Zero waste backpacking is surprisingly difficult. Between all the gear, packaged food, and on-the-go hydration needs, a typical backpacking trip can lead to a lot of plastic waste. It takes effort and planning to be zero-waste or ‘low-waste’, but I am here to tell you that it IS possible.

Coupling zero-waste with backpacking seemed like the last piece in my sustainability puzzle. Finally taking the plunge, and making the necessary changes, has left me feeling like I am actually protecting the very nature I am interacting with.

Eventually the changes became habits, and now Mother Nature is far better off for it. Here is my story and top tips for backpacking sustainably, let’s protect the very environments that we love to explore.

My Journey to a Zero-Waste Lifestyle

Four years ago, I found myself on the floor of my bedroom, staring at thirty-plus plastic bathroom products, having an epiphany that would change my life. This is the moment my zero-waste journey started.

As plastic lipsticks, toothbrushes, shampoos, conditioners, body soaps, razor blades, mascaras, combs, brushes, and more stared back at me, I realized I had a plastic problem. I realized our world had a plastic problem. Most of all, I realized that I needed to change the way I consumed products. 

Over the next four years, I would learn how to buy food in bulk, how to refill my handsoaps, laundry, and dishwashing liquids. I would learn to carry a stainless-steel water bottle and reusable coffee mug with me everywhere I went.

Small changes over time have resulted in massive lifestyle shifts. Now, when my partner and I empty our one-foot-tall rubbish bucket every three weeks, we can truly see the impacts of our waste-reducing efforts. 

My Big, Zero-Waste Backpacking Trip

Alongside my zero-waste pursuit, I was developing my outdoor skills. My first job outside of University was glacier guiding in Alaska. This role then carried me to New Zealand, to continue glacier guiding.

New Zealand is where I have lived for the last four years. This is where I would harness many outdoor-skills including ice climbing, mountaineering, rock climbing, canyoning, free-diving, marathon running, gardening, and more. 

After spending years developing my backpacking, hiking, and camping skills, I decided to go for a long hike, a 272-mile-long hike, in fact, The Vermont Long Trail. The trail begins in Canada and hits every major peak of Vermont, winding through cute, maple-loving towns, before it terminates in Massachusetts.

Zero Waste Backpacking on the Long Trail in Vermont

This hike would take me twenty days to complete and I would be hitting the trail solo. I felt a sense of nervousness, but excitement to be finally ticking off a long-time goal. I had graduated from the University of Vermont five years prior and had always intended to return and complete the trail.

So, there I was, ready to embark on a journey that had been a long-time coming. Yet, I found myself at the foot of the trail with a new goal, a goal to hike the trail in a sustainable way, in a zero-waste way. 

The Challenges of Zero-Waste Backpacking

Before I go on, it is worth noting that zero waste, as in no waste what-so-ever, is completely unattainable. Rather, zero-waste is a “stretching goal”, a goal that allows for constant growth, the type of goal I love. “Low-waste” might be a better phrase.

Whichever term you prefer is fine, but just know that when I say I was doing the trail “zero-waste”, I mean that I was attempting to complete the trail with as little waste as possible. This goal would prove to be more difficult than finishing the 272-mile Long Trail itself. 

As I began researching “zero-waste backpacking”, it became apparent that not many people were writing about the topic. This meant that I needed to figure out some stuff for myself.

The Long Trail went from being a zero-waste backpacking trip, to a trial-and-error trip. I was able to learn what worked and didn’t work, and along the way, I kept notes that I hoped to share with the world later. 

Prior to setting this goal, I had never worried about my backpacking waste. I was so low waste in the rest of my life, that I allowed backpacking to be the “exception, not the rule.”

Backpacking is supposed to be fast and light, which often meant dehydrated, processed food, in non-recyclable packaging. It meant eating muesli bars and “treat-yo-self” style snacks. But now, I wanted to see if I could shift away from this wasteful lifestyle. I wanted to stop cutting myself slack. I wanted to see if I could make the change and still be fast and light. 

The irony that I considered myself an environmentally-conscious person except when I was camping, hiking, or backpacking in nature, was not lost on me either.

In hindsight, it seems amazing I was consuming so much waste in the very environment I was trying to protect. I don’t think I am alone in this proclivity, which is why I am here to share my top seven tips for producing less waste while backpacking. 

1. Dehydrate Your Own food

Dehydrating my own food is probably the most significant thing I did to keep my backpacking trip zero waste. It’s one of the best ways to build a sustainable backpacking food plan.

This was one hundred percent new to me, so there was a lot of reading and You-Tube video watching. Buying the ingredients, cooking them from scratch, and dehydrating them myself was both cheaper and healthier, it felt good knowing what was really in my food. These are two luxuries you don’t often get when you buy the packaged dehydrated meals. 

