5 Ways to Go Green When Camping

We all love spending time outdoors, and camping is a great way to do that while getting back to nature. But sometimes our camping trips can have a negative impact on the environment.

man doing laundry in front of a tent while camping

Here are some tips on how to go green when camping, so you can enjoy the outdoors without harming it.

As a young adult, I would have done anything to not have to be outside for any extended period of time, but as I got older I would live outside if necessary. Going camping used to mean paper plates, plastic tableware and just about anything disposable.

Since we have made a decision to be as careful with our resources as possible, those things don’t have a place in our camping gear anymore.

It’s no secret that camping can be hard on the environment. From all the packing and unpacking to setting up and tearing down camp, there’s a lot of potential for impact.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! With a little bit of planning, you can camp in a way that is gentle on the earth.

Camping is a far more eco-friendly travel excursion than other trips you could go on. If you camp locally, there’s no need to drive many miles and waste fuel – or worse, hop on an airplane.

However, if you’re not mindful about your camping habits, you can be just as damaging to the environment.

So it’s important to consider ecologically sound principles and tips when you’re planning for your next backwoods adventure.

Here are some tips to get you started.

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Buy Washable Dishes That Won’t Break

We purchased two sets of Coleman dinnerware 5 years ago, and it’s still going strong. They haven’t chipped, rusted, or broken.

They store easily and have been easy to clean at the campsites, even when we had to use colder water.

The plates easily hold burgers, salad, and side dishes like homemade sauerkraut and the bowls are big enough for yogurt and granola or campfire soups.

The cups are rather small for us to use for drinking, but are nice for holding tableware, cloth napkins or other items at the picnic table.

Get Bamboo Flatware

This was hardest for me, honestly, because it meant more dishes. Plastic ware is easy to throw away and you don’t have to wash it.

And, only $3 for a large box at Aldi. But, setting a good example of being a good steward of our resources was important to us.

We purchased 10 sets of bamboo to go flatware 5 years ago to add to our collection. 5 sets stay in our camping box, and the other 5 are in the van for when we are on the go.

It’s nice to have when staying at a hotel as well, because finding a fork or knife at a hotel these days to spread peanut butter on bread isn’t easy.

As a matter of fact, the last 4 hotels we have stayed at didn’t have any tableware, plastic or otherwise.

They are great for impromptu picnics at the park when we grab some takeout, or those weeks we live at the county fair, and are lugging coolers of food back and forth.

To keep them nice, we simply make sure to wash them as soon as possible after use, and once a month wipe them down with coconut oil to keep them conditioned.

Add in a stainless steel straw for each set and you can also say goodbye to the plastic straws!

Change Your Drinking Glasses

At home, we simply use mason jars, as they are much stronger than the glasses at the stores. They are easy to clean, and my kids have only broken 2 of them in a year’s time. (This is compared to going through 24 drinking glasses within 3 months before.)

We didn’t want to have a lot of glass at campsites, due to possible breakage, and we didn’t want to have plastic drinking cups either.

So, we made the investment in some stainless steel drinkware. They stay in the camping box, as we just grab our mason jars day to day, but they are super nice to have at campsites.

They wash easily, don’t rust and if dropped, they don’t break. We can take them to the lake beach and not worry about broken glass.

Store All your Gear in a Simple Plastic Tote Box

This is the kind we use, but anything with a lid would be great. We tried going the cheap route before, but were disappointed when we had to replace it each year.

We needed something that could handle being toted around in the van, up and down from the basement and such. It’s also large enough to store instant rice, instant mashed potatoes, and our extra cast iron skillet that we use for camping.

We also have some home canned beans, veggies and fruit in there as well. All we need to add when we go camping is some homemade pancake mix, eggs and maple syrup and packing is a breeze!

I also have some personal care kits in there for each of us, with toothbrushes, soap and a washcloth.

Get a Cloth Tablecloth and Napkins

…easily found at thrift stores… and you have the makings of a green camping trip!

Or you have an excellent bug out box, ready to go at a moment’s notice. You can add a water bottle with an incorporated personal filter to make this bug out box complete. What would you add to this?

Camp Locally

Don’t drive or fly to your camping destination – choose one close to home. Just about every American city has a state park within driving distance. There are also National Forest areas where you can camp primitively.

Think about the environmental benefits of camping close to home plus the logistical ones. If you have small kids, it means less time in the car.

You can even try bicycle camping if you can find a campsite close enough – and can’t pack light enough to stash all your gear on the back of your bike!

Leave the Gadgets at Home

We all know that camping is supposed to be a time to ditch the gadgets at home. You might bring your cell phone, but make a pact to use it only for emergencies.

Avoid packing along battery-powered devices and high-wattage electric lighters. You don’t need the gear – enjoy the great outdoors!

Keep Wildlife in Mind

When you’re camping, you need to be mindful of the local wildlife – you’re in their turf, after all! When wildlife gets too familiar with humans, it leads to all kinds of problems.

They can lose food sources, eat inappropriate food, lose caution instincts, or become problem animals.

Be careful about cleaning up and storing your food. Remember, a bear has a sense of smell that is more than a 100 times more powerful than that of a dog.

Burn Clean Campfires

When you camp, bring along your own dry seasoned wood. If you’re buying firewood at campsites, you may find that it’s unseasoned, meaning the fire will be smoky and polluting. It will also take forever to cook your wood.

That said, be cautious about transporting firewood across state lines and other boundaries. Some states and municipalities have restrictions in place about firewood because of invasive insect species, like beetles.

