Overnight Breaks, Travel

The Best Sustainable Camping Gear & Tips For Eco-Friendly Campers

Got a camping trip planned for 2021? Let’s chat about eco-friendly sustainable camping gear and tips to help minimise your impact on the environment.

With restrictions in travel still expected to be in place this summer, and the advice continuing to be not to go abroad this year, it’s likely that the boom that we saw in camping last year will continue into 2021 and beyond.

The problem is that 2020 saw a rapid increase in environmental problems related to camping. So, as well as having a look at the best sustainable camping gear out there, as well as some tips for minimising your impact on the environment when you do camp.

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The Best Sustainable Camping Gear

The most sustainable camping gear is always the stuff you already own or can borrow from a friend, or can buy secondhand. Ask your friends if you can borrow their gear, and if not, try Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, or Ebay. You might come across some real bargains.

If you can’t find what you want secondhand, then here are some suggestions of sustainable camping gear that you may want to invest in. I’ll try not to make it too in-tents…! :)

The Most Sustainable Tents

Vango recycled tent - part of my guide to sustainable camping gear

No camping trip is complete without a tent, as each trip starts and ends with a good-quality tent that can protect you from the elements. That’s why finding the right tent is a must before you head off on any adventure, be it wild camping, glamping, or a campsite holiday. Here are the most sustainable tent options for your camping trip:

Rent A Tent

If you can’t borrow a tent, or find one secondhand, then another super sustainable option is to rent a tent. Many companies allow you to hire one of their tents. Simply tell them when you are going camping, and how long your trip will be for, and they sent out a tent to you. They will even arrange collection when you get home. Other companies may allow you to pick up and drop off their tent.

Organisations to try include:

Refurbished Tents

If you’d rather buy your own tent, then try Camping Recycled. This is an initiative set up by Vango to sell tents and caravan and vehicle awnings that function as intended but can’t be sold through their retail partners. These include samples, demo kits, and refurbished products. This helps divert stock from landfills and has the added bonus of being a bit kinder on your pocket too. Your consumer rights aren’t affected – unless otherwise stated, Vango accepts returns within 28 days of delivery.

Tents Made From Recycled Materials

Vango has also introduced a National Trust Collection, which is a collaboration between Vango and the National Trust. Their collection of tents in this range is made from Sentinel Eco™ fabric – a fabric made from recycled plastic bottles which come from waterways, streets, and landfills.  I’d like to see all of Vango’s tents being made from this material, as a single eco range does not make for a sustainable brand, but it’s a solid start.

Plastic-Free Tents

The investment eco option is a canvas bell tent. Plastic-free, 100% cotton canvas bell tents have better breathability than conventional tents, and, being stronger, have a longer lifespan.  However, you have to be very careful with canvas bell tents. You should never put the tent away damp as mould and mildew can take hold and damage and rot the tent. I’ve never bought a bell tent so don’t have any recommendations for suppliers, so it’s best to ask around, as these can be pricey investments.

The Best Eco-Friendly Sleeping Bags

eco-friendly sleeping bags for camping

There are a few sustainable sleeping bags on the market to add to your sustainable camping gear kit bag. I’ve specifically looked for sleeping bags made from recycled materials that are PFC-free. PFC stands for per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals, that are used to weatherproof outdoor gear. This sounds innocuous, however, these chemicals accumulate in the environment, and for some PFCs there is evidence that they cause harm to both the hormonal and reproductive systems in both humans and animals, as well as being carcinogenic. Greenpeace has written more on the issues of PCFs if you wish to find out more.

Exped Litesyn Sleeping Bag

The LiteSyn sleeping bag from Exped* (£177.56), pictured above, is perfect for camping trips from late spring to early autumn, with iits -2°C comfort rating. This one is a good sustainable choice for any camper. Here’s why

  • Its synthetic fibre filling is made from recycled polyester.
  • The fabric is certified as bluesign approved. This is an independent verification that certifies that in each step in the textile supply chain only approved chemicals, processes, materials, and products are used. This means these products are safe for the environment, workers and customers.
  • It carries the STANDARD 100 Oeko Tex label. This means you can be certain that every component of this product, i.e. every thread and zipper has been independently tested for harmful substances. This assure you that the sleeping bag is non-toxic.
  • It’s PFC-free.

Marmot Idlewild Sleeping Bag

The Marmot Idlewild Sleeping Bag* (£129.95) is made from recycled polyester and is filled with a recycled synthetic fibre filling. Reassuringly, it’s also PFC-free. This one is suitable for summer camping trips, so has a shorter usage window than others.

