Last Updated on July 14, 2023
Eco camping is something that seems like it should come naturally. So I find it odd that camping has been one of the most difficult activities to create zero waste. It’s strange that living in the great outdoors is often coupled with a lot of trash and single-use-plastics. Doesn’t that seem backwards?
With these tips, it doesn’t have to be hard to go camping the eco friendly way! From gear to snacks, this sustainable camping gear has everything covered. Eco friendly camping takes just a little bit of planning and foresight, but makes spending time in nature even more rewarding. I’ve done all the homework for you so zero waste camping will be a breeze for you.
Table of Contents
Justin and I recently went on a camping trip, and it was my very first one! Well, it’s the first one that I can remember. I went on a trip with my parents when I was three, so that doesn’t really count.
I don’t remember that trip at all so I had a huge learning curve. Justin, on the other hand, camped often before we met.
But, I’m going to guess his style of camping looked a lot like the small group we saw leaving the campground with five full trash bags — yikes!
Just kidding, I’m sure he wasn’t that bad.
Justin and I hadn’t gone camping before because you need quite a bit of gear, and we didn’t really have any. I didn’t want to shell out a bunch of money if I wasn’t sure I was even going to like camping.
Thankfully, I LOVED it. We bought a few things but were able to borrow the majority of our supplies from friends and family.
I bought a 2-gallon water jug with a spigot from the thrift store and a new leash for Nala.
We got the leash from WilderDog. Their leashes are made from upcycled mountain climbing ropes, they have a lifetime warranty, and they donate a bag of food to a shelter for every purchase. Plus, they’re made in NorCal. Yay, for supporting local businesses!
eco friendly camping tip
Borrow what you can instead of buying new for a truly zero waste camping experience! You can always buy your equipment later if you know you’re going to use it for a long time.
As for the rest of the gear, the bookkeeper at my work had a whole bunch of camping stuff she doesn’t use anymore, and she just gave it to me.
Another co-worker of mine goes camping all the time, and he was able to fill in the gaps with what we were missing.
Never underestimate asking your friends! You’d be surprised with what they have and are willing to let you borrow — just as long as you bring it back in better condition than you got it!
And, throwing in some cookies or taking them out to get a beer or coffee as a thank you is definitely encouraged. Let’s grow this sharing economy, people!
sustainable camping gear
As mentioned above, we borrowed much of our gear. And while tents and camp chairs are made out of polyester and vinyl — which both contain plastic — having high-quality items that are long-lasting help make up for that.
Plus, we didn’t purchase much of our plastic gear, keeping new plastic out of the market. The gear we brought with us included:
(1) 8 Person Tent: I know what you’re thinking, no one needs an 8 person tent. But, let me tell you, it was awesome. I am so glad we had it. It was super easy to set up and fit two people and a dog nicely.
Living out of a suitcase can be super messy. So the extra space allowed for some semblance of organization.
I’ve had the tent for several years. Justin and I had planned a camping trip when we first met but never went until this year.
(1) Queen Size Air Mattress: We probably would have used sleeping bags if owned them, but we don’t… so we didn’t. Instead, we were being extra-luxurious!
We brought our queen-sized air mattress with a set of sheets. This is the same set we use when guests visit, but it wound up being perfect for camping!
Can we still call it camping if we’re sleeping on an air mattress? I’m not sure about the qualifications on that.
(1) Hammock: This was for Nala. We bought a hammock at Costco during our first year in CA. We kept it in the backyard, where it eventually became Nala’s favorite spot, so we brought it for her to lounge.
(2) Folding Chairs: We are so fortunate that a coworker let us borrow two very nice folding chairs — with cup holders!
(1) Stove Top: We were lucky enough to borrow a stovetop from one of my coworkers, but our campsite had a fire pit with a cooking grate as well.
I really enjoyed cooking over the open flames, but it was nice that we had the option of using the stovetop so we didn’t have to light a fire for breakfast.
To reduce single use plastics and keep our camping eco friendly, we brought one of our cast iron skillets with a lid, a wooden spatula, three plates, and 2 sets of silverware.
(1) Cooler: We also got this from a coworker. And, I did not do well at coolering (more on that later).
(2) Lanterns: We got some really cool vintage lanterns from one of my co-workers.
