A Zero Waste Backpacking Trip: What I Packed

A Zero Waste Backpacking Trip: What I Packed

Tomorrow I’m setting off to France on my big walking-across-Spain adventure. I’m hiking to Santiago de Compostela (in Spain) from the town of St John Pied-de-Port in France. It’s 800km in total, along the Camino Frances (most commonly known as the Camino de Santiago).

I’m expecting it to take about 5 weeks.

The biggest difficulty (well, aside from walking 800km of course, but I’m putting that to the back of my mind right now so it doesn’t seem so far!) is figuring out what to pack.

Particularly as a minimalist, who needs to keep warm at the top of the mountains and cool on the lowlands, believes in packing light, can’t face the idea of needing anything single-use on the way, would rather not buy anything new and doesn’t have time to source everything second-hand…

As always, there’s a balance, and there’s compromise.

A Zero Waste Backpacking Trip Across Spain

Using What I Already Have

I’m a big believer in using what I already have where I can. Interestingly, the things I already own and don’t own were a little random. I already own a pair of decent hiking boots, a backpack and a silk sleeping bag liner (purchased back in 2002 and still going strong).

No need to replace these.

On the other hand, I don’t actually own any t-shirts, any jumpers with full length sleeves, or a raincoat.

(I’ve been saying I’ll buy a raincoat since I moved to Perth in 2011. I think I believed Perth was the land of the eternal sunshine. It’s no UK, but I was definitely a little over-optimistic.)

Although I already have a bunch of reusables, I did get some new ones that I think are more appropriate for what I need.

Brand New versus Second Hand

I try to buy as much as I can second-hand, but when you’re looking for specific items it can be more of a challenge. I’m confident it can be done. On this occasion though, I did not have the time (or the patience) to source everything second-hand.

I visited a few second hand stores and had some success. I also spent a great deal of time searching online, with less success.

I found two pairs of shorts, a t-shirt and a lightweight dress second-hand. I was also able to borrow two walking poles.

The difficulty of browsing online was that I had no real idea of the quality or fit of many of the brands on offer. (Plus most things take 2 weeks to reach the west coast from the east coast via mail, so second-hand online shopping means allowing a considerable amount of time.)

The range was also pretty small. In the end I accepted I’d have to buy more new than I’d have preferred to.

Natural Fibres versus Synthetic Fibres

I’m always torn between wanting natural fibres but also needing to be practical, not to mention the ethics of different materials.

Waxed cotton is waterproof but super heavy; lightweight rain jackets are 100% synthetic. Products like down can be harvested by cruel methods; synthetic fleece is the worst fabric for shedding microfibres into the ocean.

The raincoat I purchased was made by Patagonia, who are well known for and committed to pursuing sustainable practices. The outer is made from 100% recycled nylon. Whilst I hate buying synthetic fabrics, I do take comfort in knowing it is made from recycled material over virgin plastic.

(For those in the US, Patagonia offer Worn Wear, which is an online store selling pre-loved Patagonia wear. I love this option, but it is not currently available in Australia.)

In my quest for a lightweight jumper I purchased a down vest. I’ve been against down since watching the Earthlings documentary; they show undercover footage of geese being stripped of their feathers whilst fully conscious. But at the store I was told about ethical down, wild harvested once the geese leave their nests (they shed down to insulate their eggs), and I felt more comfortable with this.

Each down product the store sells has a tracking number for traceability.

Having tracked my ID at trackmydown.com I discovered that the down in my vest is 100% duck down from China, which is a by-product of the meat industry. No birds are live-plucked according to their auditing process. Not exactly the wild-harvested down I was told about though (which does exist, but is much harder to find).

This down is certified Responsible Down Standard. Auditing and certification is better than not, and changing any industry with improved animal welfare and greater transparency is a good thing. Being a part of the meat industry, I do have mixed feelings.

The few other things I purchased were merino wool, which is lightweight and breathable. A pair of leggings (Macpac), a bra (Icebreaker), a t-shirt with no seams across the shoulders (much better for carrying a backpack) (Icebreaker) and a long-sleeved thermal (Kathmandu).

I checked all the brands with the Behind the Barcode 2018 Ethical Fashion Report, which assesses supplier relationships, policies and worker empowerment for different companies and grades performance.

Icebreaker was graded A+, Patagonia was graded A, Kathmandu was graded A, and Macpac was graded B.

Okay, so here is my confession: I purchased a pair of brand new nylon trousers. Not recycled nylon. Yes, I’m cringing too. We all have moments of weakness. In my defence, I was pretty tired of shopping by this point.

Total weight of clothes (including everything except hiking boots): 2.4kg.

