How to Go Camping Minimalist Style

Minimalist camping may sound redundant given that many people go camping to get away from our heavily materialist lifestyles. However, when you consider all the camping gear that's marketed at those who love to camp, it is possible to end up lugging a substitute for almost everything in your house and to finish by setting up a mini-castle away from home. Where's the fun in dragging all your chores and stuff with you?

Minimalist camping is as much about mindset as it is about gear, and allowing yourself the space to just get going is the most liberating aspect of all. Show the over-packers and consumerist campers just how minimalist camping should be!


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    Be prepared to rough it, to adapt what nature offers and to make the things you do have do double duty. Minimalist camping is about eschewing the increasingly wide range of homelike comforts that are being sold as camping gear. By definition, a minimalist camper is not a gear-oriented camper and is often a person who finds just walking into camping retailers an overwhelming experience, let alone lugging all that additional stuff about! The trouble with all this gear is that it clutters your experience from the beginning (what to take, what to leave, etc.), it weighs down your transport, and it compels you to have experiences that are directed by the gear rather than allowing yourself to be led by the natural wonders around you. By leaving more stuff home and taking less, and being more prepared to make do, you can have an incredible minimalist camping experience.
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    Allot one small to medium bag per camper only. Anyone under 10 gets to share a bag together, and kudos to anyone over 10 who agrees to do the same. The less bags, the less stuff already. Within that bag, each person has to accommodate their clothes, shoes, bathroom needs (including towel), entertainment needs, and anything else not directly related to the setting up of the campsite itself. Set the challenge and tell them that there is no more room. And veto large bags!
    • Have a basic rule that if the packer can't carry their own bag for five minutes without wanting to put it down, they can't take it with them but must lighten it.
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    Work out what you need at the campsite. To survive comfortably for a few days through to a few weeks, the basics you need would include:
    • Accommodation: the tent, or two or more tents if a large group plus groundsheet. Only take enough tents for the amount of people – you don't need additional tents for living rooms, kitchens, and whatever else (if you do, then book cabins and avoid camping). You may want a general purpose tarp as well, for all sorts of possibilities.
    • Sleeping gear: per person you'll need one sleeping bag. Extra cold people can bring along either a warmer sleeping bag or an additional space blanket.
    • Clothing: Be prepared to wear clothing more than once (use deodorant) and to layer to accommodate changing temperatures. (Gone for long? Take a small bottle of laundry detergent that works in cold water. You could easily clean some underwear in a sink, and dry it on top of the tent.)
    • Cooking gear: Keep it really basic. One small camp stove (and fuel), one to two pots, one pair of tongs and some bowls, eating utensils (mess-kit), plates, sharp knife and cutting board, and a few cups for drinks as well. Foil is excellent for lots of possibilities and while one tablecloth can be handy, you can also use newspaper from occasional reads. Have a small amount of detergent (suitable for the natural environment) and a dish cloth too. If you have cans, bring along a can opener (these can also be attached to pocket knives) and a bottle opener is useful. You can forgo the camping stove and just cook with a fire (remember the matches) provided you're a competent fire maker. Also have a basic ax or similar tool for wood chopping.
    • Lighting: One flashlight or headlamp per person. If it's not, go to bed early, talk in the dark until you fall asleep, and get up early. You'll love it.
    • Basics: Insect repellent, toilet paper, rope, trash bags, small sewing kit, essential medications, first aid kit, and sunscreen, and perhaps a mosquito net if warranted where you're headed. Anything more and you're getting too fancy.
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    Work out what you don't need at the campsite. There are many things that you don't need but that are heavily marketed at luxury camping additions. Some of these include:
    • Coffee makers and any other appliance that has been repackaged for camping purposes. Do you really need an espresso or are you ready for camp coffee?
    • Folding tables and lounge chairs. Perhaps a folding stool is useful but keep the dining room and lounge room furniture at home. Many campsites provide tables and seating, and nature provides logs, stumps, and other natural objects that your imagination can make good use of. And if you get a Thermarest® sling, you can turn your sleeping mat into a seat without much ado; even that's overkill for some, as you could also just lean the mat up against a rock for comfort and seating!
    • Fancy large lamps, heaters, or anything powered. If these are your thing, perhaps hiring an RV is a better choice, especially if you're trying to also bring along the satellite dish.
    • Anything fancy and not something your grandparents would have known when they went camping. This test will help you to leave lots of gear at home.
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    Cut down on the bathroom needs. All you need is your toothbrush, some toothpaste (share a tube with everyone of the same gender as it's easier in the same bathroom facilities), one bar of soap, a small bottle of shampoo (and conditioner if you really need it), and deodorant. Dental floss is great for both teeth and lots of things that need tying up, and doesn't take up much space. There are even more hard core versions of washing your hair, such as only using soap or water, or not bothering to wash it at all; the choice is yours. One face washer should do you for cleaning the eyes and face and one for the genital region for those mornings when there is no shower facility and these can be washed and dried during the daytime. Leave the hair/body/bath gels, perfumes, hairspray, mousse, bubble baths, shaving gear, depilatory items, etc. at home. You're camping, and you're going to smell like nature, campfires, and sweat very soon, so it's best to get used to it!
    • Remove all underarm hair and leg hair before you leave and then just forget about it. Sure it'll grow a bit but remember – you're camping and life is back-to-natural.
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    Minimize the food selection. There are plenty of possibilities in the camping food section and the supermarket but you can easily get carried away on the food front, with too many seasonings, too many cans, and too many gourmet packages of some camping food you've espied and thought might taste great. Stick with what you know works when camping, and that's the basics.
    • Make a small kit consisting of a small bottle of olive oil, salt and pepper, paprika or chili powder, small soy sauce, and one seasoning of choice as the basic cooking kit.
    • Buy drinks such as milk, water, juice, and beer as you need them. There is no need to be lugging along anything other than some drinking water for the car journey.
    • Buy fresh fruit and vegetables while camping. Use local farms as your supply source.
    • Avoid having too many processed foods. Some cans of beans can be helpful but not an entire range of canned foods.
    • Use dehydrated foods to add dried vegetables to dishes you're cooking.
    • Oats and wheat biscuits make good breakfast cereals.
    • Rice, pasta, and quick cooking grains are important basics.
    • Tea bags and instant coffee pouches are useful. Sure, you may love your perfectly brewed coffee but you're camping, not cafe lounging.
    • Catch your own fish. If you hunt, hunt your own food in legitimate places, or purchase locally slaughtered meats. Jerky is also useful to take along.
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    Be tough on the fun equipment. Only take what you know you will actually use and not a whole lot of "we might use this if we take it". Carting the kayak, bikes, Frisbees, balls, badminton set, scooters, swimming toys, water polo set, volleyball net, card games, board games, electronic gadgets, and goodness knows what else all takes up room and worry space on your travels, as you have to consider where it will fit and whether it is in danger of getting broken, lost, or stolen. How is that going to ensure a peaceful camping trip away?
    • Good small fun items for the minimalist camper include a pack of cards, a set of storytelling dice, a Frisbee, and your swimsuit.
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    Consider banning the electronic gadgets. You've had access to them all year round. Just why do you need to take them camping? The laptop risks being dropped, getting dirty and having water soaked all over it – ditto the iPad and maybe even the portable music player. As for a DVD player in the wilds? By this stage, it's not so much camping as trying to put up with the experience! Get wild and leave the electronic gear at home.
    • Rediscover conversations, story-telling, drawing in the sand/soil, and stargazing. None of these activities require complex gear.
    • A cell phone for safety is okay but turn it off. It's out of bounds for games, work emails, and internet access (unless you're looking up how to put up your tent).
    • A camera is probably the one exception; documenting the beauty of all you see and the happiness and tribulations of your fellow camp companions is definitely worthwhile.
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    Adapt and extend yourself. Learn new ways to do things that you haven't thought of before. This is good for your creativity and sense of resourcefulness. So, you don't have a stand for your cooking pots? Improvise and make one from rocks and logs. You haven't got a watch to tell you the time? Tell the time using your hand. No bowls for dessert? Wash the ones you used for soup first and reuse them for the same meal. There are so many things that you can improvise and be resourceful about, that this is in itself a fun and exciting part of minimalist camping.
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    Enjoy the experience of minimalist camping. If you head out to camp with the mindset that you're depriving yourself of luxuries and comforts, you're unlikely to enjoy yourself. On the other hand, if you have the mindset that you have enough for surviving, plus some treats, and that the real purpose of the trip is to rediscover nature and your resourcefulness, the trip will be enjoyable and a healthy, rewarding challenge. You will learn much and discover things about yourself and your fellow camping companions that you didn't know before and that is something gear can't ever give you.


