Over the past year, many avid travelers have had to slow their roll and reduce their travel due to COVID-19. During this time of quiet reflection, the realities of human carbon emission have begun to fully sink in.

As cars cleared the streets and airplanes stayed grounded, the facts remained: One long-haul flight from London to New York can produce around 986kg of carbon dioxide per passenger, according to the Guardian (US). That amount is comparable to the average yearly carbon output of a person living in a country like Paraguay or Burundi. 

With the return of air travel and the alarming projected increase in aviation emissions, you may be seeking solutions to carbon offset travel while exploring all our beautiful planet has to offer.

The What & How of Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsetting involves recognizing and directly addressing your individual carbon emissions. Online calculators make it fairly easy to determine exactly how much carbon you emit in your daily life. However, when travel is thrown into the mix, transport and other activities may cause your carbon footprint to skyrocket.

By employing simple techniques to counteract your carbon emissions, you can fill your passport with stamps while still protecting the environment. Carbon offsets for travel take many forms, and you can choose which forms best fit your lifestyle. 

Whether you prefer planting trees, encouraging less wasteful farming techniques, or helping isolated communities install cookstoves to replace wood fireplaces, you’re sure to find a cause you can get behind. Canceling out your carbon emissions allows you to get back to what you love most: travel.

The Truth About Travel & Carbon Emissions

According to the Washington Post, “flights were responsible for 2.4 percent of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2018.” While this may seem a relatively small sliver, the statistic fails to tell the whole story. 

For one thing, those numbers are projected to soar to nearly three times their current level within the next few decades. For another, because of the vast inequity of carbon emissions on our planet, a flight is likely to take up a much larger percentage of your personal carbon footprint.

Lifestyle Changes to Carbon Offset Travel

Reduce Waste & Consumption

There are many ways in which you can reduce or help carbon offset your travels. One way is by adopting a minimalist lifestyle. Minimalism doesn’t mean getting rid of everything you own, though — it means recycling, avoiding single-use items, and maximizing the enjoyment of any collections you do have without relying on quantity over quality.

A minimalistic approach to life will reduce the amount of waste you produce, thereby making the Earth greener and more enjoyable when you travel.

Eco-Friendly Digital Solutions

While you’re on the road, you can make use of several digital solutions that allow you to travel while being kind to the Earth. Carbon and solar calculators permit you to measure your impact on the environment and take concrete steps toward living a zero-waste lifestyle. 

Eco-tourism apps, on the other hand, can help you locate local produce, find sustainable lodging, and rideshare, no matter where you are in the world. In the future, fully electric driverless cars will help accelerate this change even more!

Adopt Environmentally-Friendly Work Habits

Today’s work landscape is also rapidly evolving to accommodate more eco-friendly habits. Depending on your lifestyle and work preferences, some of these techniques may work better for you than others. Two of the most popular options for eco-friendly work are work-from-home and work exchange programs.

Working From Home

As we’ve come to realize over the past year, working from home has one rather major impact: no commute. Not only does working from home save you money and time, it also significantly reduces your carbon emissions for flights. 

When you reduce the amount of fossil fuels you produce on a daily basis, this helps carbon offset travel and travel-based carbon emissions. Freelancing writing is one popular way of achieving this flexible, work-from-home lifestyle.

Work Exchange Programs

For those unable to go freelance, consider participating in a work exchange program in the location you’d like to visit. The options available to you depend on your nationality and the country you wish to work in. 

Potential work exchange programs in the United States include ranch work, the hospitality sector, and childcare services. When you work and travel at the same time, you’re less likely to jet off to a new country each week, reducing your overall fossil fuel emissions and allowing you to enjoy a rich, authentic work-travel experience.

Other Ways to Carbon Offset Travel

If you still haven’t achieved the carbon-neutral lifestyle of your dreams, there are several other ways to offset your carbon footprint. Many companies are more than happy to take your donations, but you’ll want to ensure their projects are legitimate and high-quality.

Some airlines also offer options for passengers to manually offset their carbon emissions for flights.

No matter what your current lifestyle, there are always ways to reduce your carbon footprint while journeying across the planet. Take the first step today toward living a greener life and saving the planet you love to explore!

The good news for those of us interested in sustainable travel solutions? Backpacking can be one of the most eco-friendly ways to explore. But as cool as it would be, you can’t backpack across the ocean.

Even if you’re looking to explore far off places by foot, the modes of travel required to get there can take their own toll on the environment. If you’re trying to find eco-friendly travel solutions, you’ll be looking for green, low-carbon, safe options.

Fortunately, the digital transformation of travel technology is making all this possible. From self-driving electric cars to carbon calculators, you can explore and understand the impact of new modes of travel that get you out into nature without hurting it. Here’s what you should know.