Nordisk Mummy Sleeping Bag

The Nordisk Mummy Sleeping Bag* (£123.95) is a three-season sleeping bag, with a -5°C comfort rating. It’s PFC-free and made from recycled polyester.

The Ethical Rucksacks

Millican ethical rucksacks for camping

Of course, you need somewhere to transport your clothes and camping gear.

In terms of ethical rucksacks, I really rate Millican rucksacks. The 25L Smith The Roll Pack** is made from 100% recycled polyester yarn made from post-consumer waste, on both the outer and lining fabric. This makes it a great sustainable choice when upgrading your camping gear.

What’s more, even the hardware is made from infinitely recyclable aluminum, rather than plastic. A repair service is also offered. This ensures that your rucksack stays in tip-top condition year after year, camping trip after camping trip.

If you are looking for something smaller to take on hiking trips or other everyday adventures, Millican’s core collection** is worth looking at. Take 10% off at Millican with the discount code MORAL10 – valid until 30th September 2021.

You can also see my post on ethical backpacks for more ideas.

Environmentally Friendly Camping Stoves & Cooking

A sustainable alternative to a gas-powered fossil-fuel camping stove is a wood-fired camping stove. I came across this Biolite Camping Stove (£225) that is powered by wood. What’s more, the heat generated by the stove also charges up your mobile phone. SO handy!

Alternatively, if you want a decidely more budget-friendly wood-burning camping stove for your sustainable camping gear kit bag, then try this Robens Wood Burner Camping Stove (£27). It simply cooks your food without fossil fuels, which is all you could possibly need from a camping stove.

To light your stove, say goodbye to plastic fossil fuel-powered lighters or soggy matches with a Fire Stick, such as this Wildo one. This a fool-proof and fun way of lighting a stove. Simply strike the striker off the flint for sparks to light your stove with. I bought my partner one a few years ago, and he loves it.

Sustainable Camping Tips

Even if your camping gear isn’t sustainable, it’s arguably more important that you act like a sustainable camper. Having an understanding of the Countryside Code is key. However here are a few more environmentally friendly camping tips to consider.

Consider Where You Camp

Official camp grounds are the best places to camp. This is because they are set up to cater for campers, and often have bathroom facilities and facilities for cooking, washing, and refuse collection. Wild camping – where you camp on public or private land without permission – is allowed in most places. However the rise of irresponsible wild campers means wild camping is gaining a bad reputation. And not only that – many remote communities don’t have the infrastructure to deal with an influx of waste caused by tourists. Consider if the area you are camping in can support wild camping before rocking up with your tent.

Food

For short-trips, it’s a great idea to bring your own pre-prepared meals that you can warm up on a camping stove. Food that travels and reheats well includes soup (I’ve got loads of vegetarian soup recipes here) and pasta. Alternatively you can decant shop bought food into reusable containers. This means that should there be no bins where you are camping, or no recycling facilities, then you won’t leave any waste.

If you do need to take food with you, do consider its disposal. If your campsite doesn’t offer composting, then for short trips, try to bring your food waste home with you (in a sealed jar, for example). And if the campsite doesn’t offer recycling, again try to bring that home with you rather than putting it into landfill. And if where you are camping has no bin (if you are wild camping, for example), them be sure to bring all of your waste home.

Cooking

Be mindful of where you are cooking. As well as being not great for the environment, disposable barbeques can cause fires. It’s therefore important to take extra care not to cause a fire when you are cooking.

The best advice is to cook using a stove, rather than lighting an open fire or a disposable barbeque. If you do need to light a fire, then the Scottish Outdoor Access Code offers good advice. They say:

“Keep it small, under control, and supervised – fires that get out of control can cause major damage, for which you might be liable. Never light an open fire during prolonged dry periods or in areas such as forests, woods, farmland or on peaty ground or near to buildings or in cultural heritage sites where damage can be easily caused. Heed all advice at times of high risk. Remove all traces of an open fire before you leave”.

Using designated barbeque areas is also important, as it keeping a bucket of water nearby at all times.

How To Do The Toilet Outdoors Responsibly

If you are wild camping, then it’s important to be a considerate toilet goer. The most sustainable advice is to know in advance the location of public toilets, or establishments that may let you use their bathroom facilities.

However, even the best laid plans can see us caught short. If you’re outdoors with no access to toilets, then there is some general advice that you should follow.

Weeing Outdoors

If you need to urinate, you should do so at least 30 metres from open water or rivers and streams. Always bag and bin toilet roll – never leave it on the ground, as it takes a surprisingly long time to decompose.

