Zero waste camping isn’t just a pipe dream. It starts by thinking about what we can leave at home, considering what reusable products we can bring, and ends by making sure we leave no trace at the campsite. When we say zero waste, you might picture yourself roughing it out in the middle of nowhere, but that’s not true! You can even glamp in style with some zero waste camping essentials.
Let’s go over some key steps.
1. Borrow what you can
If there’s one sure thing about the camping community, it’s that experienced backpackers, camp enthusiasts, and outdoor lovers always want to spread the joy of a good camping trip. With that said, one big way you can cut down on waste is to borrow what you can from friends and family.
So what exactly are some camping trip essentials? This first set includes commonly used items popular with casual campers and family groups.
- Other sports equipment
- Sleeping bags
- Cookware and stovetops
- Pop-up canopies
- Lawn chairs
If you’re planning on camping on more rugged trails with less bulky equipment, you’ll need other necessities.
- Heavy duty backpacks - On less treaded paths, you’ll need a dependable backpack to carry your sleeping bag, food, extra clothes, and other must-haves. This bag should ideally be weatherproof and comfortable enough for you to wear hours at a time.
- Water filtering systems - Arduous camping trails are usually far from water fountains or cabins with plumbing. On these paths, you’ll need a trusty water filtration system like a fiberglass or ceramic water bottle filter or straw. These convenient devices trap harmful bacteria and diseases, giving you fresh, potable water--a truly essential resource even when you’re not camping!
- Paper maps - WIth no Internet connection or power outlets, you may not be able to use your phone on some trails. Always have a paper map in hand when you’re camping far from park ranger information booths and other cabins.
If you’re lucky, a friend, family member, or acquaintance will have an up-to-date map of the same trail you’re hiking. It might be unlikely, especially if you’re going somewhere unpopular, but it never hurts to ask! And you’d be saving large amounts of paper--a great start to your zero waste camping journey.
2. Buy food in bulk and cook real food
Another large source of waste in camping is food. When we think of camping, we think grilled meats, canned beans, and s’mores. While all of that sounds appetizing in theory, it’s so much more eco-friendly and fun cooking authentic meals.
We know, we know. Not everyone has the patience, resources, or time to cook whole meals while camping. After all, isn’t swimming, hiking, and exploring the main points on our to-do list?
Well, cooking real food can happen before you reach the campsite. This way, you can just bring a giant cooler with some pre-made meals to heat up over a camp stove. We recommend foods that don’t easily go bad like cold pasta salads, pastries and breads, sandwiches, cold soups, burger patties and buns, and even goold old mac n’ cheese.
If cooking beforehand is not feasible for you, don’t worry: there are plenty of foods you can bring in bulk for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Here are some ideas:
- Oatmeal with nonperishable toppings
- Pancake mix
- Granola bars
- Dried and fresh fruit
- Pre-made dips and a bag of chips
- Sandwich ingredients
- Potatoes and veggies
When it comes to fresh fruit, consider ones that won’t easily bruise or ripen. Think grapes, apples, and solid watermelons. For vegetables, go for similarly tough options like potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers. Except for potatoes, you can eat these veggies raw, so even if you run out of time (or energy!) you’ll still be serving a zero waste and nutritious meal.
3. Use your reusable jars, containers, and bags for zero waste camping
If you think plastic is a good idea for camping trips, think again! They’ll rip, stain, and get wet and become unusable. Not to mention, they’re terrible in every way whatsoever for the environment--but you knew that!
Instead, store your delicious veggies and fruits in a set of zero waste produce bags made of durable, fully biodegradable cotton. Bring multiple sizes like our medium and large cotton bulk and mesh bags. We recommend the mesh bags for larger items like your potatoes, apples, bell peppers, and broccoli, but leave the bulk bags for smaller things like oatmeal, pasta, and granola.
You can also bring along one of our string bags made of organic cotton. This lightweight bag might seem fragile, but check this out: You can put up to 40 pounds of clothes, food, personal care products, and other accessories you might need for your zero waste camping trip in this bag.
Other reusable containers you can bring are glass jars, tupperware, and large cookware to store pre-cooked or bulk food. For instance, you might store sauces in large glass jars. You might keep a large pot of soup in a metal pot until it’s ready to be reheated.
