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Everything You Need to Know to Have a Sustainable Summer Camping Trip
In many places, the weather is warming up, and with summer vacation on the mind, you’re probably itching to hit the road and have all the summer camping adventures. From the beach to the mountains, from tent camping to yurt camping to beach camping and glamping, there’s no limit to the creative ways you can have an awesome summer travel experience.
Throwing up your hands at the thought of greening up your camping trip AND tackling a monster packing list at the same time? Not to fear: with our simple sustainability hacks and downloadable checklist, you’ll be camping confidently in no time. Whether you’re a seasoned pro with well worn-in gear or a camping newbie, our Sustainable Camping Guide is chock-full of tips and tricks, including a downloadable Essential Camping Checklist to help you spend less time packing and more time exploring the great outdoors.
Leave No Trace: Here’s Our Sustainable Camping Guide to Have The Best Ever Camping Experience!
1. Make Your Own Food
Preparing all of your meals and snacks ahead may feel daunting at first, but we’ll let you in on a little secret: fresh food that’s cooked in the great outdoors over an open fire just tastes better. With a little careful planning to minimize mess and prepare ingredients ahead of time, you’ll be golden! A few of our favorite low-fuss camping foods include homemade soups, burritos, fried egg sandwiches, granola bars, marinated proteins and kebabs for the grill, muesli, and any other meals that can be prepared ahead of time, frozen, and easily reheated.
2. Cut Down On Packaging Waste
Bringing fresh food will help with this, but to take it a step further, pack all of your prepared ingredients and meals in reusable glass containers like mason jars or pyrex and wrap granola bars and other homemade snacks in beeswax wrap or cloth bags. Skip the plastic water bottles by bringing a few reusable water bottles that can easily be filled directly from safe water containers. To play it safe, bring 1 gallon of water per person per day, and find out if drinking water filling stations will be available to replenish if needed.
3. Take Out What You Bring In
Don’t be one of those campers — you know, the kind that leaves trash, recycling, and food waste behind to harm the environment and wildlife. To avoid this requires just a little planning ahead. Most campgrounds will offer a dumpster for trash, but find out if they offer recycling or composting, too. Either way, plan to bring at least 2 reusable waste containers — one for trash, one for recycling, and a compost bin if you want extra green points. At the end of your trip, take home whatever you can’t dispose of properly at the campground.
4. Use Biodegradable Care Products
Conventional soaps, hair care, and toothpaste can negatively impact wildlife and the environment. So make sure any products you do bring are biodegradable, and if washing up facilities are available, use those rather than brushing your teeth or washing dishes at your campsite. If not, make sure you’re at least 200 ft away from any rivers, streams, or lakes while using them. When brushing your teeth, spray your toothpaste to disperse it instead of spitting it out in one spot to protect any hungry pets or wildlife from eating it and getting sick.
5. Manage Your Pets
Speaking of pets, if your dog will be joining you on this adventure, look into and follow any campground rules for pets, like wildlife designated areas, leash laws, and waste disposal guidelines. Keep their food sealed up tight to discourage any opportunists, bring biodegradable bags to clean up their waste, and if they’re prone to roaming or don’t have good recall, keep them leashed or on a line to avoid any damage to protected areas or scuffles with wildlife (anyone that’s camping nearby will definitely appreciate this consideration, too!)
6. Repair Or Borrow Gear
While it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of buying new camping gear when planning for a trip, it can be wasteful and expensive. Instead, take stock of everything you already have, repair what needs repairing (youtube is a gold mine if you need help), and try to get as much life out of your gear as you can. Another option is to buy used gear or borrow or rent things to save money and resources. This can be especially helpful if you’re just starting out and don’t yet know what kind of gear will best suit your needs.
7. Build Safe Campfires
Depending on the area and time of year you go camping, you’ll have to follow specific guidelines when building campfires to avoid causing forest fires. If you’re in a wildfire-prone area, you may even need to skip the fire altogether. But if you can have one, make sure to build or use a provided fire pit circled with stone, and keep it to a reasonable size to reduce wildfire risk regardless of where you are. And don't forget: your campfire is not the right place to dispose of waste like plastic bottles, aluminum cans, or trash — all are air and soil pollutants when burned, and not healthy for you to breathe in, either!
8. Purchase Firewood Locally
Speaking of campfires, you'll need to get your firewood locally or from the campground if they carry it. Yes, bringing your own wood from home might save you money, but it could have potentially disastrous effects on the forest around you. With the rise of invasive insects like the emerald ash borer, asian long-horned beetle, hemlock woody adelgid and others, local conservation districts are urging people: “don’t move firewood” and may even fine you in some areas. So do your part to protect the trees and forest around you from degradation due to invasive insects!
9. Don’t Pollute Waterways
Many of the things we apply without second thought, like suntan oils, bug spray, lotions, makeup, sunscreen, and other water-soluble products can pollute water bodies and harm the aquatic species that call them home. Of course, some of these products are necessary to protect you against sunburns and insects, but try to be conscious of how much of anything you’re applying and the ingredients they contain — especially if you plan to go swimming. And if something is water-soluble, the best bet is to leave it at home.
