It was during our annual camping holiday in Cornwall, England that I read Zero Waste Home and began my journey towards a zero waste lifestyle. As a lifelong fan of minimalism I find camping so refreshing – you can survive on the bare essentials and quickly disconnect from the rush of modern life. Camping is a really great way to connect with nature as you are outdoors 24×7, it is low cost and very sustainable compared with other forms of travel and tourism.
Here are my top easily attainable tips for making your next camping trip even more sustainable. If you have your own sustainable camping tips I’d love to add to this list, so please share in the comments below.
1. Use a Trangia stove instead of a gas cooker
The trangia is the definition of minimalism, survival and reliability. Made in Sweden since the 1950s and designed to last a lifetime. I recommend the traditional version instead of the newer non-stick teflon pans as they really will last a lifetime.
They are super lightweight and cleverly pack away to fit into a rucksack or panniers. Just like any other non-Teflon coated pan, I recommend rubbing a little oil into the frying pan after washing for better non-stick performance.
2. Pour water for cooking in the morning
I learned this little trick from my German sister-in-law and it’s a great saver of time and fuel! Draw the water you need for the day’s cooking in the morning, that way it reaches ambient temperature by the time you come to cook. You can fill your pots and pans or even your water bottles if you have spare.
3. Take your own cloth napkins
Instead of using disposable paper towels just pack a set of cloth napkins for each person in your party. See my article 10 easy ways to live a more sustainable life for more details.
4. Use metal or wooden cutlery (silverware)
Rather than plastic picnic sets, I like to take a set of metal cutlery (silverware). If hiking and carrying a rucksack wooden cutlery is the best choice because it is lighter. Don’t forget a Swiss Army knife as it will save space and includes a tonne of handy tools like scissors and a corkscrew.
5. Use a sustainable natural fibre dishcloth
OK so doing the dishes by hand might not be your idea of holiday relaxation! However, I find washing up by hand is a great way to meet and chat with fellow campers. Rather than using a synthetic or disposable dishcloth or sponge, just keep a natural fibre dishcloth in your camping kit.
Pro tip: If you’re out in the wild and don’t have space for a dishcloth just heat a little water in your stove to loosen food remains and wipe your dishes and pans with moss or sand.
Food and grocery shopping
6. Buy local produce
Try buying local products from independent, local shops and farmers’ markets instead of buying from supermarkets. It’s a great way to explore the local cuisine and I find that you often pick up some cooking tips chatting with local shopkeepers and market stall holders.
7. Don’t forget to pack your reusable cloth produce bags
If you are already using reusable cloth bags when shopping at home you’ll be annoyed with yourself if you’re forced to use plastic bags when camping. So don’t forget to add them to your packing list for your next trip! Better still, fill them with your staples like oats, dried fruit and fresh fruit and veg. Sustainable camping is so much more attainable if you prepare well.
8. Take plenty of reusable water bottles
We always take at least one SIGG bottle for each member of the family and another for the dog too! Tap water on most campsites in Europe and North America is good quality and drinkable. Remember to fill up in the morning before going out for the day. You’ll often find places to fill up while out and about.
Pro tip: To save on buying ice which usually comes in plastic bags and ends up making a real mess, just freeze some extra water bottles before you leave. Sustainable campsites often have a freezer service for refreezing your ice-blocks too.
9. Put the plug in when washing up
On my travels I’ve noticed that northern Europeans tend to wash up in the sink or a bowl of soapy water and don’t rinse the soap suds off afterwards. Yuk! Southern Europeans tend to wash and rinse each item individually with the tap running continuously. Total waste!
I recommend a mixture of the two systems! Put the plug in the sink or use a bowl of soapy water and turn off the tap. Then place each item on the draining board with the soaps suds on. When you have washed all items then you can rinse off the soapy in another sink full of clear, cold water.
10. Turn off the tap in the shower when soaping
You can extend this system to showering too and will also save litres of water. Just turn off the tap when soaping yourself down and then turn on again to rinse off. Of course if you are showering in a freezing shower block in a cold environment this advice is best ignored!
Sustainable camping kit
11. Borrow, rent and buy the best you can
A lot of modern technical camping gear like sleeping bags, tents and rain coats is made from plastic based materials such as nylon and polyester. As camping gear is used a few times per year and takes up a lot of space, borrow what you can or look at options to rent.
When shopping for kit buy the best quality you can afford, look for products that are built to last. Good quality kit is usually cheaper in the long run – it lasts longer and won’t end up in the landfill after just a few seasons. Check options for natural fibre products like canvas tents or sustainable camping gear made from recycled fibres. Buying second hand is another good option too, just make sure to inspect items closely, especially tents, looking for excessive wear and tear.
Pro tip: If buying second hand, buy at the end of the season as there will be more kit available and prices are lower.
12. Pack toiletries in tins
You’re probably already using unpackaged, zero waste toiletries like bars of soap, solid shampoo and deodorant, so it’s just a matter of taking it along. You just need a way to transport it in an unbreakable, plastic free container. I find I can reuse tins such as button tins, or tins that have been used for packaging food such as Lyles Golden Syrup tins. They are light, compact and do not smash if you drop them in the shower.
13. Use solar power
Although you may want to disconnect from modernity for a while and certainly won’t miss the vacuum cleaner, you may want to generate your own power for charging mobile phones or laptops.
The first time I saw this was a Dutch family on a camping trip in England. So if this works in the UK then it is certainly a reliable way to generate your own power! They had a fairly big panel placed outside their caravan. Nowadays you can get much smaller, compact units with USB output that you can hang on your tent during the day.
Pro tip: There are more and more options for solar powered torches (flashlights), lanterns and decorative solar powered lights to give a nice hygge touch to your tent.
14. Take a bike with you or walk short distances
Unless hiking with a just a rucksack or bikepacking, a car is the most common way to get to the campsite as you usually have a lot of heavy gear to take. You can drastically reduce your carbon footprint though if you take a bike with you for local trips like food shopping or going to the pub. Walking is a great way to get around on location too, and don’t forget to look for public transport options like the train or the local bus service.
15. Take care when rotting
Pick campsites that have sustainability policies and recycling facilities. It goes without saying to recycle everything you can and take home what you can’t. When it comes to rotting, it is a bit more complicated unless the campsite has specific facilities. Avoid burying leftover foodstuff and other compostable waste on or around the campsite. It can be easily dug up by wild animals, can attract feral cats and may not be allowed if you are staying on a national park or nature reserve.
Go enjoy! (and don’t forget to share..)
Camping is one of the most rewarding ways to travel and explore the countryside with friends and family. Experienced campers share with others, plan ahead and learn from their mistakes. Planning and sharing tips is crucial to making this simple activity even more sustainable. I hope to have inspired you with some new tips in this post. Let us know how it goes and please share your own tips in the comments below. Now go out there and enjoy the great outdoors!