Minimalist Backpacking | Badass Guide to Simple Travel (+12 Tips)

So, you want to get into minimalist backpacking?

With the help of social media in more recent years, the vast majority of society has long been led to believe that the more you have, the “happier” you’ll be.

Well, we know now that’s just simply not true.

Backpacking in the outdoors however, has been proven by science to not only help with your self-esteem, but also lower your stress levels and provide a general feeling of overall wellness!

Minimalism focuses on health and hobbies, more freedom, peace of mind, more happiness and less fear of failure.

I’m sure you see how minimalism and backpacking fit so well together?

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What is Minimalist Backpacking?

minimalist backpacking

Minimalist backpacking in it’s very essence is to find freedom while travelling simply.

This doesn’t only mean you travel the world on the bare minimum, but it also signifies a shift in your mental focus to:

  • Live in the moment
  • Discover your passions
  • Grow as an individual
  • Reclaim your time
  • Experience real freedom
  • Focus on your health

Combining the concept of minimalism with backpacking, will help you to battle negative thoughts, feelings of low self esteem and will allow you to explore this world with a renewed sense of confidence.

In time you’ll start to notice that you can achieve just as much, with less!


How To Be a Minimalist Backpacker

Minimalist backpacking is all about getting together the essentials, not stuffing your backpack with your whole wardrobe.

Too much luggage will way you down during your trip, not mention it can also be expensive traveling by plane.

Thanks to minimalism, traveling heavy is very much avoidable!

By downsizing your luggage, packing more efficiently and being picky as to which clothes you bring, traveling ultralight is a piece of cake.

Downsize your luggage

Downsize your luggage

Limit the actual number of bags you bring

The more bags and suitcases you travel with, the heavier your overall load will feel.

Try to fit everything your bringing into one backpack. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t come on the trip.

  • Don’t spread all your belongings out all over the place, one full backpack will be easier to travel with than two half-full backpacks/suitcases.
  • If you are flying to your destination, try fitting all your belongings into a carry-on-size backpack, a 50L backpacks works perfectly here. This will greatly reduce your waiting time at the airport. Say goodbye to time wasted at the luggage collection area.

Pack using a smaller backpack

Use a smaller backpack

Using a smaller backpack will force you to be more efficient when packing.

If you are going on a long trip, I’d recommend a lightweight 40L or 50L backpack. If your trip is much a shorter a simple 20L backpack will do

I have the 40L backpack below and I love it!


Pack efficiently

Write down your trips itinerary before you start to pack.

Make sure to include any clothes, shoes, toiletries, or any other items you’ll need on your travels.

Do not deviate from your list unless you forgot something essential you meant to include.

Writing out a list will give you confidence in the fact that you haven’t forgotten any important items. It’s usually this fear that makes you pack unnecessary things.


Pack for your trip well in advance

minimalist backpacking


Pack for your trip in advance.

If you only start packing one day before you’re set to leave, do not be surprised if you become super stressed and start to panic pack (hello heavy backpack).

Start packing at least 3 days before your backpacking trip, this way you will have time to assess exactly what items you need to bring.


Roll your clothes

Roll your clothes before packing them.

There are many tips and tricks you can use to enjoy minimalist backpacking to the fullest, rolling instead of folding your clothes is one of them.

Folded clothes tend to stack up quickly, save space by folding your clothes or invest in some lightweight eco-friendly packing cubes.


Limit your toiletries

Pack sparingly

Remember many hotels and guesthouses are equipped with the essential toiletries like, soap, shampoo and toothpaste etc.

If you know you’ll be staying at hotels or Airbnb’s, leave a few toiletries at home. Worst case you can just buy some once you arrive at your destination.


Check the weather

minimalist backpacking

Make sure to check your destinations weather forecast.

I like to use an app called Windfinder to check weather predictions. I write a bit about the app in this article.

If you see that there is sunshine and warm weather every day of your trip, do not hesitate to leave your rain jacket and heavy sweater at home.

If you are worried that the weather could change, don’t. Worst case scenario you can always borrow something.

Remember on your journey to minimalist backpacking, you’ll need to trust in yourself to tackle any hurdle that comes your way.

  • If the weather forecast predicts rain, pack an unopened rain poncho instead of a bulky rain jacket. It will free up much more space in your backpack.
  • If the weather forecast predicts cold temperatures, pack clothes you can layer up with instead of packing a super heavy winter coat.

Pack clothes that go well together

Pack clothes that match by color.

Try packing natural shades like brown, black, cream white and gray. This will allow you to mix and match your clothes, so you don’t need to bring as many outfits on your backpacking trip.

  • For men simple button-up shirts in neutral shades is the perfect item that will go well with anything.
  • For women, bring along a simple black dress that you can dress up or down, occasion dependent.

Practical shoes

practical shoes for backpacking

Bring shoes you can wear on multiple occasions.

Avoid packing all sorts of shoes for every day or event during your trip.

Shoes take up the most space as they can’t be folded. Aim for max two pairs of shoes.

A casual pair of walking shoes and then something nicer for those formal settings.

