Eric from True North Athletics is joining us today for a guest post on minimalist backpacking. This could not have come at a better time, as I was frantically packing for my AT hike, trying to reduce my pack weight while still being comfortable. I’m nowhere near minimalist (yet) but I did manage to cut 5 pounds from my base weight!
If you’ve ever been out hiking and found yourself checking through a mental list of what on earth could be making your pack so ridiculously heavy, this article is for you! Whether you’re climbing a mountain, on a multi-day trek or even car camping, taking just the basics adds to the fun of being outdoors and stops your body from getting so sore. It also lets you travel further, faster and easier so that you can truly experience nature as it is meant to be. Minimalist hiking and camping is a bit of an art, so read on to learn how you can minimize your load to make your trip more enjoyable, without compromising on your comfort or safety.
Shedding the Weight
Preparation is key when it comes to minimalist camping, hiking and backpacking, and it’s really when the fun begins! I’ll warn you in advance: getting lightweight can be addictive and once you experience how much of a difference it is, carrying less weight can make to your trip.
The question that most people first ask is how light? Minimalist backpacking is technically defined as carrying under 12 pounds of weight but to get your load down to that kind of weight requires some hard-core shedding and extreme, customized gear. For most hikers, the lighter your pack, the easier your hike will be. But exactly how much gear you’ll need to carry depends on your trip duration and the weather conditions you’re likely to encounter.
The art of minimalist hiking and camping isn’t about going out into the wilderness minimally prepared; it’s about maximizing the bare minimum with ultra-lightweight, functional gear so that you can see and enjoy more of nature without compromising on your comfort or safety.
Needs vs. Wants
A trip to REI has every outdoor enthusiast jumping with excitement with all the awesome camping gear that can be justifiably necessary. When you’re making your minimalist packing list, it’s important to clearly distinguish between what you need and what you want. I’m not going to tell you to ditch all of your comfort items. Instead, challenge your own perceptions about what you really need and think twice before you throw in those portable speakers and moisturizing lotions. Further, if you’re out for a weekend away you might think that carrying a heavier, bulkier and more comfortable sleeping pad is completely worth it, but if you’re hiking the Pacific Crest Trail you’ll probably be cutting the handle off your toothbrush just to save a few extra grams.
The Minimalist’s Pack
Your bag is one of your heaviest items so it’s a great place to start dropping weight. When choosing a pack for day or multi-day adventures, don’t be dragged down with unnecessary features like excess pockets, pouches, clips and straps. If you’re committed to only taking minimalist supplies, you shouldn’t need a very large volume or one with an extra supportive frame. Comfortable padding and straps are important when choosing a pack. Most importantly, minimizing the weight you’re carrying will also go a long way to reducing any soreness and fatigue.
Minimalist Tents, Sleeping Bags and Pads
As well as your bag itself, your tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad are the heaviest items. As well as considering their total weight, don’t forget to look at how much room they’ll take up in your bag. Ultra-lightweight tents are a great option but for the lightest load, consider a tarp and bivy. During summer, a hammock saves you from having to carry a sleeping pad and if you’re traveling with a group, consider taking a larger tent and splitting the weight between you.
When going lightweight, never compromise on carrying enough clothing to keep you warm and dry! It’s paramount to your safety so don’t skimp on packing more layers. Instead, opt for lightweight, synthetic fabrics that are fast-drying so you can wash them and wear them again.
On shorter trips your best option might be food that doesn’t need cooking. But having a warm meal at the end of a tough day can be totally worth the weight! An ultra-lightweight backpacking stove, some fuel, a lightweight pot and freeze-dried meals can even be lighter than taking normal food, if you’ve got a reliable water source you can boil up to rehydrate a meal. Select calorie dense snacks that don’t take up too much room such as meal bars and trail mix. Plan your food day by day to make sure you’ve got enough. Always pack a little extra just in case!
Once you’ve got your main items sorted, it’s time to get creative with your extras. Invest in a reliable scale and weigh your gear to work out where you can make the biggest savings. What’s lighter, water bottles or a hydration bladder? Can you carry a water filter to reduce your total water load? You may be able to save weight by removing unnecessary toiletries, packaging, eating straight from the cooking pot and by leaving the camp coffee press at home.
Never ditch your first aid kit to save weight! Instead, select or make one that meets your needs without unnecessary extras and hopefully it’ll be the one thing in your bag you won’t use.
Hitting the Trails
The art of minimalist hiking and camping doesn’t just stop there. When you take your new and improved, lighter load out into the wilderness, take note of any items that you didn’t use or wished you had so you can add or remove them from your pack before your next adventure. Enjoy the feeling of hiking and appreciate your new nimbleness. Without extra pounds making you sore and tired, you’ll be able to walk faster and further and truly get away from your busy, everyday life. After all, you’re out here to enjoy the solitude. Who cares if you left the deodorant at home?