Re-engineering Campcraft

Reusing plastic commercial food packaging as wilderness food storage containers has many advantages

With the ice off the border lakes and the summer paddling season underway, it is a great time to refine some camping strategies.

One of the rules commonly broken in the Boundary Waters Wilderness is the prohibition of burning paper, plastic or foil in campfires.  The USFS has done research  on the burning of plastic and foil and has discovered that it sometimes releases toxic fumes far in excess of the burning of natural campfire wood. The Forest Service also recommends small campfires. These small fires often do not reach a temperature or a duration of temperature high enough to complete the combustion of plastics and foils. This can leave globs of melted plastic and foil which is not only unsightly but hazardous to the next camper who may unwittingly toast a marshmallow steeped in carcinogenic gases. Burning paper can create floating embers which can ignite a wildfire. The 2007 Ham Lake Fire was accidentally started while burning paper in a campfire. The Forest Service takes this very seriously and will aggressively prosecute offenders if paper was burned in a campfire that results in a wildfire.

A basic tenet of “leave no trace camping” is if you pack it in, pack it out. This seems simple, but many campers struggle with the concept. From a neatness perspective, canoeists may be tempted to throw a candy bar wrapper or empty plastic baggie into the campfire, and after several days on a canoe trip sometimes the preponderance of empty freezer bags beg for a simple solution.  On a ten-day trip, campers may rationalize that butcher paper used to bundle beef steaks on Day 1 will be, by Day 5, giving off an odor that rodents and bears may not be able to resist. These are reasons why this regulation has often fallen on deaf ears of even seasoned and environmentally conscious wilderness travelers.

There are solutions that can keep campers in compliance with the law, help them maintain tidy packs and keep bear enticing aromas to a minimum.

  1. Pack in bulk. The old style of each meal individually wrapped and labeled leads to a lot of waste products. Instead of individual packets of oatmeal, oatmeal for the entire trip can be packed in a single resealable container. This container could be a reused food container such as a plastic peanut butter jar or a heavyweight plastic bag with a stout twist tie.
  2. Repackage commercially packaged dinners with minimal packing materials.
  3. Bring frozen meats in hard plastic containers that can be washed and nested for storing and transport home.
  4. After eating the contents, use one of the reused plastic containers as a tightly sealable garbage receptacle.
  5. Work toward effective meal planning so that there are no leftovers and every package is licked clean.
  6. Paper towels and napkins are too tempting to burn. Leave them home. This is bush living; wipe your mouth with the back of your hand.
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