When I’m minimalist backpacking and I know all I’ll be doing is hiking, then I totally forget the formal shoes at home – no need for those.

I like using lightweight hiking shoes that double down as casual walking shoes (two birds with one stone).  

  • If you plan on visiting a hot destination with loads of beaches, pack flip flops instead of sneakers. They’ll take up half the space and lets face it, be much more comfortable.

Minimalist Backpacking Tips

Here are 12 tips that will inspire you on your path to backpacking minimalistically.

And at the same time help you in building a mindset that advocates getting rid of the things that don’t contribute value to your everyday life.

1. Change Your Relationship With Stuff

First and foremost you need to let go of the idea that more is better. Minimalist backpacking is all about shifting your views on materialistic possessions, it’s about learning what you can do with and without. The first basic step is to become comfortable with simplicity and separate the “want” from the “need” in your life and backpacking travels.

2. Share The Load

If you plan on traveling with someone else, why not split the load up amongst yourselves. There’s probably no need to get two of everything for example, two stoves, two tents etc. Sharing is caring.

3. Keep The Big 3 Ultralight

Tent: 2 lbs or less
Backpack: 30 oz or less for a 50L backpack
Sleeping bag: 18 oz or less

4. Know Your Essentials

Minimalist backpacking is all about ridding yourself of the unnecessary items and focusing in on the essentials. I give an example of a minimalist packing list further on in the article.

5. Practise Self Care

Self care is absolutely essential for minimalist living. When you don’t give your body and mind the care it needs, you’ll compensate for feeling bad by:

– Snacking on junk food.
– Getting snappy with your travel partner.
– Or the classic “buying things to cheer myself up” attitude.

All of these bad habits can be kicked naturally by simply practising some self care like: drinking enough water, eating healthy, making time to read and write in your journal, exercising, whatever it is that makes YOU feel grounded.

6. Practise Mindfulness

“As soon as I have ________ I’ll be more happy” ever caught yourself thinking something along these lines? If so, you are definitely not alone! Well there’s nothing wrong with planning for the future, it must be said that an equal amount of attention should be focused in on the present. Activities such as yoga and meditation help you to zone in on the present, which in my opinion is the very foundation of living minimalistically.

7. Don’t Listen To Your Grandparents

I love my ouma and oupa with all my heart, but when it comes to minimalist backpacking they are my arch enemies (especially my ouma). If I packed everything they told me too, I would need to bring at least two travel suitcases with me.

8. Use Packing Cubes & Dividers

I love my ouma and oupa with all my heart, but when it comes to minimalist backpacking they are my arch Packing cubes like these are a truly ingenious solution to luggage organization. They are both cheap and light making it much easier to segment your clothing/accessories.

9. Avoid Easily Available Toiletries

This is something I got wrong many times, always packing two sets of toothpastes, shampoo, deodorant etc. Remember that the majority of these items can be found in guesthouses, hotels and even backpackers. There is no point weighing down your luggage with these unnecessary items that can be found throughout the world.

10. Invest in Quality Travel Gear

Minimalist backpacking should be done with gear that lasts. The point is to consume less and rely on the gear that you have with you. Buying a cheap backpack every 6 months for example is not living minimalistically, these costs add up and more importantly is worse for the environment. Rather invest in quality gear that will last you a lifetime!

As an example my Osprey Daylite Day Pack has traveled with me to over 3 continents and 15 countries.

11. Pretend You Are Only Backpacking for 1 Week

You will only need to last a bare minimum of one week with the things you pack. Everything else will be washed about and reused each week. I will go into more detail on a minimalist packing list at the bottom of this article.

12. Pick a Number

Decide on a number of t-shirts that you need. Do the same for long sleeve shirts, sweaters, pairs of shorts, pairs of pants, etc.
Simply stick to that sacred number and eliminate all the excess!


Minimalist Packing List

After much of my own trial and error I have finally come up with the ultimate minimalist packing list, and I’m super excited to share it with you.

Before we begin, always remember the golden rule, if it doesn’t fit it doesn’t come on the trip!

Essentials

Clothing

Total Packing Weight: 8.8 pounds (4kg)

  • x2 T-Shirts
  • x1 Sweater
  • x1 Shorts
  • x5 Underwear
  • x1 Sleep Shirt
  • x1 Long Sleeve
  • x1 Bathing Suit
  • x4 Pairs Socks
  • x1 Tanktop
  • x1 Long Pants
  • x1 Scarf
  • x1 Warm Jacket

The idea behind this packing list is to keep it light and down to the bare necessities.

Once a day you can wash your socks and underwear, this will cost you only 30 seconds.

Every second or third day you can wash your shirts and shorts or shirts and pants, allowing your clothes time to dry whilst you sleep. That way they are ready to be packed the next day.

Fabrics that dry the quickest are nylon, polyester and merino wool.

Shoes

Total Packing Weight: Sneakers & Crocs – 19 oz (538 grams) | Boots & Crocs – 22oz (640 grams)

This depends on the type of backpacking you intend on doing. If you plan on hiking then a good pair of waterproof hiking boots are a necessity. If you mainly plan on sightseeing and not really getting off the beaten track, light vegan sneakers will do.

