Camping is one of the greatest joys of summer. With warmer weather, you do not have to be the most experienced camper or have the best gear to survive cold nights. Even amateur camping trips have bug repellent, shelter and s’mores. Stepping up your camping game includes being more sustainable, and many of the ways to do that are easier than you think.
The number one rule in camping is leave it better than you found it or leave no trace, which are common phrases found in parks across the country. It means not only taking care of the things you bring with you and making sure they also go home with you, but picking up things that others may have left behind to ensure nature is safe from as much human harm as possible. Sustainable camping can help you do this both while preparing to camp and while on your trip.
Picking and arriving at your campsite
When searching for your next great camping adventure, it is important to keep in mind that there are camping restrictions for a reason. Camping only in designated areas, whether on campgrounds or with permitted access, are important to keep the wildlife and you safe.
Especially during peak camping season, such as summer, it can be important to choose less crowded parks and campsites. Like the ecosystem, the infrastructure of parks can only handle so much human traffic before trash cans are full, paths are well worn out and park staff is stretched thin. Instead, choose a slightly less populated area that can sustainably support you. This will make your experience more fun while also ensuring you have a peaceful time with access to first aid and other supplies you need. Alternatively, you can camp in the off-season or during the week when fewer weekend campers may be present.
How you arrive at and get around your campsite can be just as important to the environment. If you can camp within driving distance, do it! This reduces the amount of time you are going to be traveling and keeps your flight footprint low. Carpooling when possible is the best option if multiple households are traveling to the same location. This reduces the number of cars on the road and the amount of carbon emissions generated. Once you have arrived at your destination, try to ride a bike or walk while you are there. This helps you stay in the fresh air and avoid getting in the car for short trips.
You are presumably camping to get out of the area you live in, see new sites and experience nature. No matter where you end up, you should be able to accomplish these goals while remaining eco-friendly.
Choosing and caring for gear
The first step to getting outside is having the supplies to do so. You will likely be in a more remote area with little to no access to indoor plumbing, air conditioning and readily available food. Being prepared is the first step in camping and that means gear. Questions to ask yourself include: How many people will be going with you and for how long? Who is able to carry their own supplies and who cannot? Where are you going and how close will you be to a grocery store if you need it? These answers will determine what backpacks, tents and gear you may need.
You can do a ton of helpful research on gear, but you will never know what works best for you until you test it out. Used, rented or borrowed gear is a great place to start. Not only are you not buying new products that use more greenhouse gases to produce, but you are also not wasting any or as much money if the product is not exactly what you need. Additionally, used gear tends to be cheaper with the same high quality and lifetime use at many outdoor stores. Stores like REI and Patagonia will repair your gear for free, or with just the cost of shipping, and they will also take your gear when you are done with it to give it a new home. They will also repair clothing in most cases.
Another solution is buying gear made from recycled materials. These often come at higher prices, but if you are looking for new gear, buying one made of used materials is a good compromise. Logically, many outdoor and camping companies are trying to do better for the environment and participate in the leave no trace philosophy in their manufacturing. That is good news for consumers who can find eco-friendly camping products far and wide.
Packing food and supplies
You want to carry the least amount of weight, especially if you are doing anything more than driving your car to a campsite. This often means we opt for pre-packaged trail mix, granola bars and oatmeal because they are light and easy to eat. However, they pose a single-use plastic problem when it comes to sustainability, and that problem only increases when you do not have easy access to a trash can.
The easiest solution to pre-packaged goods is buying ingredients in bulk and making or prepping your food before you leave. Homemade protein bars, granolas and various dried pasta or bean dishes are simple to prep before you go. Beeswax wraps, reusable plastic containers and silicon bags are all lightweight and allow you to store your food without plastic bags.
Just like we do not want to litter, it is also important not to bring toxic chemicals into the wilderness. Make sure you are using biodegradable soap and look for bars that can be used for showering, laundry and dishes. Use less water by doing your dishes once a day and showering less frequently than you would at home; you are just going to be dirty again anyway! Remember: dump our liquid waste into the earth and not waterways.
Choose reef-friendly sunscreens and natural bug sprays when possible. Bring reusable dishes, water bottles and cooking utensils to avoid unnecessary waste. And if you need to bring any portable chargers or lamps, try solar-powered devices that you can strap to your backpack or set on a table for electricity without emissions.
When in doubt, ask fellow campers. This can include friends and family, staff at outdoor stores or searching for tips on social media or online. Ample blogs and social media accounts exist to help new and experienced campers pack lighter, camp more sustainably and get more out of their trips.
Camping can be a cheaper vacation that gets everybody outside. Remember to collect any waste you may leave behind. Do your best to make small changes that will have a big impact, and leave it better than you found it.
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