Sustainable Travel Solutions with Tech

Sustainable travel and climate change are increasing as the top concerns of many travelers. With one TravelTechnology survey revealing that 45% of travelers put one or both of these issues just behind economic conditions as their key travel hesitations, the need for green solutions is pressing.

Now, as travelers seek to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic into a world still wracked by climate crises, the availability of tech solutions is more important than ever. From smartphone applications that can help you make more eco-friendly decisions to smarter vehicles, you can travel without producing nearly as much carbon emissions.

How to Use Digital Solutions for Eco-Friendly Travel and sustainable travel

Use technology to help in your quest for sustainable travel solutions

Advancing technology and travel are joining hands to make this possible. As 5G wireless networks go up across the world, the amount of data and insights that abound on the web mean the average person has enough information and flexibility to make sustainable travel decisions on the fly.

World industries are increasingly recognizing the importance of sustainability; digital solutions can help guide you to the most eco-conscious modes of travel, flights, hotels, tour operators, restaurants, and more.

For any backpacking adventure, finding and integrating these green solutions can help elevate your trip not only in terms of sustainable travel solutions but in fun, ease, and convenience. Assuage your travel guilt by taking advantage of the many tech solutions available with a touch of a finger. 

The Digital Solutions for Eco-Friendly Travel

There are plenty of platforms out there to help you travel cleanly and safely. From vehicles to apps, software-as-a-service to rideshare, the digital world is transforming travel by helping you cut down on carbon emissions

As technology rapidly advances to accommodate the environmentally-conscious traveler, these are the digital solutions you should keep in mind: 

Driverless Vehicles

Going on a backpacking trip to a remote locale often means seeking out the cheapest and most sustainable form of transportation. In the U.S., this is typically by a bus like Greyhound that can take you from place to place in a cheap and eco-friendly manner.

However, advancements in digital technology are rapidly making it possible for you to travel sustainably in a car without even driving.

Driverless vehicles are the future. From Tesla’s popular Autopilot feature to the work being done by companies like Amazon to develop driverless trucking technology, a world of driverless vehicles is much closer than you might think. The results will be a safer, greener world.

While you can already access rideshare services that can help with sustainable travel solutions for all of your trips, companies like Uber are working on driverless cars that you can summon as needed. This will add a level of convenience to your trip, and the best part is that almost all the driverless vehicles being developed are fully electric, meaning zero carbon emissions. 

Next time you access Uber or Lyft to find a community carpool, imagine a future in which you can summon a driverless electric vehicle to help you make the same trip.

Eco-Tourism Apps

While fully driverless cars might still be years or even decades away, there are a host of applications you can access from your smartphone to help you right now in your quest for eco-friendly travel. Here are just a few examples of the kinds of apps that you can use to access all kinds of eco-friendly services:

  • EatWith: lets you find locals who want to share their local food
  • Expedia: includes sustainability practices for the hotels in its database
  • Cabmix: allows you to carpool taxis
  • HopStop: recommends bike and walking paths as well as bus stops and public transit info
  • Locavore: guides you to local produce markets for fresh, in-season eats

There are plenty more options out there for finding everything from eco-friendly flights to hostels that use sustainable bedding and toiletries. Explore a world of digital solutions all from the comfort of the App Store or Google Play. 

Carbon and Solar Calculators

Getting as close to zero-waste backpacking as possible requires exploring all your methods for sustainable travel solutions. Fortunately, carbon footprint calculators can help make your energy use and output easy to understand. By harnessing energy independence through calculators like these, you can make the best possible decisions for eco-friendly travel.

For example, there are all kinds of free carbon footprint calculators that can help you gauge just how sustainable your plane’s flight, bus ride, or housing situation really is. With the help of apps like those mentioned before, you can pair your sustainable travel efforts with added insights via a carbon calculator.

Eco-friendly travel requires insight and preparation. Make use of all the knowledge available in the digital world and check it against the carbon footprint calculator. As a result, you can effectively cut your carbon footprint for your backpacking trip to an absolute minimum.

The topic of hydration is hotly debated among backpackers. Your water supply is crucial to any backpacking trip, and choosing a lightweight water bottle and water filtration system is one of the most important choices you can make to keep your pack weight light. In recent years, many have chosen to buy Smart Water bottles because they pair nicely with the Sawyer water filter, making a lightweight combo-deal. But if you’re interested in sustainable backpacking, camping, or hiking, you should consider some of the following options for your water bottle and filter system.

The Most Sustainable Water Bottle: Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel water bottles are the most sustainable choice. A stainless-steel bottle is good for three reasons, all of which are important not only for your own health but for the health of the earth.

