organic vegetarian meals for the trail

Tips for a Lighter Footprint

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”— Gaylord Nelson

If you are reading this, then chances are you already do quite a bit to help the environment. So, we hope you’ll find something that you may have not considered before or just find encouragement to continue. With that said, we now offer you some tips that we practice as part of our daily life here at Outdoor Herbivore. Enjoy!

Clothing and Gear

  • Buy less clothing by purchasing higher-quality items that will last longer. Look for lightweight compressible and durable fabrics. Items made or blended with polyester, nylon, hemp, spandex (lycra), or wool are some good choices. These materials will provide strength and flexibility, are less subject to fading and shrinkage, offer better suitability for athletic wear (lower water retention), and extend the life of the clothing.
  • When there is a choice between purchasing material made of virgin material versus recycled, purchase the recycled! This tells the company you support the cause and encourages further adoption across other products and manufacturing companies. Outdoor clothing manufactures, such as Patagonia, Marmot, GoLite, and Sierra Designs use recycled fabrics.
  • Donate to charity any clothing you no longer wear. Items unfit for donation such as socks with holes, disintegrated underwear, faded t-shirts, and other worn-out threads can be recycled into dust cloths, grease cloths, or garage rags. Some of the outdoor product manufactures listed above will take back your used items.


  • Eat a diet rich in plants. Meat is a very carbon-intensive commodity. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has reported that the meat industry is responsible for 18 percent of global green house gas emissions, through fertilizer use, animal manure and the energy required to transport food and meat. Pasta, beans/lentils, nuts, oats and rice are efficient to produce and are an excellent source of calories, fiber and protein.
  • Buy organic foods as much as possible. Organic soils capture and store carbon dioxide at much higher levels than soils from conventional farms. If we grew all of our corn and soybeans organically, we’d remove 580 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere according to
  • Grow a chemical free garden. What can surpass plucking a tomato by merely opening the door and walking a few feet in your slippers? No retailer can beat that level of pure freshness.


Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 23 percent of the U.S. waste stream, as documented by EPA. Composting offers many environmental benefits, such as enriching the soil, preventing erosion, and diverting landfill waste.

outdoor composter

compost open

Outdoor Herbivore uses an outdoor compost. To make it easy, we keep a small pail under our kitchen sink and fill it with our kitchen compost. Every few days we’ll empty the kitchen waste into our larger backyard compost. There are also complete indoor composting systems (often using worms) to break down compost in as short as 3 weeks. There is no need to purchase worms for an outside compost. The worms will find your stash and establish a village. In as few as 4 – 5 months, the compost will break down into a nutrient rich soil, perfect for gardening. Don’t have a garden? Donate to a neighbor/community garden.

  • Compost indoor waste such as rotting produce, vegetable/fruit peels, coffee grinds, used paper napkins and paper towels, pizza boxes (not recyclable in our community), and confidential documents that have been run through the shredder.
  • Compost yard waste.  Have a separate compost for yard debris such as leaves, sticks and lawn clippings. You can use it as mulch in the following spring.

Reduce Plastic Bag Use

Hooper Bay in Alaska.  Image courtesy Travis S

All plastic bags can’t be banned entirely, but we can certainly manage without plastic shopping bags. Unfortunately, until we eliminate petro-based plastic bags entirely, they will continue to trash our oceans and landfills and cause harm to wildlife. Some things you can do include –

