Applying Minimalist Concepts to Backpacking

For some time now I’ve been reading the blogs Zen Habits and The Minimalists, who write about Minimalism.  These two blogs in particular have been influential in my life and I recommend you check them out.  The basic concept of minimalism as I incorporate it into my life is to only consume what we need and get rid of the rest.  This is more kind on the Earth, your soul, and your wallet.  I find it important to apply these concepts to my life in general and  I’ll be writing about how minimalist concepts go hand in hand with backpacking.

When we backpack, we’re carrying everything we need for the trip on our backs.  There can be no item without a purpose.  Anything extraneous will be a burden.  We need gear to sleep, eat, shelter ourselves, clothe ourselves for appropriate conditions, and to deal with emergencies.

We also have a weakness for new shiny things that is preyed upon by the advertising and outdoor gear industries.  Advertising preys upon the same neural pathways that are associated with addictions to drugs and cheese.  I’ll be the first to admit I’ve made dumb purchases I later regret (recently even).

Some backpackers have issues with gear addiction, jerking off to their ultralight gear spreadsheets and endlessly acquiring and talking about gear they will never use.  As has been noted before in the backpacker blogosphere, one of the most active forums on BPL is the gear forum.  Not the forum about trip reports where people actually use their gear.

The gear review articles on websites/blogs also get tons of traffic judging by the comments section. In fact, there are whole websites built around reviewing gear, badly, for the sake of getting hits to get paid off by advertisers.  Worst offenders for shitty reviews are easy to find.  I strive not to be one of them.

Hilariously, the most popular forum on BPL is the “gear swap” which is always full of people selling used and often new gear with the tags on.  Many are paying members solely for this forum.  Some of the gear is super high end shit that never saw the light of day.  Our focus on gear and acquiring new gear (needlessly) helps ruin the environment we claim to love as backpackers.

There are two takeaways from minimalism that can be easily applied to backpacking (and life in general).  There are literally thousands of posts out there about this but for me it helped to do two things:

  1. Get rid of shit I don’t use/need
  2. Only buy new things if they truly add value to my life

To get rid of gear I don’t need or use (we’ve all been there) I use the one year rule.  I ask myself if I’ve used this item for any reason in the past year.  This covers all seasons and all situations I would use any given piece of gear for.  Another variation of this is the 6-month rule the Minimalists write about.  They question to ask is “Have I used this in the past six months or do I plan to realistically use this in the next six months?”  Identical questions, really.

If you answer no to either of these questions, then sell it, throw it away/recycle, or give it away.  Its just clutter at this point.

As we all know, getting new gear really is fun and it’s super tempting sometimes to buy shit you don’t need.  I find it helpful to take a step back and truly be honest with myself and ask “Will this item add value to my life?”  or alternatively “Am I really going to use this gear on my backpacking trips?”

If the answer is no, put the gear down or close the window in your browser.  Put down the pipe.

An additional question you may add:

“Is buying this gear worth ruining the environment I purport to love?”

That last one may sound extreme, but lets be real here.

Your back will thank you the next time you are on a trip.  You’ll also have a phatty wallet. You can pat yourself on the back for not needlessly supporting the capitalist system that’s hellbent on consumption and the endless quest for more profit at the expense of the Earth.


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