Valerie’s top 10 picks for a zero waste outdoor adventure

I absolutely love to spend time in nature, and even more so since launching NU! As a small business owner, I breathe my business, and separating work and personal life is almost mission impossible. Except… when I’m out in nature, far from cell phone towers and WIFI networks. Nature is the place where I can unwind, recharge and forget about work (mostly ;)).

Since immigrating to Canada in 2003, my nature escapes have become increasingly adventurous. I don’t have enough mileage to consider myself a pro of backcountry camping, but after a few hiking and canoe-camping trips, I definitely know what products I like to take with me for a zero waste leave-no-trace adventure. So here’s my TOP 10!

1 - Mineral Sunscreen

An absolute must to protect my fair skin. Our mineral sunscreen contains zinc oxide that acts like a shield against UV rays. That’s why it doesn’t penetrate the skin but sits on it, leaving a visible thin white film. This inconvenience is minor compared to the benefits: mineral sunscreens are effective as soon as you apply them, and are gentle on your skin and on the planet! This reef safe sunscreen is packaged in an aluminum tin which I reuse for DIY products when it’s empty.

2 - Bug Spray
Mosquitos are vicious in Canada! I always carry our refillable natural bug spray in a light aluminum bottle. It is very effective if you are in an area that is mildly to normally infested. It won’t be enough in a highly infested area at the peak of mosquito season, but let’s be real, no mosquito spray works in these conditions. I used to drench myself in chemical sprays that were packed with DEET and they were just as ineffective in these cases. Avoid these areas altogether, and if you can’t, cover up and protect yourself with mosquito nets.
These bags are so versatile that I couldn’t possibly list all their uses. But when it comes to camping, I use them to pack and carry my food, most and foremost my homemade dehydrated meals. When I leave for a couple of days, I prepare nutritious hearty stews in advance and dehydrate them in my oven. I pack them in a sandwich Stasher bag which easily holds two portions of dehydrated stew. Stasher bags close tightly, are light to carry, and once empty, they come in handy to store leftovers and camping waste like fruit peels and coffee grounds. When we set camp at the end of the day, it is such a joy to heat up a delicious meal by simply adding water and letting it simmer.
I always take one on my trips, and the size that I choose depends on the number of people that need to be fed! I use them as pots to heat up food on my small propane camping stove. If there’s leftovers, I store them in the container with the lid on - the clamps make it airtight and leak proof. Stainless steel is not the lightest material, so if you have to carry a backpack for days, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a titanium or aluminum pot. But otherwise, these great containers for lunch on the go do the trick!
5 - A piece of household soap
I pack the minimum amount of clothing to keep the backpack light, so when I leave for a few days, I hand wash my clothes as needed. Before leaving, I cut the soap to a size that fits in a medium aluminium tin (I love how light aluminum is). I use it for laundry, but also for everything else, like cleaning dishes, and washing my body and hair. This way I don’t carry different soaps for different uses. Important: please only use soap in camp sites with proper amenities. Do not use soap to wash clothes, dishes or yourself in lakes and rivers, even if the soap is natural and biodegradable. Soaps affect water chemistry in a detrimental way. Leave No Trace also applies here!
The lightest natural sponge you can find. I cut a piece out of the bigger piece that I have at home. Its gentle scrubbing property will clean your dishes even without using dish soap.
Enjoying a fresh cup of coffee in the wee morning hours, surrounded by the sound of nature waking up, is a pleasure I could not live without. I use a French press at home but that would be too much to carry on a hiking or camping trip, so I use a reusable coffee filter made of organic cotton in combination with a plastic coffee cone that I’ve had for years. So much better than instant coffee!
8 - A menstrual cup (relevant only if you menstruate)
I discovered the diva cup in my early forties and my biggest regret was not having heard of it earlier. Menstrual cups are a game changer in so many ways, but are truly revolutionary when it comes to enjoying the outdoors when on your period. No pads to carry around (clean or used), no waste, just pure freedom. And you can even swim without fear of a leak.
What a great invention! If I leave for 5 days, 1 pack 10 tablets in a mini aluminum tin. They barely weigh anything nor take any space, and you can buy them in bulk at our stores. You just chew them until they crumble in your mouth and brush your teeth like you would with a normal toothpaste.
10 - Reusable utensils
A spork is the only utensil I need to eat food when camping and hiking. Which one I’ll pack depends on whether or not I have to carry a backpack for longer distances. The metal spork is more comfortable to use, but you can’t beat the lightweight of the bamboo spork! Bamboo utensils are another light alternative if you prefer a full set.
None of the products listed above generate any kind of waste. There's no single use items, no plastic bottles for bug spray and sunscreen, no toothpaste tube, no food packaging... The only waste I create comes from fruit peels (mainly oranges and bananas) and coffee grounds. I collect them in my Stasher bag and carry them back to compost at home. Leave no trace means that we don't even leave organic waste behind since it disrupts Nature's balance (orange and banana peels don't belong in a Canadian ecosystem).
What are your favourite products for a zero waste outdoor adventure? Let me know in the comments below!
Valerie Leloup

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