4. Pack your Reusable Bottles, Cups, Mugs and Straws
Let’s be honest.
When we have a barbecue, a picnic, or go on a camping trip, disposable dishware and drinkware might be the default. With so many compostable and biodegradable options available, it’s tempting. But why buy disposable when you can just as easily bring reusable alternatives? This will save you money in the long run and prevent so much waste!
If you don’t have a reliable bottle, cup, or straw yet, we’ve got you covered. This angled steel straw can help prevent one of the 500 million straws thrown away in America every day. Yes, you heard that right. A whole 500 million! So think about it: if every single person in your family or friend circle invested in just one reusable straw, that’s already a worthy change.
Another good thing about this straw is you can get it in a traditional stainless steel color or in rose gold. It’s 8 inches long and 6 millimeters wide, which is comfortable for most people and fits most cups. It is dishwasher-safe, but when you’re out camping, just rinse it with water when you can. If you’re short on water, stay away from thick, sugary liquids if possible. These types of drinks might get your straw dirty quicker, but you can always bring a pipe cleaner for a thorough clean.
If you want a reusable water bottle with a built-in straw, we recommend a Hydroflask with a straw lid. Seriously, these heavy duty water bottles keep drinks cold or hot for a long time. That’s a huge plus when you’re camping! You can get this bottle in six different colors like classic black or one of their newer shades like fog, which is a lovely grayish lavender color.
Another cool product from Hydroflask is their cooler cup. This 12-ounce cup actually doubles as a drink cooler. Think metal cans and glass bottles. The silicone keeps drinks in place and works as a coaster when you use the product as a cup.
Looking for something a little more aesthetically pleasing? Our lime glass KeepCup is an on-the-go drink holder and open cup in one. One of our favorite things about it is the upcycled wine cork band to help you carry hot drinks comfortably. The cup is available in a 12-ounce or 16-ounce size with a latte-rose or latte-caramel lid. When this cup reaches the end of its life (which is years and years from now, we promise!) you can recycle all parts of the cup in your regular recycling bins.
We also offer stainless steel tumblers which might be your thing if you want a plain open cup for at-home use when you’re not camping. This 12-ounce cup comes in gold or rose gold that’s so much more charming than conventional silver. When camping, this is great for keeping drinks hot or cold. They also wash easily, saving you time and water.
For a portable cup you can take on expert hikes, consider this steel cup with a carabiner handle. Clip it onto your pack or belt for an accessible drinking cup at all times. It’s made of recyclable and durable 304-grade stainless steel and can hold up to 10 ounces.
5. Eat consciously using your bamboo cutlery and reusable paper towels
On the same note, bring reusable cutlery and paper towels to eliminate camping waste on all fronts. Let’s start with utensils. Whenever someone asks us what our number one must-have is for camping, we recommend a dependable metal spork.
Yes, the innovative spoon and fork makes so much sense when you’re camping. You pack less because it’s a two-in-one utensil for pretty much any food you’ll be bringing with you. It’s also heat- and rust-resistant, meaning it will stand the test of time and wear.
A complete cutlery set is also ideal for camping trips, especially when you’re in a large group. For example, this bamboo cutlery set comes with a pair of chopsticks, a fork, a spoon, a knife, and a straw.
The best part? They’re all made of compostable, responsibly-sourced bamboo. This mighty plant material is great as a utensil because it naturally fights bacteria growth and dries quickly. When not in use, keep this set safe in its cute roll-up pouch.
Besides cutlery, one substantial way you can eliminate camping waste is by bringing some reusable paper towels. These quick-dry, 3-ply linen reusable paper towels come in a pack of 7. One side features linen, which is made of breathable flax plant fibers and the other utilizes cotton, which is super absorbent.
6. Don’t forget your personal care products on your zero waste camping trip
So we’ve covered equipment, food, dishware, and even towels. Let’s turn our attention to personal care products to protect ourselves from the elements and bugs. First, let’s talk deodorant. The outdoors is beautiful and fun. But when we’re out hiking, running, canoeing--we get sweaty. Don’t forget this biodegradable deodorant to keep you fresh throughout the day.
