Isn’t it weird that camping is about ‘getting away from it all’ but it seems to involve so. Much. stuff. Especially if small children are involved. We went with our little squirrels last weekend and, despite all my attempts to pack light, we ended up – as usual – with a mountain of gear.
Over the years, however, we’ve sussed out some ways to make our camping trips as low impact as possible, and today we’d like to share them with you. We’d like to hear your tips too, so do leave a comment below or get in touch! Let’s start with choosing your camping destination…
Where to go
We can all choose to support a campsite or glampsite that makes it easy for us to have a lower-impact trip as well as doing their bit to act as stewards of the beautiful countryside we’ve go to enjoy.
The Greener Camping Club has over 100 campsites to choose from, although you do need to become a club member to book.
Campsites.co.uk also lets you search by eco credentials. Wherever you’re heading, things to look out for include:
- Decent waste and recycling facilities;
- Solar, wind, or water powered facilities such as fridges, showers, or phone charging;
- Compost or grey water toilets;
- Support for local suppliers and farmers, for example through a campsite shop or cafe;
- Support for biodiversity, such as leaving field margins or parts of the site for wildlife;
- Carefully sourced firewood, if they sell it, including avoiding wood in plastic bags and mesh sacks;
- Choosing not to sell environmentally harmful items in the campsite shop, such as disposable BBQs, single use items, or common beach waste items such as easily breakable inflatables or body boards;
- A communal fridge so people can leave spare food for others;
- A drop off and pick up service from local public transport links so you can get there by bus or train.
There’s a tendency for fresh food to get wasted on camping trip, and there are two main reasons this happens:
- Not enough meal planning
- Taking too much food
In both cases we end up with leftover food that gets warmer and sweatier, more rancid and less appetising (and potentially less safe) as the camping trip goes on. Here are our tips for cutting out food waste from your next trip:
- It’s easy to accidentally waste things by taking too much – for example a whole tub of butter or a whole block of cheese that gets a bit boggin after a few days on a campsite. Decant smaller amounts of things like oil, butter, cheese, milk, spices, sauces, hot chocolate, and so on into little tubs, bottles or bags that seal well. We hoard the resealable pouches from things like nuts and cheese as these are great for packing up small amounts of food.
- Plan ahead so you know you’re only taking the food you need – don’t be tempted to chuck in that extra pack of sausages ‘just in case’! While meal planning, look at what you’ve already got in the fridge and incorporate it into your plans so you don’t come home to a fridge full of food that’s on the turn.
- Plan to cook more perishable things first. Plant based food will stay good to eat for longer than meat and dairy.
- If you’re cooking meals ahead, freeze them so they act as ice packs in your cool bag. You can also freeze drinks before leaving home to help keep your other food fresh, or make your own ice packs by filling old water bottles or milk bottles with water and freezing.
- Take a lidded tub for your compostable waste and, if there’s no food waste bin at the campsite, take it home with you. Don’t be tempted to toss your food waste in a bush – it will take a surprisingly long time to break down and could harm wildlife who shouldn’t be eating people-food.
Cooking and eating
- A bit of an obvious tip, but do try and avoid disposable items such as plates, cutlery, and cups. Second-hand sets of plastic picnic ware can be found cheaply on Ebay, or look at bamboo or coconut options.
- For most other cooking utensils – knives, peelers, pots and pans – you can take what you already have at home, unless space or weight is a consideration for your trip. In this case, look for second-hand first.
- Disposable barbecues are a bit of an environmental nightmare as we covered in our Planet-friendly Picnics post so don’t be tempted to pack one.
- Unless you’re cooking on a campfire you’ll probably be taking some kind of stove. If you haven’t yet bought a stove then you can choose from an alcohol/ spirit stove which burns meths, a gas stove that uses propane or butane (or a mix), or a biofuel stove which burns twigs and pinecones. This last category is the lowest impact but likely to be more fiddly and you do need to be confident that there will be somewhere to responsibly collect fuel where you’re camping – look for a model with the option to burn alcohol as a backup. In terms of a toss up between gas and alcohol stove, burning alcohol is the lower impact option (although it won’t heat your food as hot or fast) as methylated spirits is less harmful in its production and burning. It can be bought in 5 litre jerry cans and decanted into a safe fuel bottle for your camping trip, so nothing gets wasted. If you’re not familiar with using a spirit stove then do make sure you do your homework on how to store, transport, and burn this fuel safely as it’s slightly more hands on than just plugging in a gas canister.
- It’s still frustratingly hard to recycle a gas canister, as most councils don’t want to take them for safety reasons, although it’s worth a check in your local area. Ring round your local camping shops to see if any of them run a recycling scheme, and make sure your canister is totally empty before dropping it off – you can burn off the last bits of gas then pierce it carefully in a well ventilated area.
- If you don’t yet own a water carrier then it’s worth choosing one with a tap (read some reviews first to check it’s not a leaky boi) as large cans can be hard to pour from, especially if you’re filling a little kettle, without spilling and wasting a lot of water.
Cleaning and hygiene
- Solid shampoo and bar soap come into their own for camping trips as you don’t have to faff about pouring products into dinky little bottles. Solid deodorants usually travel well too but do take care about leaving them in hot tents as they can melt.
- If you’ve got small people and you normally use cloth nappies then a camping trip can seem a bit daunting! In my experience a couple of nights with washable nappies is doable with a large wet bag, but for any more than that I’d switch to disposables. Lower impact brands are much easier to find now, including Naty, Kit and Kin, and Beaming Baby.
- Avoid taking disposable wet wipes if possible – we absolutely love washable wet wipes and they’re a staple on our camping trips. Take a clean set of wipes in a tupperware, then take an extra tupperware or bag for dirty ones. Apart from bum wiping, an additional set of washable wipes is a useful thing to have, especially with kids around, for wiping sticky hands and faces.
- At home we keep a rag bag for cleaning, full of torn up old t-shirt, bed sheets and other old bits of cloth. I always take a bag of these camping as it’s so useful to grab something for things like wiping up spills or cleaning a greasy stove.
- Borrow, don’t buy. We already talked about this a bit on our Beach Junk post, but if you’ve got a library of things nearby then see what camping gear they have available and you could save yourself a lot of money! Ask friends and family to see if anyone can lend tents, sleeping bags, stoves, folding chairs, and camp beds. And it goes without saying – bring it back in good condition!
- Tents can be repaired and made water repellent fairly easily, and replacement toggles and other bits and bobs can often be ordered from the manufacturer. Air beds can be patched, and if you’ve got a torn sleeping bag or broken zip you can post it off to Scottish Mountain Gear for repair and cleaning.
- It’s so tempting when we get back from a trip to shove everything back into storage but future you will be so grateful if you put aside an hour or so to dry off wet gear, clean everything up, and get it in good condition for your next trip.
- There are a lot of camping gadgets out there! Think carefully about whether they’ll really make a positive difference to how much you enjoy your trip.
- Take carrier bags or bin bags to bring your waste and recycling home with you if there aren’t facilities at the site.
- Never have a fire without permission of the site owner, and check if they want you to have it in a particular place or put it up on bricks.
- Camp with love for the local area. Support local businesses, leave the campsite tidier than you found it, forage for food and firewood with care, and leave no trace.
We hope these tips come in handy!
In our final Sustainable Summer post next we’re going to share some tips for making your garden or outdoor space wildlife friendly as we move into autumn. If you’d like to get all our summer resources straight to your inbox each week – plus a month’s free membership of The Something Club – just pop your details in the form below. And if you try any of these tips do let us know! Leave a comment below or tag us on social @bemoresquirrel