We are in mid-summer and it is still a great time to go camping. With so many outdoor treasures like Yosemite, California has plenty to offer for those who want to reconnect with nature for the time of a week-end. But how green is camping? If you are packing charcoals and a gas lamp in your car, you may want to think twice before you take the road...
Actually, going "off-grid" is a good opportunity to realize some of the challenges that developing countries have to face on a daily basis: little access to reliable electricity and clean water. Luckily water is not an issue in most camping spots. So I tried to focus on limiting my carbon foot-print when I went camping with my daughter. Here are the top-5 green products to go camping.
- Solar powered reading light. There are a lot of options when it comes to lighting: solar powered flash lights, camping lamps with a crank, etc. I picked for my daughter a sample light from Unite to Light that works to fight illiteracy. She loved it, reading under the stars at the end of the day. It simply becomes a personal item that we get attached to.
- Eco-friendly sleeping bag. Why choosing the right sleeping bag is green? Because natural fibers like bamboo and cotton reduce dependence on foreign oil for synthetic products. And recycled content products keep recycling programs alive. But be careful: not every product labeled "eco friendly" is really green. Check before you buy. My choice: Big Agnes Battle Mountain for the bamboo material and the high performance (it works at low temperature).
- Low emission vehicle. Driving around is probably the most polluting part of camping. At this point using a pure Electric Vehicle is not an option given the limited range to drive through a National Park like Yosemite. However, hybrid vehicles like my Prius or plug-ins with a gas tank like the Chevy Volt are worth considering when you buy your next car.
- Backpack with solar charger for your tablet, phone, etc. For those like me who cannot really unplug, I brought this carry-on bag that has a built-in solar panel and battery. I actually got a lot of attention from other hikers (see picture right). If you want something smaller, there are solar charging cases for smart phones.
- Biodegradable waste bags. Littering is probably the worst thing you can do on a camping trip. It is like unleashing gasoline in the ocean on a boat when nobody sees you. We went with biodegradable bags to make sure our waste would make minimal impact on the beautiful nature that surrounded us.
Stove, anybody? I am big fan of bbq so I still took charcoal with me. I looked for a carbon neutral alternative and I could only found ovens that slowly cook meat from the sun. What do you do on a rainy day? And my daughter is not willing to give up the mashmallow around a wood fire... If you find a good commercial one for camping and how to keep a bbq taste, let me know!
Energy efficient cooking is actually a big challenge in Africa. The Blum Center at UC Berkeley has been working on a number of projects, including one stove project for Darfur refugees (picture above - courtesy of the Blum Center). So go for a camping trip and try to go without the comfort of your home: it will be an adventure and open your eyes on the daily challenges of 2 billion people in the world.