Why Backpacking Light or Minimalistic Backpacking Is For You

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Franz Rivoira
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backpacking light

The wilderness is closer than you think.

Moreover, not only are the wilds not all that far from your front door, the truth is that you can enjoy the wilderness with just a handful of items if you go minimalistic and lightweight. The decision to go minimalist backpacking is one that people make every day all around the world – you should join their ranks.

Magic, Wonder, Beauty of Backpacking

Even if you are not a camper, you need to get a backpack and venture out into the great outdoors to discover for yourself the magic, wonder, and beauty that they contain.

It as Ansel Adams said, “I believe the [outdoor] world is incomprehensibly beautiful – an endless prospect of magic and wonder.”

If anyone knows the wilderness it is Adams. He was such a lover of the wilds that one of the wildest spaces of the lower 48 states was named after the famous hiker and photographer, the 231,533-acre Ansel Adams Wilderness in the stunningly beautiful Sierra Nevada of California.

Adams fully understood that we need to spend quality time in the wild spaces; we need the wilderness more than the wilderness needs us.

Sustained Effort Is Crucial To A Happy Life

Backpacking is not always easy.

When you are out in the wilds with your house, food, and all that you currently own on your back, you will be forced to be strong, to persevere, and to cooperate with your fellow backpackers. 

It is through this discomfort that you will appreciate the simple pleasures provided by a thick blanket of stars in the night sky, a cup of hot cocoa on a chilly morning, and the relief brought about by pulling your shoes or boots off after a day of hiking.

These competencies – strength, perseverance, cooperation, appreciation – are qualities that can stick with you and help you in all areas of your existence once you are back in the “real world”.

We have to make a sustained effort, again and again, to cultivate the positive aspects within us.

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Moreover, the outdoors don’t care about your schedule, your wants, or your needs.

If you are the type of person who paces in front of the microwave or gets frustrated waiting for a Netflix video to get started, you need to get out into the wilderness. Backpacking forces you to go with the flow, which is a great way to have a happier, more fulfilling life.

One member of the Groom+Style Team went on a minimalist backpacking trip with their daughter, in the mountains to the south-west of Lake Tahoe. She was nine at the time and did not actually enjoy the journey. However, now more than five years later, she still loves to talk about that trip to Granite Lake and tell everyone how they were forced to eat uncooked dehydrated beef stroganoff (link to Amazon) after the DIY alcohol stove, that was fashioned out of an aluminum soda can, blew up the very first time it was lite.

Although, Mountain House beef stroganoff is quite tasty when it has been rehydrated with boiling water, it is pretty nasty when floating in cold alpine lake water.

When you head out into the empty spaces of the earth without your phones and connections to your day-to-day world, you will discover that both the good and the bad experiences you have will impact you positively.

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Exhaustion Can Ruin A Backpacking Trip

The cold hard fact about enjoying the outdoors is that it is awfully hard to do when you are exhausted, when your feet, knees, back and body are worn out.

This is why minimalist backpacking is such a shining beacon of freedom in the outdoor world. When you hike with a minimalist and light load you will:

  • Have more energy
  • Stay positive (quickest route to being crabby is to be tired)
  • Move quicker
  • Reduce the chance of twisting an ankle or getting blisters
  • Reduce the actual amount of time you need to spend hiking to get to your next destination
  • Have more time for relaxing, fishing, exploring, photography or whatever else you enjoy doing in the wilderness

The Four Pillars Of Backpacking Gear

The four heaviest items you will carry when backpacking are your backpack, tent or other shelter, sleeping bag or quilt, and sleeping pad.

Therefore, the more weight you can save with these items, the lighter your overall load will be. Thanks to advances in backpacking technology, these four core items to a backpacker’s kit keep getting lighter and lighter.

Backpacks for minimalist backpackers should not weigh more than four pounds.

Even better, assuming you can afford it, aim for a three-pound pack. If you have never backpacked before, please go into a real outdoors equipment store and get fitted so that you end up with a light backpack that truly matches your frame.

Tents can be terribly heavy and so your first choice for a shelter ought to be the night sky.

If the season, weather, and bug situation will allow for such a decision, give it a try. The next step up from going without is to go with a lightweight tarp that attaches to your hiking poles. If the weather will be pleasant but the insects will not, a mesh tent covered by a lightweight tarp is an awesome lightweight combo.