  • Cook camp food the traditional way inside of a cooking pot.  When in a group, cook the same meal for the entire group and serve it into individual bowls. When hiking solo, forgo the bowl and eat directly from the cook pot. This creates less waste. Yes, the clean-up will require rinsing out the cooking pot and utensils. Frankly, the clean up is no big deal — it takes just a few minutes if you purchase dried (dehydrated or freeze-dried) meals since you are only heating up (or hydrating) pre-cooked meals.
  • Don’t want to clean your camp pot? Purchase several durable resealable bags and use them to hydrate, heat, and eat your dried camp food from. Wash and reuse these bags instead of purchasing multiple single-serve camp meals in their own pouches. Make sure the bags you purchase are suited for food use and are capable of withstanding near boiling temperatures. Standard zippered sandwich bags won’t work because their melting point is below 212 degrees. Some backpackers use quart-sized freezer bags or zippered food saver type bags for this purpose. More information about camp bag cooking.
  • Buy products with minimal to no packaging and the largest size you will use. This saves on the amount of materials recycled or thrown out, and saves money.
  • Purchase items in bulk bins. Packaging is a big part of food cost and many manufacturers place more emphasis on the packaging versus what is inside. Just like mom said, “it is the inside that counts!”
  • Use reusable grocery bags. Stash a few textile reusable bags in the trunk of your vehicle so they are always available when you need them. The foldable branded “chicobag” stuffs down to 3″x4″ and weighs less than 2 oz, making it a great bag to store in your bike bag / backpack / pocket / purse / glove box for those times when you don’t have room for the large canvas bags.
  • Use reusable food storage whenever possible. You probably already carry a refillable water bottle, but you can reduce your plastic bag usage for food items as well. For instance, when taking our own lunch for a trip, we’ll wrap sandwiches, chips and fruit using the Wrap-N-Mat made by reuseit. The nice feature about the wrap-n-mat is that it opens flat into a placemat, which is useful for stopping at picnic tables along rail trails or public spaces. We prefer using the mats over plastic containers since they are light weight and do not take up extra space.  The downside is they are not crush proof.  The regular size mats fit well for sliced bread type sandwiches and grapes. Reuseit offers promotions for new customers.
wrap n mat
  • Reuse all your household food-grade bags multiple times. This includes produce bags, bread bags, bulk-food bags, zip-lock sandwich bags, freezer bags. Bread bags are great for packing out a sandwich for a day-hike or for work. Freezer bags & sandwich bags can be used multiple times. Wash them out if they are dirty and air dry.
  • Clean bags by rinsing with soap and water then turning inside out to air dry. You can also prop open the bags by setting over a narrow glass or mug.   Tip: Find space to store the bags and clean them all at once. We collect the dirty bags and place them in our freezer to keep them out of the way and  mold-free until we have time to wash them. We then wash the bags in batches, although the bags can only be used so many times. In some cases you won’t want to reuse them if they become odoriferous, are covered in funky films such as oil, etc. In that case, recycle them./li>
  • Reuse plastic grocery bags as trash liners for small garbage containers. Gather your kitchen garbage first, then dump the contents of the smaller containers into the larger kitchen bag, leaving the small containers with the grocery bag liner intact for several more uses.
  • Taking the plastic grocery bag as trash liners one step further:  invest in a shorter and narrow trash bin for your kitchen (perhaps you can stow dry trash in the old bin and relocate it to a laundry room, garage, shed..?) which will fit the grocery/retailers bag. The smaller bin will not be inadequate if you start composting since you’ll have much less waste.
  • Reuse slightly dirty produce bags for gloves. Great for messy jobs like putting bird suet out and pet clean-up. Clean produce bags can be reused for their original purpose.  Put them inside your reusable canvas grocery bags, so they are available. Also ask yourself if you really need a produce bag for dry produce / items that have rubber bands to keep them intact.
  • Consider purchasing BioPlastics for trash bags. Unlike petro-based plastics, BioPlastics are made from the starch of plant sources such as corn, potato, and soy. A potentially renewable alternative to petroleum-based plastics would have the long-term benefits of reducing global warming pollution and our dependence on fossil fuels.

Tips for storing plastic bags for reuse

– Use an old tissue box to store produce bags.

– Stuff produce bags in a tissue paper roll to keep bags neatly stored in your vehicle.

– Purchase a bag holder that hangs on the wall.

– Don’t let a retailer give you a bag.

Stove Fuel

  • Purchase refillable stoves that do not use wasteful canisters. If you already own a canister stove, you may be able to puncture the canister and recycle it. Jetboil recently introduced a tool called the “CrunchIt” that helps you easily recycle their own canisters. See our article on comparing backpacking stoves for more information on what to look for in a stove.
  • When backpacking, conserve fuel by purchasing dehydrated or freeze-dried meals. Shut off the stove after the water is boiled. Allow the food to soak with the lid tightly closed in the boiling water. A pot cozy will speed up the process even more. Eliminate the stove and fuel altogether by taking no-cook meals.