  • x1 Sneakers or Hiking Boots
  • x1 Pair Crocs

Toiletries

Total packing weight: 12.8 oz (365 gram)

  • Mini hairbrush
  • x1 Toothbrush
  • x1 Toothpaste
  • Nail Clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Lip Ice

All your toiletries can be contained in a small toiletry bag that will easily fit into one of your packing cubes.

Electronics

  • Phone
  • Charger
  • Adaptor

Your mobile phone doubles up as both a camera and GPS (read our article: navigating without GPS). It’s very important that you remember to bring an international adaptor with you.

Also a gadget I highly recommend is (which is super lightweight and in my opinion, the epitome of minimalistic) the Kindle.

It can store over 1000 books online and only weighs 6.4oz (182g), minimalist backpacking at it’s finest!


Minimalist Backpacks

20L Backpacks


40L/50L Backpacks

Minimalist backpacking requires well, a backpack of course 😉

Most average daypacks range from 20 liters to 35 liters. A smaller sized backpack is perfect for half day hikes, however you’ll want a larger backpack in the 35 liter range for full day hikes. This is so you can carry extra water, food and only the essential clothing.

A 50 liters backpack is usually the maximum size for a carry on backpack. 50 liters is large enough to hold all the clothes and gear you’ll need for traveling for months or even years. However it isn’t so big that it’ll be a hassle to carry.


Minimalist Quotes

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

Minimalist backpacking
  • “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” — Henry David Thoreau

“If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.” -The Dalai Lama, 1935.
  • “If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.” The Dalai Lama, 1935.

minimalist backpacking quotes
  • “But I deal with this by meditating and by understanding I’ve been put on the planet to serve humanity. I have to remind myself to live simply and not overindulge, which is a constant battle in a material world.” -Sandra Cisneros1954.

minimalist travel quotes
  • “One of the advantages of being born in an affluent society is that if one has any intelligence at all, one will realize that having more and more won’t solve the problem, and happiness does not lie in possessions, or even relationships: The answer lies within ourselves. If we can’t find peace and happiness there, it’s not going to come from the outside.” -Tenzin Palmo1943.

minimalist backpacking
  • “There are two ways to be rich: One is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little.” -Jackie French Koller1948.

Minimalist Quotes

“The intention of voluntary simplicity is not to dogmatically live with less. It’s a more demanding intention of living with balance. This is a middle way that moves between the extremes of poverty and indulgence.” -Duane Elgin, 1940s.


“It’s one that is stripped of the unnecessary, to make room for that which gives you joy. It’s a removal of clutter in all its forms, leaving you with peace and freedom and lightness. A minimalist eschews the mindset of more, of acquiring and consuming and shopping, of bigger is better, of the burden of stuff.

A minimalist instead embraces the beauty of less, the aesthetic of spareness, a life of contentedness in what we need and what makes us truly happy.

A minimalist realizes that acquiring stuff doesn’t make us happy. That earning more and having more are meaningless. That filling your life with busy-ness and freneticism isn’t desirable, but something to be avoided.
A minimalist values quality, not quantity, in all forms.”  – Leo Babauta


“Simplicity isn’t about being a cold, hard minimalist. A different way of looking at simplicity is to take note of the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi. It is difficult to translate it directly into a Western sensibility but it is a way of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature.”
Amanda Talbot


minimalist backpacking quotes

“Minimalism can help you find contentment and satisfaction and finally put meaning into your life. Just removing unnecessary things that do not bring any value to you will essentially open the door to a brand new perspective on living.” Jane Andrews


Books on Minimalism

Below I have listed three books I really recommend you read, they have helped me on my path to becoming a minimalist backpacker and I am sure they can do the same for you.

Essential Zen Habits – $12,00

Book Review: “I followed Leo Babauta’s simple, careful method for creating a new habit, and now my mornings six days a week begin with 15 minutes of meditation. The habit seems to do itself, without my needing to apply willpower or discipline. I have been reading the book slowly each morning before my meditation and know there is lots more to act on. This book would make a beautiful, wise gift for yourself or anyone you love. I recommend it fully, with a grateful heart.” – Len Edgerly


The Joy of Less – $12,59

Book Review: “I picked this book after looking up books on “Minimalism” and researching what was recommended. This book seemed to be on everyone’s list. Yet I was still surprised at how well thought out and well written this book really is. I read it one chapter at time, as each chapter gave me a lot to think about. I plan to read it again, after I’ve done some decluttering. It takes a lot for me to really change my mindset and learn to let go of things that are holding me back, not helping the way I intended.” – Starry


The Minimalist Home – $12,70

Book Review: “This book is very inspirational. It helps you find your “why” for minimizing. It is also a guide to walk you through the process. I plan on sharing this book with anyone who is interested in minimizing their lives.” – Lorie


Okay now it’s your turn, I have given you the tools and knowledge, now it’s up to you to give minimalist backpacking a try.

Feel free to share your ideas and experiences with me in the comments sections below.

Until then i wish you the most mind-blowing backpacking experience! 😉


Further Reading:

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