Though summer may be wrapping up, I wanted to share how I minimize waste while camping. My friends and I like to go camping as much as we can over the summer, booking campsites months in advance. We mainly go car camping, driving to our destination and parking right next to our campsite. We don't have to focus on packing extremely light, like you may while backpacking, which is a luxury.
Being out in nature is always a great reminder as to how beautiful and fragile our planet is. We've camped next to water sources clearly suffering from drought, tried to stay cool camping in extreme heat waves, been evacuated from campsites due to wildfires, and have had to forgo the traditional campfire due to burn bans. We've seen stunning clear blue water, felt the spray of snowmelt-fed rivers, learned about new animal species after they've sneakily stolen our food, and hiked around gorgeous lakes. For me, going camping is a way to disconnect from the built world and ground myself in the natural world, leaving responsibilities of the prior behind to respect the latter.
Leaving as close to no trace as possible at the places we camp is extremely important to me. It can be easy to default to disposables for ease, but a little planning ahead and you can go camping and come home having barely made any landfill waste at all. It's a great lesson on what's really important about appreciating nature and respecting Mother Earth.
I'd like to give silicone storage bags a huge shoutout as a main pillar of my low-waste camping set-up. I use these bags to hold everything from pre-chopped veggies to use for meals, to sunscreen and bug spray that I want to make sure don't leak on anything, to dog food.
They are more flexible in the cooler than mason jars, lighter, and pack down once emptied, making them great for camping. In a pinch they can also be used as a dry bag for essentials if you're going out on the water in a kayak or paddle board…as my friends and I like doing!
As you can see, I have a few sprays in one of my silicone storage bags: sunscreen, bug spray, and a pheromone spray for my dog to help her keep her cool. This non-aerosol spray-on sport sunscreen is so easy to apply and made from a reef-friendly blend of zinc oxide and botanical ingredients. The insect repellent is the perfect size, smells great, and really works.
"Camp clean" is definitely a thing. I'll be the first to admit that I don't re-apply deodorant or brush my teeth nearly as much as recommended while sleeping in a tent for a weekend, but I have the perfect little toiletry bag of essentials I carry with me.
More sunscreen! White-cast from sunscreen is never fun, so Raw Elements Tinted Sunscreen lets me get the SPF coverage while also providing some base coverage and color correction like a foundation. I love the convenience and portability of the tin, and my favorite trick is to mix a bit of it with some facial oil (I use rose-hip!) to help it apply most evenly. Instead of dealing with toothpaste or tabs, I prefer bringing my Tooth Cleanse with me. You put it on a dry toothbrush so there's no need to worry about getting extra water, and then I just swoosh some water from my water bottle around in my mouth and spit it out when I finish. It doesn't get all foamy so it's nice for a quick brush in the woods! I always carry my Jelly Serum Bar around for moisturizing purposes. It has come in handy multiple times when my friends or I have gotten sunburned because we weren't proactive enough on the sunscreen. It's cooling and hydrating and so easy to throw in your bag.
Whenever I camp, I carry a bar of soap to wash my face and a small towel, which gives me the ability to clean up in my tent at the end of the night. The Soap Tin is compact so I appreciate being able to fit it in my small toiletry bag…it always comes with me when I travel! My most recent addition to my toiletry kit is the Reusable Bamboo Swab kit. Growing up, my dad was always the one who packed the Q-tips for our family vacations…and so I never got into the habit of doing it myself. Sometimes you just feel the need to clean your ears after a few days! Now I keep this little swab kit in my bag and can use the ear or the makeup swab as needed, rinse them, and put them back in the kit for the next time.
In our communal area, my friends and I like to keep a large jug of water, like those Gatorade coolers people dump on others at sports games…but slightly smaller than that. We use it to refill our water bottles, wash our dishes, and wash our hands. I cannot emphasize enough how happy I am with the Happy Camper Soap. Though I haven't tested its benefits for people who fish (anise allegedly helps remove human scent from fly-tying, hook-baiting fingers), it works great to clean up with and is 100% safe for the environment. I even used a bit to clean the exterior of my car up a few weeks ago! I keep it in the Bamboo Fiber Soap Box, which I've especially been loving because of the raised grooves it has at the bottom of the dish to help the bar dry out in between uses.
All of these items from Way of Being have enhanced my camping experience, but I do want to speak to the other types of items I bring with me as well. If you're new to camping, there's a desire to buy a lot of new equipment. I definitely have bought a few things new, but most of the items I bring with me I've received second-hand. My tent I got from a neighbor in my Buy Nothing Group. I fixed the zipper on it and sprayed the rainfly with water repellent, also received from a neighbor for free. Many of the camp kitchen items my friends and I bring with us were picked up from the thrift shop, camp stoves and hammocks and lanterns and gear from REI's used-gear section, and even a bag I bring with me camping was found at Goodwill but made by a company that repurposes billboards, so it has the extra benefit of being waterproof.
If you have the time to collect your items from reputable used sources, it does make a difference since so much outdoor gear really has been built to last and withstand the elements and, if taken care of correctly, will. There aren't as many options for natural fibers or things that have a more simplified end-of-life, so buying used-gear and treating it well is the best way to go about it!
Tell me your best low waste camping tips in the comments and read more tips from Way of Being co-founder Alex here!