What to pack for your zero waste camping trip

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Like me, you probably want to leave national parks and nature as pristine and clean as when you arrived. Some campgrounds have bins in which you can dispose of your waste, but isn’t the best way to be creating as little waste as possible?

This is why I want to introduce you to the concept of zero waste camping.

It seems strange that most outdoor activities create a lot of single-use rubbish, if you decide just to go the easy way, and let’s be honest, most of us do, including myself. So this is not about shaming who did what, but more about empowering us on how we can do better in the future.

  • What do you need?

  • What do you not need?

  • How to make your experience the best?

  • How to leave nothing behind but footprints?

This sounds so easy. But sometimes, it isn’t the case. So let’s start with planning the trip.

Photo by Florida-Guidebook.com on Unsplash

Planning the trip.

Planning a trip can help reduce carbon emissions.

Often, when you plan something out, the route to your final destination becomes more direct or even more environmentally friendly, such as taking the train or carpooling with others.

Unless you are just camping for the weekend, maybe even taking your bicycle might be the best way to go.

Additionally, you can also buy carbon offset programs if you take a plane somewhere.

Tools for planning.

There is the obvious one that is Google maps. Did you know that you can even use it to download your maps in case you go off the beaten track and find yourself without internet?

To do that simply go:

  • Open google maps

  • Tap on your little icon in the top right corner

  • Tap on offline maps

  • Select your own map

  • Zoom in or out and download as many maps as you want.

  • Your welcome 🙂

If you are more extreme and you need a more detailed map with different layers and just more options in general, then I can recommend GaiaGPS. I just learned about it myself by meeting a fellow traveler who is making a trip on his motorbike from Norway down to Argentina.

He told me about it, and I love it. It is mainly designed for hikers, but it works great for skiing, mountain biking and more. It shows more tracks than google (dirt roads); hence my biker friend loved it.

You can also download maps here, so no worries about not having phone reception. Once you have planned your trip and potentially bought some carbon credits for your plane tickets or bus ride, you can go ahead to step two, packing.

What to pack for my zero waste camping trip?

Funny sidenote, when I was bringing my zero waste tiffin to work people made jokes about me whether I was going camping or something. Its just a well made stainless steel tiffin. 🙂

I love the section in a big camping store for all the gadgets you may or may not need. But let us dive into the essentials because, let’s face it, if you are taking a 27-inch screen with you on a camping trip, that is not called camping; that’s not even glamping. I can’t come up with a term. Perhaps you can tell me in the comments.

What to pack for a zero waste camping trip:

First of all, if you are new to camping, don’t go out and buy all the items that you think you might need new. Check with your friends and family if you can borrow something. Most of my friends are happy to lend us their camping chairs or even tents.

Since camping gear isn’t used all year round, for most people, I think it is fair to assume that your friends are happy to set the tent up again and perhaps make sure that no mouse has eaten through the material. If you still feel you are missing some items but you don’t have a zero waste store nearby. You can check out the zero waste store online, which has pretty much all you need.

Now, here is a list of items that I would pack and by all means if I am missing something that you think is crucial to camping, let me know in the comments below.

Campsite

  • tent

  • sleeping bags

  • sleeping pads

  • camping light I recommend the Lucci Light from Mpowered

  • But your phone also has a good light too

  • Folding chairs are always handy, but I still don’t own any to this day, and I camp just fine.

Camp Tools

  • leatherman or multitool

  • solar power bank

  • solar charger

  • folding shovel

  • lighter/matches

Camp Kitchen

  • camping stove, gas or solar cooker

  • cooking utensils

  • eating utensils (reusable plates, utensils, cups)

  • towel

  • coffee maker stovetop

  • reusable water bottle

  • cast iron skillets

  • esky(Australia) or cooler

Cleaning

  • shampoo bar and body bar

  • dishwashing bar

  • towel

  • toilet paper

  • bamboo toothbrush

  • toothpaste

Food

  • ideally, you bring most of the food you will eat with you.

  • nuts in a stasher bag

  • pasta is always a good one

  • some can of sauce

  • coffee or tea

  • fresh fruit

  • salad

  • bread, you get the idea, anything that you can stow away easily that doesn’t get soggy or smashed

Clothes

  • sunglasses

  • hiking boots

  • pair of pants and one for changing

  • socks

  • undies

  • shirts

  • sweater

Add ons

  • deck of cards

  • book

  • camping shower bag

  • camera

  • axe

  • first aid kit

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Let’s go camping!