A stainless steel water bottle is the most sustainable choice

1. Stainless Steel Water Bottles mean Zero Microplastics

First, using a stainless steel water bottle means you can be 100% confident it is not leaching any nasty chemicals or micro-plastics into your water. Plastic, especially Smart Water bottles, are not designed to be used over and over again.

They are called single-use for a reason. Especially when bottles get heated, like on a hot summer’s day, they will leach toxins and micro-plastics into your bottle. 

If you are going to use a plastic bottle, opt for a Nalgene or a Bladder. They are often made of “re-usable” plastics, meaning they are designed to be used over and over. Nowadays, most companies will make them without nasty BPA, BPF, BPS, and phthalates, but it’s worth keeping in mind, they are not perfect. 

2. Stainless Steel can Truly be Recycled

Using a stainless steel water bottle will not only keep you healthier, but you can be confident that when the product reaches its end-of-life, you can ACTUALLY recycle it. If you grew up like me, you would have been taught that plastic is recyclable. This is not the case.

Plastic is “down-cycled”, meaning a recycled Nalgene bottle cannot make another Nalgene bottle. The heating and re-molding process makes the plastic weaker, meaning it needs to be turned into something smaller like a plastic bag, or new plastic needs to be added to it to make another Nalgene bottle. After plastic gets down-cycled once, it needs to go to the landfill.

It cannot be recycled again, meaning it is not a circular system, but is rather a wasteful linear one. Stainless-steel on the other hand is 100% recyclable. It can be recycled into the same product over and over again for its whole life. Using a stainless steel water bottle is supporting a circular system.

3. Sustainable Water Bottles are a Vote for a Better Future 

A third reason to buy a stainless-steel bottle is recognizing that it is a vote. It is a vote for the environment. Every time we buy a plastic Smart Water (which is owned by Coca Cola), we are voting for more plastic.

It is the simple supply and demand concept. The more we buy, the more they supply. Vote wisely with your dollar. Companies will shift to please the consumer, so shift them to take care of the environment. 

The Most Sustainable Water Filter

The most sustainable water filters for your backpacking trip

Despite the popularity of the Smart Water-Sawyer Filter combo among ultralight backpackers, it’s far from the most sustainable choice. I tried the Sawyer Filter, and it broke on the second day.

I was thankfully able to repair it with some duct tape, but when I spoke with other people, they had similar qualms. It’s a tempting filter to buy since it’s cheap and light, but I don’t think we should be supporting companies that make crappy products. You only end up buying more later on.

For a more sustainable water filter, I recommend using the Steri-pen Filter. Full disclosure, I haven’t actually used this one, but I’ve spent a lot of time researching it. Plus, friends that have used it, love it.

It’s light, fast, and rechargeable. You fill up your bottle, stick the light into your bottle, click the button, and within 90 seconds, you have drinkable water. The UV light kills the harmful bacteria and viruses, making drinkable water in seconds. 

The biggest drawback of this system is that if you have “floaties” in the water, the light will do nothing to get rid of them. You may need to bring a stocking (aka, tights) and filter the floaties and grit out. 

Another reason the Steri-pen is a more sustainable water filter is that it’s USB rechargeable. This means you are not putting harmful batteries into the environment every charge. It is more expensive, but I guarantee it will last you longer than a Sawyer. 

Sustainable Ultralight Backpacking Water Bottles

If you’re focused on keeping your pack-weight as light as possible, stainless steel water bottles may not be your first choice. My favorite ultralight backpacking water bottle combo that is zero-waste is a Platypus Bladder paired with a Steri-pen Filter.

When compared to the weight of an empty Smart Water bottle paired with the Sawyer filter, it’s only a 4-ounce difference, and it’s faster, more reliable, and better for the environment. 

If you’re still considering the trade-offs, here’s an overview of the weights of various water bottles and filters, plus the time it takes to produce drinkable water using each system.

Water Bottles by Weight (When Empty)

  • EcoTanka (stainless-steel):  (2 liters) = 10.2 ounces (300 grams)
  • Nalgene:  (1 liter) = 6.2 ounces (176 grams)
  • Platypus Bladder : (2 liters) = 1.3 ounces (37 grams)
  • Camelbak: (3 liters) = 7 ounces (198 grams)
  • Smart water: (1 liter) = 1.2 ounces (34 grams)

Filter Weights and Time to Produce Drinkable Water

  • Steri-Pen (1 liter) = 90 seconds and weighs 5 ounces (141 grams)
  • Sawyer Filter (1 liter) = 10 minutes (if not drinking straight from a bottle) and weighs 2 ounces (57 grams)

Let’s make the right choices when backpacking, camping, and hiking to protect the very environments that we love to explore. If you’re looking for more ways to make your backpacking trips more sustainable, check out my 7 tips for zero-waste backpacking.

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!