The Joys of Minimalism

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His legs quivered like a baby deer. We were only two hours from the trailhead in gorgeous North Cascades National Park, where I was guiding a six-day mountaineering course. The other clients carried normal, full-sized loads. His pack weighed at least 90 pounds.

We’ve all seen it before. Maybe it’s even been you. The telltale, sourpuss scowl usually gives it away. Lugging too much weight will do that to you.

Remember that ounces become pounds. Without scrutiny, a 20-pound pack can quickly bloat to 40 pounds of “it doesn’t weigh much, just bring it” items. Also remember that part of why we go is for the brilliant contrast to everyday life. Bring only what you need, and most of what you bring should serve more than one purpose.

But I want to be comfortable out there, goes the dangerous refrain. Be warned: This mentality may lead to side effects, including excessive fatigue, malaise, mood swings, a sore back, aching feet, and an inability to appreciate nature’s beauty.

“What are those?” I asked sharply, staring at the yellow things on the ground when my client finally unpacked. I’d yet to learn the old guide’s trick of making clients empty their packs beforehand, and forcing them to remove anything unnecessary. Dish gloves. The yellow things were dish gloves. He’d brought dish gloves to base camp. Plus a container of liquid soap and a sponge. From there, it’s easy to imagine how his pack became so massive. (By the way, a little snow and some dirt for scouring work perfectly well for cleaning camp dishes or, just re-cook in the same pot. Make some tea with organic floaters. It won’t kill you, and it might even taste good. Likewise, you can and should wear the same shirt every day. Get dirty. Embrace it.)

Once we’d set up base camp, a couple of the guys wanted to go climbing. Mr. Dish Gloves was too wrecked – not a good start to his course – and sat exhausted in camp while the rest of us enjoyed a glorious afternoon.

The lesson is simple, whether on a day-hike or a multi-night outing: The less you carry, the further and swifter you can travel, the more you can see, and the more you’ll experience.

Of course it’s a balance, and nobody wants to be unprepared. I’m not suggesting that anyone run around naked with face paint (save that for the desert festivals).

You’ll be surprised at what you can do without. It’s more philosophy than formula. But when you get to camp with the physical and mental reserves to hike to the ridgeline to watch the sun set, it’ll be far more memorable than having deodorant, pajamas, or an extra pot and pan. I guarantee it. If I’m wrong, I’ll send you a brand new pair of dish gloves.

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