Pooping Outdoors

If you need to poo, you have two options. Bag it and bin it, as you would do with dog poo. That means you should be prepared to carry the bag until you find a suitable bin to dispose of it in. Carrying some compostable dog poo bags* in with your sustainable camping gear kit is therefore a really good idea in this circumstance, even if you don’t have dog.

If you don’t have a bag to hand, then the Scottish Outdoor Access Code says you should do so as far away as possible from buildings, from open water or rivers and streams, and from any farm animals. Once you are done, you should bury the faeces in a shallow hole and replace the turf. It’s good practice to carry a small trowel with you if you are wild camping for this purpose. I think this is good advice to follow, whether you are camping in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK.

Don’t bury toilet roll, wet wipes or period products. These should be bagged and binned when you find appropriate facilities.

Leave No Trace

Finally, when it’s time to come home, then bring home everything at the end of your trip. Even if your tent breaks, or there are no bins, or the bins are overflowing, it’s no excuse to dump rubbish. Take it all home, and dispose of it in your own bin.

Any more sustainable camping gear recommendations or tips for being a responsible camper? Do share! You can also check out my posts on the best ethical outdoor gear and ethical coats and jackets in case of a rain!

Eco-friendly camping advice
Resources

What Is The Difference Between Biodegradable and Compostable? A Lot.

Wondering what the difference is between biodegradable and compostable? Is there any difference? Well, it turns out, yes, there is a huge difference. Let me break it down for you.

The green market is growing, making it easier for environmentally-minded shoppers to find products that align with their values. According to Ethical Consumer, environmentally friendly spending has swelled to over £41bn a year, as UK consumers’ shopping habits increasingly reflect their concerns about the environment, animal welfare, social justice and human rights

Likewise, the number of products with environmental claims on their labels and websites is also increasing in a bid to attract a share of this green pound. And no doubt you will have spotted the word biodegradable on a number of self-proclaimed eco-friendly products.

However the term biodegradable isn’t a particularly helpful term when it comes to deciding what eco-friendly products to buy. Let’s have a look at what biodegradable actually means, and how it compares to it’s often confused cousin – compostable.

The difference between biodegradable and compostable - explained

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Collins Dictionary defines biodegradable as “something that breaks down or decays naturally without any special scientific treatment“.

When used in relation to selling sustainable products, it’s certainly a term that sounds good. A product that decays naturally – what’s not to love? However, when you start to consider what that really means, it unveils a host of problems hiding behind a name.

The term biodegradable doesn’t mean that an item is compostable. Rather, it essentially means that an item can be broken down into increasingly smaller pieces without any intervention from us. The trouble is, pretty much everything we use or create can be called biodegradable. This is because eventually, given the right conditions, everything will break down. From food waste to wooden products that may biodegrade or compost in a number of weeks or months. All the way through to plastic bags and even car tyres that could biodegrade in several hundred years or more. You wouldn’t call a car tyre compostable though, would you?

Plastic Bags and Biodegradation

Let’s look at plastic bags as an example. When plastic bags biodegrade, they don’t break down into natural components. Instead, biodegradable in this sense means that the plastic bag just breaks down into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces become microplastics – small pieces of plastic less than five millimeters long. These microplastics become more problematic than the original carrier bag because you can’t clean up these tiny pieces. And what’s more, microplastic can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life, as well as human life.

Biodegradation Needs Certain Conditions to Work

The other trouble with the word biodegradable is also the caveat “in the right conditions” that isn’t in the Collins Dictionary definition, but is an important omission.

You see, objects often need certain things in order to biodegrade. Organic material, for example food, requires oxygen. This is because organic waste is broken down by bacteria, that require oxygen to be able to function. Food waste also requires warmth and water. The by-products of this form of composting – also known as aerobic biodegradation – are heat, water, and a small amount of carbon dioxide.

Organic material, such as food, CAN breakdown without oxygen, but this is not without its problems. This form of biodegradation without oxygen is known as anaerobic biodegradation. Biodegradation without introducing oxygen means the breakdown of the organic materials takes much longer. This process also causes a significant amount of methane to be released into the atmosphere. Methane has around 20 times the global warming potential as the same amount of carbon dioxide, so it’s a huge problem that is not in any way environmentally friendly.

In today’s tightly packed and sealed landfills, waste gets mummified, without oxygen. As a result, items may never fully break down, even biodegradable or compostable items that end up in landfill. This article about food waste being embalmed in landfill is equal parts fascinating and horrifying.

