5 Rules For Outdoor Simplicity The Right Way

The simplicity balance: when we achieve it, we are victorious. When we don’t, we struggle. I became aware of this on a recent trip to Death Valley as I sipped my coffee and stealthily watched a group of fellow campers, taking note of their picture perfect setup. Between matching bins, evidently created specifically for the top of their off-road jeep, and a large glass coffee press, they truly belonged on the cover of a magazine. As I studied them, I snorted disdainfully while simultaneously scheming a way to wrangle a cup of their glorious java (I’m thinking “coffee” is too base a description for what they were drinking).

The disdain part of the equation turned out to be fleeting and completely suspended when I remembered only days earlier being the focus of another hiker’s withering remark as I spoke to my boyfriend on my cell phone. “Can’t even go without your phone up here, huh” he said with a contrived jokey tone, laced with an obvious overdose of smug that I know all too well, having trafficked in “smug” frequently myself.

These two experiences: the observation of the wonderfully stylish desert campers and my own enjoyment of my camp partner, I-Phone 5, had me work to unravel simplicity and the “right” way to hike/camp. My conclusion? “Right” is in the eye of the beholder and perhaps it’s best to only apply it when defining our own experience. My fellow campers in the desert were low key and left their campsite immaculate upon departure and my use of my I-Phone was to connect during a 15 minute window of time, with my boyfriend who lives 1,300 miles away but even that isn’t the whole story because I truly derive enormous artistic enjoyment from both my camera and my I-Phone so including those complexities on a trip works for me. What works for one person doesn’t for another, therefore, maybe it’s time we stopped imposing a right way to be in the outdoors beyond being respectful of those around us and following the leave no trace rule.

So now that I’ve declared there is no right way to experience the great outdoors, here are my rules for simplicity.  😉

1) KNOW YOURSELF – By this, I mean literally think carefully about what your vision is and be careful to hold to it. I found a wonderful camping percolator a year ago and was over the moon. It has now sat in my closet the entire time because it makes nine cups and is too much trouble to consider using. I’m donating it this week and staying with the instant coffee that perfectly satisfies my desire to keep life in the woods unencumbered and hoping that someone else with a different vision will fully enjoy it.

2) GEAR APPROPRIATELY – Gather only gear that enhances your trip on your terms. My back country guide daughter is bewildered by my use of a tent as she has embraced sleeping out in a hammock on backpacking trips. This works for her but I still love the cocoon feeling of snoozing in a tent. In the course of my travels, I’ve bunked with those toting makeup kits, tripods, and a portable chair so there is no one size fits all in the domain of what is considered appropriate gear.

3) SHOP WISELY – Keeping life simple in the back country is more doable when you don’t shred your finances, however, this also is subjective so I will offer myself up as a target for those still addicted to smug. 😉 Just yesterday, I sailed into REI with my very used tent and explained that both zippers were falling apart. I’m an REI member and despite a shift in their liberal return policy, they looked up my purchase and saw that the tent was acquired in 2010 (under the old policy) so they gave me full value. After much consideration and the setting up of two backpacking tents (a Big Agnes tent and an REI), I went with the REI Quarter Dome 2 as the additional room was worth the pound tradeoff when envisioning my guy and myself residing in it for possibly up to five months in the back country or my son and myself residing in it for five minutes. One stuff sack and a footprint later and I forced myself from the store before adding unnecessary complexity to my kit. I spent a total of $129 (difference in tent return and purchase and addition of footprint and stuff sack). Other sources for gear are thrift stores, Craig’s List, Gear Trade, and The Clymb. And if you are starting out, try to borrow gear.

4) PREP AHEAD – This particular rule can radically shift your experience especially when applied to food. Consider making food ahead and try not to overpack, I still have not achieved the latter but have switched from a singular large ice chest to two, a teeny one and a small one also thereby keeping the food a bit more accessible and decipherable in two areas as opposed to one. Often, I make potatoes and onions in advance and have them as a staple for both breakfast and dinner and sort food by when it will be eaten.

5) REDUCE – If you find you are feeling encumbered on your trips, take inventory and remove some of your setup. On my most recent camping trip, I did not take potatoes and inadvertently only took hand-held/campfire foods which proved to be luck upon discovering I forgot plates. This little snafu inspired a huge light bulb moment and on some future trips, I will look to eat with minimal dishes as I realized I did not even take a skillet and stuck to one pot to boil water for coffee and tea. I’ve also over the years greatly streamlined my clothing and find that it works out fine when you combine showering with washing out undergarments and yes, you can use shampoo as laundry detergent for your panties with no ill effects. Some folks swear by Dr. Bronner’s for an all-inclusive soap but I found it to be terrible for my hair. I generally use regular shampoo for my hair and laundry and stick to coconut oil for everything else from face-wash to moisturizer.

The most frequent feedback I get from fellow travelers overwhelmingly centers around a craving for leaving behind the complexity of daily life and enjoying the simpler things. Camping can bring a sense of peace or it can start to creep insidiously in the direction of more and more “necessities” as in my camping percolator. The only person who can decide where the buck stops in the most literal sense, is you. Your trip belongs to you and you alone have the power to create it in a manner that syncs with your soul so get started. Time is finite but the possibilities are endless and you deserve this.

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