How to Have a Zero Waste Camp Kitchen

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When I talk to people about this National Park to Park Highway trip we’re on, they inevitable have some questions. The first one is usually “What’s the National Park to Park Highway?”. The second an incredulous, “And you’re doing this with three young kids?”

Later in the conversation they may ask for some specifics. One that has come up many times is the issue of food. What do you eat? How do you prepare food? You do this without a dishwasher?

Some people feel intimidated cooking in the outdoors. Yes, setting up a camp stove or stoking a fire is not as easy as pushing a button on the microwave, but being outdoors for a meal helps connect us with nature, and that’s what our National Park to Park Highway adventure is all about. While on the road I’ve tried hard to have my kitchen away from home as comfortable as possible, while still being portable.

Before I got into Zero Waste (I still have a long way to go in this area, but we try) my camp kitchen involved a lot of paper towels, paper plates and plasticware. Now my camp kitchen features reusable gear, that is really cool too.

Here’s what we use in our Zero Waste Camp Kitchen. If you want to see my Top Ten Tips for Zero Waste camping click here.

1. Stove

Every camper or backpacker needs a quality stove. Warm food and drinks are lifesavers especially if you adventure in the mountains. The mornings and evenings can be cold!

We like our BioLite Campstove and KettlePot for boiling water. It’s fueled by wood sticks – easy for little hands to gather and zero waste because their’s no propane tank to throw out later. Plus, the innovative technology incorporated in the burn area turns the fire’s energy into electricity! Seriously, you can charge your phone or flashlight while cooking a hot meal.

BioLite also has a grill attachment for their camp stove, but it’s too small for our family of five. For meals requiring more than hot water I use our two burner stove.

2. Cookware

If you’re a once-a-year camper, the easiest cookware to pack is what you use every day at home. Consuming less is a main tenant of zero waste living, after all. But if you’re a frequent camper family like we are, you might want to invest in some dedicated gear.

When we were looking for sponsors for this National Park to Park Highway tour I dreamed of trying out Sea to Summit X-SET 32 which includes a pot, kettle and fry pan. I had seen it at Outdoor Retailer and was impressed by its well designed style. The aluminum pot bottom heats well while the silicone sides fold down for storage. The kettle or Sea to Summit bowls nest nicely inside and the built in strainer in the lid is super convenient. It’s a really sweet design that leaves so much more room in our camp box. The whole pot packs down to one inch tall!

Miraculously Sea to Summit agreed to sponsor our trip by sending me their X-SET 32 as well as X Bowls and X Cups for our crew.

As cool as the Sea to Summit X-SET 32 is however, I was not impressed with the pot and kettle lids. They cracked within the first week of our adventure, possibly from packing them too tightly with our other gear. Plus, they’re not kidding when they say the lids can melt.  After the kettle lid cracked beyond use I tried using the pot lid on the smaller sized kettle. Bad Idea! I have the melted plastic to prove it. (Update: After reading this post Sea to Summit sent me new replacement lids for free. Thank you.)


3. Plates, Bowls and Cups

Before going Zero Waste our camping box held lots of paper plates, cups and plasticware. It also held large garbage bags to manage the trash we produced. Now instead of creating all that waste, we bring reusable plates, bowls and cups, even though it drives Mountain Dad crazy that we have to wash dishes after every meal.

Sea to Summit X series bowls and cups have been awesome. The rigid bottom of the bowl doubles as a cutting board while the silicone sides fold down flat for easy storage. Conveniently the cup nest inside the bowl and both are unbreakable – great design for kids.

Tip – Store all your camp plates, bowls and cups in a cloth bag so you can easily set the table. Everyone grab your stuff out!

4. Water

Pack a reusable water cooler and water bottles for the whole family. Most campgrounds and trailheads in National Parks provide potable water spigots, not to mention that plastic water bottles are no longer sold in most if not all National Parks. Refilling reusable bottles makes a lot of sense, and it’s an easy habit to change.

Several National Parks including Denali, Grand Teton and Yosemite are moving toward a Zero Landfill goal and reusable water bottles are just one step in that direction.

Tip – Give each family member their own color water bottle so it’s easy to tell whose is whose.

5. Flameless Heating

Since Big E has serious food allergies we are limited on the meals we can eat on the go, especially for picnics. He can’t eat wheat, so any typical bread or cracker meal is out. No sandwhiches for us.

What has saved us from the monotony of plain cheese and lunchmeat for lunch every day is the Innobaby Aquaheat Food Warmer by Innobaby. While this is not Zero Waste, it is really cool.

Add water to the heat pack, put the food in the upper stainless steel container, close the lid and in a few minutes you have hot tasty food. It’s awesome. I feel like a food magician that I can make a hot meal without a typical heat source. I’ve found that foods with liquid cook better in this set up – soup, stew, pasta, even refried beans.

So there you have it, the pieces of my Zero Waste Camp Kitchen. Now the only question is, “What’s for dinner?”

What camp cooking tips do you have? What’s your favorite camping recipe?

BioLite, Sea to Summit, and Aquaheat Lunch gave me the items above for review. My opinions are my own. This post includes affiliate links. See all of our National Park to Park Highway Sponsors here.

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Author: Mountain Mom

Hi! I'm Mountain Mom. I live with my husband and three young kids in the mountains near Sundance, Utah. When we're not hiking, biking, skiing and camping, I spend my time doing Mom stuff and reading. Summer of 2016 we traveled over 7,000 miles along the US National Park to Park Highway.

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