4 Tips for Reducing Waste on Your Next Camping Trip

The title of this post should be “Camping, Take One,” because it was the first time Nick and I have camped by ourselves. I was as excited for the opportunity to pack some homemade plastic-free food (in case we failed at building a fire) as I was to spend a couple days in nature. Spoiler alert: We did not make a fire, but we also didn’t try! More on that later.

Last weekend, we headed to an RV/camp park near Forks, WA on the Olympic Peninsula.

Now let me make things clear here: I do not think traveling by car and using a tank of gas is in any way zero waste or low waste but until I have my own little house with solar panels that power my electric car… our little VW Golf will have to do. And we could have completed this journey on foot with public transit but in the interest of time, we took the car.

I’m calling this take one of camping because I’d definitely like to try it again with the lessons I’ve learned from this trip.

On a scale of preparedness from 1-10 (1 being totally unprepared and 10 being a mix of Bear Grylls and a doomsday prepper prepared) we were about a 7. We knew this would be a more casual park and camp situation and so we worried less about prepping.

Zero Waste Camping Tips

1. BYO-water:

If you’re car camping for a weekend, I recommend bringing a large jug of water with you. I have a massive, 128 oz glass jug that I filled with tap water and threw in the trunk. This way, we never had to worry about needing plastic bottled water. Since we went out to eat a couple times that weekend, we didn’t need all the water I brought. My plants drank the extra when we got home. Also, we left the jug of water outside overnight and in the morning it was nice and cold.

2. BYO-reusable water bottles

This isn’t a note specific to camping (we bring our water bottles wherever we go) but I still want to mention it. You’ll want to bring a smaller amount of water with you while you’re on the go for hiking, walking along the beach or strolling around a new town. I’m attached to my water bottle and always need to have it with me wherever I go at home, too!

3. Rent stuff

We live in a 750 sq foot apartment with limited closet space and this was our first time camping. Instead of buying stuff we might only use a couple times a year at best, we were able to rent gear at our local outdoor shop. REI also does rentals if you have one of those nearby. We rented a tent and sleeping pads and it was a pretty reasonable deal ($60/3 nights). Plus we supported one of our fave local businesses, Ascent Outdoors. Score!

So, if you’re not sure this is something you’ll be in love with, try renting gear before you buy your own.

4. Buy used before new

A month or so ago, Nick and I went on a hike inside a 2.5 mile tunnel and we knew we’d want to have headlamps. We also knew we couldn’t rent these, and that if we were to start camping more, they’d be useful. Our local store not only rents gear but has a great selection of used gear (love them so much!). I found a used headlamp which was actually from the guy who sold it to us, lol. I got lucky that day because they actually had what I was looking for. Sometimes I’m not as lucky. When I can’t find what I need used, I will buy new. But if I have to do that, I try to find it locally instead of ordering online to save resources needed to package and ship the item.

What I Would Do Differently Next Time

This is tough to summarize because, as you now know, this was only our first time camping. As we camp more, I imagine some things will become more obvious. So take this as an incomplete list of woulda shoulda couldas and let’s get on with it:

1. Rent sleeping blankets or bring a winter comforter

Yeah, we underestimated how cold it would get at night during this time of year. We had a thick wool blanket and lots of padding underneath us, but that didn’t protect us completely from temperatures that dipped into the low 40’s. I was fantasizing about a cozy sleeping bag all night. Next time, we will rent a couple of those, too!

2. Rent a larger tent

Our tent held two people just fine. The larger one wasn’t available. Definitely more of a personal preference, but, if we car camped again, I’d opt for the bigger tent to have at least a little room inside to move around. The one we rented was pretty compact, lightweight and a great multi-purpose tent.

3. Rent inflatable mattress pads

So, those egg crate type pads? Yeah, they don’t work. They are light and fold up small, but it still felt like sleeping directly on the ground. I mean I guess that’s kind of the point when you camp? I don’t know. Would opt for mini inflatable mattresses (rentable!) next time or bring more blankets or pillows to sleep on.

Food We Brought:

We did not build a fire and cook over an open flame. Next time I’ll be more prepared to do so. We got to the campground kind of late at night and went to bed early both nights. Instead, I brought overnight oats in a jar and sandwiches I assembled at home. Both kept well overnight and into Sunday in the cooler we kept in the trunk.

Overnight oats!

We also brought an insulated growler so we had some beer to sip on during the trip. The insulated growler was a birthday present for Nick this winter and we love it so much. Plus, it keeps the beer cold for a good 24 hours so we don’t have to worry about fitting it in the cooler or fridge.

Next time I’d like to pack with the intention of building a fire and cooking over the open flame. It’d be neat to plan that out, from a zero/less waste perspective, and document what I brought and how it went.

Still, the oats and sandwiches were great to have on hand and kept well, and the beer was tasty too — for those who aren’t into the whole campfire thing!

Pictures from the Trip

I didn’t really document the zero waste aspects of the trip too much, just the stunning beauty of the Olympic Penninsula. I already want to go back. Enjoy!

La Push, Second Beach

Lake Crescent

What are your favorite places and ways to camp and what do you like to bring with you?

4 Tips for Reducing Waste on Your Next Camping Trip