Learn the awesome art of minimalist packing

Minimalist packing means taking only the bare essentials, so you can thoroughly enjoy your time in the wild and stop hauling oversized bags. Do you have what it takes to leave (almost) all of your stuff behind and hit the backcountry?

“Minimalist camping” might sound redundant. Isn’t the whole point of camping to experience nature without the niceties and material goods of everyday life? True, comfort and luxury used to be pretty absent from the camping experience. But now, if you wander the aisles of any camping supply store, you’ll find an amazing amount of stuff that’s available for you to buy. But here’s the thing: Most of those items are completely unnecessary. Pare your belongings down to the basics and you won’t have to haul a heavy load. Here, some tips to help you figure out what to put in it—and what to leave at home.

1. Skip the fancy stuff

Minimalist camping is all about roughing it—and making substitutions for (or going without) your usual creature comforts. For example, you don’t need an enormous, fancy tent. You can make do with a simple tarp or a hammock. For campfires, skip the lighters and boxes of matches, and pack a simple flint instead. What about that portable coffee maker? Well, there’s something beautifully nostalgic—and tasty—about perfecting the art of coffee cooked over an open flame.

2. Follow the one-bag rule

Minimalist camping means no more than one bag per person, and children under 10 years old should share a bag. The bag should hold clothes, bathing needs, and entertainment. Smart campers use packing organizers to make things very easy to locate: Toiletries go in one bag, underwear and accessories in another, and so on. If you can’t carry your own bag for at least five straight minutes, that’s a sign that it’s too heavy and you need to remove some stuff.

3. Stick to the essentials

While putting items into your single bag, whittle your packing list down to the essentials. You don’t need to bring multiple outfits for a weekend in the woods. Rather, each person will need a sleeping bag, a small amount of clothing, and the most basic hygiene necessities. If you’re going for only a weekend, consider bringing just what’s on your body, one extra shirt, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant. Camping is, after all, about becoming one with nature, and a little sweat and dirt is part of that experience.

4. Cook like a caveman

Okay, you don’t need to go that far back in time, but when it comes to cooking gear, keep things basic: a camp stove and fuel, one or two pots and pans, some tongs, a mess-kit for each member of your party, and aluminum foil for foil-wrapped dinners. As an alternative to the camp stove, you can always cook over an open fire.

5. Don’t neglect self-care

Going minimalist doesn’t mean that you should skimp on the important basics. Be sure to pack biodegradable toilet paper and soap, insect repellent, essential medications, sunscreen, a small sewing kit, rope, and a first-aid kit. You should be able to fit almost all of those things within one small toiletry kit.  

6. Resist the urge for luxuries

Leave behind anything that functions only as a comfort item. Bringing things like large lamps and heaters defeat the purpose of going camping. If you don’t want to deal with a chilly night, perhaps you should consider renting an RV or a cabin instead of sleeping in a tent.  

Remember: A little planning goes a long way. If you throw everything that you own into several bags without thinking, you’re going to regret it the moment that you have to carry that huge load through the hilly woods. Plus, once you arrive at your destination, you’re going to get a headache trying to find everything. Packing lightly and using organizers is the way to go for a weekend camping trip.