Ask Eartha: Talking about sustainable camping

Megan Wagaman
Ask Eartha
Leaving nothing behind but laughter and a trail is the best way to camp!
Courtesy photo

Dear Eartha, I am ready to roast some marshmallows without toasting the planet. How can I embark on an eco-friendly camping adventure?  

I recently returned from camping with pockets full of snack wrappers. How is it that I generated more trash while “roughing it” than I do on the daily?!  While camping is an excellent way to disconnect from those pesky notifications and reconnect with nature, a little planning will make for a more eco-conscious camping trip.  

Let’s talk gear 

The lowest impact product is one that you already own. Start with your closet and resist the latest eco-friendly gadgets. If you are missing some camping essentials, consider renting them before purchasing. In Summit County you can rent camping gear from REI. There is also secondhand gear that can be found at REI, Patagonia, Recycle Sports in Frisco and online through OfferUp. 

Let there be (solar) light 

Harness the power of the sun throughout the day and let it illuminate your campsite even when the stars are taking center stage. Consider using rechargeable batteries for headlamps and other battery-powered items. And to be extra prepared, always bring a backup light, or a battery pack to recharge. 

Minimize packaging 

It can be really hard to avoid disposable packaging. Rather than having an individual bag for every item for each day, try packing all ingredients into a single bag.  If you can spare the weight, bring reusable containers.  

There are some plastic-free packaging options, too. Beeswax wraps can be used to wrap sandwiches and are easily cleaned with cold water and soap. Or try silicone bags: yes, they can be bulkier, but once you are home they can go in the dishwasher. If you must bring plastic bags, consider washing and reusing them. Staying hydrated is crucial. When car camping, guzzling bottled water like it’s the apocalypse is a big fat no. Instead, opt for large refillable jugs that make drinking and refilling your Nalgene quick and easy.  

Green cuisine 

Whether you are car camping or backpacking, food is what many look forward to most. Whipping up gourmet camping meals can be easy with correct planning. Although dehydrated backpacking meals are easy, they can get expensive and sometimes contain unhealthy additives. If you are an avid backpacker and enjoy the lightweight versatility of dehydrated meals, purchasing a dehydrator may be the best option for you. 

Embrace the sustainable foodie in you by packing organic, locally sourced ingredients when camping. Not only will it make the tummy feel better while camping but celebrating great food in the great outdoors is the best. The Fresh Off The Grid website offers easy DIY recipes for car camping, lightweight backpacking and everything in between. Bonus tip: Acquire and bring reusable utensils, plates and cups to keep your outdoor dining chic.  

And, ahh, the sweet sizzle of food hitting the pan, it’s such a satisfying sound in the wild. But what about those empty propane tanks? Fear not, they can be recycled. There is a catch: They must be completely empty. Some campers puncture the propane tank with a drill to confirm the propane is entirely gone; however it’s critical to understand the safety risks before attempting that. Once completely empty, tanks can go in the scrap metal recycling containers at the drop off sites or to the Summit County Resource Allocation Park. Visit for details. 

Waste and wildlife: Leave No Trace 

When car camping, consider bringing separate containers for trash, recycling and even compost. If you compost at home with the free food scrap program, bring scraps home along with the trash and recycling. Some campgrounds even have locked food boxes to protect wildlife from nabbing your yummy snacks.   

While backpacking, consider using an old bread bag for your backcountry trash. Pack it all out and separate when you get home; it won’t take much more effort to drop that banana peel in your home compost bin. Check out Leave No Trace for best practices on storing food while camping. 

Nature is your neighbor, make friends! 

While these tips and tricks will have you ready to explore the great outdoors in style, remember that leaving nothing behind but laughter and a trail is the best way to camp. So how do we leave a place better than how we found it? Visit for more sustainability tips and ideas.  

Megan Wagaman
High Country Conservation Center/Courtesy photo

Megan Wagaman is the marketing and fundraiser coordinator for the High Country Conservation Center. Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the center, a nonprofit dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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