Exploring Minimalism Through Hiking

What is Minimalism?

The minimalism movement is often misconstrued as anti-materialism. That you should have to donate or toss all of your possessions and live a life of intentional austerity in some misguided, holier-than-thou effort.

That’s impractical. It’s also not what minimalism is about.

Rather, minimalism is an exercise in intentionality. Joshua Becker describes it as “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.

The simplifying, the decluttering, the throwing things out – that isn’t a price you pay for label ‘Minimalist’. It’s a choice we happily make as part of the journey towards finding fulfillment.

Minimalism isn’t about deprivation, it’s about enrichment.

minimalist hiking

Experience versus via Materialism

Another common misconception is that material possessions are at odds with the pursuit of experiences. That’s not so.

Again, consider intention. Many rewarding experiences require some equipment - be it for comfort, safety, or ease. Those things are important and help to facilitate quality of life by enhancing the experience. Intently applied materialism enables rich experiences.

It’s the stuff that doesn’t contribute that should be nixed. The famous quote from Will Rogers says it all:

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”

Means versus Ends

Interestingly, people that subscribe to a materialist way of life (be it knowingly or unknowingly) are still seeking the same goal that minimalists are:


It’s just the method of getting there that is different.

Where a minimalist finds comfort in the simplicity of things, the neatness of their life, their relationships, and their psyche, a materialist finds comfort in the quantity and quality of their possessions.

And that’s not inherently wrong. It is limiting, though. Fulfillment in that way necessitates wealth, and to some degree, waste. Furthermore, it’s a competition with every other person wrapped up in our consumerist culture so the goalposts are constantly shifting!

Yet, fulfillment doesn’t need to be tied up in money. Jackie French Koller said, ““There are two ways to be rich: One is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little.”

For most people, a shift in mindset is more feasible than buying a Ferrari – and the result is the same!

How Does Hiking Fit into All This?

An important aspect of minimalism that is sometimes overlooked is the emphasis on mental and spiritual health.

It’s as much about getting rid of mental clutter as it is physical clutter. You systematically remove sources of anxiety – which often means culling superfluous obligations or unhealthy relationships.

Nature has always been the go-to remedy for people looking to destress and recenter themselves. You don’t have to be John Muir to reap the spiritual benefits of a forest, however. Even modern medicine recognizes the value of nature in our mental health… and it has a lot fewer side effects than prescription medication, too.

minimalist hiking yoga

Hiking is a great example of applied intentionality in minimalism. The optimal hiking experience has all of the same qualities that minimalism espouses:

  1. There is a well-defined goal. (We will hike this 5-mile loop.)

  2. You’re naturally inclined to take only what’s necessary. (We can leave the kitchen sink in the car.)

  3. It affords you the opportunity to experience more and improve your self. (Next week we’ll try the 8-mile loop.)

Hiking is only the first step (pun intended). The benefits of a few hours on a trail are multiplied exponentially when you increase the time spent to a few days.  No cellphone, no emails, and no distraction. It’s the kind of mental release you can’t find even during a vacation in the Caribbean.

Minimalist Backpacking is Better Backpacking

‘Backpacking’ is the combination of hiking and camping. You carry on your back everything you (think) you’ll need for the duration of the trip. That includes clothes, shelter, food, fuel, first aid, and equipment like cookware and trekking poles.

If you’re familiar with backpacking you’ve probably heard of ‘ultralight backpacking’. You can imagine what that entails: less stuff and lighter stuff.

There’s an unfortunate association between ultralight backpacking and the bad habit of gatekeeping. You might hear “You’re not really ultralight backpacking if your base weight is more than 10 pounds!”

That’s exclusive, and worse - elitist. That’s not what ultralight backpacking is about.

If hiking and backpacking are good representations of minimalism, ultralight backpacking is an even better example. Why carry a whole four-man tent if the weather is nice enough to make do with a hammock? Why bring both a spoon and a fork if you can just bring a spork?

minimalist hiking spork

If tackled with the appropriate frame of mind, with the right goals and intent, ultralight backpacking is just minimalism manifested in backpacking. It’s minimalist backpacking.

It’s not just about losing weight. It’s about losing mental, emotional, and spiritual weight so that you can focus on the present. In this case, the beauty of nature and the companionship of your trail buddies.

Getting Started with Minimalist Backpacking

Minimalist backpacking requires knowledge and skills, basic fitness, a few pieces of essential equipment, and a willingness to explore nature and yourself.

In the spirit of minimalism, your initial investment in backpacking shouldn’t be gear. It should be an investment in yourself.

Start by learning the skills necessary to survive and thrive in the wilderness - you’ll be surprised how universally applicable some are! The skills you learn on the trail revolve around self-sufficiency, making do with what you have, and finding joy where you’re at. Those are helpful in the woods and in life.

Not to mention skills are way lighter than the gear you can now leave at home!

If you’re interested in exploring minimalism, backpacking, or anything in between - come check out Off Trail On Track. Learn the skills that will make you successful in finding fulfillment, meet like-minded folks, and get back to our source - nature.