  • Follow a checklist so that you don't over-burden yourself with stuff.
  • Practice how to build a fire and put up a tent at home before leaving. That way you won't feel so nervous about not being sure you can rely on your own skills! You might even like to try out a few camp stove meals before going but usually that's not so hard to learn while camping.
  • After every camping trip, revisit your camping list and cross off anything you thought wasn't useful or could be substituted by using another item already on the list. In this way, you can continue to hone down the list until you reach your almost-perfect minimalist camping list for future trips!
  • Camping checklists will vary dependent on your destination and the season; consider keeping different ones on your computer for ease of revisiting and updating as required.
  • The best time to discuss what can be left behind next time is at the end of a long hike bringing it all back from the campground. Everyone's going to want lighter packs next time.
  • Prefer the towels that are small but soak up water dramatically.
  • If you're doing en plein air painting, minimize your camping gear to make it easier to carry your art gear. Be sure to carry your painting gear on a long hike around home before bringing it on a camping trip to make sure it's light enough to handle. Your first trip you'll probably bring too much, but as you get more practice with your chosen plein air medium you'll discover which tools are essential and which ones don't even get used. If you've never tried outdoor painting before, watercolors are the most compact, lightweight medium to use. Just bring a pocket set or a few tubes, some travel brushes and a watercolor journal.
  • If you plan to broadcast your minimalist camping experience online, bring a small netbook rather than a heavier laptop. It will still give you online access and carry the stream but size and weight matter a lot when hiking. Or use a smartphone to carry the stream, it's even smaller. Be sure there's cell phone service in your camping area for this approach and try to reduce the total number of gadgets. A smartphone with a camera built in is better than a separate camera, netbook and cell phone.


  • Be sure to take along all necessary medications; being minimalist isn't about denying reality. The last thing you need is an allergic reaction to a bee sting or an asthma attack and you've not brought your medication.
  • Build up to minimalist camping gradually. If the point of the trip is a bike tour, don't leave out the bikes. Make a list of what you wish you'd brought and compare that with the things you brought and didn't use. Refining your gear till it's personal and optimized for the real habits and personalities of everyone who regularly goes on the trip can make minimalist camping a wonderful experience.

Things You'll Need

  • Small bag
  • Basics for camping as outlined above
  • Tent
  • Basic food supplies
  • Basic camp cooking supplies

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