A minimalist approach to outdoor gear

Reh im Schnee_20131222
It is just any moment outside in nature that can surprise you with such encounters. Therefore, don’t waste time in front of the computer!

Actually I’d rather have you stop reading this post and venture out into the great outdoors, e.g. to your sitspot! Shut down your computer now and enjoy the quiet life of nature outside. I used to spend way too much time browsing the internet and searching for the perfect piece of gear, and I can only recommend not to waste too much time and energy on that! Moreover, I have the impression that the advertisement of outdoor products suggests that nature is terribly dangerous without the right equipment, and harmless with it. However, apart from high alpine regions and weeklong trips, it is not that dangerous at all. On the other hand, the best and most expensive jacket does not protect you from lightning, avalanches, falling tree branches, stones – and stupidity. For people (and I think that‘s definitively the majority) who‘d rather go for day trips or spend 1 or 2 nights outside, warm clothing, some protection against rain and a cap, enough water, and maybe a cellphone are absolutely enough. Of course one shouldn‘t lack in basic knowledge of natural dangers and adequate behaviour. I won‘t tell you what gear to buy and what not. Talk about gear tends to make me unsatisfied with products I use, because it focuses on optimizing your setup. But what is the point in that if you are already happy with it? Save your time and money and enjoy nature instead of going shopping. That said, I would like to give you an outline of my setup and the experience of what works well for me.

Minimalist Make-Your-Own-Gear (MYOG) belt. Works fine for me.

1. First of all: save weight! We tend to pack way too much because we don‘t carry our backpacks while doing so. But the weight of your pack is so essential when it comes to enjoying oneself! Rather than changing your gear for new, lighter gear, which is expensive and less effective, I advise you to simply reduce it. Try to leave something at home. Drop your tent light, your headlamp will do the job. Or even better: drop the tent (2-3kg) and take a tarp instead (0.3-0.8 kg)! Very effective: Zip-lock bags for food, first aid kit, toiletries, etc. and take only as little sunscreen and soap with you as possible – it is good for both you and nature!
2. Knowledge is essential for staying safe in nature. Not only orientation, first aid, and knowledge of natural dangers are important. If you bring a tarp, you need to know your knots. If you want so start a fire (without a lighter?), you should know how to even after heavy rain. Also, you should be familiar with lnt(leave no trace)-principles: how to light your fire without burning the soil, not to use handkerchiefs but toilet paper and bury it, etc.

Merino wool after three years of regular use. Looks even better ;-)

3. Clothing. The idea that our clothing keeps us at a comfy 20°C room temperature at any time, no matter what the weather conditions are, is rather ridiculous in my opinion. I expect my clothes to keep me reasonably warm and to protect me from the worst: they needs to shed most of the rain, keep out the chilling winds and warm me when I‘m wet.
Insulation. I think there‘s nothing better than wool. Only in very cold and dry conditions, far below zero, do I take a down jacket when pausing. I take a thin shirt made of merino wool, and layer wool pullovers on top as needed. Other than plastic, wool also warms when damp, feels nicer and does not lose up to 2000 micro fibers in one washing, as a fleece pullovers do. I especially like the garments from Woolpower (socks, leggings, pullovers, hats – even though mixed with polyester). The best and comfy insulation is alpaca, if you can get and/or afford it.
Wind shell. Lets dampness transpire but blocks out the wind. Tightly knitted cotton or loden are ecological, durable and nice to the touch. Plastic wind breakers are lighter. The English brand Paramó offers a nice range of products. I myself am very happy with an ultralight option. (there are many cheaper jackets on the market). I would not, however, recommend the classic „softshell“ that is both insulation and wind shell because you then lose flexibility in changing your layers.
Rain shell. Keeps out most rain and chilling winds. While I usually wear my wind protection regularly and good garments are really worth their price here, I don’t use my raincoat that often. Moreover, even the most expensive raincoat won‘t keep you dry for hours, so why not take a cheaper (and maybe even lighter) one? If there is little wind, I like to use an umbrella! Otherwise, a poncho also keeps your pack dry. When I am in no extreme regions and expect no rain, I only take a very thin plastic poncho with me, just in case. In high winds, however, as you‘d get in open terrain, you might find a coat and trousers more efficient.

Trail running shoes are great. They are incredibly light, and if you choose a thin sole, you’ll still feel the ground beneath your feet.

4. Shoes. I like trail running shoes! They are incredibly light and let you feel the ground plus they dry almost as fast as they get wet. Mine have a very thin sole, which means more work for your feet, but also more control and feeling. If you’ve never had a pair, you might  want to first wear them without a lot of weight on your back.
5. Backpack. Should be comfortable and not too heavy. That means: no fancy-schmancy extras and dozens of compartments, and not too big (that’ll only tempt you to take more than you actually need). I take a 45+8l alpine rucksack for weeklong and longer trips. Ultralight packs are a topic of their own: sometimes weighing only 400 grammes, they often lack a specific structure and need to be packed tightly for a comfortable feeling.
6. Tent. Have you ever slept beneath the stars? For shelter you can bring a tarp, you’ll find one designed to cover things in almost any hardware store. Of course there are special tarps for „tarping“, too. Only the wind can pose a problem, but if you know how to put it up, you’ll be able to deal with it. It is worth having the moon shine on your face while you sleep! After all, it is those moments in nature that I am looking for. But there are also very stable tarps on the market that can resist any wind a tent can resist.
7. Sleeping bag. No advice here, except that I use this during the summer.
8. Stove. Instead of a more or less heavy stove-system (gas, gasoline, alcohol) I take a „hobo-stove“ and burn wood! This resource I don‘t have to carry and can be found in so many places. Moreover, you can use the stove after cooking as a nice, comfy campfire. Just in case I don‘t find any wood I bring a Cat-Can-Stove and a little bottle of alcohol as backup.

If you‘re interested in ultralight trekking (which I sometimes find inspiring, especially if combined with bushcraft), I recommend to read this long post here. But instead: better just go out and enjoy nature. Don‘t worry, be happy!

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