Sustainable Practices On and Off Trail

How Camping/Backpacking is Anti-Consumerism and Pro-Minimalism

Photo by Morsa Images

Photo by Morsa Images

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“Just enough is as great as a feast.” - Norman Brooks

Read that again—truly mind blowing.

Shortly after the industrial revolution took place, the world changed. More products and goods could be produced and were in demand. People wanted more stuff and consumerism boomed. Our lifestyle began to value having the nicest car, a white-picket fence, and a house filled with items that were pretty to look at but mostly useless.

This desire for more products led to large factories that directly fill our air with harmful pollutants and continue to destroy our natural world. It wasn’t until people began to question that way of life and escaped cities to national parks when a minimalistic and anti-consumer attitude was shaped into a cultural revolution. Camping and backpacking are intrinsically simple and minimalistic lifestyles—you take only what you need.

Within the past six months, I’ve been working to slowly reduce the amount of waste I produce and create a lifestyle that is as friendly as possible to our beautiful planet—and I’ve been learning a lot along the way. From food waste to non-recyclable or compostable trash—on and off trail—I hope to live a more sustainable life to help preserve our favorite views.

Here are a bunch of things I’ve learned for how to live a sustainable life both on and off trail.

Off Trail

Living a sustainable life off trail helps to preserve the planet in the long run—meaning those trails we love will be around for years to come.

The food we eat plays a large role in sustainability. That’s a big reason that I decided to explore a vegan lifestyle. Now, I’m a big advocate for listening to your body and eating what makes you feel good. That being said, our current livestock farming techniques are unfortunately not sustainable, and in fact are doing more harm for our planet than good. If instead we ate the wheat that we use to feed cows, we would save land, water, and would have enough food to end global hunger. That being said, if we can raise livestock sustainably, I’m all for it.

Photo by Waldemar Brandt

Like many farming practices, the products we buy can be harmful to our favorite trails. When in doubt, always try to shop local, second-hand, or from eco-friendly brands. Some of my favorites are Cotopaxi, Patagonia, Vaude, and La Sportiva, but there are plenty more companies that are environmentally responsible when making gear. But before you go out and buy new gear, think about whether you can fix what you currently use first. This is a great way to save money and reduce your carbon footprint. Make sure to take really good care of the gear and clothes you do have to make it last as long as possible before needing to buy new.

Today, buying new gear often means tearing off plastic labels and other non-recyclable materials. To lower the amount of waste you create, try to shop from brands that use compostable or recyclable wrappings.

When it comes to toiletries, I’ve been either making my own from simple items most households have or buying from markets that do not wrap everything in plastic. Minimizing single-use items and replacing plastic with glass or metal or compostable packaging are amazing ways to lower your waste production.

This year I’ve also started my own vegetable garden and compost. I dug around my yard for some worms, threw all of my vegetable scrapings in with some dirt and voila. I now use the compost in my garden. My kale is currently sprouting and I am psyched. Composting your own scraps and growing your own vegetables is a really cathartic process and very rewarding. If you don’t have the space, look around your neighborhood for communal plots, which will often have a composting section as well.

Photo by Markus Spiske

Try making your own cleaning supplies, toiletries, or cosmetic options instead of buying them in plastic bottles. Or if that doesn’t sound interesting to you—reuse those plastic bottles later on.

Now, the last thing I focused on is my period. Check out this article I wrote solely on how to deal with your period on the trail with some helpful tips that work for me.

On Trail

On trail is probably one of the simplest places to be eco-friendly. However for newer campers and backpackers, it can be hard to know where to start. So here are some suggestions.

Leave No Trace. Now that might be a “duh” moment, but we’ve all been on trail and seen an empty plastic water bottle or label laying in the grasses—rudely disrupting the beautiful views. Before you leave a campsite or any place you’ve stopped on trail, double check you didn’t miss any piece of trash laying around. I like to keep a trash bag easily accessible during the day so I can quickly and hassle free throw trash away.

Side note: one person's trash is another's treasure. Instead of throwing everything away, think about creative ways to reuse the item. For instance, plastic water bottles can be cut open, filled with dirt, and topped with some kale seeds or a succulent. In other words, reuse what you can.

When you’re on trail and you are done for the day and eating dinner, make sure to literally lick the bowl clean (because you will probably want to anyways). In reality, using soap to clean pots with chunks of food is a great way to attract wild animals and harm the natural vegetation. Camp clean doesn’t necessarily mean using soap. You can use sand or pine needles or grass to wash out your pots and pans and rinse with some water.

Speaking of soap, never introduce soap into water sources like streams or rivers. I was camping next to the Colorado River and I saw an older couple jump into the river and start using shampoo to wash their hair. That shampoo then polluted the river. Gross. Instead, take a pot of water at least 200 feet from the source and rinse there. Or just don’t wash your hair.

Photo by Mickey Dziwulski

Something a lot of people love to do at camp is have a campfire—myself included. There are ways to do this responsibly and safely. Before you even leave the comfort of your couch make sure to look into any fire bans in the area. If you are in the clear, make sure to put out the fire extremely well before heading to bed to ensure you aren’t the reason a wildfire ends up destroying a forest.

Finally, overtoursim is ruining trails and parks. While everyone wants to head to Yosemite or Yellowstone, trying heading to less visited spots. I guarantee they will still be breathtakingly beautiful, plus they’ll be quieter and you may even enjoy trails without seeing crowds of other people.

This planet we are so fortunate to live on is gorgeous. We are so lucky to live in a world that has the most beautiful beaches, deserts, and mountains. Let’s keep it that way, my dudes. Interested in going low waste? Vegan? Or just want to be more eco-conscious? Hit me up with any questions and we will learn together. If you have any other tips or tricks definitely let me know!

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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