8 ways to make your next camping trip more sustainable

Do you need to unplug from society, take a family vacation on a budget, or both? Camping offers the ideal getaway for singles, couples, and large groups. It removes you from the hustle and bustle of modern life and allows you to live the way nature intended.

However, you need to protect the planet and your site for future generations to enjoy. That means minimising your footprint on the earth. Here are eight tips for going camping sustainably.

1. Stick to established campsites

If you’re an intrepid explorer, part of the allure of adventuring means going as remote into the wilderness as possible. However, you should still seek areas where others have tread before you. That doesn’t mean you have to go to a designated facility surrounded by other tents — your idea of a relaxing vacation might mean getting away from other people, not huddling in a more primitive setting.

However, there are decided advantages to selecting spots that have seen prior use. One is decreasing your overall workload. Previous campers probably did all the hard work of removing poison ivy and oak, a chore that can make your trip miserable if you aren’t careful and break out in a rash. Further, you’ll avoid potentially damaging a previously untouched environment. 

2. Pack the bare minimum

One of the joys of camping is disconnecting from the modern world. Leaving behind your reliance on gadgets allows you to minimise what you take with you into the wild. There’s no need to lug along your laptop if you don’t have internet connectivity, anyway.

However, there are a few things you shouldn’t skimp on if you’re heading way into the bush. Water is essential. The average person needs at least eight 8-ounce glasses per day, but your needs might vary if you do heavy hiking or spend time in hot and humid conditions. It’s always wise to carry extra in your vehicle, anyway, in case of breakdowns. Water purification tablets or special straws can make water in the wild safe for drinking and are wise to stick in your backpack. Be sure to bring reusable bottles, straws, and flatware to avoid creating waste. 

3. Use minimal transportation

How will you reach your destination? The larger the vehicle, the more emissions it creates. You’ll stay far more green by sticking to a tent versus renting a recreational vehicle.

If you don’t fancy sleeping on the cold ground, you have options. One is bringing along an air mattress to create space between yourself and the earth. You can find self-inflating models that don’t require you to wear out your arm with a hand pump.

Another option is staying at one of the many available glamping destinations. Such accommodations get you into the wild while still allowing you luxuries — like a cot or bed instead of a sleeping bag. You might stay in a yurt or even a treehouse.

4. Use an app

A general rule anytime you enter the wild is to take only photographs and leave only footprints. However, what if you’re an amateur herbalist looking to add new species to your personal pharmacopeia? Fortunately, technology has your back — all in the palm of your hand.

Apps such as PictureThis allow you to identify various plant species. You can snap pictures and identify what you find when you return to civilisation. From there, you can embark on further research on any medicinal properties. You can then source the varieties you want to cultivate from reputable nurseries or buy seeds online to add to your home collection. Leave the wild native plants for others to observe and enjoy.

5. Invest in special soap

Experienced campers know that all soaps aren’t created equal. Some contain harsh chemicals that can leach into the soil, contaminating it for native plant and animal species. They can also contain fragrances that make you smell appealing to pesky critters like mosquitos.

The solution? Invest in biodegradable camping soap before you depart. These products are designed to be used over the soil where microbes break down at least 90% of any unwanted substances, maintaining soil quality.

6. Tend to your other toilet needs

How can you take care of business sustainably without a flushing toilet? You have two eco-friendly methods for going number two in the woods:

  • The cat-hole method: Dig a hole at least 6-8” deep and 4-6” wide. Do your business, then bury your paper and remains. Choose toilet tissue free of fragrances and chemicals.
  • The pack-it-out method: It sounds gross, but you can pack out your poop. Ziplock and garbage bags work fine in a pinch. You can also find bags designed for dogs that are filled with waste treatment chemicals that neutralise any odour.

7. Learn to extinguish a fire

Forest fires can irrevocably change the landscape and cause untold devastation. They can spread, threatening homes and livelihoods. The danger is greatest in the west, where decades of dry conditions have left many areas a tinderbox. Wherever you set up your camp, heed all fire warning signs and obey no-burn regulations.

If you can start a campfire in your chosen location, you need to know how to extinguish it. Begin by dousing your fire with water — yet another reason to bring plenty with you. Then, mix the ashes and embers with the soil, ensuring all partially burned sticks have no flame remaining. Nothing should still radiate heat if you place your hand above it. Finish with an extra soak of water for good measure.

8. Leave the site cleaner than you found it

You’re a responsible camper, and you wish everyone would follow suit. Still, some folks treat the forest like their personal dumpster. What can you do if you arrive at your favourite secluded spot and find a mess?

Maybe you didn’t create the problem, but you can help solve it. Carry trash and recycling bags in your vehicle so you can clean up any rubbish you see. Before you leave, tidy up the area for use by the next set of campers. You’ll sleep more soundly at night knowing you did a kind deed to protect the planet.

How to go camping sustainably

Any travel creates some environmental impact, even camping. However, you can take steps to minimise your footprint when you head off the beaten track. Follow these tips for how to go camping sustainably and show your love for Mother Earth by treating Her gently on your trek.

Cora Gold is the Editor-in-Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine Revivalist. She strives to live as best as she can, and she loves to share her experiences with life, adventure, sustainability and more through her writing. Follow Cora on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.

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Cora Gold

Cora Gold is the Editor-in-Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine Revivalist (revivalist.com). She strives to live as best as she can, and she loves to share her experiences with life, adventure, sustainability and more through her writing. Follow Cora on Twitter (@CoraGold2), Pinterest (@revivalistmag) and Facebook (@revivalistmag).

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