(1) 2 Gallon Water Jug: This was the only item I purchased specifically for the camping trip. And, it was a total lifesaver. We filled it with water before bed and put a charcoal filtering stick inside to filter it. Then we used it like our own personal faucet! I got it at the thrift store for $5. Woot, woot!
Our sustainable camping site was not one that produced dozens upon dozens of single use plastic bottles.
camping the eco way
This was awesome. We kept it super minimal. You can read more about it in this blog post. I was very happy with my sunscreen, an average SPF of 30, and bug spray. I came away with three bites. Two on my neck and one on my face.
I would never spray regular bug spray on my face, but with what I made, I’d feel totally comfortable. Note to self: Apply to face next time.
I did get one ant bite on my foot. But, after four days in the woods — I’m pretty happy with those results.
I was a little over prepared. But, I did well for my first time, I think. Now I have a better idea of what I truly need for my next eco camping trip. I had hiking boots and flip flops. I wore my flip flops traveling and just in case I decided to jump into the lake. Which I didn’t.
We ate out twice on the road. After trying 4-5 places, we finally found a place that would let us sit outside with a dog! We’re in CA. I thought all outdoor seating was dog friendly, but we really struggled to find a spot.
Thankfully, we settled on an awesome little diner with an amazing veggie burger and chocolate cake — on real plates!
And, we also got donuts. YUM. They were totally cool with placing them right in my tiffin.
While at the donut shop, we needed to fill up our water bottles. I noticed they didn’t have a soda fountain, so I asked if they had any water where I could refill my Klean Kanteen.
In the middle of the refrigerator case next to all the bottled water, there was a large pitcher of filtered water. SCORE. Sometimes you just have to ask.
our sustainable camping mistakes
In Arkansas, we have tons of little drive through ice stations where ice just falls out of a chute. We were not so fortunate here.
We got a couple of plastic bags of ice for the cooler. For a truly eco friendly camping trip, I wish I hadn’t had to buy plastic bags. But this is the way it goes sometimes! We just do the best we can.
I didn’t want to bring a lot of glass on the camping trip. So we packed things in open stainless steel bowls and my tiffins. But, the tiffins weren’t watertight in the cooler.
As the ice melted we were left with a lot of soggy food. Which we ate — because zero waste eco camping! But, I will definitely do things differently in the future.
We also brought way too much food. Before we left, Justin opened the fridge and just kept throwing more stuff in the cooler…. lesson learned.
In trying to avoid glass, we left the growlers at home. Also, it doesn’t seem super practical to bring a growler or two on a camping trip. So, we bought some cans which we recycled!
Surprisingly, there was no recycling available at the campsite. We made sure to bring them home and recycle them.
If you’ve ever read an interview I’ve done, then you know the answer to this question. “What is the one thing you miss since Going Zero Waste?” And, my answer is always the same: s’mores.
I love them. They’re the perfect treat. I’m all about the perfect bite. And, a s’more is definitely the perfect bite. They’re gooey, sweet, and crunchy — mmmmm! Beyond being the perfect campfire accoutrements, they’re also riddled with childhood nostalgia.
And, without any shame, I bought a bag of marshmallows, a couple of bars of chocolate, and some classic graham crackers. If I can get the plastic wrap clean, I will proudly place that in my trash jar.
And, I’ll be honest with you… they weren’t as good as I remember. So, I’m probably set for the next couple of years on s’mores. But, it was totally worth it.
Life is about balance. What do you think?
All in all, I loved camping. I really enjoyed getting to relax and spend time in nature.
It was so rejuvenating, and I loved being completely tech free. I spent a lot of time reading, walking around, and doing a whole lot of nothing. It was amazing, and I can’t wait to go back.
why is eco friendly camping important?
Camping is an amazing way to unplug and spend time in nature — but what’s the point if you’re harming the environment in the process? By eco camping, you reduce pollution, keep the water clean, reduce single use plastic waste, and overall take care of mother nature so she’ll still be around for future generations to enjoy.
how do you find a way to actually enjoy camping?
Find your camping style! I didn’t think I would enjoy sleeping on the hard ground. And while I didn’t have to choose that due to the lack of sleeping bags, I found that I enjoyed sleeping on the air mattress. And let’s face it, taking an air mattress is not many peoples’ idea of ‘eco camping.’
It’s ok to change what ‘camping’ looks like to your friends and family and make changes that suit your tastes. Extra bonus points if those changes also have a positive impact on the environment!
Have you gone camping?