Winding our way up the mountains from Licola into the Alpine National Park, the kids and I opened our car windows to inhale the intoxicating scent of rain on dry earth and leaf litter. It’s a smell that makes me giddy, I can’t explain why. It feels instinctual – connected with life and with nourishment. I wasn’t put off by starting our three day camping trip in the rain. This trip (as are all our camping trips) was about experiencing the natural elements and developing an appreciation for nature.

Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.  Albert Einstein

Plus, we have camped often enough in the rain to know that it doesn’t stop children from having fun or adults from taking time out from busy schedules. Camping (and other nature based activities) for me is a time to reset. A peace settles over me that I only wish would last longer upon my return home. I believe being in nature has even more profound benefits for my young children.

Nature tops the list of potent tranquillisers and stress reducers. The mere sound of moving water has been shown to lower blood pressure. Patch Adams

Tammy swimming in the river.
I took a dip in the river whilst the sun shone hot on our second day.
Alby fishing mid-stream
Alby fishing mid-stream.
Ainsley jumping into river from rock
Ainsley leaps from a slippery wet rock into the river. Nature gives children opportunities to learn what their bodies can do.

I love how camping offers a simplified living experience. That is, living with less, doing as much as I can myself, not producing so much waste, and children and adults going about things at their own pace. Why? Because all these things benefit the environment and enrich our lives. In the past, I’ve always generated some rubbish whilst camping but I’m very strict with the ‘take out what you take in’ rule of hiking and camping. This time I aimed for zero waste and achieved it! Here is a summary of our camping trip…

My camping backpack of reusable kitchenware.
My camping backpack of reusable kitchenware and other bits and pieces. Note how small my esky is.

Camping with less and with no waste

This is a list of all the things we took with us and some that we didn’t. We stayed at one campsite for three days with no facilities except a vented improved pit toilet within walking distance. The list might seem long but it packs up quite small, almost entirely into the boot of my car. Because we camp as much as we can, we keep most things prepacked (like my kitchen backpack in the photo above). It means we don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about what we need to bring each time.

  • Two person tent and small hammer for pegs
  • Small brush and pan to clean tent when packing up
  • Two self inflating single mattresses that fit three of us when pushed together
  • Three sleeping bags. No pillows. We used our clothes and towels instead
  • Three towels
  • Three fold up chairs
  • Lantern with LED lighting
  • One roll of toilet paper, which is obviously composted in the pit toilet.
  • Three toothbrushes with toothpaste
  • One bar of unpackaged soap and a face washer
  • First aid kit which we didn’t use so there was no waste from this
  • Sunscreen bought in a bulk size container from a supermarket. I don’t know of any other option for sunscreen. We didn’t run out so technically no waste produced
  • One fishing rod with tackle
  • A cricket bat and ball
  • No screens! Not even books or paper and pencils. I wanted the kids to immerse themselves in the experience
  • A pocket knife
  • Newspaper and matches for fire lighting
  • Firewood collected from my parents farm. A fire was lit in the designated fire ring and used for warmth, cooking, heating water, drying clothing, socialising, and relaxing. No camp stove because I knew we would have a campfire. I wanted to make the most of having a fire because apparently they aren’t the most sustainable option for cooking. However, it may be that burning the wood releases a similar level of carbon as it would during the decaying process, making camp fires carbon neutral. If anyone knows more about this I’d love to hear from you.
  • A small hot plate, kettle and pan
  • Tea towel and dish cloth
  • Four mugs, plates, spoons, knives and forks; a small chopping board, sharp knife, and tongs
  • 10 litre water container that we keep and reuse every time we go camping, plus three individual stainless steel water bottles
  • Collapsable tub for washing up
  • Small fold up table
  • Minimal clothing, and
  • Esky, with reusable cold packs and ice blocks made at home.
Billy, pot and boots by camp fire
Our campfire turned out to be necessary for drying boots, chairs and clothing after the huge downpour and thunderstorm. My parents and my three sister’s families camped with us. The billy and pot in this photo are theirs, so the fire got a lot of use!

