Eco-friendly packing – and how you can do it too

I’ve long been a supporter of eco-tourism and have tried (and many times failed) to be a fully-aware eco-traveler myself. In this world of technology and modern equipment, it’s sometimes hard to find your way back to the basics and just enjoy travel for what it is rather than enjoy it alongside all of the gadgets and gizmos that we’re buried under in this 21st century.

It’s time to rethink how we approach eco-travel, and that begins with our attitude and what we take with us. In many ways, what I’m providing for you here is my own wish list of eco-friendly travel gear that I’d like in my own eco-friendly travel pack. But more than that, it’s a reflection of how I’d like to see travelers shift their outlook on travel — from the self to the world.

So, let’s get packing, shall we?

When you’re eco-packing, you have to think about the materials. You want to avoid materials like vinyl and polyester (unless it’s recycled). Nowadays, lots of gear is made from organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and recycled plastic. Consider also how or if the fabric was dyed. Fabric dyes can be toxic and contain bad (BAD) chemicals like mercury, lead or heavy metals like cadmium or arsenic. Make sure your soaps and toiletries are small, made from the earth (all-natural), and biodegradeable. The chemicals in products can not only be hazardous to you but also contaminating for the environment! Throw it away, and it goes to a landfill, and then into the groundwater.

The first essential item is the luggage itself — a good, sturdy, eco-friendly suitcase or backpack. This technical hiking backpack from Lafuma is a keeper. It is made from hemp (65 percent) and recycled polyester (35 percent) and has a TPE coating that provides waterproofing without heavy metals. only the hemp fabric is dyed, avoiding another processing stage and reducing dyeing chemicals by 35 percent. If you prefer something with wheels, then this MLC wheelie from Patagonia is it. It’s made of 100% recycled polyester, and even has backpack straps just in case.

I’m a huge fan of the ultalight travel movement. That’s why I not only minimize the clothes I pack, but the lightness of those items. GoLite is my recent clothing company of choice. The company’s environmental focus is shifting 100% of its materials to identified Environmentally Preferred Materials (EPMs). Its current 2010 product line has over 50% EPMs by mass, and the goal is to use 100% EPMs by 2015.

I’ve also been a fan of Patagonia through the years. When you shop online, you can read about what each product was made from. You can even follow it’s eco-conscious blog, The Cleanest Line.

Okay, I admit it: I can’t travel without some electronics and eco-unfriendly accessories. BUT, even travel gadget carriers like myself can be slightly more environmentally responsible now by powering electronics using a solar charger. I recently purchased a Solio solar charger from Radio Shack, and I intend to carry it with me on my next trip to power all of my electronics. BONUS: If you buy a Solio charger with free gift-wrapping online, Solio will donate a Solio-powered LED light to a family in the world that lives on less than $1 a day.

For battery-operated electronics, consider using rechargeable batteries from USBCell. The batteries last for years and charge via any USB port!

There’s only one company I’ve come to trust when buying toiletries, and that’s Tom’s of Maine. All you really need is some toothpaste and soap — oh, and I guess the ladies should consider getting organic feminine products from Natracare.

So there you have it, guys: Gadling’s guide to eco-friendly packing. The great thing about the products I’ve mentioned is that they don’t break your bank, which proves you can travel green without spending a fortune. When you’re all packed and you set off on your next trip, don’t forget how to travel green. Think low environmental impact, and have a great eco-trip!