16 April 2009

Less is more

If you are reading this post most likely you live in a structured society.
Chances are that most of your time is spent indoors and maybe you are wishing that you could be outside more.
Some of us just dab at the outdoors while if you are like me you make it a priority in life.
I also make sure that I spend a healthy amount of time sleeping away from the comforts of my home.
I am not talking about the "luxury" hotels that work sometimes takes me to, I am talking about camping.
I love being away from home and spend the night in the wilderness.
The further away from civilization the better.
In my opinion a real sense of achievement and adventure can only be had if little or no human disturbance is found in a place.
The experience is enriched further when I travel with less gear.
The years of travelling light in the wilderness with all the needed gear carried in my backpack has thought me to minimize and discard items that are really unnecessary.
I remember my early days of backpacking when I would schlep a rather large pack that most times would weigh around 20+ Kg (44Lbs) just for an overnight experience.
It used to require considerable effort and additional time to take me to the places I loved.
Admittedly the gear that I take with me today is technologically more advanced and consequently lighter but what made my pack smaller and lighter is the elimination of items that were not necessary to experience the healing nature of an outing.
I have come to the conclusion that if I have less "stuff" with me I tend to appreciate the place more.
I know that there are many that will think I am mad and they see no point of leaving behind the "essentials" to make camping comfortable.
These days my pack weight around 8Kg (18Lbs) when travelling light for a week end in the bush however I don't enjoy the outdoors any less than the days of heavy hauling.
When kayaking on overnight trips with my friends I am often puzzled why are their kayaks so incredibly heavy when helping them carry it up the beach.
On occasions I have actually refused to help them with a kayak that in my opinion was just too heavy. I suggested emptying the contents on the beach and then carry the unloaded kayak closer to camp. After all the most common kayaking injuries occur while carrying heavy boats.

So what have I changed and eliminated from my list that I found unnecessary?

While backpacking I realized that there is no need to carry a heavy large tent.
These days I often go away with just a light tarp. Used correctly it often offers the same level of comfort as a tent. And while the tent gives the non experienced outdoorsmen a sense of safety by being totally enclosed it robs them the pleasure of still seeing the world around them while sheltered from the elements.
If bighting insects are a possibility I add a mosquito net.
My totally weatherproof shelter can be as light as 500 grm (18oz.).
There are times though where wind could be an issue where I prefer to take just the fly and poles of my tent leaving behind the heavier part, the inner tent.

rainy and windy night with just the fly of the Hillberg Nallo
There are numerous items that I no longer take with me because I found that I never use those items.
I have revised my cooking (bulky and heavy inefficient metho stove, redundant multiple pots) and my clothing (several bulky items that offer little insulation and are not suitable around camp... these days amuses me to see jeans worn around camp on wilderness trips...).
I also have a light sleeping bag since most locales have mild temperatures. I don’t take an air mattress that often offers little warmth and is incredibly bulky and heavy; a compact self inflating matt does the job for my horizontal times.

(details here)
The list goes on. My pack or kayak weigh less and I can travel faster and more efficiently.
To teach myself and others on how to travel light occasionally I organize a trip where the goal is to take only the very minimal essentials.
Tents, chairs and tables are never seen around camp when we kayak or walk light.

ultralight camping at Peel Island
Even if fires are not permitted, some of us elect to not even take any cooking equipment since realistically not really needed just for a night out.
Improvising from the few items that we have is part of the fun and surprisingly most of us don’t wish for the luxuries left behind.

I found that travelling with less gear awakens your senses and enriches the experience.
The biggest culprit seems to be the electronic gear that pervades some trips.
The constant scanning of the GPS and data that it feeds (or the noise of the VHF radio) is in my opinion a total waste of time.
No doubt that it is a great tool used wisely and for safety but it alienates me from my surrounding. Being worried of my progress, speed and constant knowledge of my location in a non essential situation is an invasion of my freedom and peace.
Somebody gave me a GPS probably 10 years ago… I still have not used it. Call me old school but I have only once wished for it when caught in a blizzard. On the other hand it was not a life threatening situation and instead of trying to make my travel very hard, I just set up camp and sit out the storm.
If I kayak in waters that require a GPS I make sure that I invite a geek along that will keep me informed… :-)


  1. I think that must of us who have been camping for a few years are heading to the way you camp now. As a matter of fact I just sold my old 80 liters backpack and have a new 60 liters.
    About technologically more advanced and lighter gear, have you try the Flameless Heating Kit from Mountain House? I like it.

  2. Ichi, have not heard of it yet but seems to be an old concept revisited: chemical heating.
    After a quick Goggle search I find that it takes 20 min for the meal to be ready and there is a "kit" necessary for the activation (although the kit seems to be just a insulated pouch, a waterbottle and some salt). At $2.50 to heat a meal that can only be a Mountian House one (rather expensive) I am probably not totally sold on the idea.
    I generally dehidrate my own meals. They are delicious and exactly the way I want them. Lighter than commercially available ones(less packaging) and needless to say, way cheaper.


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