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Eco Camping – what is it and how to do it

Eco Camping – what is it and how to do it

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If you haven’t caught onto this by now,  I love the outdoors. And what better way to experience the outdoors than camping? Whether you’re car camping, front country, or backcountry camping, you really should be trying to follow eco camping principles whenever you go.  This means trying to reduce your impact on the environment around you, which is especially important now since so many people have come to discover the beauty of outdoor adventure.

Wedgemount lake hike and camping (4 of 4)

The ultimate guide to eco camping

In this guide to eco camping, you’ll learn more about what is eco camping, why you should do it and, most importantly, how to go eco camping! I am by no means perfect when it comes to this, but what counts is that you’re trying to reduce your impact and, as they say, practice makes perfect! 

What is eco camping?

Eco camping is used to describe environmentally friendly camping. This involves everything from where you go camping, how you get there what equipment you’ve bought and what you do once you’re there. You might have also heard it called ‘zero waste camping’ or ‘sustainable camping’. 

It takes time to learn these things and it comes with practice, no one is an eco camping expert from the get-go! But, with a little bit of research (like reading this eco camping guide), and sharing knowledge with your friends, more of us will be aware of how to reduce our impact.  

The benefits of eco camping

There are numerous benefits of eco camping for the environment, wildlife, and for yourself too! Leaving your chosen campsite as you found it (or in an even better condition!), means more people can get outside and enjoy these beautiful places.

Reduces your impact on the environment

Over the last few years, more people than ever before have discovered the joys of outdoor adventure. And that’s great, I’m here for more people realising that!

What’s not great, is that this has led to noticeable increases in waste (human and non-human) being left in the wild, on animals being harassed and eventually shot by conservation officers as they become too habituated to humans, and to places being closed when locals and Indigenous communities can bear to see these places, their homes, become ruined. It’s also one of the reasons behind the ‘gatekeeping’ that goes on on Instagram. 

Eco camping takes all this into account and promotes practices, such as Leave No Trace which helps reduce our impact on the environment. You can learn more about this here.

Promotes environmental conservation

I believe that if people get outdoors into beautiful places they’ll gain a better understanding of why we need to protect them. If you explore beautiful places and see first hand what’s so special about them and the wildlife that lives there, you’ll be far more likely to want to help protect them.

And what better way to fall in love with the outdoors than camping in beautiful places? Eco camping is all about this.

Reduces greenhouse gases

Camping typically has a much lower footprint than other accommodation options when you travel; especially when you’re eco camping. A lot of camping is done nearer home without a flight (fewer travel emissions) and uses not much (if any) power. That second benefit is also a great mental break from social media and the need to feel constantly connected.

Immerse yourself in nature

As the years go by, more and more research is coming out about the power of nature for healing and mental health. I for one always feel better when I spend time outdoors. Going camping is one of my favorite ways to spend the weekend.

Saves money 

Camping is often cheaper than other accommodation options too though this depends on the type of camping you’re doing and where you’re doing it.

National Parks often charge more for camping spots and campgrounds with facilities such as showers and electric hookups will also be more expensive. However, there are plenty of ways to find free camping in the US & Canada too!

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Top tips for sustainable camping

Now that you know the benefits of eco camping, let’s turn to how you can practice sustainable camping and have more eco friendly camping trips! 

Where to camp

Planning an eco camping trip starts with deciding where to camp. This applies to both the area you plan to travel to, and the area you actually end up pitching your tent or camper. 

When it comes to deciding where to go camping, stick to less popular parks or those that have a reservation system limiting the number of campers that can go. Too many people in one area can damage ecosystems as there’s a limit to how many people they can support – especially in sensitive alpine areas. Plus, it’s much nicer to camp somewhere less crowded anyway. Provincial and national parks generally get more budget and protection than un-managed areas so opt for them over an unmanaged, busy area.

That doesn’t mean you’ll never get to camp at a beautiful spot! Simply travel in the off-season. Try camping in late spring or fall or go during the week when the area is quieter. 

