Camping: Green, Cheap, So Do It!

We’ve issued challenges to our “green” families and asked them to share their experiences. Challenge #5: It’s All Fun and Games.

This previous week was finals at UCSB. Considering that my friends and I consistently had finals throughout the week, I’m a little surprised we went camping at all. I don’t really remember how it started, but at some point last week someone suggested the idea. It was probably the fact that none of us have genuinely gone “camping” in the woods with a tent in a few years, something I had hoped would never happen. But we ended up finding a relatively secluded place only an hour away in Ojai, California.

Most of us, that is to say, everyone who lives in my house is a bit of a homebody. We don’t go out to bars or parties that often. Going to the movies is great when something worthwhile comes out, but if you’ve been paying attention, that seems pretty rare (I think my last movie was Children of Men or The Assassination of Jesse James). But that doesn’t mean we don’t mind getting a little dirty, and really, this is the only prerequisite for camping. Scratch that, I lied, you’ll also need a tent, flashlight, cookware, playing cards, plastic/metal utensils, a sleeping bag, food, water, a lantern, hiking boots, and noise-canceling headphones in case you have obnoxious neighbors that like to alternate their music between country, rockabilly, and R&B.

Honestly, though, for a relatively small start-up cost you can have equipment that can let you camp pretty much anywhere you’re willing to go. Even the idea of that makes you feel a little more free. Pretty much the only things you’ll need after equipment (and don’t break the bank, here, I spent maybe $150 combined) are a method of transportation (you can go green on bikes or sharing a car ride) and good company (this one is up to you).

For example, and I promise not to rehash all the great times we had this weekend in an excruciatingly chronological order, Southern California does not always have the greatest wildlife. If you’re a big fan of sharp bushes, horny toads, and succulents, you’ll have a wonderful time in any of our fine deserts. This is not to say all of it is like this, but a good majority of it is, including the place where we camped. But I knew this going in and took the time to prepare. All in all, I got to see (and swim in) two or three large waterfalls this weekend in the middle of our desert-like climate. It was a bit surreal to spend three or so miles walking through a dry riverbed next to a rather pitiful river, and then have a killer series of waterfalls thrust upon you. I literally opened my mouth in awe.

A good camping trip also takes preparation, so in addition to the four or five hours we spent on Friday getting ready, I spent a decent amount of time researching where we should camp beforehand. This is pretty easy and really only involves reading other people’s reviews on the Web, looking over the area with Google maps, and talking to park rangers.

If you’re trying to take someone who is unenthusiastic along, it’s a lot easier if you have everything laid out beforehand. Do a huge inventory of everything you’re taking. Use rechargeable batteries for your flashlight, and save money while doing a little good on the side (this is also especially helpful if you have an ac adapter plug in your car; I wish we did on the third night). There is also nothing quite like a resilient, reusable water bottle, because setting up camp somewhere and not walking around dehydrating yourself and exploring nature is like cooking Beef Wellington and feeding it to your dog. It is a tremendous waste of time, effort, and money.

The best part about camping is that it’s cheap and green! For four people this weekend, our total cost couldn’t have been more than $50 a person, even after spending a little extra on items we didn’t have. The worst we did was burn some gas getting there and back (about three gallons) and release some CO2 into the air with our fires at night. But the entire time we were gone, two houses were using no electricity or natural gas.

We also tried to adopt the “leave it as good or better than you found it” mentality and made sure to take every bit of trash we could find. Much of this will seem obvious, even to those who have been camping a few times. But for those who have not, I hope I’ve given you a few tips on what can be an incredibly relaxing, energy saving, cheaper-than-dirt way to vacation.

Michael Kranz

Read Michael’s previous post, From Darkness Comes 1200 Lumens of Light.

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