Image of the November 2018 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
November 2018 Issue
Home / Articles / Features

Zero-waste tramping

Tramping food for an overnight hike for two. Mushroom burgers for dinner, porridge for breakfast
Take only photos, leave only footprints, and certainly don’t leave your rubbish behind, writes Amanda Chapman

Having to lug out the smelly bag of group rubbish is an all too familiar part of tramping. It often feels like a chore, but with some forward planning it’s anything but. My friends and I only carry out a small ziplock bag of food scraps, despite cooking fresh group dinners. Leaving the forest as you found it gets easier if you reassess your relationship with trash, taking a load off the environment and your back.

Three years ago, I participated in plastic-free July. Afterwards, I realised I couldn’t go back to my wasteful ways. One of my first big zero-waste challenges was figuring out what to take tramping.

The vast majority of tramping rubbish is related to food – be it scraps, or the seemingly endless layers of unnecessary plastic. I didn’t have time to bake all my own snacks, and while glass jars worked fine in my pantry, tramping requires a less fragile and more lightweight approach.

I purchase food from bulk stores, getting just what I need, often packing it directly into my tramping containers. Zip lock bags, condiment cups, and reusable containers are lightweight, compact and stackable. They can be washed, and used again and again. Beeswax wraps help keep food or sandwiches fresh, and mesh produce bags are useful for storing and sorting food.

It’s harder to avoid waste from first aid kits, and this is one area in which I would rather not compromise. However, it’s possible to buy compostable plasters and there are numerous bamboo toothbrushes on the market. If you’re prone to blisters, hiker’s wool can also be washed, reused and, when the time comes, composted.

After my trips, I have a ziplock bag of food scraps for compost and a few grams of soft-plastics set aside for recycling. Paper packaging is used as a fire-starter in the hut stove. Here are a few of my top tips for a low waste tramp:

  • Buy food loose from the bulk store, or in recyclable or compostable packaging
  • Wrap fresh food in beeswax wraps, which helps keep it fresher longer
  • Wash and reuse plastic zip lock bags
  • Invest in a stainless steel water bottle and a water reservoir to avoid single-use water bottles
  • Buy cheese blocks wrapped in wax – the wax makes an excellent fire starter
  • Reuse paper bags to carry food. These also double as fire starters
  • Make your own snacks; buy bulk nuts and dried fruit for scroggin, bake biscuits, make hummus, dehydrate your own fruit and vegetables
  • Sort your waste while you hike, keeping food scraps in one bag and soft plastic in another