10. Reduce Battery Waste
One of the greatest things about camping is the opportunity to really unplug from the electronics that otherwise dominate our lives, and even reset our circadian rhythm to improve sleep. But of course, some battery-powered electronics will be necessary, like flashlights, headlamps, lanterns, and air mattress pumps. To avoid creating unnecessary battery waste, invest in a few sets of rechargeable batteries or solar-powered electronics and make sure everything’s charged up and ready to go. And don't worry, they'll pay for themselves over time!
11. Ditch Single-Use Products
Replace the plastic cutlery, paper plates, plastic straws, paper towels, and plastic cups with sturdy, well-designed utensils and quick-dry towels for your cleanup needs. The right gear will last for years to come, will be easy to clean and reuse, and will reduce the amount of trash you have to carry out at the end of your trip. The first time you camp without single-use products, you might be amazed at how little trash is created. You could even make a game out of it: whoever creates the least trash gets a prize and bragging rights (until next year, anyway!)
12. Bring a growler
No, not that kind! If sharing a beer or 5 around the campfire is your kind of thing and you have access to a local brewery that will fill it for you, consider tossing a few growlers of your favorite beer in your cooler (or bringing a keg!). This will not only ensure that you’ll have some great beer to drink while regaling your friends or family with all of your best campfire stories, it will also eliminate the need to lug around cases of beer. And when you leave, you’ll be happy not to have to haul out bags of beer bottles and cans to recycle at home. Just be respectful of campground alcohol rules!
13. Shop Local And Organic
Food comes up a lot on this list, because it’s one of the biggest contributors to your camping footprint and arguably the thing that requires the most planning ahead. Up your eco game by making sure all of the ingredients for those delicious meals are local and organic. While food quality is a less obvious connection than the other tips we’ve shared, it does play a big role in your impact. Conventionally grown foods typically use a lot of fertilizers and pesticides and are shipped from far away, while local, organic foods are grown on nearby farms that use eco-friendly agricultural methods.
14. Mind Your Physical Footprint
When setting up your tent and camp area, it’s important to select durable terrain with sparse vegetation like rock, gravel, snow, formed trails, and dry grass. This will help you minimize your impact on the the soil and avoid crushing any sensitive native vegetation. Make your camp small, set up at least 200 ft away from any lakes, rivers, and streams, and stick to existing trails and campsites. And one final tip: avoid depressions or other areas where water could pool during rainstorms, as waking up in a puddle of water is not the best way to start your day!
15. Visit During Low Season
Popular camping spots can get really busy during high season, which puts a strain on the environment. So consider visiting these areas at off-peak times like the beginning or end of the season, when they’re less likely to be overcrowded. If you really want to go camping during peak season, consider finding a more off the beaten path campground for your adventure. Another thing to consider is how your visit may affect area wildlife — for example, it may not be a good idea to camp during deer mating season, as it could disturb their activities.
16. Don't Mix Business And Pleasure
If you’re at a campground with bathrooms and washing facilities, this will be easy, but if you’re on more of a backcountry adventure, there are a few considerations to follow to respect other campers and avoid polluting water supplies. Find a private spot away from anyone else’s site, stay away from trails, and keep at least 200 feet away from food or water sources. Dig a small hole in the ground (a small trowel or shovel will be handy for this), take care of business, bury it well, and take any toilet paper with you. And that should do it! But to be on the safe side, be sure to research the area's rules for this, as they can vary.
17. Purchase Eco-Friendly Outdoor Gear
From blankets to clothing to sun hats, sunglasses and more, there are tons of sustainable outdoor gear options, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding what you need. But to make it cheaper and also participate in the circular economy, check out your local thrift store or used sports store to find quality gear at a steep discount. You never know what you’ll find — and because so many people over-purchase and under-use outdoor gear, you may even be able to score unused or barely used name-brand stuff that will last you for years to come. It's definitely worth doing a little shopping around to get the best deal!
18. Minimize Your Travel Footprint
Before you go, think carefully about how you’ll be getting to and from your campsite. If you’re camping near home, consider walking or biking to get there. If that isn't doable, then try carpooling with people within your COVID bubble to safely reduce your emissions. If you’re planning to camp far from home, see if there are any buses or trains that will get you there before you book a plane ticket. If you cant do any of these things, think about the impact your traveling has, and think of any ways big and small that you can minimize it with sustainable travel. Every step counts and we can all improve somewhere!
We hope our sustainable camping guide and checklist inspire you to go camping for the first time, or green up your existing camping routine to make it more respectful of the environment. And wherever you choose to pitch a tent, we hope you have a wonderful trip filled with late nights, deep conversions under the stars, cozy campfires and s’mores, fun hiking adventures, and above all a nice big dose of the great outdoors!
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Meaghan works to share our story far and wide, manages our blog calendar, coordinates with the team on projects + campaigns, and ensures our brand voice is reflected across channels. With a background in communications and an education in environmental conservation, she is passionate about leveraging her creativity to help the environment!