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12 Upcycling Ideas for the Savvy Outdoor Enthusiast

  • 3/2/2016 5:00:00 AM
  • View Count 17340
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Camping and relaxing outside should be great ways to spend your day and not your money. Still, accessories and new fandangled gear can get pricey pretty quick, so try these alternative upcycling options to get back to the fun instead of the store!

Handwashing Station (Made from Laundry Soap Dispensers)
This idea is a rustic camping classic. Bring an empty laundry soap dispenser with a push button and fill it up at the last stop before your campsite. For added cleanliness, drill or punch a hole through a bar of soap, thread it on a piece of sturdy string and tie it to the dispenser handle.
Handwashing station on Pinterest 

Rain Chain (Made from Pinecones)
For the artsy outdoor enthusiast, take an afternoon to make an eco-friendly rain chain. These cute alternatives to downspouts will guide rainwater from your roof to the ground with a little flair. To start, gather a number of large pinecones. If you want your chain to last, try dipping your pinecones in an outdoor wood stain and sealant. If you’d prefer to attract birds, skip this step and smear on peanut butter at the end. Attach your pinecones as you see fit. There are many decorative wire options available at craft stores, or you can simply tie the pinecones together with string from around the house. String them upside-down to help the water drain best.
Rain chain on Pinterest

Bag Clips (Made From Wine Corks)
Minimal effort can be a great motivator for DIY projects. To make a bag clip, simply cut a wine cork about halfway through with a razorblade, scissors or a knife. Use a cutting board and be careful not to cut your fingers. Then, simply side the cork onto the edge of a folded over bag to keep it shut. 
Cork bag clips on Pinterest


Bird Feeders (Made from Drink Containers)
Many people remember making bird houses or feeders as children, but you can make the grown up version as fancy or basic as you want. Materials are available on the Greenlist, and glass is even searchable by color!

For the least difficult option, take a cardboard milk container, cut out a hole for birds to fly in, punch a stick or two through for perches, and punch two more holes in the top to suspend it by. Fill the bottom with bird seed, tie it up and you’re good to go.

If you want to be able to see inside, use a plastic bottle, but these are harder to cut into. Plastic will hold its shape better, so experiment with cutting different designs at different heights on a couple bottles.

If you’re feeling really fancy, try using a wine bottle, a fabric scrap and an old plastic bowl. First, nail the bowl to a tree or post. This will be more difficult if your bowl has a lip, because you want the bottom of the bowl to be as level as possible. Next, hold your bottle up to the tree and position your fabric scrap. You can also use an old belt, bungee cord, or other flexible thing you have lying around. If you do use fabric, tie knots near the ends to keep it from fraying. Secure your fabric scrap with two more nails, going through the knots you tied. Lastly, fill the bottle with bird seed and carefully turn it upside down. You want it to be suspended high enough to dispense seed into the bowl, but not empty all at once. If your fabric is wimpy, place two more nails around the neck of the bottle to help it stay in place.

Drink container bird feeder on Pinterest 

Fire Starters (Made from Egg Cartons and Pine Needles, Pill Bottles and Dryer Lint)
This is a great project to do with kids. Bring an empty paper egg carton on a hike, and fill it with dried pine needles you find on the path. Tear off sections as needed to make you fire starter last longer. In case it gets wet while you’re out, bring an old pill bottle full of dryer lint as a back-up option. Don’t use Styrofoam egg cartons for this project.
DIY pine needle fire starters on Pinterest

Raccoon-proof Carriers (Made from Kitty Litter Containers)
If you’ve ever tried to open a tub of kitty litter, you already know how difficult it is. This upcycling project takes minimal effort besides the initial cleaning, and can help you carry everything from charcoal to food and dishes. Use small oven racks to keep dry food above a section of ice and refrigerated food, and stack your carriers at night to make them especially difficult for raccoons to get into.
Upcycled kitty litter containers on Pinterest

TP tube (Made from an Oatmeal Container)
Minimal effort is needed for this project. Clean out a large, empty oatmeal tin, and two rolls of toilet paper should snugly fit inside. For added protection, wrap the cardboard section of the container in kitchen cling wrap and seal with tape.
Upcycled TP holder on Pinterest

Lanterns (Made from Tin Cans)
Tin cans can be made into everything from garden decorations to improvised grills, but a lantern is an excellent thing to make for a camping trip. If you don’t have cans on hand, use the Greenlist to find a location with cans near you. Once you have a large, empty, de-labeled can, take a hammer and a large nail and poke abundant holes around it. Make sure to put two near the top edge to string your lantern by. Tie a string or wire through the top holes, put a tealight candle in the bottom, and you’re good to go. Be careful not to burn yourself on the metal as it warms up, and make your handle long enough to avoid holding your hand directly over the candle flame. As with any fire, be responsible and put it out when you’re finished using it.
Tin can lanterns on Pinterest

Spice Holders (Made from Tic-Tac Boxes)
Nobody said camp food had to be bland. Soak and scrub empty Tic-Tac boxes in soap and warm water to remove the labels, then simply dry, pop off the top, fill with your spices of choice and label with permanent marker. These containers stack and store easily as an added bonus.
Upcycled spice containers on Pinterest

Cooler-Sized Ice Packs (Made from Milk Jugs)
Extended camping trips usually require a cooler of two of groceries, and buying ice to keep them cold is expensive. Soggy bread isn’t so great either. To avoid the cost and the cleanup, rinse out empty milk or juice jugs, fill with water and freeze the day before your camping expedition. Don’t fill containers to the brim before freezing, as expanding ice can overflow or rupture the container. Once frozen, pack with your refrigerator groceries and you’re good to go. When the ice melts, you’ll have extra cold drinking water too.
Milk jug ice packs on Pinterest

Denim Pot Holders (Made from Jeans)
Denim is a great, rugged, insulating fabric, and potholders are a great thing to have when camping to protect your hands, picnic tables, etc. Reuse a retired pair of your own pants, or search for a pair on the Greenlist. For added protection, sew three and a half sides of two denim squares together, flip inside-out, stuff lightly with a non-acrylic filling like cotton and finish the stitching by hand.
DIY denim pot holders on Pinterest

Outdoor Furniture (Made from Pallets)
Pallets are the Legos of DIY furniture. Stack a few, paint or stain as you like, top with a cushion and you have a futon. Suspend from a tree and you have a swing. Prop it upright and you have a trellis. Use your imagination to make whatever best fits your home. Mix and match with reclaimed furniture from businesses on the Greenlist for your easy backyard makeover.
DIY pallet porch swing on Pinterest


For more ideas, check out our Upcycling, Iowa Camping and DIY Outdoors boards on Pinterest.