Just having returned from camping over July 4th weekend, I'm glad the group of folks I go with are pretty eco-conscious. With over 20 of us, most of us carpooled, we recycled, planned well to not have the ridiculous abundance of food and supplies that we've had in years past, but just enough to be comfortable and have a good time. So I thought I'd compile 10 tips for eco-friendly camping.
1. Sustainable Gear - My sleeping bag was purchased a few years back from REI's Outlet. It's a Marmot Eco Pro 15, made of all recycled materials from a few hundred plastic bottles. My tent was bought used off craigslist and my air mattress is powered by rechargeable batteries.
2. Solar lanterns - Rather than go for expensive camping-specific propane lanterns, I found some great solar lanterns and string lights on clearance at my local Target. They were a great supplement to my LED headlamp.
3. LED headlamp - Also bought at REI, the Petzl Tikka headlamp is really handy for finding your way in the dark. Because it's LED, the battery lasts forever (and will last even longer if you're using rechargeable batteries).
4. Solar chargers - I'm the nervous type, always worried about emergencies. I already had one of these Eton Emergency Radio/Solar Chargers to make sure we're prepared.
5. Camp only in designated areas - Unless you're a wilderness expert. Novices risk harming delicate ecosystems out of ignorance. Also, rather than leveling the land and risking long-term damage to the earth where you will put up your tent, place things underneath to make it feel level.
6. Only burn fallen wood - Never chop down trees and only use designated fire rings. Also, make sure fires are allowed. As we have seen from recent news reports, some areas are very dry and volatile and you may not be able to start an open fire. Check the conditions with the rangers before you head to your campground.
7. Pack out whatever you pack in - There should be designated trash cans, but it's best to pack smartly and not create unnecessary rubbish to begin with. All wrappers, matches, packaging, should be picked up and disposed of properly. The ranger for our campground recycles all cans and bottles himself, so we made sure to separate it from the regular trash to make it easier (and less gross) for him. Also, only burn things that are meant to be burned. Plastic wrapping, bottles, cans ARE NOT to go in the camp fire. Recycle or dispose of them properly.
8. Hygiene - It's a wonderful thing and one of the issues that keeps folks from not camping. Staying clean with a solar camp shower is a great option. It's a black bag that you fill with cold water and retains solar heat. If you camp near a body of water and take a dip to keep cool and clean off, DO NOT under any circumstances use soap in the stream, river or lake. It can badly damage delicate ecosystems.
9. Soft soled shoes - It might sound like a weird suggestion, but it will help you tread more lightly and prevent damage to the land. I got a pair of Keen Newport H2's on sale. Added bonuses: they're vegan and waterproof, so I was able to throw them in the washer with the rest of my filthy gear when I got home.
10. Soap - As mentioned above, soap can be great for cleanliness but not so great when poured out into nature. Sea to Summit offers an all-in-one Wilderness Wash that is completely biodegradable and can be used on skin, clothes, pans or any outdoor gear.
(Image: Michelle Chin)