Dehydrating your food is one of the most important tips for zero waste backpacking

Dehydrating does take a very long time. Each session can take anywhere between six and twelve hours. Because of this, I was only able to prepare half of my meals and snacks for the trail this way.

I ended up with three vegan risotto’s, three vegan Bolognese, and four chili’s for dinner meals. I also dehydrated lots of fruit, like bananas, apples, pineapples, and strawberries.

2. Choose Sustainable Food Containers

It took a while to figure out how I could package the dehydrated meals. It was important to me to be as light as possible and to be able to seal hot water in the container, to rehydrate the food. 

I landed on using silicone-resealable bags. Silicone is able to withstand extreme-heat, which meant I could pour boiling water directly inside of them to rehydrate the food.

The plus-side of using silicone bags was that I could re-use and keep them for the rest of my life. The disadvantage was that they were 3 ounces (100g) heavier than pre-packaged meals.

They seal nicely, but depending on how long your hike is, I think you could even get away with packaging the meals in cloth produce bags or paper bags instead. They could then be rehydrated in a covered pot. 

Resealable Silicon Bags for a Zero-Waste Backpacking trip

3. Buy Supplies from Environmentally-Friendly Companies

Purely due to time constraints, I was only able to prepare half of my meals and snacks using the dehydration method. For the other half of my meals, I opted for packaged dehydrated meals.

However, instead of buying the cheapest brand on the market, I did my research and sought out one that was doing good things for the environment. The brand, Good-to-Go”, is made by a chef and fellow backpacker in Maine. She uses whole foods and sources local ingredients as much as possible.

Although it was more expensive, I asked myself, “What is the true cost, if the cheaper options are worse for the environment?”. The answer was simple. I was happy to support this business.

4. Buy Snacks and Meals in Bulk

Most plastic produced while backpacking comes from our food, which is why the first few zero-waste backpacking tips are focused on sustainable backpacking food tips.

I was able to avoid a lot of plastic by buying food in bulk and storing it in cloth produce bags and brown paper bags. For breakfasts, I ate granola and oatmeal, and for lunch I had banana peanut butter wraps.

For snacks, I had a range: sour patch kids, chocolate-covered pretzels, trailmix, and date balls. All of these items, I bought in bulk. 

Buying in bulk for your sustainable backpacking trip

Before the hike, I was able to stock up for my first five days with these bulk items from Whole Foods. And yes, I was even able to get peanut butter in bulk. At Whole Foods, they offer “grind-your-own peanut butter.”

Luckily, backpacking in Vermont, a typically “green” state, I was able to re-stock my bulk snacks along the way at organic shops and grocery stores. I even got to refill my peanut butter at another “grind-your-own peanut butter” station in one of the organic shops, what a score!

It really is amazing how much plastic you can avoid if you take the time to look and think about your packaging. Eventually, it just becomes the norm.

5. Choose a Sustainable Water Bottle and Filter

Most people who are focused on ultralight backpacking buy plastic Smart Water bottles because they pair nicely with the Sawyer filter, making a lightweight combo-deal. But there are plenty of sustainable alternatives that will bring you closer to zero-waste backpacking.

A stainless steel water bottle is the most sustainable choice

I think you’ll find, a Platypus Bladder paired with a Steri-pen Filter results in only a 4-ounce difference, and is faster, more reliable, and better for the environment. 

A stainless-steel bottle is a great way to avoid buying those cheap plastic “Smart Waters”.  A stainless-steel bottle will not only avoid microplastics leaching into the environment, but unlike plastic water bottles, they are truly recyclable once you are done using them.

The topic of hydration on the trail is hotly debated within the backpacking community, so read more in my full review of the most sustainable water set-up on the trail.

6. Switch to a Bamboo Toothbrush

This one doesn’t need much explanation. Switching to a bamboo toothbrush far more environmentally friendly than using a plastic toothbrush. You can still cut it down to size, if you are looking to save weight too. These can be easily found online and in stores.

7. Always Use Matches over Lighters

Matches are made of wood and come in cardboard boxes, making them environmentally friendly. They will break-down after use and will not pollute the environment. Lighters, on the other hand, litter coastlines.

Birds, especially albatrosses, consume them thinking they are food and eventually die to too much plastic consumption. Like the toothbrush, this is a very easy switch. The only challenge that comes with using matches is keeping them waterproof, but that is entirely manageable. Another good option could be a refillable zippo. Just ditch those plastic lighters! 

We recently returned from 3 weeks in Tanzania where we took a 5-day driving safari. We went with Lion King Adventures on the mid-range private Safari, and thought it was a great value for the money and a wonderful experience.

One of the coolest parts was sleeping in the Serengeti national park for 2 nights. It was an incredible experience to watch a lion walk through camp, and to hear hyenas, buffalo, and zebras just outside our tents during the night.

