Greener Camping: Six Tips for an Earth-Friendly Trip Into the Wild

Just because you're feeling at one with nature doesn't mean your camping trip is eco-friendly.

Credit: Flickr/Steve Cyr

Our camping habits can have a big impact on the wilderness where we pitch our tents

What could be greener than camping? Rather than hanging out in the city on those sultry summer days, you’re off in the wilderness, sleeping under the stars, cooking over an open fire and exploring the backcountry.

Unfortunately, according to a few recent studies, loads of activities are greener than hoofing it to a Provincial Park and setting up your pup tent. Sleeping in the woods, it turns out, might be good for us, but researchers have found lower vegetation growth rates and depleted soil up to three years after camping has ended on a site. From gathering up nutrient-rich deadfall for firewood to dumping grey water into the bushes, our camping habits can spell toxic trouble for the wilderness we’re supposed to be enjoying.

But with a little care and advance planning it turns out that it’s possible to have a lighter impact and help keep those wilderness sites wild.


Tips for a greener stay in the woods:

  1. Think Used
    Unless you plan to be out in the wilderness every weekend, there’s probably very little reason for you to invest in the latest, most tricked out kit. Check out MEC’s gear swap, Craigslist and other used equipment stores for a backpack, tent or cooking supplies before buying new. And don’t forget to recycle your old camping gear for reuse the same way.

  2. Avoid Disposable
    In a world of disposable dishes and water bottles, one-time use razors, and pre-packaged snacks and meals that promise to make travel effortless, it’s easy to be seduced by convenience. But leaving no trace means more than carrying your garbage home again (or tossing it in the right bin)—it means thinking about what you’re carrying in, in the first place.

    Buying in bulk instead of individually wrapped products will reduce your waste and your impact. By packing meals in reusable containers (nesting ones are nice for this), avoiding disposable dishes and packing out recyclables (rather than tossing them) means you are not creating more garbage on your foray into the forest.

  3. Stay on the Trail
    Getting off the beaten bath or setting up your tent on virgin land might seem like the best way to reduce your impact, but these actions can lead to soil erosion and the trampling of native plant life. Sticking within your site’s boundaries and on paths helps protect fragile plants and minimizes the disruption to animals living nearby. Keep in mind that every time you veer off a path, you create an opening for others to follow.

  4. It’s Okay to be Grubby
    Campers are supposed to stink a bit—it’s kind of a badge of honour. But when you do wash up, clean your dishes and your body with non-toxic, biodegradable, phosphate-free soap. And be sure to dump your grey water (old dishwater) in designated areas, away from fresh water sources and not in the bushes.

  5. Think Rechargeable
    Flashlights are helpful for seeing when it gets dark (and making scary bear-shaped shadow puppets on your kids’ tent). But be sure to power them (and any other electronic equipment such as a GPS) with rechargeable batteries, or even better, with solar power or hand cranks.

  6. Fires Burning
    There is nothing like a campfire and s’mores after a day in the woods. But keep campfires small and contained to a pit and don’t burn plastic, metals or woods that have been treated with chemicals. Only burn wood provided by the campsite or what you’ve brought in—collecting deadfall depletes the surrounding forest of important nutrients. If you use an outdoor grill, dump the ashes in your fire pit or dispose of them in designated areas.

Turns out the old adage “get off the beaten trail” might not be a green idea (Image: Flickr/Luke Wisely)

How do you keep the wilderness green? Add your tips to the comments section.