Packing Reusables

It is very important to me that I avoid single-use disposables wherever possible. It is also important that I avoid plastic where I can. I want to travel light, yet all of the lightweight reusable solutions seemed to be plastic.

I knew that titanium is a lightweight metal sometimes used in camping and hiking gear, and I wondered if titanium reusables exist. It turns out they do! I found a reusable water bottle, leakproof container, spork and travel mug at Vargo Outdoors, who specialise in titanium equipment and accessories.

I’ve compared them with my regular reusables to give an idea of weight difference. Clearly they are not exact swaps, but they serve the same purpose.

The Vargo water bottle weighs 120g, compared with 240g for the Klean Kanteen bottle (it’s a slightly smaller volume, being 650ml as opposed to 800ml).

The Vargo BOT (which is what Vargo call their reusable container) weighs 136g, versus 295g for the stainless steel container. Despite owning a few stainless steel containers, none of mine are actually leakproof. The Vargo BOT is leakproof, so I can use it as a second water bottle if required.

The Vargo travel cup weighs 61g, versus 222g for the KeepCup. Clearly they are quite different (the KeepCup has a lid, and an insulated band). But I don’t want to take (breakable) glass with me on this trip.

The Vargo spork weighs 17g, and the bamboo fork and spoon (part of my To-Go wear set) combined weigh 17g (with the knife, chopsticks and the case it’s more). So they weigh the same, but the bamboo fork isn’t very easy to eat with – I tend to only use the spoon, which doesn’t work for everything. I love how small the titanium spork packs down.

Additionally, I’ve packed a single Onya produce bag, my 4myearth food wrap, and a lightweight reusable tote bag.

The total weight of my reusables: 452g.

Toiletries

I keep my toiletries pretty simple at home, so this wasn’t a challenge. Bar soap, a bamboo toothbrush, a pot of DIY sunscreen, a pot of DIY cold cream, a pot of homemade toothpaste and a pot of DIY deodorant.

I also packed 6 soap nuts for laundry, my Diva cup (reusable menstrual cup), and a hankie.

Total weight: 521g.

The Final Pack

My final pack weighs 5.8kg. This includes every single thing thing except my hiking boots, but clearly I’ll be wearing some of the clothes. I was aiming for less, but it’s still manageable.

I’m going to go through everything one more time before I leave, so I still might be able to shave some weight off.

And that’s it! Tomorrow I head to the south of France to begin the walk into and across Spain.

Here’s to five weeks of walking. I’ll report back from the other side on how it all went :) Wish me luck!

28 Responses to A Zero Waste Backpacking Trip: What I Packed

  1. Good luck! You’re fulfilling one of my dreams! I also want to do that. Thank you for the lightweight packing tips. I’ll keep them for the future. Enjoy the walk!

  2. Good Luck on your journey. I’ve walked 3 different Caminos (my sister from Aussie did one with me) and it is such an amazing experience. You meet so many wonderful people and the beautiful scenery, villages, churches you visit are like no other experience I’ve had. My next Walk will definitely be a little more zero waste. Sometimes tough to stick to along the way but is doable. Cheers Sue from South Africa :)

  3. Have a great trip. A friend did it last year, found it challenging in the beginning, swollen feet! But throughly enjoyed it, walking in all the way to the sea, think it took another three days. Thanks for the packing tips.

  4. Buen Camino Lindsay! You have done an amazing job keeping your packing and weight to a minimum. You will appreciate your hard work with every step. Enjoy your adventure.

  5. My husband and I are hoping to do this same trip in a year or two, but in the other direction – looking forward to hearing all about it! Having done quite a bit of walking, can I suggest you add some fabric plasters, iodine and a cloth to wipe clean cuts etc to the kit? I know it’s all more weight, but having to slow down / give up because of infections or blisters would be annoying …

  6. Oh, and one of my favourite sayings to send you on your way – no hay camino, el camino se hace al andar

  7. Lindsay, as a ultralight weight hiker and minimalist … you have a extremely lightweight pack. Well down! Safe Journey.

  8. Enjoy! It’s a wonderful adventure. I would suggest a pair of flipflops or sandals to wear in the evenings. (also useful if you are going to use communal showers)

  9. Here’s to your backpack not being felt to much. I so admire your abilities in packing light. Better than the backpack, have the best time. We shall hear from you once you are back. Enjoy each and every day.

  10. Good luck and safe travels! I’m impressed with how light your travel kit is. I’d have significant troubles with trying to limit the weight especially as a photographer with heavy camera gear.

  11. Thank you for sharing all this! It is inspiring! Very best wishes for your trip, looking forward to the updates!

  12. Do you check whether your merino products are from sheep that underwent mulesing? Would you prefer local (Australian) merino from sheep that were mulesed, or merino from further away (e.g. Germany) from sheep that were not?