Now comes the exciting part. You are getting in the car or the vehicle of your choice to explore no one other than mother nature. I remember the first time we went camping with our daughter. She must have been only a couple of months old. But it was the first night that she slept through.

Thanks to the fresh air and just being under the stars. Especially nice when you wake up to the sound of whales spraying water up their holes.

Breakfast. This is one of my favorite parts of camping. Crawling out of your sleeping bag and getting dressed in a small tent is always awkward, and I am glad no one has filmed me doing it, although this might be quite a fun video for the YouTube channel.

If you are lucky, you have a fire pit, and some places even come with a grill. But you wouldn’t start a fire to warm up a little bit of water to make yourself a cup of coffee, would you?

Hence, I like the little gas cooker with refillable gas cartridges. You can get some inexpensive or flashy ones, and I like the simple three-arm one; it’s small and easy to use.

Photo by Seb Mooze on Unsplash

But coffee alone can not sustain you for a day of hiking and exploring nature, so we did bring some snacks and the best way to store food was in our stainless steel tiffins. Or Stojo has these awesome collapsible silicone food containers that are great for space-saving.

We initially brought some ice packs from home, but they only lasted for a day or so. We ended up buying ice for our esky, pardon me, cooler, which came in plastic bags that we later reused as rubbish bags.

But cooking food over an open fire pit or on a bbq will cause some trash. If you bring some meats or cheeses, they are all individually wrapped. So don’t shame yourself here for trying, but rather enjoy the great ambiance of a fire pit and some good sausages or your kimchi salad and make sure you leave no trace and collect all your rubbish (hopefully not a lot) afterward.

Skip individually wrapped muesli bars and other snacks that come heavily packaged, there are plenty of great recipes that you can use to make some amazing much healthier energy bars at home.

My wife often uses cookieandkate.com for her recipe ideas and it blows me away every time.

Mosquitos and sun exposure.

Let’s pack some bug spray and sunscreen. I am not a big fan of mosquito bites and I am particularly annoyed by bee stings since I was tested as a child and was found to be allergic.

Learn about the best reef-safe sunscreen for your skin and the planet

That doesn’t stop me from going outside and enjoying the wilderness, but it makes me a little more cautious around these little fellows. The most important lesson I have learned from that is not to freak out.

There are always natural bug sprays that, in my opinion, don’t really work. We have tried to have citronella candles and torches around us, but I still get bitten. Is it because of my blood type or because I like chocolate so much I couldn’t tell you? However, either I wear long clothes, or I apply some chemical bomb that keeps mosquitos at bay.

I know not very environmentally friendly here at all, but hey, I am just human, and this is not about perfection, right?

Alternatively, you could have brought a gazebo with mesh walls to keep the insects out of your face, but then you couldn’t sit in front of a campfire. Your call.

More Food

It turns out we human beings eat a lot of food. You really get to know yourself when you go camping since there are most likely no devices that can steal your attention away from your surroundings and from yourself.

I noticed that I like to eat, and the good thing is my wife likes to cook. Preparing some of your meals is the best way to keep your camping trip as zero waste as possible.
What that also means is that you have to go shopping a day in advance to prepare your food. We love going to our local zero waste store but not everyone has access to this. Try the local farmers market for some low waste food shopping and buy a whole bunch of veggies and fruit that you are going to bring with you on the trip.

If neither of these options exists in your area make sure you buy fresh and local food with little to no packaging. Then you going to have to prepare your meals in advance, or some of them.

  • Make a salad dressing and put it in a glass jar.

  • Prepare some homemade pasta sauce and transport that in glass jars (wrap in t-towel).

  • Make some healthy muffins and bring them in your tiffin as a snack.

  • Nuts are always a great source of energy and are easy to bring with you. (stasher bag)

  • To stop the eggs from breaking, I would boil a couple of eggs and transport them in your cooler.

  • We always bring fresh fruit to our camping trips as it comes in packaging and is super zero waste. Perhaps leave bananas behind because they can get mushy pretty quickly.

You get the idea, be as creative as you want and make sure when you pack glass to stuff a towel or something soft in between the glass, so it doesn’t break.