Image courtesy rrelam (flikr)

Water (not oil) is the most precious resource we have on Earth. All living beings need water to survive and water shortages are a problem in many regions already.  We need to adopt creative practices to conserve and allocate water in practical ways. There are a few things you can do at your own residence.

  • Collect rain water by connecting barrels to your downspouts and water plants from the rain barrel. Own a fish tank? Water household plants, gardens, flower beds with the “dirty” nutrient rich water.
  • Eliminate plastic water bottles. Tap water is often just as clean as the alleged “purified spring” or “artesian water” which 40% of tht time is just filtered water from a creek/lake/river source flowing through municipal plumbing, same as your own tap water.  Filter the tap water inside your own home for a taste superior to store-bought bottled water. If your refrigerator does not provide filtered water, you can easily install an under sink filter, faucet filter, or whole-house filter and fill into reusable bottles.
  • Make your own coffee. Take your own reusable coffee cup when not at home. We’ve noticed the current trend is to design the refillable containers to mimic their disposable counterpart. This icon tells a lot about our culture — a reusable item must look disposable for it to gain popularity.  Does anyone else find this amusing?
  • Look for leaking faucets and pipes in restaurants, parks, and public spaces and report them. Ever notice locations with underground irrigation that spray water into the streets?  Complain about any excessive water waste to the company.  We’ve noticed half a dozen water line breaks in our neighborhood this past year. Don’t assume someone else has already called in for a repair. Other people often assume the same resulting in several days worth of treated water recycling back for a redundant treatment.
  • Install low-flow shower-heads and low-flow toilets. These changes can cut your water bill use by half and save you money on your water heating bill.

Plant Trees

  • Trees reduce carbon emissions by taking in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. They also provide cooling in hot environments, energy conservation, are beautiful to look at, provide privacy, screen noise, and offer a habitat for wildlife. Make sure to select a tree native to your area.


  • Burn Fat, Not Oil! Replace some short trips by biking and walking. Biking and walking reduces noise and air pollution and increases health. Each gallon of gas burned releases approximately 20 lbs of CO2 in the air.

Junk Mail

Batteries & Electronics

  • Use rechargeable batteries.  Consider the newer hybrid nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) cells which hold a charge longer when not in use.
  • Recycle rechargeable batteries that no longer hold a charge such as those used for tools, laptops and phones by going to to find your nearest drop-off location.
  • Whether you’re interested in turning your electronics in for cash or donating, look around to find a program that will offer the greatest incentive for your cause. Try first, where you can type in your brand/model and it will identify possible options for resale and recycling.
    • Donate used cell phones to charity. NCADV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence) makes it easy to donate used cell phones – just print off the shipping label and mail your phone, or find local charities near you at
    • Recycle used phones or electronics at participating retailers, such as Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, Office Depot, and Staples. See also
    • Sell or donate various electronic devices for cash – or

Join Causes

  • Support the causes you believe in.  Some charities have more value than others and some are fraudulent. Check charity navigator for charity evaluation and ratings.

Reduce and Eliminate

Shifting towards non-disposable products designed for long-term use and reducing our consumables (recyclable or not) offers the most benefit for the environment. Meanwhile, we should all practice constructive use of our waste to lessen the environmental impact.  What else can you do?

Final Thoughts

Clearly, recycling is nothing new. These practices are now widespread across the mainstream. However, in our part of the country we still see too many people “forgetting” to use their reusable bags at the grocery store, or toss empty soda cans and water bottles in the garbage because the recycling disposal is not within sight or easy reach. Some of these people have good intentions, but their threshold for convenience is greater. Then there are those that will recycle if a financial incentive is involved. Others will never recycle, regardless. The prevailing attitude among this group is that recycling requires too much work for little to no reward.

We may never succeed in changing the perception for everyone, but we have come a long way in this country over the past few years; while slowing, we anticipate that the “reduce, reuse, repair, recycling” momentum will pervade.

What do you think? What is one action you have adopted that you think will make a major difference to the environment?

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2 thoughts on “Tips for a Lighter Footprint”

  • I agree! Curious to see how long it will take to decompose. Update (1/10/11): Completely decomposed!

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