  13. Hi Lindsay! This is a topic that’s loomed big in my mind over the last few years, so I’m so glad you’re dealing with it here :) Last summer I hiked around 1,000 miles (1609 km) of the Pacific Crest Trail in the US, and attempting to maintain my zero-waste habits over a long-distance backpacking trip led to a lot of mental strife, which I think you summarized super well. In some ways backpacking is the ultimate minimalist activity—you realize how little you actually need and want when you carry your home and all your possessions on your back—but it was incredibly difficult (impossible?) for me to avoid using plastics. I ended up sourcing my food in bulk or fresh and local to me on the East Coast of the US, dehydrating it and shipping it to myself on the trail on the West Coast packed in ziplock bags, which I would never buy normally (and all of which I saved and mailed back to myself for continued use). The alternative, buying food along the way, seemed marginally worse, since many of the resupply locations along the trail are convenience stores, and the food they carry was already shipped long distances, almost exclusively packaged in plastic, and practically never vegan… a difficult tradeoff, though.

    As for gear, I tried to either buy items that were second-hand and repairable or use what I already owned, but this led to some major tradeoffs to do with weight. Durable gear is heavy, (and I now have the knee damage to prove it!) That said, some popular ultralight options are brilliant instances of recycling, i.e. plastic water bottles are light, last a relatively long time, and are (unfortunately) available in every trash can. If you have to filter or purify your water anyway, why not give someone else’s trash a longer life? In the same vein, I love the trail practice of “hiker boxes,” places where PCT hikers leave food and supplies they don’t need for others who can use them.

    In the end, I created more trash than I wanted (not to mention the huge carbon cost of the jet fuel it took to get me across the country), but I was inspired tenfold to reduce my consumption in everyday life. I really reconsidered the value of *stuff* after schlepping it up and down mountains for months!

  14. Ultreija y buen camino!
    I walked the Camino Frances a couple of years ago and the Camino Primitivo last summer.

    Under 6kg is a pretty good backpack, especially if you don’t want to buy special ultralight equipment. I don’t think you’ll need a cup nor utensils, though. You’ll get your coffee con leche in ceramic cups anyway and won’t want any other coffee for sure as it’s the best you can get – the Spanish are masters of brewing coffee ;-) You won’t need to filter water to drink it as you are in a civilized country – if you don’t like the taste of chlorine in the tap water, add a little bit of lemon juice to it which will neutralize the taste.
    If you can eat dinner at your albergue together with other pilgrims, always do! You’ll have the best and maybe the deepest conversations there!

    Remember: You have to survive the “evil three starter days” (sore muscles, blisters, painful knees, sunburn, whatever) at first, but then your pilgrimage will be a dream! ^^

    Greet ol’ Jacob for me! ;-)
    Love from Germany,
    Pip

  15. Consider a handkerchief in a small bag for pee cleanup trail side when there are no bathrooms. You can wash it each night.

  16. Hi Lindsay I’m curious to hear about your airline experiences. Will they let you take your (empty) water bottle and cup on board and fill them up for you

  17. Good luck and big thanks for all your tips. I love your way of life and how conscious you are about everything. I will never be so great, although I am trying. Step by step. Good luck on your journey!!

  18. Have a fabulous trip! Just wanted to add a comment about reusable water bottles- I’m about to head off to South Asia and have just bought myself a fill2pure bottle which has a filter they claim renders any tap water drinkable- I bought a stainless steel one. Will let you know how it goes…

  19. Have a great time along the Camino!
    And thanks for sharing how you packed. As a outdoor traveller with similar packing aims this article was most interesting and useful.

  20. Wow that is an impressively small weight, well done. I know I couldn’t do either the walk or the light weight, certainly not in my current circumstances. I bought new hiking pants last year to go to Iceland, so I feel for you. It’s worth it.

  21. I’m writing to my local council, asking them to check that their contractors (for street furniture, walkways etc) use recycled materials. All that stuff needs to be dug out of landfill and turned into useful products!

  22. Youll enjoy the camino de santiago, I’m Spanish and although I havent done it myself I know of many people that have and its an incredibly inspiring and fulfilling trip, many people do it for religious or spiritual reasons, and the people you will find in the way are the best part of it, everyone says. The city of Santiago is beautiful, although the original camino is up to Finisterre, in latin ‘the end of the world’. This is the most occidental point of Spain (a cape) and it was believed to be the end of the world, before t he discovery of America, because of the fog that is usually there. It is much further to the west of Santiago and is definitely worth visiting if you have the time. Oh and remember to eat pulpo, zamburiñas and percebes (these are expensive though) its all seafood which is what Galicia is best at, although really anything you it will be delicious (its Spain!). Thanks for such a great blog. Have a nice time!

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