Taking out the Trash: Backpacking and Trash

Cans in a fireBackpacking is all about planning and being prepared. When you’re out on the trail – miles away from the nearest town – you don’t have the luxury or convenience of the many things that we take for granted on a daily basis: a bed, warm food, shelter… a trash can. In order to enjoy your trip, you have to consider these things and make the right preparations.

When it comes to planning for a backpacking trip, you’re undoubtedly going to consider your shelter, your bedding, and the food that you’re going to eat, but you might not give much thought to your trash. But the first time that you hit the trail and end up with a mountain of wrappers and cardboard packaging, you’re going to want to figure out a better way to handle your trash while hiking.

Reduce trash before you hit the trail.

The first thing that you need to do in order to manage your trash while backpacking is reduce the amount of waste materials that you carry out in the first place. Remove excess packaging from foods, or remove the packaging altogether and carry your food in reusable containers. Keep in mind that you will have to keep up with all fo the trash that you bring out with you.

It also helps if you choose foods that don’t leave you with extra trash when you’re done with them. Nuts are great because they create zero mess and produce no trash if packed in a reusable bag. Fresh fruit, on the other hand, can leave you with a juicy apple core or a handful of orange rinds to deal with for the rest of your trip. If you want to reduce the amount of trash you generate while backpacking, pick foods that create little waste.

Keeping up with your trash on the trail.

Trash on the trail can’t really be avoided altogether, though. That’s why you need to think about ways to carry out the trash that you generate.

If you’re not going to be dealing with a lot of trash and you don’t mind your pack getting a little grimy, you can dedicate a hip pocket – or other compartment – exclusively to trash. This keeps trash safe and secure, separate from your gear, and you always know where to put your trash. This is an OK method when dealing with fairly clean trash.

However, if you’re worried about dirtying up your pack, you can use a gallon size bag with a zip closure to keep trash contained. This method is best when dealing with messy trash such as apple cores or the packaging from dehydrated meals.

Can I burn trash on the trail?

Sometimes you don’t have to carry your trash along the entire length of the trail. If you’re making a camp fire, it’s OK to burn paper or cardboard. Do not burn plastic, foil, or anything that does not burn entirely or could be dangerous to burn.

What about the trash that’s not mine?

Picking up the trash others leave behind can be a touchy subject, but it’s pretty simple. If you come across a food wrapper or a discarded plastic bottle, pick it up. Whoever left that trash there shouldn’t have littered, but by passing over their trash, you’re essentially doing the same thing. OK, littering is worse than not picking up someone else’s trash, but you get the idea. If you spot trash on the trail, and you’re able to carry it, go ahead and pack it out.

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