One of the most difficult parts of preparing for the trip to Tanzania was figuring out my safari packing list. Since I struggled, I wanted to share the final safari packing list for those of you who might make this trip in the future.

This safari packing list has been field-tested during our trip to Tanzania! Once we were actually on safari, there are things I initially thought would be essential which turned out not to be necessary. I also realized that there were a few essential items that should have made it into my suitcase.

So without further ado, here is my 5-day safari packing list:

Safari Clothing Packing List for a 5-day Safari in Tanzania

Neutral Color Shirts

  • 3-4 lightweight but long-sleeved tops in a neutral, earth-tone color. Olive, gray, and khaki are recommended since they won’t disturb the animals as you’re touring around. Just be sure to avoid dark blue or black since these attract the tsetse flies! White is fine and won’t distract the animals, but it will get dirty. Even in the hot season, you will want long sleeves to protect against the sun, just be sure to get light-weight fabric.

Comfortable Pants

  • 2-3 comfortable pants for Safari days. Color is less important since you’ll be in the jeep the whole time and your bottom half will be hidden. However, safaris involve hours upon hours of driving, so the important thing is that you are comfortable!
Safari Packing List

Driving for hours pays off!


  • Neutral color bandana or Buff to block the dust
  • A wind and rainproof jacket
  • If traveling in the colder season, add a fleece, a warm hat, and thick socks. The evenings can get chilly!

Sun Protection

  • A brimmed hat to protect your face and neck from the strong sun. Be sure it has a drawstring so that it doesn’t fly away when the jeep takes off!
  • Polarized sunglasses. The Tanzanian sun is brutal and polarized lenses are a must!
  • Lip balm with SPF. Between the wind and sun, our lips got really chapped. We would have loved to have had soothing SPF lip balm with us!


  • A pair of comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. You won’t be doing much walking on a typical driving safari, but you might encounter muddy paths to/from your accommodation.
  • Rubber shower sandals

Comfortable Clothes for the Evenings

  • Your safari packing list should include a couple of sets of comfortable clothes for the evenings in your accommodation. Don’t worry about looks, even in the luxury encampments it’s comfort over fashion!
  • Don’t forget undies, socks, and pajamas
It's comfort over fashion even in the luxury tented camps

It’s comfort over fashion even in the luxury tented camps

Medication and Toiletries to bring on Safari in Tanzania

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Ibuprofen
  • Anti-diarrhea meds like Immodium
  • Rehydration powder
  • Sunscreen
  • Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel. Some accommodations provide this, but you may want your own set
  • Insect repellent with DEET. Don’t leave home without it!

Electronics and Accessories Safari Packing List


We didn’t have a fancy zoom-lens camera, but were able to take some pretty epic shots by aiming our smartphones through the binoculars! Our safari company provided us with binoculars upon request, but I would have liked to have our own high-quality set beforehand. It would have been such a different experience without the binoculars! Even when the animals are close up, we loved watching them through the lens. We could see the whites of their eyes and every facial expression. Mesmerizing. If you can, get a pair of binoculars that has a smartphone attachment, it would have saved us lots of hassle trying to align the smartphone camera perfectly with the binoculars.

Available on Amazon


Headlamp or flash light

We were happy to have a source of light aside from our phones in the camps at night. A headlamp is convenient and allows you to go hands-free in case you have to carry any of your belongings.

Available on Amazon




DSLR Camera

If you’re skilled in photography, don’t forget your point and shoot camera. It’s also worth taking an outdoor or wildlife photography refresher course to make sure you will get the best pictures on this once in a lifetime experience! If you’re bringing a nice camera, don’t forget to take an extra SD Card. You will be taking tons of photos and it’s a good idea to have a backup.

Available on Amazon



Other Small Electronics

  • Charging cables. The jeeps have charging stations in them so that you can charge while you drive.
  • Extra power bank for your phone. Just in case.
  • A travel adapter for your electronics. Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, and Tanzania have the same plugs as the UK. If you’re going on Safari in South Africa, they have their own plug styles which are hard to find before you go. But you’ll be able to find cheap adapters once you arrive.
5 day safari packing list binoculars

Binoculars are a game changer

Luggage for your Safari

Our safari company in Tanzania requested that we bring a soft duffle bag, and most companies will do the same. A large backpacking backpack will work. They just want to make sure they can easily stash everyone’s luggage in the jeeps. It’s best to leave breakable items behind, but if you must take anything fragile with you, be sure to wrap it in its own protective case.

As you can see, even though it’s safari in Tanzania is the adventure of a lifetime, it’s a pretty basic packing list! Don’t worry about going on a shopping spree for a head-to-toe khaki ensemble. The basic idea is to stick to solid colors that appear in nature. Enjoy your safari!