6 tips for a zero-waste bivouac

Bivouacking is an art of living that can only be done with total respect for nature. Here are 6 tips for a zero-waste bivouac.

Bivouacs are a great way to reconnect with nature, discover untouched spaces and get out of your comfort zone. It’s for those who love the great outdoors and the living.

However, even when bivouacking far from mass tourism, you can still leave your ecological footprint. And if we need peace and quiet on these unique expeditions, nature needs peace and quiet too.

That’s why every bivouac-goer needs to control his or her impact on the environment and adopt eco-friendly gestures. At Generation Voyage, we’ve put together 6 of the best tips for consuming better and living sustainably while bivouacking.

1. Choosing the right camping spot

Spot bivouac - bivouac zéro déchet

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Sander van der Werf

The first step to a zero-waste bivouac is to choose the right camping spot. First of all, don’t break the rules: wild camping is forbidden in national parks and on private property. Otherwise, camping hours are generally regulated.

In fact, bivouac and wild camping differ in the sense that the term « camping » implies several nights, whereas bivouac is more ephemeral. Here we’ll use both to refer to just one or two nights.

What’s more, setting up camp in a fragile area risks leaving lasting traces on the environment. Your bivouac should be set up on a hard surface (pine needles, sandy beach and rocks for your belongings). Avoid going beyond marked camping areas, and replace any natural elements you may have moved to facilitate your set-up.

Campfires are an integral part of any bivouac session. However, the law on campfires is strict: only build them in legal areas. Choose an existing fire area. Use only dead and fragile wood to light your fire. Finally, don’t burn waste such as aluminum, plastic, glass, cans or even food. At most, toast marshmallows.

2. Use the sun’s inexhaustible energy resources


Photo credit: Shutterstock – ltummy

Solar batteries to power your smartphone, camera or other technological equipment are the perfect eco-friendly alternative. More durable and safer than a conventional portable battery, which in turn depends on a power supply to operate. As for flashlights and headlamps, solar-powered versions are also perfect: clean, long-lasting and guaranteed zero carbon emissions.

3. Eco-friendly cooking

Cuisiner de façon écoresponsable - bivouac zéro déchet

Photo credit: Shutterstock – wwwarjag

The traditional camp stove is an essential part of any bivouac outing. Forget plastic cups and disposable cardboard crockery, however, and opt for stainless steel, bamboo or any other eco-friendly, sustainable material. And to clean your cutlery, a little boiled water will suffice. To transport your food, opt for reusable cloth bags.

Let’s also look at the stove. In 99% of cases, it’s used to boil water. In this context, forget the gas stove reserved for the extreme cold of your zero-waste bivouac. A small gas cartridge and a compact stove should suffice.

4. Sleep in a durable tent

Tente bivouac

Photo credit: Shutterstock – simoly

It’s impossible to imagine a bivouac, even a zero-waste one, without thinking of a tent. However, this essential camping equipment is not all that green in its classic version.

Most tents undergo a waterproofing process. This process, which protects your equipment from water and humidity, is harmful to the planet. The particles in these products are full of PFCs or perfluorocarbons, which are toxic for the environment and highly volatile. Once deposited in the four corners of the world, they have a lifespan of fifty thousand years, and sometimes end up in our food products or natural water sources.

The same applies to the tent’s composition. Most are made from PFC. This is certainly practical, as it keeps you warm all night long. But there are alternatives. For example, choose tents made from recycled materials such as polyester.

Bivouac tente

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Oliclimb

Aluminum, used to make tent poles and light equipment, is obtained from bauxite, which is deforested and processed in an energy-intensive way. Extracting this precious metal is therefore quite costly for the planet. Although rare, you can still find a few tents made without aluminum.

Another way to have a zero-waste bivouac is to avoid buying anything new. Because the most environmentally-friendly camping tent is still the one you buy second-hand. You can find them on specialized websites. As well as protecting our beautiful planet, second-hand is ideal for your wallet. And if you’re a one-off bivouac, why not rent your outdoor gear? Tents, mattresses, comforters, bags: it’s all possible.

Finally, you can opt for the hammock option. In fine weather, you can sleep under the stars, watching the Milky Way as you drift off to sleep.

5. Managing waste

Fruits et légumes en vrac - bivouac zéro déchet

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Bogdan Sonjachnyj

It’s impossible to talk about a zero-waste bivouac without talking about waste management, whether organic or not. Over-packaged products, plastic bottles… Opt instead for bulk products and a reusable water bottle. Add to this the purchase of a special filter for drinking water directly from streams or lakes.

When we think of garbage, we sometimes forget about faecal matter and other matter that, on the face of it, degrades very quickly in nature. Yet the latter, although biodegradable, can facilitate the spread of disease and disturb flora and fauna.

If there really aren’t any toilets – dry ones in most cases – get far enough away from the camping areas and dig a hole more than twenty centimetres deep to do your errands. As for tissues, toilet paper and food waste, wrap them up and take them home for disposal in a dedicated garbage can.

You might be tempted to burn them, but that would weaken the soil. You might also be tempted to bury them, but animals can dig them up.

6. Use the right hygiene products

Savon solide

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Space_Cat

When it comes to personal care products, forget about conventional soaps and shampoos. Take along solid, eco-friendly soaps that don’t leak into your pack. SAF (cold process saponification) soaps are perfect for bivouacers.

What’s more, most of these biodegradable soaps are all-in-one: they wash your body as well as your dishes. However, don’t use it to wash in a lake or river. You can either go without soap for a few days, or use the following method:

  • fill a container with water and use it with soap to clean your glove;
  • dig a hole more than sixty meters from a watercourse;
  • then pour in your container of biodegradable soap.

Antibacterial gels are a practical and effective way of washing hands, as well as being very fashionable…

To clean your teeth during a zero-waste bivouac, you’ll easily find toothpaste without packaging, in powder, stick or mini-pellet form. Or why not make your own toothpaste from coconut oil, charcoal, baking soda and essential oils? To complete your kit, take along a biodegradable and compostable bamboo toothbrush.

Déodorant fait main

Photo credit: Shutterstock – FotoHelin

Bivouacs also mean hiking. So it’s hard to do without deodorant. A little more time-consuming to create, but highly effective against unpleasant odours, why not make your own deodorant using coconut oil, beeswax, baking soda, cornflour and essential oils. Alternatively, opt for a solid or cream deodorant made from natural products. The same goes for protecting your skin from the sun: there are solutions that protect your skin and respect the planet.

In short, it’s perfectly possible to maintain a minimum of comfort, safety and hygiene during a zero-waste bivouac. Our advice will only point you in the direction of useful, practical and economical solutions. Healthy for you and the living world around you.

If you liked this article, you’ll love our entire section dedicated to sustainable and responsible travel.