It’s hard to find plastic-free versions of a lot of camping supplies. Plastic makes things lightweight and easy to carry in a backpack. I don’t camp a lot, so usually my strategy to avoid new plastic is to borrow from friends or find things second-hand via Freecycle, Craigslist, yard sales, or thrift stores. At Burning Man last month, I slept in a nylon sleeping bag on a foam pad, both of which I have had for many years. And while the sleeping bag has held up very well and will last me many more years to come, the foam pad was a big fail. Maybe it’s because I’m not as young as I used to be, but I woke up every morning with an aching back, sore in places I didn’t even know I had.
So when the Monterey Bay Aquarium invited me to come and give a presentation during their Plastic Pollution Summit last week — and as a bonus, sleep overnight in the aquarium in the exhibit of my choice — I knew I had to get moving to find an alternative that wouldn’t feel like a cement slab. Sure, I could have looked for a secondhand air mattress or camping cot, but since I was going to be giving a talk on plastic-free living, I wanted to see if a plastic-free alternative existed. So I thought… how did people camp before plastic?
I asked eBay, and eBay answered me with a plethora of vintage army cots made from wood, metal, and cotton canvas. (If you purchase via this link, My Plastic-Free Life earns a small commission!) Zero plastic. This cot has been around since decades before I was born and is still going strong. (Note: If you follow the link to look for cots on eBay, make sure you choose one that has the wooden end bars. Those bars keep the canvas stretched taught and prevent the frame from folding up around you.)
Granted, it’s a lot bigger and heavier than the modern polyester and aluminum cots sold in sporting goods stores. I wouldn’t take it backpacking, that’s for sure. But for car camping… or sleeping in an aquarium… it’s perfect.
The cot was perfectly comfortable. And sleeping in the aquarium was amazing. Here are a few pix of my view Friday night after lights out, as well as a few I took as I wandered around the dark museum waiting to get sleepy. (I’m not used to going to bed at 11:30pm.)
The aquarium has a display of plastic trash art as part of its educational program on ocean plastic pollution. I’ll write more about that in a separate post.
My next search will be a good plastic-free tent alternative. But I have until next summer to figure that one out.