Minimum impact & lightweight camping

by Karen Bourdin

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints – words to live by in the backcountry – or front country for that matter. Taking care to protect our common environment, whether it’s on a mountain, ocean beach, or shore of one of our many beautiful lakes and rivers, we can all do our part.

Fire bans must always be observed. When setting up a camp in a wilderness setting, the general rule about campfires is that if there is a fire ring in place, go ahead; if not, then a campfire spot should only be established in an emergency, i.e. for survival. Taking driftwood from beaches is preferred over taking firewood from the forest as those deadfall pieces do give back to nature. Before retiring for the night or paddling away, always be sure the fire is completely extinguished, using water and/or sand and stirring the coals.

Disposing of kitchen waste can be a challenge. If you use the pack-it-in, pack-it-out method, as with all garbage generated, you’ll be fine, but only on short trips. Some garbage may be burned, but this is a very limited list. Never dispose of food waste in an outhouse as it will attract bears; and never dispose of food in any form in or near fresh water sources. It is generally best to create small bags of waste and keep it cached along with your food, but most definitely separated!

Paper plates are not a good alternative to reusable dishes due to their flimsiness and disposal issues. Dishes, cutlery and pots and pans should all be washed with a biodegradable soap such as Campsuds. The wastewater should be strained of food bits then flung over a large area that is 30 m from a water source, and from your tent. Spreading the water over a large area minimizes the impact on one particular spot. If possible, spread over a non-vegetated area. Again, don’t dump in the outhouse.

Personal hygiene – while some people tend to ignore this on a trip, their paddling buddies, and tentmate will appreciate some effort! Brushing your teeth may seem simple, but what to do with all that fresh minty spit? Again, 30 m from a water source and your tent and pour some fresh water on the waste. If you’ve got a campfire going and there’s no one sitting there watching you, spitting into the pit is a good choice.

Do not do your personal bathing in or near a fresh water source, think about those downstream of you trying to get a drink, yuck! Take a pot or basin of water away to a private place (please) and dispose of as above. Personal wipes, intended especially for the “undercarriage” are a great alternative and can easily be used in the privacy of your tent without having to worry about spilling a pot of water. Keeping a Ziploc in your tent for disposing of these and used tissues, etc is a good idea.

So you find a great camping spot, set up your tent and kitchen, then discover there is no outhouse, what to do!?!? I will only lightly touch on this subject by saying “cat-hole or coffee can? “ then recommend the humour-filled book How to Shit in the Woods – An environmentally sound approach to a lost artby Kathleen Meyer. You will find this entertaining read in the PIKA library.

Having started out my wilderness training as a backpacker, packing light is the only way to go for me; whether I’m backpacking or kayak tripping. Self inflating mattresses come in a myriad of shapes, sizes and weights. Be sure to choose one that will afford you a good night’s rest. Air mattresses are not recommended as the air inside them gets cold and stays cold and so will you. An inexpensive alternative is closed cell foam, usually blue or yellow. While they provide excellent thermal value, they aren’t even a little bit comfortable. Open cell, (the big squishy foamies) will soak up any moisture in the air

When choosing a tent, look for something that is all nylon and avoid tarp bottoms as they are heavy and really won’t keep out the weather very well. You are better off getting a piece of heavy duty, vapour barrier weight plastic and cutting it to fit the footprint of your tent. Same deal with tarps, they make nice lightweight nylon tarps, so there’s no need to bring the 18’ x 30’ blue monster that will fill half a hatch. Also avoid the cheap yellow nylon rope, it’s bulky and doesn’t hold knots very well, unless you’re trying to untie one. Look for the white nylon diamond braid rope. The 1/8” x 50’ package will cost under $4 and is sufficient for most tarping situations.

Kitchen gear for 4 people: one or two single burner white gas stoves, I highly recommend the Coleman Featherweight if you can find one; a set of nesting hike pots consisting of two pots, a saucepan and one lid; a small coffee pot; folding kitchen sink (or use your large pot to wash dishes); a flexible cutting board; some small cooking utensils (think bamboo because you can cut the handles down on spoons and flippers); a sponge with a scrubbie on one side (instead of a dishcloth); and all each person needs for eating is a flat bottomed bowl, mug and some lexan cutlery, all of which you will keep in a mesh bag and hang the dishes to dry.

I will end with a few personal gear tips: bring a pillowcase to stuff some clothes in and create a pillow rather than packing a large one, cut a piece of foam or foam pillow in half (very squishable), or buy a small travel pillow; the regular cotton towels we use at home should be left there, you’re better off with a quick drying chamois style facecloth and towel. Finally, large flashlights aren’t really necessary. A good quality headlamp will help you find your way to the outhouse and blind your fellow campers, and we always want to have more than one use for every piece of gear we bring along!