Sustainable Camping

Mar 12, 2021 | Blog

Sustainable camping is simply smart camping. Its having a great time in the outdoors while keeping nature just as it should be, natural. I recently spent a beautiful weekend camping in the desert near where I live in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and was (unfortunately) reminded how important it is to promote sustainable camping. 

campsite in the desert

Camping in Saudi stirs up so many contrasting emotions…peacefulness, happiness and hope being invaded by anxiety, frustration, and despair.  While I love being out in nature and exploring new territory, I am always dismayed when others find it acceptable to visit these natural areas and leave behind their trash, especially piles of plastic water bottles.  My recent camping trip was no exception. I filled two large trash bags with plastic left behind by others and didn’t even make a dent. 

What Is Sustainable Camping?  

Think of it as no trace camping. When you pack up and go home, no one should know that you were there. By investing in quality products and spending a bit of time planning and organizing, it is easy to enjoy the outdoors while having little to no impact on nature.  Here are seven ideas to help ensure your next camping trip is as sustainable as possible.

Buy Quality Products That Will Last A Lifetime 

If you are new to camping, invest in quality.  Many reputable outdoor equipment companies provide lifetime guarantees and/or free repairs. Although you might be spending more money initially, consider the costs involved in having to replace a tent, stove, etc. in five years as opposed to 30 years or longer. If a tent rips or breaks, it will end up in a landfill creating waste. Also consider how easily a trip can be ruined by a broken tent or stove during a camping trip. 

Investing in a quality tent, along with other equipment, can prevent a ruined trip, save you money in the long term, and keep waste out of the landfill. 

Recommended Companies

These companies have an excellent reputation for quality and long term customer service, which often involves a lifetime guarantee.

kelty.com  “Kelty branded tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, and kid carriers purchased only from authorized sellers are warranted to the original purchaser against manufacturing defects in materials and workmanship for the lifetime of the product.”

LLBean.com “If you are not 100% satisfied with one of our products, you may return it within one year of purchase for a refund. After one year, we will consider any items for return that are defective due to materials or craftsmanship.”

thenorthface.com “The North Face® branded products covered by this warranty are warranted to the original owner against manufacturing defects in materials and workmanship for the lifetime of the product, except for footwear and products that are identified as “The North Face Renewed”, which instead are covered by a one year warranty.”

gore-tex.com “If you are not satisfied with the waterproofness, windproofness or breathability of your GORE-TEX product, we will repair it, replace it or refund your purchase price. As the original owner, hold on to your purchase receipt and we’ve got you covered for the useful life of your product.”

mountainhardwear.com  “This Limited Lifetime Warranty covers defects in materials and workmanship for the practical lifetime of Mountain Hardwear brand products manufactured by Mountain Hardwear or its affiliates.”

Haul Your Water In Reusable Containers

Single-use plastic water bottles can last four hundred years. Every water bottle that has ever been used is still sitting somewhere on earth.  This is not clearly not sustainable and is undeniably devastating for the planet.  Read more here about how devastating plastic is to the earth.

The best solution?  Obtain a large, reusable container that allows you to bring water on your camping trips. Simply fill it from the tap at your house. Even if this container is plastic, it can be used for years, limiting waste. You are still carrying the same amount of water, you just aren’t creating the waste of single use bottles.

I have a 2.5 gallon container with a spigot which makes filling my water bottle easy.  

For longer trips, a 5 gallon refillable water jug with a spigot, such as this one, added to the top is convenient. 

For both of these options, bring along smaller water bottles to use around the campsite and when exploring out on the trail. 

Bring Reusable Cutlery and Dishes

I have a favorite wooden bowl I use for camping that I got on a trip to Borneo several years ago.   It’s the perfect size for most meals, sturdy, and because its wood, the outside doesn’t get hot. The other advantage to wood is it isn’t heavy.

Paper and plastic dishes and cutlery create unnecessary waste and cost money.  Look around your house and repurpose nonbreakable dishes and cutlery to your camping box. Pack one plate, bowl, fork, knife, spoon and mug for each person. If you pack a large mug, this can also double as your bowl.  