The final shelter choice is of course a tent, or in this case, a lightweight tent. A maximum weight for a two person backpacking ultralight tent should be three pounds. However, if you do not need a tent with a floor, you should aim for two pounds.  Follow this link to read Groom+Style’s review of the best backpacking tents.

Bivy sacks are shelter solutions that are not often used.

These sacks tend to weigh around a pound and are just a little larger than a single sleeping bag. If you are into backpacking on your own, an ultralight bivy sack is a great idea.

The Sleeping bag will probably be your most expensive piece of backpacking gear.

If you can afford it, get a down-filled bag. There is a reason geese can survive in the coldest of climates, their down feathers! Get a lightweight sleeping bag that is rated for the coldest temperatures you will be sleeping within. A quality down-filled lightweight sleeping bag rated for 30 degree temperatures can weigh less than two pounds.

A lightweight quilt or poncho liner  is a great alternative to a costly and heavy sleeping bag if you will be backpacking in mild temperatures.

Sleeping Pads are a vital piece of backpacking gear. If you do not pack a sleeping pad just one time, you will be taught a tough lesson about how important they are, because they provides insulation and comfort while you are sleeping. Sleeping pads can be inflatable or made of foam and should weigh around a pound.

In total, your four (or three, if you go without a tent) main pieces of lightweight backpacking gear will equal between five and nine pounds on your back.

Other Minimalist Backpacking Gear Options

  • Stove and fuel
  • Spoon or spork with a knife edge
  • Lightweight towel
  • Signaling mirror
  • Lightweight outdoor survival knife
  • First aid kit containing allergy pills, ibuprofen, Imodium, antibiotic ointment, butterfly band-aids, finger band-aids, heel band-aids, gauze, first-aid tape or duct tape, safety pins (get the small size of all of these, store in ziplock baggies)
  • Emergency blanket
  • Compass (learn how to use it)
  • Topo map (learn how to read it)
  • Matches in a waterproof case or ziplock bag
  • Insect repellent, the wipes are very effective
  • Sunscreen and lip protection
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Water purifying tablets, water filter straw (link to Amazon), or a SteriPEN UV water purifier
  • Lightweight hiking socks
  • Lightweight running shorts are great for wearing around the camp or for wearing while backpacking on warm days.
  • Poncho if there is even a 1% chance of rain
  • Garbage bag to carry your feces and garbage out of the wilderness. You want to leave no trace behind while you are backpacking.

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Categories of Minimalist-Type Backpacking

Minimalist Backpacking brings the minimalist desire to enjoy life with fewer possessions to backpacking and the outdoors. Minimalistic backpackers only bring into the wilds those items that they truly need. Following this school of outdoor thought lets you experience the wilderness wholly and fully.

Although minimalist backpacking is not exactly the same as lightweight backpacking, the desire to enjoy the wilderness unencumbered drives both views.

Lightweight backpacking has no official definition. However, most people who consider themselves to be lightweight backpackers carry between 12 to 20 pounds on their backs. An ultralight backpacking kit goes even lighter barely tipping the scales at 10 pounds.

Fastpacking is the ultimate get-up-and-go-fast backpacking niche. Combining running and backpacking, a fastpacker tends to carry no more than five pounds of gear while going on multi-day trail runs.

Though fastpacking may seem to be rather extreme at first glance, if you run regularly you will be surprised at how far you can run day after day – as the speed at which you will be moving will be more like a gentle gait then your normal urban running pace. 

By going at an enjoyable pace that you can maintain, you will be able to cover long distances while fastpacking.

The Bottom Line on Lightweight or Minimalist Backpacking

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You need to get out into the wilderness to drink in its magic, wonder, and beauty. Your sustained effort of hiking deep into the outdoors will pay dividends in all areas of your life so please choose your gear carefully, carry only what you need, and remember to leave no traces behind! To do so is to pay heed to the words of Theodore Roosevelt, America’s most adventurous president of all time, who said,

There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.


  • Franz Rivoira

    Franz is an expert in watches and grooming. He has extensive knowledge of mechanical watches and loves exploring the details that make each one unique. He's also passionate about helping men look their best and shares tips on grooming, including achieving a perfect shave or maintaining a healthy beard. Franz is a go-to source for anyone looking to elevate their style game. Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/franzrivoira/