Glamping is all the rage these days, but can you glamp and still be easy on the environment? The term glamping encompasses a huge range of outdoorsy experiences. Glamping can mean duvet covers in the woods, 1500 thread count sheets on plushy mattresses, mini houses on wheels, solar showers and gizmo gadgets, lounging in hand-woven hammocks, and generally relishing luxuries that aren’t normally available in the great outdoors.
But glamping doesn’t have to mean having all the urban creature comforts during a camping adventure. What we love about camping is a chance to enjoy a closer connection to the outdoors. So for us, creating a high luxe experience in the woods kind of defeats the purpose. Plus all those luxuries can come with a high cost to the environment, especially in wild areas.
Let’s define glamping to mean creating a glamorously green camping experience that enhances our experience of sleeping in the woods, and at the same time honors Mother Earth.
Imagine this! The glam in our camping can come in the form of ice for kids' drinks and adult beverages (chilled, organic local white wine, yum!). How about comfy air mattresses or thick sleeping pads, a hammock and chairs for lounging? Love to cook? Try packing a full camp kitchen decked out with real dishes and pots and pans (we have some great tips below for washing them!).
Time to play? Don't forget the floaty pool toys when you’re near lakes and rivers or the bikes for afternoon rides. Reward yourself at the end of the day with a full s’mores bar for dessert (think homemade marshmallows and gourmet chocolates), ice cream (we pack it with dry ice), and other yummies that are too bulky or heavy for traditional backpacking.
Whatever luxuries you bring along when you glamp, or however you define glamping, here are some of the ways we keep the fun high and the impact low.
#1 Bring reusables
Doing dishes in the woods can be a hassle and it may be tempting to toss the paper plates and plastic forks into your pack, but with proper planning mealtimes will be served with reusable elegance and clean-up will be a breeze.
Bring reusable silverware, plates and cookware. There are a variety of greener options available — from divided trays and plastic-free Blue Water Bento food containers that can be used for eating as well as cooking. Cooking and eating out of the same container is a great way to save on dishwashing.
Remember, no matter how eco-friendly your dish soap is, wash your dishes away from lakes, rivers and streams and dump your dirty dishwater at least 200 feet away to avoid polluting the water.
Here are our go-to’s for doing dishes while glamping:
- a small basin/bucket, sponge and biodegradable soap;
- a clothesline to string between two trees plus a few clothespins
- a mesh bag to pin up on the line with your wet dishes tucked inside so they can drip dry
#2 Use Eco-Friendly Body Products
Sometimes outdoor conditions (swarms of mosquitoes or blazing sun) might make you want to reach for the strong chemicals—but don’t! They’re toxic to the air, water and animals you’ll be visiting, as well as your own health.
Most of the soaps, moisturizers and cleaning products we use are full of chemicals and other unnatural ingredients, so pick up some eco-friendly, biodegradable toiletries. And remember, just like washing dishes, wash your bod far away from water – we use a solar shower bag and/or a bucket.
Some eco-friendly body care products we love include bug sprays like Burt’s Bees All Natural Outdoor Insect Repellent and Badger Anti-Bug Balm. Bugsprays are easy to make with essential oils too, and you can find dozens of effective recipes online that contain zero DEET and other yucky toxins.
When it comes to sunscreens, check the Environmental Working Group's Sunscreen Guide where you'll find some of our favs that are win-wins for people and planet. Check out Beyond Coastal, Goddess Garden, All Good and others ranked No. 1.
#3 Buy used gear
Lots of outdoor stores sell gently used gear and you can often find some high quality stuff at a great price. It’s a great alternative to buying something new that’s lower quality and cheap. Craigslist, freecycle, and your local outdoor store are a great places to look for quality, used tents, backpacks and other camping gear. We also love swapping or trading websites like swap.com or swapitgreen.com. Other options are outdoor store swap meets and second-hand stores.
#4 Leave battery-powered gadgets at home
Say goodbye to being plugged in for a few days. Leave unnecessary gadgets at home. If you have a sleeping pad or air mattress that needs to be inflated, use a foot pump. Instead of bringing tunes and a speaker, switch it up and listen to the sounds of nature or bring a book.
The two exceptions: a flashlight and a cell phone. For lighting, find something solar-powered like the Suaoki Camping Collapsible Lantern or the D.Light S20 Lantern, which was designed as a social impact solution for Third World families. You might also want to bring along a solar charger to keep your emergency phone charged up.
#5 Do your business the right way
Here's what you'll need if your campsite doesn't have bathrooms or an outhouse: a small shovel, a partial roll of toilet paper to save space, a small plastic bag (yes, plastic for this purpose) and hand sanitizer (choose carefully so it’s non-toxic).
When it's time to go, find a spot at least 200 feet away from campsites and water sources — regardless of whether it's number one or number two.
Dig a hole about 6 inches deep before you get down to business, and be sure to cover it up afterward. Put your soiled paper into a bag to throw away when you get back to civilization. If the idea of putting that bag back into your pack is too much for you, burn it in the campfire. Just remember: That may be the same fire you're cooking over.
#6 Bulk and reusable water bottles
It happens all the time… families haul in cases of bottled water to their campsites. Just don't do it. It's easy to eliminate the unnecessary trash plastic waste creates, which dramatically lowers your carbon footprint and protects our oceans, rivers, lakes and streams.
Instead, bring a reusable Klean Kanteen water bottle, fill a large container, like the elegant and non-toxic Stainless Steel Fustis Beverage Dispenser, and refill your water bottles. If you’ve got a clean water source like a stream or a lake nearby, a backpacking water filter (we love no-pump gravity filters) is a great way to resupply.
#7 Camp nearby
More fun doesn’t mean more driving! Cut down on both travel time and emissions by camping in a nearby state park or campground. Search the U.S. National Park Service for a park near you, or search for a local national forest that allows camping.