What this shows that biodegradation as a marketing term is meaningless, unless the retailer provides advice or solutions on how to dispose of the item correctly at the end of the item’s life. If that product ends up in landfill, then it’s no better than a product that was not marketed as biodegradable. I wrote more about this in my article on eco-friendly bin bags, should you wish to explore this in more detail.

What About Biodegradable Plastics?

Biodegradable plastics are not much better. I’ve written in detail about if biodegradable plastics are good for the environment. In short, most biodegradable plastics are classed as code 7. This places them in the ‘Other’ category of plastics.  Code 7 plastics are generally not accepted for recycling by local councils.  The reason being behind this is that biodegradable plastics are harder to recycle due to the addition of chemical additives in them.

Why Are Brands Able to Use The Term Biodegradable?

Brands are able to use broad-sweeping claims, such as ‘biodegradable’, and even ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘sustainable’ or because these words have no clearly defined or quantifiable meaning. These terms also don’t convey information about specific environmental benefits. This means they are not breaking any particular advertising rules. In fact, there are no specific anti-greenwashing legislation in the UK, despite this form of greenwashing being confusing to customers.

However, there is some hope. At the end of 2020, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) began an investigation into whether sustainability claims are being used to deceive consumers. In fact, just a few days ago, they published draft eco marketing guidance for businesses and they are now currently seeking views on this draft guidance. When published this may change things a little, however the ambiguity of the term biodegradable may remain.

What Does Compostable Mean?

biodegradable or compostable

Collins Dictionary defines compostable simply as “capable of being used as compost“.

When you look at the difference between biodegradable and compostable in these terms, it’s clear there is a big difference. A plastic bag could be described as biodegradable, but you wouldn’t dream of using it to make compost. Meanwhile, food waste can be describe as compostable because that breaks down quickly into organic matter that can make compost.

So surely, anything that is labelled as compostable is good for the environment? You would think so. However, the term compostable is not without its troubles. The term can be used to describe items that are both suitable for home compost setups only, and those are suitable for industrial composting setups.

What’s the Difference Between Home and Industrial Composting?

Composting at home is suitable for most food and garden waste, however home composting isn’t suitable for many types of compostable packaging, such as coffee cups and food packaging. This is because in most garden compost heaps, the temperature is much lower and much less constant than in an industrial composting facility, and it can’t break down the material.

Fine, the local council can deal with then, surely? Well, there’s a problem. If industrially compostable materials are placed in household garden waste bins, they are often fished out and sent to landfill. This makes these types of compostable packaging worse for the environment than recyclable plastic.

In my article on the problem with compostable coffee cups I explain more about the problems with industrial composting. To give a brief summary, industrial composting facilities are not widely available in the UK. There are only 50 facilities in the UK, and not all of these currently accept and deal with industrially compostable packaging products. Therefore, many local authorities don’t have access to this type of facility. This makes it almost impossible for many to correctly recycle industrially compostable packaging.

What To Look Out For

For items that you can compost at home, look for the TUV Austria logo, specifically the label with the word ‘home’ on it, like the one pictured here. The OK compost home certification guarantees that a product can be composted within home compost heaps. TUV Austria also certifies products suitable for industrial composting, however this has the words ‘industrial’ on it.

TL/DR?

Biodegradable and compostable are often used interchangeably to describe a product’s end of life. However, they actually mean very different things. Biodegradable is a meaningless term when it comes to making sustainable purchasing decisions, and is a form of greenwashing. Instead, look for products in home compostable packaging instead, that will break down to form compost. Until facilities in the UK catch up and are available to all, industrial composting is another type of greenwashing.

What Should I Do?

With most aspects of sustainability, the answer to the compostable vs biodegradable conundrum is to consume less stuff, and to lessen our dependence on disposable and single-use items.

However, sometimes we do actually need to buy things that we need. In this instance, question items labelled as biodegradable. Ask the brand what they actually mean by this, and if they have any independent certification to verify their claims. If you’re not satisfied with the answer, ask them where you should best dispose of the product at the end of its life. As the makers of a product, they are responsible for making products that can be responsibly disposed of or recycled at the end of their life.

For items that manufacturers claim to be compostable, check for labelling. If you can’t find a TUV home compostable label, then contact the retailer or manufacturer for clarification on whether these items are suitable for home or industrial composting. As waste and recycling facilities vary across the country, it’s also prudent to check whether your local council accepts industrially compostable packaging and products for composting. Don’t assume that yours does, as many councils don’t accept these kinds of materials. Including mine.