How to Have a More Eco-Conscious Camping Trip

10 steps to change your habits for the better

I recently returned from a camping trip with pockets bursting with single-use snack wrappers. As I shoveled it all into the garbage, I wondered how it was possible to generate more waste “roughing it” than I do in my city life. I wanted to do better so I consulted with three REI experts on how to have a more eco-conscious camping trip. It just takes a desire to do better for the planet, with a little planning.

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1. DIY Snacks and Meals

As you’re planning meals and snacks for your trip, think carefully about waste. Instead of enjoying single-use goos, grab a squeeze bottle and refill it yourself. “I started looking for recipes to make my own protein and energy bars,” said Gemina Garland-Lewis, National Geographic explorer, ecohealth researcher and REI member. “I can make my own, buying ingredients in bulk to decrease the packaging waste on that side.” She added, “I use the beeswax wraps—they’re washable and reusable.”

2. Pack Out Trash, Compost and Recycling

Whether you’re in the front country or backcountry, the easiest way to make an impact is by sorting your waste. Bring at least two reusable trash bags, one for trash and one for recycling, you could even consider bringing one for compost. If your campground or trailhead doesn’t have compost or recycling, take it home and make sure your waste is properly disposed of. Make frontcountry camping even easier with these.

3. Buy Organic Food

Organic agriculture is easier on the environment than traditional agriculture, said Greg Gausewitz, REI product sustainability manager. Traditional agriculture uses synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides that can be harmful to the environment. So, if you’re buying dehydrated food with us or shopping at your local grocery store for food to make yourself, consider going organic. (Learn more here and here.)

4. Get Biodegradable Soap and Toothpaste

Soap and toothpaste can have a negative impact on the environment and can take a long time to degrade out in the wilderness. Bring biodegradable products into the wild, and always make sure you’re 200 feet away from any water source when you’re using soap or toothpaste.

5. Use, Rent, Repair

The lowest-impact product is often the one that already exists. Before buying a new piece of gear, consider buying used gear, renting your gear or repairing the gear you do have. “The longer you can keep a product in use, the longer you’re avoiding the impact that new products have on the environment,” Greg said.

6. Make Cleanup a Game

It can be fun to clean up your campsite or the trail, especially with kids. “Use your reusable trash bags, and make it an adventure or game to pick up any trash left behind by others who were there before you,” said Adam Hockey, senior field research guide and backpacking expert.

7. Leave No Trace

Memorize these principles. And don’t forget these often-overlooked facts: aluminum cans and trash are not OK to burn (they are air and soil pollutants when burned); and fruit peels take a long time to biodegrade (banana skins take two years).

8. Keep Water Clean

Excessive use of suntan oils, lotions, makeup and other water-soluble products can pollute lakes, rivers and ponds. You should also be careful to avoid getting permethrin (bug repellent) or permethrin-treated products in water, as they may be toxic to aquatic life. Be thoughtful about what you put on your body before you swim. If it is water-soluble, leave it at home.

9. Use Rechargeable Batteries

To avoid creating unnecessary waste, consider using rechargeable batteries, or even getting products that can be recharged by the sun. “I use rechargeable batteries with my headlamps and lanterns—so I have no extra batteries,” said Gemina. Pro tip? The best place to pack your backup set of rechargeable batteries is in another headlamp that you bring along, just in case.

10. Take Reusable Bottles

It can be easy to fall into the habit of buying disposable plastic water bottles. With a little planning, you never have to do that again. Pick up a few bladders or bottles for easy-to-hike use and a water-storage bag or water tank for front-country use.