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If only we could wrap ourselves in the sunshine, forests and oceans that make up the great outdoors. Jump in and splash the brilliant colors of mother nature all over our senses, inhale everything green and heart-stoppingly beautiful.
Those of us with a passion for the natural world want to do everything we can to protect those precious landscapes. Even if we try and tread lightly by sleeping outdoors, it’s no secret that camping requires a ton of gear. That can feel at odds with our environmentally-friendly goals. But the good news is that, with a little effort, it’s easy to outfit your next family camping trip with products that focus on high quality and sustainability.
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Let’s start with the big one: a vehicle. I was excited when I found tons of listings for “hybrid” campers and recreational vehicles … until I realized that what it meant was a hybrid between a pop-up camper and a travel trailer and had nothing to do with hybrid electric motors. Those of us waiting for an electric vehicle RV will have to wait a bit longer. While RV manufacturers Winnebago and Thor have both released electric camper van concepts in recent years, those electric systems aren’t for sale yet. (Companies like CampervanCo offer hybrid electric campervans in continental Europe and the U.K., but there’s nothing available in North America in 2022.)
Camping enthusiasts who love electric cars and are in the market for electric trucks might want to look at the Rivian R1T EV truck, which features an optional camping kitchen as an add-on 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 anything you tow will impact your range significantly, so it will be best for shorter-distance camping trips 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 find its range cut when towing long distances on road trips. It’s a small price for electric vehicles and one that’s easy to navigate.
When it comes to tents, one of the most eco-friendly options I’ve found is to go secondhand. Use what you already have, borrow from a friend, or check out reputable marketplaces for secondhand camping gear, like REI’s used gear. You can also rent gear from businesses like Arrive Outdoors, who will deliver supplies to your home or to the place you are camping. Tents made from recycled material do 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’s Zephyr 25 sleeping bag boasts a shell, liner, and insulation all made from 100% recycled material. If you’re sharing space with toddlers, try The North Face Eco Trail Double Sleeping Bag, which is 100% recycled and offers spacious sleeping for you plus a kiddo or two. For bigger kids, try the REI Kindercone 25 Sleeping Bag, which has a shell and lining made from recycled polyester.
Camping requires a ton of gear, and that can feel at odds with eco-friendly goals. But with a little effort, you can outfit the next family camping trip with products that focus on both high quality and sustainability.
Staying hydrated is essential during any outdoor activity, especially when adventuring with kids. Make sure everyone stays healthy by giving each family member their own reusable water bottle. I like using stainless steel bottles, like a Hydroflask or Yeti Rambler. Thermos has a stainless steel straw bottle that works well for younger children. If you need something lightweight, try Nalgene’s Sustain line, which uses 50% recycled plastic.
When it comes to the camp kitchen area, the old-fashioned ways are the most sustainable: take reusable dishes and wash them! Get camping dishes, like the Uco Eco 5-Piece Mess Kit, and then wash them in a camping sink with biodegradable soap. If you feel you must absolutely use disposable dishes (maybe for a giant family reunion or if you need to chase your preschooler instead of washing dishes), then avoid single-use plastics and go with something biodegradable, like these compostable dinner plates and compostable cutlery from Repurpose. The samples they sent me felt like regular paper plates and plastic cutlery, but I love knowing they won’t be stuck in landfills for 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 again and again.
Biodegradable Toilet Paper
When you go camping, always take toilet paper. Yes, even if you are car camping 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 to try – I love that the packaging is plastic-free and that the paper itself is free from dyes and fragrances. But remember, if you’re backcountry camping 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’s compostable garbage bags and a pail with a lid to keep everything secure.
While I always like to make use of natural light when possible, I also like having lanterns available for after dark, especially during the fall. Biolite makes compact, portable lanterns with solar panels on their back, although they can also be charged via USB for days when the sun refuses to cooperate. With a single charge, the Biolite lantern offers up to 50 hours of illumination while in low-light mode. (Side note: Biolite is a carbon-neutral company and offers several other fascinating products, like a wood-burning stove that somehow generates electricity and charges phones.) I also like the classic style and versatility of this solar lantern with USB ports that can be charged with a hand crank in a pinch.
Something for Allergies!
If your family is like mine, outdoor adventures mean seasonal allergies. At home, we like to use cloth handkerchiefs for less waste, but we’ve found they aren’t practical when we’re on a trip. (Who wants to deal with snotty handkerchiefs?!) However, LastObject recently sent me one of their LastTissue reusable tissue packs, and it’s ingenious! Small handkerchiefs are bundled into a dispenser and pulled out one by one. Then the used handkerchiefs go into a divided portion at the top of the container to contain the germs until you get home. Now I want one of their big tissue boxes to use at my house.
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Especially for Kids
If you’re planning a family camping trip, there are a few extras you’ll want to be sure to pack. First, pick up some kid-friendly mineral sunscreen from Badger Balm (they make a stick version, but my kids always struggled to stand still when I tried to rub it in). Next, pack some outdoor play toys, like this recycled bucket and shovel set from Green Toys. Finally, don’t forget either wooden roasting sticks or the two-pronged metal ones for the ultimate camping essential: s’mores!
If planning an eco-friendly camping trip feels 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, try these ideas on you’ll be well on your way to becoming an eco explorer.
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