I’ve listed the food separately as I think this is what generates the most waste whilst camping, although I’ve come to realise that some people plan to use all sorts of disposables for camping. This astounds me – for a start is there anything more annoying than trying to cut up your food on a disposable plate with a plastic knife and fork whilst resting it on your lap? Then you have to take all that rubbish out with you!

Snacking on some nuts between meals
Snacking on some nuts between meals.

I’d like to say that I came up with a fancy meal plan but I left it till the day before we left to organise and I hadn’t been shopping. Nevertheless, we ate good enough.

Breakfast:

  • Cereal measured out into a suitably sized container
  • Milk from home in a glass bottle
  • Eggs from our chooks
  • Toast (bread purchased in my own cloth bag)
  • Jam in glass jar that will be reused
  • Eggy bread

Morning and afternoon tea/ snacks:

  • Homemade muffins in an air tight container
  • Homemade biscuits in an air tight tin
  • Nuts in a container
  • Apples, pears, bananas (small amount of compost was brought home in one of the emptied containers)
  • With more time I would have made marshmallows too

Drinks:

  • Homemade lemonade in a glass bottle
  • Water in our reusable bottles and 10L container
  • Milk
  • Milo in a small jar
  • Usually I would enjoy some alcoholic beverages late in the evening but I chose not to on this occasion.

Lunches and dinners:

  • Toasted cheese sandwiches (cheese brought in an airtight container)
  • Sausages purchased in my container
  • Tomato sauce in a small container
  • Pre made cous cous and roasted vegetable meal in a container
  • Pre made salad
  • Lemons for juice to dress the salad
Sausages cooking over the fire.
Sausages cooking over the fire.

So that’s it, no waste. It might seem like a lot of weighty containers to pack but it’s actually not. Just choose the right sized containers for the amounts of food you need. Also, we weren’t hiking overnight so nothing needed to be carried more than 20metres from the car! Wash up as you go, like you would at home. That way all you do when you return home is pack the camping stuff away until next time.

Doing things at our own pace

I’m so glad I severely limited screens and other forms of entertainment on this trip. The kids never had a dull moment and Alby was very determined not to leave. I was entertained just by watching them and helping them out now and again. There’s so much to share that I’m saving it for my next post (No Nature-Deficit Disorder here).

Kids around the campfire.
Kids around the campfire, a place to calm down, contemplate, tell stories, sing songs and belong to a tribe.
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10 thoughts

    1. Thanks Nadine! I was a bit stressed when I realised I didn’t have any time to shop the day before I left. Just proves if you think hard enough you can make stuff from what’s already in the house. 😄

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  1. How do your family respond to your actions. I get hassled about taking our reusable stuff from DH’s family when camping, but they camp where there are rubbish bins and just love dumping everything there.

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    1. Hi Jess, over the years this has happened to me. I still get hassled by 1 or 2 people but I no longer care. It used to really bother me but now that I have taken a stance, they seemed have backed off and are even coming around. I’m hoping the community we create here will help people through these issues and let them know that they aren’t alone. Keep at it if you can. If you have kids they will learn from what you do.

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  2. Great article! Do you know of any online resources for zero-waste pack hiking? When every gram and inch of space counts, it’s too easy to use ziplock bags for everything, even if you cook and dry your own meals at home. Even though I re-use those ziplock bags many times over, as you know they break too easily and so become waste after a few uses.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Did you guys go to Licola? It looks like it. It is my favourite spot to camp. I’m trying to remember which time it was, I think November or Jan, but the river was full of tadpoles. The kids had a ball chasing them around and floating down the river.

    Im getting better with sustainable camping. I try to take along a bucket with a lid that we can then use as a ‘bin’. We generally go for a few days and there is some waste. Cans, etc.

    Sometimes we find dumped rubbish at campsites. I pick it up and take it home.

    We’re going up soon, I can’t wait!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s Licola. We love that area too. Improvement each time is good! It’s really disappointed coming across campsites full of rubbish. I just don’t get who does that. My kids really want to go back to this spot but I just can’t find the time these days – I need to make the time!

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