One Happy Camper

Camping!  It’s a big part of why I live in Montana. From car camping to backpacking trips, the options are nearly endless.

For me, camping is a way to escape from the everyday slog. It is my way to unhook and connect with friends, family, and nature, to share simple meals and conversations, and go back to the basics and rediscover what I love about our natural world.

A few years ago I noticed my camping trips getting a bit trashy. I would return home with a garbage bag full of plastic food wrapping, food scraps, empty ice bags, and more waste than I would normally produce at home (by far). I made a commitment to spend the winter months coming up with a game plan, to plan and prep so I could avoid the waste with ease.

And then all of a sudden it was summer again and -whoops!- no plan. But I was committed to making every camping trip during the summer just a little less trashy. 

So, similar to my at home waste reduction journey, I started with the biggest waste culprit, which turned out to be food packaging. I made a menu before I went shopping. Not a novel idea but for some reason when I went shopping for a camping trip normalcy went out the window!

I opted for simple meals that were easy to prep, that I can buy in bulk,  and required  little or no cooking time on site. Dishes like quiche, oatmeal, smoothies, salads, sandwiches, and casserole-style rice or bean dishes. I washed and pre-cut all of the fruit and vegetables, baked some muffins or granola bars for snacks and (voila!) cut almost 90% of my food packaging waste and also drastically cut the time I spent cooking during my precious camping days. 

The next step was keeping all that food cool!.

It never fails: you arrive at your campsite, open up your cooler and realize that your reusable ice packs you thought were going to last days are already unthawed and going to be warm very soon. You send someone out to the nearest town for an emergency ice run and have to repeat again a couple days later. And the plastic bags pile up. 

I tried every reusable ice pack you could imagine, I read reviews, bought the best of the best and nothing worked as well as they were rated or did the job we needed it to. I almost gave up. Then  it hit me: it was my cooler! I bought this cooler in college (aka a long time ago) and it was by no means quality when it was brand new. So, I invested in a new high quality cooler and suddenly – like magic!- everything stayed cold, longer than expected. I also learned that much of the food I prepped ahead of time can be frozen, like the casseroles and baked goods.  Then that food helps keep everything else cool, and thaws quickly when you pull it out so it’s ready to eat when you need it.

And finally, I packed a couple extra containers to separate and store my compost and recyclables on the spot, making it much easier to sort out into my bins when returning home. 

With those simple switches, I started coming home from my camping trips with a quarter of the trash I had before.  My camping trips were less trashy and my mind a little more at ease knowing that I could enjoy nature without adding unnecessary waste, making me one happy camper!

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