When it comes to picking a suitable campsite, only use designated campsites if available. That means stick to the tent pats that are already there and not just putting up your tent wherever you feel like within parks. If you’re in an area where this isn’t an option you should:

  • Pick a spot with naturally cleared flooring ie. where it’s clear someone has camped before
  • Camp at least 60m/200ft away from a water source to avoid contaminating it
  • Avoid moving or damaging vegetation to pitch your tent
  • Don’t camp in spots where rain could gather as this could lead to a soggy sleeping bag – not fun
  • Camp away from the trail for your own peace of mind and not to disturb others
  • If you’re hammock camping, be sure to tie on to sturdy trees and use straps rather than rope as to not cause damage

Getting to your campsite

If you can, carpool to the destination or take public transport to reduce your emissions and promoting eco-friendly camping. Companies such as Parkbus take you straight to the most popular parks, such as Garibaldi, which can be difficult otherwise.

Or, up your adventure level and add a cycling element to your camping trip with bike packing! 

Minimise packaging

When it comes to packing camping food, it can be difficult to minimise the packaging when dehydrated foods, energy bars, and everything else come in their own bags. However, there are some things you can do to reduce the amount of packaging when camping.

  • Make your own dehydrated food: this cuts down on packaging from single-serve dehydrated food packs. Store your own dehydrated meals in silicone bags, or reuse ziplock bags each time.
  • Wash single-use bags after use to reuse them
  • Use silicone bags – I use these
  • Use a reusable water bottle
  • Decant toiletries from your regular bottles into smaller containers rather than buying travel-sized minis. 

Rent, reuse, repair & buy second hand, good quality gear

If it’s your first time camping, or you’re not a regular camper, don’t go out and buy everything straight away. Ask friends if you can borrow some of their gear or rent from MEC or other outdoor stores. This was you’re not only extending the lifetime and use of other items, but you could potentially save yourself a lot of money if you decide camping just isn’t for you!

If you’ve got your own gear, look into repairing it before throwing it away. Zippers and tears can be easily fixed with more and more companies offering repair services. Don’t forget to check out your neighbourhood dry cleaners as they also offer repair services. 

When it comes to buying gear, however tempting it may be to buy cheap, don’t. Invest in high-quality gear and I promise you it’ll save you money in the long run. Cheaper gear breaks a lot easier and is usually from companies that don’t offer repair services. Camping gear isn’t cheap but you can make the most of Black Friday sales on outdoor goods, or buy second-hand through Facebook marketplace or community groups. 

When it is time to retire your gear, you could sell it on to someone just getting started on their camping journey. Or, donate it to community groups if it’s still high quality! 

Eco-friendly camping products without highly toxic chemicals

You should also think about the products you’re using when camping. For eco camping in particular you’ll want to avoid adding chemicals from soaps, sunscreen, bugsprays and toothpaste to the sensitive environments you may be visiting. 

Take all-natural, non-toxic products such as the below to avoid chemicals getting into water systems or being digested by wildlife. 

Correctly dispose of your human waste

Human waste contains a lot of, well, waste. Despite the fact it’s pretty gross to come across it while you’re out exploring the wild, it’s also harmful to both the environment and wildlife. 

If there’s an outhouse available then use it (and also don’t throw your trash in it!). If there isn’t an outhouse available then be sure you know how to dispose of your waste appropriately. This means carrying a small trowel with you and digging a hole at least 6 inches deep and covering the hole once you’re done. You must also pack out your toilet paper – do not bury it! For number 1s you can use a kula cloth which means you don’t need to use toilet paper. 

If you’re unsure about eco camping toilet methods then I highly recommend the book “How to poop in the woods“. 

The basics are:

  • Be at least 60 metres/200 feet away from a food or water source 
  • NEVER poop on the trail –
  • Dig a small hole, do what you need to do, then cover it. Some areas require you to take your waste with you so make sure you check before you go.
  • Always pack out your toilet paper

Correctly dispose of greywater

While some campsites have a designated grey water disposal area, not all do. This doesn’t mean you can just dump water where you want and especially not into a water source! Eco campers should follow these rules when emptying dishwater, washing pots and pans, or brushing their teeth. 

  • Scrape excess food into a garbage bag before washing your dishes
  • Use a very small amount of biodegradable soap – a lot goes a long way!
  • Once you’re done with dishwater, walk it 60m/200 ft from away from your campsite and any water source
  • Dig a hole 6 inches deep
  • Pour the greywater into the hole and cover the hole

Pack out what you pack in

Everything you bring with you should also leave with you (apart from what you’ve eaten!). Every wrapper, bit of packaging, or empty container must come back with you. This especially includes cigarette ends if you’re a smoker. 

