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Backpacking and zero waste

Planning a multi day backpacking trip and its got me really thinking about how much waste we might produce in the process. With the recommendations to re pack food into zip-top bags and all the other ways those are easy to use for lightweight storage, im realizing that we will be creating a lot of trash. In everyday life its a bit easier to make small changes to aim for zero waste; using old jars, reusable cutlery...etc, but when backpacking weight really matters! Looking for tips on how to go backpacking while continuing to work towards a zero waste lifestyle. Thanks! 

15 Replies

Well, you could buy dehydrated meals in bulk.  That way you would save the packaging.  I would do this, but believe it or not, the mountain house bulk buys are more expensive per portion than just buying the packets.

seems like everything you take is going to be sealed in something.  It would be tough to put all your food in re-usable bottles/containers, but I guess it's not impossible.

thinking about it...if I carried all my dehydrated meals in one giant zip lock, I could just scoop out what I need. hmm, but since I have different varieties, I'd need multiple bags, kind of like what I do now.

I guess I could put all my breakfast oatmeal mix into 1 bag, but then I use single bags to re-hydrate each days breakfast...I could mix it in my pot, then I'd have to use purified water to clean it, and I hate doing dishes on the trail.

oh well, back to the drawing board

REI Member Since 1979

We try to live a zero-waste life at home. We know that the best we can do is to drastically reduce the amount of waste we produce. So it has become a concern for me as I prepare to start backpacking for the very reasons you mention. So far, here's where I am at:

  • I spent this Winter coming up with meals I can make and then dehydrate at home while using bulk purchased ingredients (lentils, beans, etc.).
  • We bought several heat-safe silicon food bags that I put the dehydrated meals in and then bring them home afterward and put through the dishwasher. Yes, they weigh more than Ziploc bags but they don't end up in the trash. Plus, they don't weigh that much so I don't really notice the weight.
  • Anything I make that does require packaging or wrapping individually, I am still working out. I think I will be switching to beeswax wraps but they're not cheap. We'll see how they work out.
  • I just bought a package of expandable wipes. They expand when wet and I can use them as wet wipes. Much lighter than wet wipes AND unlike wet wipes, they fully decompose and in the same time frame as regular TP. And I can get them wet with hand sanitizer if I need something with some cleaning power. But they're really light and they let me replace two products I'd otherwise have to carry (TP and wipes).

For a longer term approach, I am paying really good attention now to any clothing I buy, trying to ensure there won't be any micro-plastics released during the laundry cycle

Finally, while hiking this past Fall and Winter, I was trying to take note of those items that I was consuming and trying to determine the amount of waste they produced. The biggest issue are protein bars. But I have a homemade Lara bar recipe that I love, but it goes back to proper/safe ways to wrap it and carry it.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@Dad_Aint_Hip, that's VERY interesting...I think I'm going to research and see where I can transition to re-usable silicon bags.  Going to challenge my paradigm!

REI Member Since 1979

I tend to use zip locs and simply was/rinse them out between uses.  Eventually they get consumed as containers for kitty  litter....

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I also hate the waste.  At home, I take my recycling bin to the curb way more often than the trash.  If I could compost, my trash bind probably wouldn't go to the curb at all.

I buy mountain house in the bags that come with two servings and I split them at home before I go.  I also mix my own oatmeal and trail mix. So yes, I do have the waste of the mountain house bag, but all my Ziploc bags I use, whether for Mountain House, oatmeal, gator-aid powder, or trail mix, I bring them all home with me and I wash them and then use them on my next trip.  When I wash, I just have to be careful not to split the zip-locks at the edges of the bags.  I've been looking at the silicone bags, but haven't yet made the leap.  Washing the Ziplocs has been working so well.

I, too, have looked into preping my own suppers.  The nice thing about Mountain House is that they lyophylize their product; they freeze-dry instead of dehydrating.  Dehydrating, where heat is used to remove the moisture content, can destroy vitamins and other nutrients whereas freeze-drying is easier on the vitamin and nutrient content of the food.  I also think freeze-drying gives a better food consistency.

I love to take cliff bars with me.  They weigh a ton due to their moisture content, but the chocolate brownie ones are a great pick me up in the middle of the afternoon without giving me that sugar rush of energy ad the quick drop.  I'd love to have recipe similar to those. @Dad_Aint_Hip  would you consider sharing your Lara bar recipe?

Found Myself Outside

@Luv2Kayak absolutely!

Strawberry Pie Lara(ish) Bars

Makes 8 bars, 215 calories per bar


  • ½ cup Medjool dates
  • 1 cup dried strawberries
  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • ¼ cup dried blueberries


  • In a food processor, using the S-blade, process the dates, strawberries, and blueberries until it forms a paste. Be patient, this can take a couple minutes.
  • Add the almonds and process again until a dry paste is formed. It will look crumbly but should stick when pressed together between your fingers.
  • Line a small pan with parchment paper and pour the mixture onto the paper. Press the mixture together into a flat, rectangle sheet (I just use my hands).
  • Once the dough is evenly thick, slice into 8 equal-sized bars. Wrap the bars in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge. Great to take on walks or hikes, bars will last a couple days at room temperature.


“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Thank you very much.  I'll have to try these.  Sound wonderful!

Found Myself Outside

So am I the only one that washes bags?  I use ziplock bags to package for backpacking trips and then bring them home and wash them out for reuse.  (I've also been known to take other hikers bags if they're not keeping them...) I will buy prepackaged meals like Mountain Houses occasionally, but I wash these bags and reuse them too!  I consider them cozies.  I can pour things like Annie's mac and cheese and some dehydrated milk and whatever else in and then add hot water to it.  If you prepare meals in the right order, sometimes the residue from the meal you ate earlier in the day adds flavor!

@taskmasterno you're not the only one to wash ziplocs.  I do it all the time.  Saves lots of money and lots of waste.

Found Myself Outside