We spent a lovely, low key week camping up in the mountains this summer, and it got me considering the ways we ecofrugally go off-grid. We may not be perfectly zero waste, but many of the ways we choose to camp align with those values. After all, if a requirement of camping up forest roads on public lands is to leave no trace, then it’s much easier to pack it in/pack it out of you consider the sustainability aspect. And, of course, we pay attention to the frugal side as well.
Whether you’re camping in a tent at a paid campground for the first time or heading off the beaten path for the umpteenth time, I hope these tips will help you make your next trip a bit more ecofrugal – better for your wallet, and better for the environment.
Cook meals ahead and pack them in reusable containers
We have some favorite meals that we tend to prep for camping because they can be made ahead of time and eaten with minimal dishes when reheated. We spend a night before the trip cooking and then packing them up and sticking them into the freezer until we leave. By freezing the meals, we’re also able to cut down on the amount of ice we need and the cooler stays chilled longer when it’s packed full of cold items.
Some of our go-to camping meals are our fancy ramen, chili, and tacos. Consider meals you enjoy regularly that can be easily cooked ahead of time and reheated all at once, reducing dishes as well as the individual packaging that tends to come with camping food. We’ll also bring simple low or zero waste lunches of garden produce (when in season), apples, nuts, and other “trail” type food.
Bring your own dishes and flatware
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but a lot of people we know purchase disposable dishes and flatware for camping. If you do go this route, please purchase 100% paper and compostable products (they can be burned if you have a campfire), but it’s free to bring your own dishes, and you don’t have to worry about disposal afterward.
We have plastic plates that were purchased for my freshman year dorm room fourteen years ago, and they make great camping supplies. There are plenty of fancy camping kitchenware items for sale, but odds are, you have stuff at home you can bring with unless you eat entirely off ceramic or glass dishes.
Bring your cloth rags – no need for paper towels
Just like the above, there’s nothing that says you have to bring paper towels camping. Your regular cloth and kitchen rags work just the same way as they do at home. Bring a bag with you, and toss the dirties in to wash when you get back home again. Once you start looking at reusable and zero waste options, you’ll realize how many “everyday” items are really unnecessary. The real stuff works better too.
Use refillable water containers
If you’re camping somewhere without running water, please make sure to bring enough water with you. Really, consider how much you think you need, and double it. You can get in real trouble camping without enough water, or at best case, you might have to cut a trip short because of it.
That said, especially if you camp regularly, purchasing a couple of larger reusable water jugs will pay off (they’re also a great preparedness item to have on hand at home).
I avoid buying single use plastic whenever possible, and this is especially true when it comes to water. Of all the plastic waste out there, individual plastic water bottles are the ones that drive me bonkers. If you don’t have any reusable jugs, at the minimum buy water in 2 to 5 gallon jugs instead of smaller bottles to minimize waste.
Consider what you already own – and what isn’t necessary to buy
I realize I just mentioned purchasing a reusable water jug, but for the most part, camping doesn’t require many purchases. If you’re heading out for the very first time, ask around. Odds are good that you have friends who would be willing to lend you a tent and camping pads for the weekend. Even sleeping bags aren’t necessary if you aren’t camping during cold weather; your regular blankets work just fine.
That goes for the fancy camping plates, mugs, jackets, blankets, boots, and everything else you can buy at REI or Cabela’s. If you find that camping is something you do regularly, you’ll likely find yourself adding to your supplies in time, but there are really very few items you need to purchase. Because of this, you can also often find some great, very lightly used gear at your local thrift store. Whenever you purchase used, you’ll save money, and you’ll reduce the impact of the creation of new items.
Carpool whenever possible, and park your vehicle for the trip
When we camp with other people, especially local friends, we carpool when possible. We live in an area where there are many, many camping spots within a few hours’ drive, but the fewer vehicles and gas used, the better.
Along with that, we tend to park our vehicle once we’ve arrived at our campsite and let it sit for the remainder of the trip. Camping is a great way to have some car free days, and we revel in the days where we get around on just our own two feet.
Are you a camper? Do you have some tips for low cost, low waste trips?
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