Q:I'm planning on doing some camping this summer. Any tips for treading lightly?
A:The crackling fire, the starry sky, peeing in the woods - it's enough to dupe you into thinking you're one with nature. Alas, just because your tent is green doesn't mean you are. In fact, camp supply stores will tell you that most of their goods are far from eco-friendy. Seems a tad hypocritical really, considering how much campers love the outdoors. But, hey, that's the nature of all that shnazzy high-tech gear.
Most of the waterproof synthetic stuff you can buy is made with toxic solvents and emits ozone-depleting VOCs and dioxins. Lots of backpacks and even sleeping bags like Marmot's Pinnacle, are coated with Teflon, that super-persistent chemical found in rivers and streams everywhere. And whatever isn't coated with Teflon is made with its sister chem, Gore-Tex. We're surrounded! (Scary, considering three federal agencies south of the border are probing whether DuPont concealed information about the health effects of these chems. Head to www.ewg.org for more details)
A lesser evil is nylon waterproofed with silicone, neither of which seems to ruffle as many eco feathers as Gore-Tex and Teflon. However, nylon is still a plastic, meaning it's made from coal tar and petroleum. Most waterproofers are petrol-based, but Nikwax is a water-and-beeswax-based repellent that can be washed into clothing and down or sprayed on tents, bags, shoes, gloves, you name it (from $14 at Europe Bound on King West or Front and Mountain Equipment Co-op on King West).
Speaking of water, rather than dropping nasty chlorine or iodine tabs into lake water and masking it with some sugary artificial powder, why not get a water filter and truly enjoy that fresh water? Katadyn filters start at $75 at Europe Bound and Mountain Equipment. Now for a quickie lesson on biodegradable camp soaps. They may say "biodegradable," but that doesn't mean you should be sudsing away in the lake or river. These and all soaps, shampoos, etc, can seriously harm aquatic life. Even the super-biodegradable kind (like Campsuds or Druide's citronella line, both available at most health and camping supply stores) are meant to be used about 200 feet from a body of water, where they can be filtered by the soil.
So either heft a few buckets of water to the back bush to wash or get one of those solar-heated camp showers. On second thought, those are generally made of the most toxic plastic of all, PVC. And that weird No Rinse body soap may be perfume-free, but it's full of chemicals. Best bet: just bathe in the lake without soap. (Dude, you're camping. You don't need bouncy clean hair.)
Leave the battery-sucking stuff at home. Grassroots on Bloor or Danforth has solar-powered, pump, shake or wind-up flashlights from $9.99. If you're looking for a little entertainment, Grassroots also carries an AM/FM radio with a strong frequency reach that's both solar- and crank-powered ($179). You can even get a solar-powered radio and flashlight in one at Europe Bound or the Source at Circuit City stores from $39.99. Sun-powered battery chargers are available (from $19.99 at Grassroots, MEC and Europe Bound).
Time to eat? Try to minimize packaging by bringing bulk items like couscous or rice in big PVC-free baggies, like Ziploc or Glad. All those individually packaged camp foods can create a lot of waste - which, by the way, should never be burned! I repeat: no burning plastics in the campfire unless you want to suck back noxious chemicals!
If you're going to buy ready-to-heat camp food, then at least go for organic brands like Soft Path, Kettle Valley or Mary Jane's (all available at MEC). Mary Jane's comes in burnable packaging to boot.
If you're bringing a mini camp stove, use an alcohol (methyl hydrate) stove instead of the petroleum-fuelled kind. MEC carries some made by Trangia, but make sure to buy the model that doesn't come with a non-stick Teflon frying pan. Stainless steel cookware is best.
And if you can use it in a cool solar-powered oven, even better. Their 20-pound weight makes them better for car camping than portaging, but you can find a bunch of brands and models at www.solarpassion.com/solarproductshop/solar_outdoors_review.htm (from $24 to $250). Bored cottagers can even make their own! (See www.re-energy.ca/t-i_solarheatbuild-1.shtml for instructions.)
Ladies, if you're on the rag, consider a reusable option like the Diva Cup or the Keeper, which should be washed with drinking water and camp suds every day (from $39.50 at Marathon Outdoor Adventure on King West, Grassroots and Big Carrot on Danforth).
Before you shell out for new gear, think about buying used from an army surplus store or MEC's Outdoorgearswap.com site. Bring worn or damaged tents, coats, bags, even Gore-Tex to the Sport Sewing Shop on Gerrard near Coxwell or back to the store where you bought it for repairs before you toss it. (Not that you'd throw it in the trash anyway, right?)
And be honest with yourself. If you're the type who only rolls out your Thermarest once a year, consider renting. MEC and Europe Bound both offer rentals.
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