Pack It In, Pack It Out

..and leave nothing behind. You shouldn’t be leaving trash in the woods.

If you’re camping near your vehicle, bring along a bucket with a tight lid to use as a compost. You can put it in the car at night to avoid attracting critters.

If this isn’t an option, bury your compostable ingredients the same way you’d bury human waste. It should be 8 inches deep and 200 feet from any body of water or campsite.

Anything that can’t be composted? Make sure it comes out of the woods with you at the end of the trip.

Keep Meals Simple

Now here’s a tip I can really get behind! Keep your meals as simple and basic as possible when you’re camping. You don’t need five star restaurant gourmet meals when you’re supposed to be unwinding in the great outdoors.

All you need to bring along with you on your camping trip is a lightweight set of camping pots. Before you leave, come up with a basic meal plan to keep the ingredients (and specially the packaging) to a minimum.

Don’t Do Your Dishes in the Pond

…or lake, or river, or whatever.

Keep the water near your campsite clean by avoiding rinsing and washing your dishes near water bodies.

Even biodegradable soaps have ingredients that can impact water oxygen levels and make the water harmful to aquatic life. They can also promote algal growth since they increase nitrogen.

Get rid of soapy water at least 200 feet from the shoreline. Soil bacteria will take care of the suds instead.

Bring Your Own Water…

…but not in plastic water bottles. Unless you have purification tablets to decontaminate any water you encounter on your trip, you’ll want to bring water along with you. Just make sure you aren’t using plastic.

Did you know that it takes three times as much water to make a single bottle for water than it does to fill the bottle with water? Crazy!

Use Natural Body Products

Chances are, when you go camping, you’ll be bringing along your sunscreen, lotion, bug repellent, makeup, and so on. You may have thought about how these products affect your body, but not necessarily the environment.

Consider using products that do not contain permethrin, which can kill plant and animal life. Avoid water-soluble products like sunscreen, as these can pollute the water, too.

If the product is water-soluble, don’t bring it with you. Look for ones that are better for the environment (including soap and toothpaste that are both biodegradable).

Get Used Gear

Don’t spring for all brand-new gear when you’re getting ready for your camping trip. Instead, buy used. You don’t need a brand new tent if you can borrow one, rent one, or buy a used one.

Check Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace to get the best deals. Not only will you save some money, but you’ll be helping the planet out, too.

While you’re at it, see if you can invest in eco-friendly camping gear. More companies are offering ger made out of BPA- free and recycled materials.

Camp Only in Designated Areas

While it might sound fun to head for the trail and camp in a more deserted area, make sure you’re only camping in a spot that is a designated camping area.

These are chosen based on their safety, durability, and eco-friendliness. You should make it a goal to stay in places that will have the least impact on the land.

Be Careful With Your Fire

You really can’t have a camping trip without a campfire – but you need to be responsible.

Make sure you research any fire bans in place before you go and only build your fire in a designated fire pit.

Keep the fire well away from your tent, sleeping bags, or anything else that’s flammable – and keep it to a manageable size.

Of course, you need to avoid burning food, as this will attract critters. Really, you shouldn’t be burning anything but wood.

After you’re done, don’t put the fire out and leave the site immediately. Pour water on it and wait 45 minutes to ensure that all the flames are out.

Use Solar Lanterns and Chargers

Sure, you can stock up on D and AA batteries to power your flashlights, headlamps, and lanterns – or you could spend just a little bit more to get something that runs off solar power. Not only are these lightweight, but they are also better for the planet.

Make DIY Snacks

The last time I went camping, I came back with a backpack that was brimming with plastic wrappers from all the snacks I’d eaten.

I had patted myself on the back for lugging all this trash back out of the woods with me – but I didn’t pay much thought to the fact that I really didn’t need to be bringing those snacks in the first place.

Consider making your own DIY snacks and meals. This is a far healthier and more eco-friendly way to deal with hunger pangs while on your camping trip.

Stay on the Trail

As is the case with choosing “off site” camping spots, venturing off the trail and “bushwhacking” can be exciting for some.

Don’t do this. Trails are in place for a reason – they’re better for minimizing the impact hikers have on the environment.

Not only that, but trailblazing can cause native plant lives to be trampled and cause more soil erosion. You could also get lost. Follow Trail markers and cairns and stay put.

Take Care of Business…the Right Way

You never know when nature will call! But make sure you are doing your business the right way.

First, bring your own toilet paper (obviously) along with a bag to dispose of it in. Make sure you’re doing your business (#1 or #2, it doesn’t matter) away from the campsite.

Aim to be at least 200 feet from the closet campsite or water source.

When you go, dig a hole that’s at least six inches deep. Cover it when you’re finished – and don’t leave the toilet paper behind, please.

Camp Responsibly! Mother Nature Will Thank You

Camping can be a great way to connect with nature and get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, but it can also leave a big environmental impact.

If you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint while communing with the great outdoors, consider these tips for going green when camping. From packing materials to waste management, we’ve got you covered.

Have you tried any of these methods for reducing your environmental impact while camping? Let us know in the comments!

green camping pin image

updated 04/05/2022

7 thoughts on “5 Ways to Go Green When Camping”

  1. Suzanne Michele

    These are great suggestions! I also love to go camping, but not sure when we’ll be able to go again!

  2. Clancy Harrison RD

    Great tips! I live so green in my day to day but it goes bad when we camp b/c I am all about convenience. Thanks for the tips.

  3. We do the metal water bottles and everyone carries their own. It making camping and hiking easier and greenier. These are great tips.

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