If you don’t have extra dishes around the house, your local camping store will have lots of options of clever kits that are lightweight and take up minimal space. These kits will last a lifetime and save you the hassle of packing outing single use trash.

Biodegradable Soaps for Body and Dishes

To wash your dishes, you’ll need some sort of tub, biodegradable soap and a compost friendly scrubbing sponge. 

Biodegradable soap is a must-have as you move toward sustainable camping. Using harsh soap and then pouring it onto the land, or worse yet into the water, can damage local flora and fauna. 

“Soaps are usually deemed biodegradable if bacteria can break them down to at least 90-percent water, CO2, and organic material within six months. This simple step ensures you aren’t adding anything unnecessary to the land and waterways while you are out there enjoying them.”  Go East

Powder.com ski magazine published an article where they compared biodegradable soaps available for purchase. Check out their article here.   

I’ve been using Dr. Bronner’s for years and it works great for both body and dishes.  The only downside is the plastic bottle that it comes in. 

I’ve recently discovered, however, Marseille biodegradable soap bars from France. A traditional, hard soap crafted from olive oil & salty sea water, this style of soap has been made in the south of France for over 600 years. These amazing bars can be used for hands, body, laundry and dishes!  This is the perfect combination for camping as you only need to carry one bar for all your cleaning needs. Read more about all the benefits of Marseille soap here

Even using biodegradable soaps, it is very important that soapy water is never poured in or near rivers, ponds or lakes. Dispose of soapy water at least 200 feet away from a natural water source to avoid damage to plants and animals in the water. 

Limit Noise

Noise pollution can disturb the natural environment as much as trash. According to the National Park Service in the United States, noise pollution has an enormous environmental impact and does serious damage to wildlife. Experts say noise pollution can interfere with breeding cycles and rearing and is even hastening the extinction of some species. Noise can also impede the process of finding food.  Bats, for example, rely on sound to find their food through echolocation. Noise interferes with this process limiting the ability of bats to find food. 

Noise can also have a negative impact on humans. If you are camping in a populated area, remember that tent walls are thin and no one wants to spend their peaceful evening in nature kept awake by someone else’s hooting and hollering. No one is suggesting a silent retreat, but save the loud music and all night parties for the city. 

Disturb As Little As Possible

If you are camping in an area with trails, consider them a hikers best friend. Not only will a trail lead you to a beautiful destination, it will also guide you home again. Trails allow you to explore an area with minimal impact. By staying on the trail, you allow the flora and fauna to live undisturbed as you visit the area. 

The negative impact of always staying on the trails, however, according to Paleontologist and science communicator Scott D. Sampson, is that children don’t get the connection to nature that helps to create future conservationists. 

In his book How To Raise A Wild Child, Sampson spends significant time exploring the importance of connecting with nature. 

“Fearing that we must protect nature and kids at all costs, we often do more harm than good. Nature connection depends on firsthand, multi sensory encounters. It’s a messy, dirty business – picking leaves and flowers, turning over rocks, holding wriggling worms, splashing in ponds. Lacking such experiences, children’s growth is impoverished and they’re unlikely to care for, let alone protect, natural places.”

 As someone who spent the first ten years of my career in environmental education, I couldn’t agree more. My advise is to create a thoughtful balance for yourself and your children. Visit places where your child can explore freely off the trail and allow their natural fascinations with nature to run rampant.

When visiting state and national parks, and other high impact areas, follow the rules and stay on the trails so the parks can remain open for the next generation.  If you turn over a rock to see what lives underneath, gently flip the rock back before you move on. Pick up a bug to take a closer look, but put it back exactly where you discovered it. And of course, don’t take nature home with you. I know its tempting, but this is a great opportunity to help children develop a respect for nature by leaving it in place. 

Seven simple ways to enjoy a sustainable camping adventure today, and for years to come.  Now go explore!

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