It comes in a natural coconut scent or a zingy lemongrass and tea tree. The real power comes from organic cornstarch and organic virgin coconut oil to absorb excess moisture and prevent odor. When you’ve run out of product, add this tube to a compost pile or recycling bin.
Another option is this cruelty-free deodorant available in grapefruit, rose geranium, and cedar spruce. The ingredients superstars are a mix of plant oils and naturally-occurring mineral powders. So if you’re sensitive to baking soda, this deodorant is a great alternative. Again, you can compost or recycle the paper tube when you’ve used up all the product.
Moving onto protective care products. No matter what time of year you’re camping, sunscreen is a must. This reef safe sunscreen provides SPF 30 protection using non-nano zinc oxide, sunflower oil, vitamin E, beeswax, and other wholesome ingredients. The beeswax keeps this sunscreen together for a more solid consistency that’s great for camping.
On the other hand, this tinted facial moisturizer with SPF 30 gives a little more coverage for medium-toned skin. It features the same ingredients as the reef safe sunscreen, but the secret lies in the iron oxides for a subtle tint. This moisturizer’s good for the whole family--just remember to reapply every 80 minutes especially when you’re in the water or sweating.
You’ve got your face covered, but don’t forget about your lips! This sensitive part of your face needs some love, too and zero waste lip balms will keep them happy even under rough conditions on your zero waste camping trip. This vegan lip balm is best if you want a choice between yummy scents like rosemary eucalyptus, sweet orange tangerine, and coconut cacao.
If you want something with a tint, try this zero waste lip balm available in a slight rouge tint. Of course, it’s also available in a bare tone for that classic sheen. These vegan lip balms are made in the US and some of the most hydrating lip care products we’ve tried so far. It’s all thanks to nourishing ingredients like coconut oil, vitamin E, and mango seed butter.
We know not every campsite has a shower, but if you’re lucky enough, you’ll be prepared with a shampoo and conditioner bar to wash away oil and dirt. Our two-in-one bar is sulfate-free, vegan, and zero-waste. We only use the best ingredients like organic coconut oil, castor bean oil, and virgin shea butter. This solid bar prevents plastic waste and packaging which is all too common in bottled products.
Before we move on, you might be relieved to know that there are natural bug repellents on the market. This one from Soap & Salve Company is plastic-free, cruelty-free, and certified USDA organic. It’s made of lemon eucalyptus oil, organic neem oil, cedarwood oil, thyme oil, and other natural ingredients we love that bugs don’t.
Lastly, don’t forget to bring a spray hand sanitizer for quick cleansing. It contains only two things: pure alcohol and hydrogen peroxide to keep germs away. The recyclable glass bottle holds 2 ounces of spray you can keep in your tote, first aid kid, or backpack.
7. Disconnect from your phone and connect with nature
This step might be overlooked since the Internet is such an integrated part of our lives. But you’ll be glad you focused on your immediate surroundings, quality time with your loved ones, and your own self-reflection instead of scrolling through social media or work documents on your camping trip.
Unplugging your cell phone, laptop, and other smart devices helps you practice mindfulness completely instead of having your body there but your mind somewhere else. We get it: sometimes you need to be on-call for work or you have teenagers who insist on checking Instagram at least once a day.
If you’re lucky enough to have Internet connection and if it’s really important, consider setting designated times for plugging in. Try enforcing a 20-minute Internet window once in the morning and once at night if this works for your group.
8. Compost and recycle
Depending on your campsite, there may not be any composting or recycling bins. In this case, bring containers for your compost and recyclables. You might check with park rangers or the park officials before your arrival just so you can be prepared otherwise.
Note that some remote areas will not have compost or recycling bins because of wild animals like bears. Others will have locked containers to keep animals away.
9. Leave no trace
Finally--and this one is perhaps the most important rule of zero waste camping--leave no trace! This is absolutely essential not just to meet zero waste camping guidelines, but strictly for animals’ safety and environmental protection. This applies to leaving hiking trails spotless, keeping your campsite clean, and not damaging protected paths.
The bottom line is this: When we work together to enforce these camp codes, we’re leaving intact campgrounds, pristine hiking trails, and an invaluable zero waste philosophy. So whether it’s bringing your own reusable cup, saying no to single-use paper towels, or using reef safe sunscreen, there is always something we can do to eliminate waste.