The Green Outdoors

Gear up for sustainable camping

Enjoy your outdoor vacation more by using sustainable camping gear.

Taylor Hutchens/iStockphoto

 Living in the Bay Area, most of us are familiar with how to live sustainably when it comes to recycling and consumption at home. But as active, outdoor-loving people, our eco-conscious mindset should go beyond our doorsteps and travel with us on vacation, too. If you’re someone who enjoys summer camping trips, consider the sustainability factor of the camping products you buy.

Jeff Griffith-Jones, the owner of South Bay Trekking Company in the Silicon Valley, says that when shopping for sustainable camping gear, one of the most important factors to keep in mind is durability. “It needs to hold up to the conditions that you put it through,” Griffith-Jones says. “If you get something that’s going to be a one-time use, that’s extraordinarily wasteful.”

While purchasing quality camping gear can be pricey, the cost should be looked at as a long-term investment both for you and for the planet, says Jerry McKeon, store manager for REI in Saratoga. Cheaply priced merchandise often has hidden costs, he says. “When you’re buying a cooler, as an example, you could go to K-Mart and buy a $3 styrofoam cooler that’s going to last for one trip until somebody puts a hole in it.”

McKeon says that durable coolers and other camping gear “cost more money up front, but over the long run they’re going to last longer, and they’re going to be more sustainable.”

Durability not only has to do with how well a product is made, but what materials are used in its production. “There are so many high-tech synthetic fabrics out there now… things that are literally made from recycled plastic products,” Griffith-Jones says. For example, some tents, raincoats, and fleece jackets are made from PET, a high-quality polyester fiber made from recycled plastic bottles.

Many natural materials are also sustainable. One example is SmartWool, or merino wool, which is not only warmer than a synthetic fabric like polyester, but also is less odorous. SmartWool is used in a variety of outdoor clothing from hiking socks to jackets to gloves.

Another important aspect of green camping is what to do with your gear once it is no longer being used. Griffith-Jones says, “I work with a group home, a school specifically for kids with emotional disabilities. We’re able to take the kids out hiking, snowshoeing, and doing other stuff, but they have no gear.” Donating gear is a way to give back to organizations and people who may not have the means to purchase gear. Your old camping equipment can be used by local nonprofits that specialize in youth outdoor programs, including Bay Area Wilderness Training, ( or, Today’s Youth Matter ( or, or the San Francisco Bay Area Inner City Outings program of the Sierra Club (