What about composting my food scraps?

Not everyone brings a compost bin to a campground. I never have. But most of the time I either throw the food waste in a bucket that I bring or in one of the plastic bags that somehow made its way to a zero waste camping trip.

I have also gotten away with throwing some of the food waste into a campfire, but that might not be the best way to go about it.

What about drinking water?

If you are lucky, you might find that the campsite has a natural spring, and you can fill up your reusable water bottles there. If not, you may have to buy some drinking water from a supermarket before you get to the site. Yes, that will most likely come in a big plastic jug, but better water in plastic than in no water.

You can always throw a binchotan stick init to remove some impurities. Learn more in this video I made.

What about a nice cool beer at the end of the day, or perhaps a glass of red watching the sunset? I prefer drinking beer out of glass since it just tastes better, and glass is highly recyclable and never loses its quality. If you want to learn more about glass recycling, check out this article.

But I also learned glass isn’t always recycled like I thought it would. Being a german, I was used to returning beer and water bottles and getting a refund for them. There were collection bins in every suburb for wine and other glass where the three main colors would be separated and turned into new glass products. D

Sadly this isn’t the case everywhere around the world, and as I read in Kathryn Kellogs blog post about zero-waste camping, she prefers to use aluminum cans, which are also recyclable.

The key is to reduce waste wherever you can and reuse your empty mason jar as a wine glass or any other beverage.

We even use them as our standard glasses at home. One of the best ways to be eco-friendly is when an item can fulfill many different purposes.

Camping with kids

As I mentioned earlier we went camping for the first time with our daughter when she was only a couple of months old. Yes, we have been cloth diapering which you can learn all about in this article but how do you clean cloth diapers when you are in the woods?

Well, just like you probably expected. White wine vinegar is your friend. A solution of white wine vinegar with lemon and some water will do the trick. Wash the diapers in some water and spray the vinegar solution on them. Let hang dry in the sun and get rid of your wastewater. If no toilet is available use your shovel and dig a hole.

Camp trailer Camping

One of the best and a lot more comfortable ways to go camping is with a camp trailer.

This was our preferred way of camping when I was a little boy. We would attach the trailer and drive to Italy or France, Switzerland you name it. If you live in Europe everything is really close and exploring different cultures is a breeze.

Now camping in a camp trailer or (Wohnwagen) is a lot easier because most likely your kitchen is set up and you may just have to check the gas bottle for your stove refill the water tank and check your camping toilet.

We used to always have this blue water in the toilet which wasn’t a pretty look and I don’t think it is very eco-friendly. Nowadays there are better ways to do your waste management in your trailer, for example, you can use a composting toilet. They are a great way to reduce waste from your camping trip since you can compost your waste, and it doesn’t smell bad either.

Obviously, you can also pack more items than if you are just camping in a tent. The trailer often has more room for camping gear to be stowed away and allows most likely for a fridge or an electric-powered cooler.

Car Camping

That I have done a lot of. Basically, I spent a year traveling around Australia in 2001 in a car or van. This was such a great way to explore the country and meet the locals. However, I didn’t know much about the zero waste lifestyle and I am sure I contributed to creating a lot of waste along my journey.

Even when I finally settled in Australia I still had a van with a queen-size mattress in the back because, why not. If you want to go on a little surf trip that is super spontaneous, why not. Just bring some camping food, and some camping gear and you are pretty much ready to go on a little camping trip.

In Australia, there are a lot of open campsites with a BBQ and some toilets. So most often you can just grab some food and put it in your plastic containers or tiffin if you have one. For the toilet, all you need is some toilet paper and your usual cleaning products.

Tent Camping

One of the last trips we did was actually to stand for Victoria’s forests and stop them from being cut down. To be fair it was more of a big carpark than a campground but we did have to pack most of the camping essentials I mentioned above.

It was only a three-hour drive from where we lived and we stayed for three nights but it was a very well-organized and productive camp trip.

I hope it saved some trees from being chopped down.

Photo of author

Hendrik Kaiser

I've studied biology and lived for 3 years on an off-grid permaculture farm. I love kitesurfing and keeping my body healthy and fit. Hence, I care so much about keeping our environment clean and being as zero waste as possible. Being a zerowasteman is a superpower everyone has inside of themselves, and I want to teach you how you can unleash it.

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