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If only we could wrap ourselves in the sun, forests and oceans that make up the great outdoors. Jump and splash the brilliant colors of mother nature on all our senses, inhale all that is green and breathtakingly beautiful.
Those of us who are passionate about nature want to do everything in our power to protect these precious landscapes. Even though we try to tread lightly while sleeping outdoors, it’s no secret that camping requires a ton of gear. This may seem at odds with our ecological goals. But the good news is that with a little effort, it’s easy to outfit your next family camping trip with high-quality products. and sustainability.
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Let’s start with the big one: a vehicle. I was excited when I found tons of ads for “hybrid” motorhomes and RVs…until I realized it meant a hybrid between a pop-up motorhome and a travel trailer and had nothing to do with hybrid electric motors. Those of us waiting for an RV electric vehicle will have to wait a little longer. While motorhome manufacturers Winnebago and Thor have both launched electric motorhome concepts in recent years, these electric systems aren’t yet for sale. (Companies like CampervanCo offer hybrid electric motorhomes in mainland Europe and the UK, but there’s nothing available in North America in 2022.)
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Camping enthusiasts who like electric cars and are looking for electric trucks may want to look at the Rivian R1T electric truck, which includes an optional camp kitchen as an addition to the base vehicle. This battery-powered truck can tow up to 11,000 lbs and can handle small travel trailers, but the added weight of whatever you’re towing will significantly impact your range, so it’ll be best for camping trips to short distance or destinations around electric chargers. The same goes for the popular Ford F-150 Lightning, which can tow up to 10,000 lbs but will have reduced range when towing long distances on road trips. It’s a small price for electric vehicles and easy to navigate.
When it comes to tents, one of the most eco-friendly options I’ve found is to go second-hand. Use what you already have, borrow from a friend, or check out reputable markets for used camping gear, like REI used equipment. You can also rent equipment from companies like Arrive outsidewho will deliver supplies to your home or where you are camping. Tents made from recycled materials exist, but most of them are only for one or two people.
Unlike tents, sleeping bags made from recycled fabrics are relatively easy to find. For adults, REI Zephyr 25 Sleeping Bag features a shell, liner and insulation made from 100% recycled materials. If you’re sharing the space with toddlers, try The North Face Eco Trail Double Sleeping Bag, which is 100% recycled and provides ample sleeping space for you and a child or two. For older children, try the REI Kindercone 25 sleeping bagwhich has a recycled polyester shell and lining.
Bottles of water
Staying hydrated is essential during any outdoor activity, especially on adventures with children. Make sure everyone stays healthy by giving each family member their own reusable water bottle. I like to use stainless steel bottles, like a hydroflask Where Yeti Rambler. Thermos has a stainless steel straw bottle which works well for young children. If you need something light, try Nalgene holding linewhich uses 50% recycled plastic.
Pro Tip: Be sure to buy a different colored bottle for each family member so everyone can tell at a glance which is theirs. These make great eco-friendly gifts to kick off a long drive to a campsite.
When it comes to camp cooking, the old-fashioned ways are the most sustainable: grab some reusable dishes and wash them! Get camping meals, like Uco Eco 5-Piece Mess Kitthen wash them in a camping sink with biodegradable soap. If you think you absolutely must use disposable dishes (perhaps for a giant family reunion or if you have to chase your preschooler instead of washing dishes), then avoid single-use plastics and go for it. for something biodegradable, like these compostable plates and compostable cutlery of Repurpose. The samples they sent me looked like regular paper plates and plastic cutlery, but I like knowing they won’t be stuck in landfills forever.
Upgrade those red Solo cups to these aluminum cups from Ball. Unlike plastic, which is difficult to truly recycle, these metal cups can be recycled over and over again.
Pro tip: We hand-washed our Ball Aluminum cups and saved them for reuse. They are surprisingly durable and easy to clean.
Biodegradable toilet paper
When you go camping, always pack toilet paper. Yes, even if you car camp near a site with bathrooms, because you can’t assume the stalls will have what you need (I learned this the hard way). Repurpose sent me some of their tree free bamboo toilet paper give it a try – I like that the packaging is plastic-free and the paper itself is free of dyes and fragrances. But remember, if you’re camping in the backcountry in remote locations, don’t try to bury any toilet paper. Most sites want you to pack it up and take it with you (yes, really). You can use Repurpose compostable bin bags and a bucket with a lid to keep everything safe.
While I always like to use natural light when possible, I also like to have lanterns available for after dark, especially in the fall. Biolite manufactures compact and portable lanterns with solar panels on the back, although they can also be charged via USB on days when the sun refuses to cooperate. On a single charge, the Biolite lantern provides up to 50 hours of illumination in low light mode. (Note: Biolite is a carbon neutral company and offers several other fascinating products, such as a wood-burning stove that somehow generates electricity and charges phones.) I also love the classic styling and versatility of this solar lantern with USB ports which can be loaded with a crank in a pinch.
Something for allergies!
If your family is like mine, outdoor adventures mean seasonal allergies. At home, we like to use tissues for less waste, but we’ve found that they’re inconvenient when we’re travelling. (Who wants to deal with snotty tissues?!) However, LastObject recently sent me one of their LastTissue Reusable Tissue Packs, and it’s ingenious! The small handkerchiefs are grouped in a dispenser and removed one by one. Then the used tissues go into a divided portion at the top of the container to contain the germs until you get home. Now I want one of them large boxes of tissues to use at home.
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Especially for children
If you’re planning a family camping trip, there are a few extras you’ll want to make sure you pack. First, choose child-friendly products Badger Balm mineral sunscreen (they make a stick version, but my kids always had trouble standing still when I tried to rub it). Then pack some outdoor toys, like this recycled bucket and shovel set of Green Toys. Finally, don’t forget wooden roasting sticks or the two-pronged metal ones for the ultimate camping essential: s’mores!
If planning an eco-friendly camping trip seems overwhelming, remember that sticking with what you have is sometimes the best (and greenest) option! But if you find it’s time to upgrade your gear, give these ideas a try and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an eco-friendly explorer.
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