Be responsible with campfires

If you’re planning to go camping and want to have a campfire, make sure you’re in the know about the campfire rules and regulations in that area. For example, in BC campfires are not allowed in the backcountry. In the summer months, there’s often a provincial or regional fire ban too. 

In locations you are allowed to have a campfire, you should never down trees yourself. Front country campsites in BC usually have a park operator from whom you can buy firewood or you can find it at stores and gas stations.

Always use the provided fire pit at a campsite and keep your fire contained within it.

If fires are allowed, always make a fire pit to contain the fire. To do this, build up a ring of stones and ensure you’re 4-5 metres from trees, tent, and bushes in case of wind. You should always have at least 8 litres of water on hand too just in case something goes wrong and you need to put out a fire. There are more top tips for having a safe campfire in BC here

Never leave your fire unattended, even if only for a minute and make sure it’s well and truly out before you go to bed. This is the case whether you’re using a specified fire pit or one you just built yourself. 

Always respect wildlife

Respecting wildlife means making sure you don’t unintentionally attract it and ensuring you give wildlife plenty of space. This helps keep wildlife wild and ensures there are fewer negative human-wildlife interactions which usually end up with animals being killed. 

To avoid attracting wildlife while camping you should keep a tidy campsite: never leave out food or any utensils used to cook food. If you do happen to see wildlife, make sure you give them plenty of space. Don’t approach them or try and encourage them through feeding. 

Stay on trails

Always stay on designated hiking trails if you want to be an eco camper! 

It may be tempting to go off-trail a bit to get a better view or get closer to something, but when you do this it means others are more likely to do it too. When lots of people do this, the trail get wider, soil compacts, and then it becomes harder for plants to grow and for insects to move through the area.  Plus, the fungi, lichen and mosses that are growing above soil get destroyed and may not grow back leaving long-lasting damage to the ecosystem.  

Leave it better than you found it

ou may be familiar with the phrase “leave it how you found it”. Committed eco campers will leave it even better than they found it!

Once you’ve packed up all your camping gear, make sure you take a look around and ensure you’ve picked up everything. There might be a tent peg, a little piece of a wrapper or something else. Also, if you find something that isn’t yours, be an eco champion and pick that up too! 


Sustainable & eco friendly camping gear

If you already have good camping gear then use that – that’s the most sustainable option! However, if you are looking for a new item then take a look at these sustainable camping gear items. 

It’s never been easier to find sustainable camping gear than now with certificates and organizations sure as Fairtrade, B-Corp or 1% for the Planet. Look for these and you’ll know that the company follows more sustainable practices. 

Environmentally friendly outdoor clothing

A lot of outdoor clothing companies are shifting their focus to become more sustainable with repair services and secondhand versions of their online stores. Some companies in particular are ahead of the game and ensure they use recycled materials or just build great quality gear that’ll last you a long time. 

Eco tent options 

Unless you plan on using a hammock or sleeping in a van, a tent is essential for camping. This is one of the camping items that’s more difficult to source sustainably but it is possible. Here are a few options.

The North Face Eco Trail 2P

This The North Face sustainable tent is a durable eco tent made completley from recycled materials so you can sleep with a good conscience. 

Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2

Big Agnes is a company known for its ultralight tents which make them perfect for the eco friendly camper who loves backpacking trips. This eco friendly tent comes in three sizes and is made with solution dyed fabrice which reduces water consumption and pollution during manufacturing. 

Eco friendly sleeping bag

Though down sleeping bags are typically light and can be warmer than synthetic sleeping bags, they’re not the most sustainable. Synthetic bags made with recycled materials are a better option if you’re trying to become a more sustainable camper. Here are a couple of options to look into next time you need new eco-camping gear. 

Marmot Trestle range

The Marmot Trestle range of sleeping bags use recycled, Fair Trade and sustainable materials to keep you warm and cosy when camping. 

The North Face Eco Trail Synthetic sleeping bags

Again, The North Face are a grea toption for your sleeping needs while camping. The Eco Trail series are made from recyled synthetic materials and are a great sleeping bag all-round.