even better than I imagined, and I felt fairly secure in my footing given my ankle history. Almost everyone else was desperately trying to dry out their boots and socks at the hut. My feet were so dry I was able to wear my socks for the full two days and give my other dry pair to my boyfriend.

Routeburn Track Lake Mackenzie Hut Bunk

5. The Huts Aren’t Actually Heated

I know, I was upset too. I read that the huts were heated, and that is really far from the truth. Lake Mackenzie had a single wood-burning stove in the kitchen/lounge area. It was maybe large enough to warm a tiny cabin built for 2, not a massive hut built for 60. There were only 10 of us in our hut that night, and we couldn’t all comfortably fit around it. It did zero to heat the bunk area upstairs, which had no heater of its own. With temps below zero that night, our hut was somewhere just above zero (no one’s water froze, but we sure did).

6. Just Pack the Candy

It seemed downright bonkers to me to bring candy on a long hike where I was going to be making unheard of demands on my body. I was wrong, I should have brought the candy. I was fiercely jealous of another woman’s stash. Some gummy bears would have gone a long way to boost moral.

7. More Food

Yes, pack more. Twice as much as you think. We would have been quite hungry on day three if we had been able to make it that far.

Routeburn Track November Spring Snow

Top Routeburn Track Tips:

1. Our car may not have been relocated by TrackHopper, but we were thrilled with their service and I would 100 percent recommend them. They were the first ones to let us know that part of our track was closed (Um… hello DOC… Are you out there?). They assured us that they wouldn’t move our car or charge us unless the closed portion reopened and we were able to hike through.

Our hut-mates were not so lucky. One family was charged for the relocation that didn’t happen and told they would just have to claim it on their trip insurance for a refund. We by far got the better service.

2. Packing our bags for more than three weeks of travel and a three day backcountry hike was not possible. There was no way we could have fit everything we needed into easy to carry bags. Bev’s Tramping Gear Hire saved the day on this one. We picked up our stuff in Te Anau the morning of our first day of hiking. We rented rain pants that kept our legs dry (much unlike our epic failures of jackets), a cooking pot to use in the huts, and sleeping bags. Our car relocation service was going to drop off our rented gear back at Bev’s for us, but we ended up driving back through ourselves given the closure.

3. Most grocery stores around NZ have freeze dried foods and other backpacking food. We brought some from home to try to make things easier with my dietary restrictions, but if you don’t have to worry about that you’ll easily find food here.

 

Questions? Worried about something weirdly specific (yeah, me too). Let me know!

Zero Waste Bathroom Paper Towel Substitute

I long ago cut out paper towels at home, but I have been plagued by paper towels in public restrooms and offices for years. It’s easy to forget just how many paper towels we use in a day. In the U.S. we use an estimated 13 billion pounds of paper towels per year according to the Paperless Project. That’s a whopping 45 pounds per person. To add insult to the landfill-busting number, paper towels use more energy and create more waste than other drying methods.

Since April I have been working in an office a couple days a week. I bring my own lunch and all of the things I need to eat zero waste all day like a cloth napkin and my own fork, but each trip to the bathroom or kitchen would end with me guiltily drying my hands on the only available option – paper towels.

Paper towel conundrums are not new to me. In college I helped launch an initiative to reduce the amount of paper towels used on campus by encouraging people to use the bare minimum instead of cranking out towels longer than toddlers.

But using a single towel or one crank still felt unnecessary and like a lot of trash. As soon as I started working in the office, my daily/weekly trash at least doubled from paper towels alone. I wash my hands a minimum of 10 times a day (between bathroom trips, snacking, and general cleanliness), which means over the course of the month I was using a minimum of 120 paper towels.

While this is still less than the average (according to an reusable towel manufacturer), I wanted to do better. I needed a zero waste paper towel substitute.

Zero Waste Bathroom Towel Substitute: Small Handkerchief or Reusable Baby Wipe

On the Go Paper Towel Substitutes

1. A Small Hand Towel

For a while I had small hand towels that could be clipped to a bag or a drawer to dry. After more than a year working from home, I let them go. They are a great size, and feel more like a regular towel than some of the other options (and I miss them a little bit).

You can also cut a sad looking towel into smaller pieces to take with you. This would work best if the towel is thin, or it will be bulky to carry and dry slowly.

2. Old T-Shirt

Much like an old towel, an old t-shirt can be cut into little hand towels.

3. Camp Towel

A small, quick-drying towel is also a great option. I decided not to go this route because I didn’t want to buy something new, but you might score a good one used. A larger microfiber or quick-dry towel could also be cut into smaller sizes.

Zero Waste Paper Towel Substitute for Hand Drying: Small Handkerchief or Reusable Baby Wipe

4. Reusable Baby Wipes / Handkerchiefs

This is the option I ended up going with. Each day I grab two handkerchiefs off the stack. Half of our handkerchiefs are reusable baby wipes that I bought online, and the other half is handmade tissue-sized handkerchiefs. I honestly can’t tell the difference. Both are absorbent, the same size and thickness, and they work great for nose-blowing or hand drying.

5. Air Dry or Use a Dryer

If it’s available and you don’t have a reusable option, a hand drier is a great alternative to paper towels. Just be mindful of how long you spend with the dryer turned on, and try to use jet air dryers over the old-school hot air dryers to save energy and avoid extra bacteria growth.

How I Avoid Paper Towels

I’m still not in a place where I’m proud of my zero waste solutions. I don’t like drawing extra attention to myself, so my handkerchief solution works great as an incognito alternative. I tuck it into my back pocket, waist band, or a strap before leaving my desk.

So far I’ve dried my hands in front of people, and clearly haven’t taken a paper towel first, but no one has said anything. It definitely helps that my handkerchiefs are close in color to a bleached paper towel. I’m starting to get more bold with it. I used to try to time my drying to when other people weren’t paying attention, but these days I just whip it out and move on with my life.

When I get back to my desk I drape my handkerchief over a handle. If I’m out I keep it in a outside mesh pocket in my backpack so it can dry. No backpack? I typically just choose to air dry with a few good shakes over the sink first instead of shoving a wet towel into my bag to fester.

But Isn’t This Unsanitary?

While I certainly wouldn’t recommend this method for a surgeon before they clock in, using a reusable cloth or a jet air dryer is perfectly hygienic. It’s important to let your towel dry and use a new small towel daily. If you’re really worried about it, you could also bring a small stack of the reusable baby wipes or handkerchiefs and use them a few times before moving on to next.

When I’m really worried about the cleanliness of my towel (like before I want a quick snack at the end of the day), I don’t beat myself up over using a single paper towel or shaking my hands off until they’re dry.

Every little bit saved counts. It’s not about perfection, but about consistently making choices that reduce waste, save resources (and money), and feel empowering. Each paper towel I refuse to use is one less that paper companies can use to justify cutting down old growth forests and dumping bleach into our waterways. Every small rebellion and bit of resistance matters.