If you’ve arrived at this article, you probably already know how great backpacking is. It’s an incredible experience that involves getting outside and reconnecting with nature. But, if you aren’t considering your impact on the environment when you go, you’re doing more harm than good. There have been countless times that I’ve seen waste snack bar wrappers just thrown into the hedge, empty plastic bottles discarded at campsites and even used sanitary products and filthy toilet paper left behind trees and rocks. (The worst occasion being on Ben Nevis, Scotland.)
The majority of this stuff will take hundreds of years to decompose, in the meantime causing serious harm to the natural world and animals—who mistake it for food or get trapped within it. When it does decompose, it then releases harmful chemicals into the surrounding environment and the cycle continues.
So it’s incredibly important to pick up litter, carry your own waste and protect the environment around you. An easy way to do this is cutting the amount of waste you take with you in the first place. Stock up on lightweight re-usable containers, pre-plan meals and get making your own cosmetics.
Instead of buying single-use plastic bottles, containers and cutlery that you’ll throw away, invest in some re-useable ones. They are usually much better quality, are free of harmful chemicals (like BPA) and will last for years.
1. Collapsible cups and bowls
These are ideal for camping as they are lightweight, fold down small and are easy to pack. There lots of different variants which makes life a lot easier. They include coffee mugs, cups, bowls, plates, washing up bowls and even dog bowls!
2. Airtight food containers
Airtight food containers are a must for zero-waste backpackers. Ditch the boil in the bags and stock up on couscous, oats, bulgar wheat and dehydrated veg. By soaking them, you don’t even need a stove and you can prep your meals as you go. Overnight oats with nuts and dried fruit make great breakfasts for the mornings!
3. Re-usable bottle
Ditch the single-use plastic one, and get yourself a lightweight stainless steel alternative. The planet will be thanking you.
4. BYO Cutlery
Did you know that every year six million tons of non-durable plastics, like spoons, forks and knives, are discarded? Put a stop to it and switch to re-usable cutlery. Bring your own from home or buy a multi-part camping cutlery set.
5. Material food wrap
Materials food wraps are a brilliant alternative to cling-film and plastic sandwich bags and are designed for wrapping up sandwiches and snacks. Most reusable lunch wraps are made of cotton and polyester and are BPA free. They are machine washable, easy to fold and lightweight.
6. Adjustable material bags
Opt for material bags of different sizes and use them as snack pouches for nuts, seeds and dried fruit.
The same ethos goes for toiletries. Look for plastic-free alternatives, and stock up on small re-usable containers you can store all of your necessary products in.
1. Bamboo toothbrush
Instead of buying a plastic toothbrush, get yourself a bamboo alternative. They are exactly the same, but are just made of eco-friendly biodegradable materials!
2. Homemade cosmetics
Pack your toiletries from home. Stock up on small re-usable containers and put things like face cream, cosmetics, toothpaste, sunscreen and homemade hand sanitizer in them.
3. Cotton washcloth
Ditch the wet wipes and opt for a cotton washcloth instead. After use, attach it to your backpack and let it dry naturally.
4. Menstrual cup
The menstrual cup is the most waste-free sanitary product on the market and with a bit of practice, it’s pretty easy to use. For more tips on how to deal with periods while hiking, check out my post HERE.
5. Bleach-free toilet paper & ziplock bag
Sadly there have been countless times I’ve walked through a forest and seen toilet paper in mounds behind trees and rocks. While many people think toilet paper just harmlessly decomposes, a lot actually contains bleach and harmful chemicals that leach into the soil and disrupt the environment. Plus it’s an eyesore. If you’re not a fan of the “shake dry” method, you can either use a pee rag which you should wash regularly or opt for bleach-free toilet paper. Once used, keep it in a ziplock bag and then flush the paper away when you’re at a campsite or back home. For more tips on going to the bathroom in the wild, see this post by REI.
6. Unscented biodegradable soap
All-purpose soap is really handy while backpacking as it can be used for all manner of things including washing yourself, your hair, cleaning clothes and even dishes. Make sure to opt for one that’s unscented and biodegradable and use it at least 200 metres away from any water source. That’s because biodegradable soaps need soil to be broken down. Use water from your container and a washcloth.
When buying all purpose soap, try and bulk buy. It saves money and packaging and you can decant the necessary amount into a smaller re-usable container.