Minimalism

Why minimalism and hiking go hand in hand

Würm river in winter

Hiking requires minimal solutions. In itself it’s an activity that can lead to a certain kind of minimalism, because while hiking, you are limited in what you can take with you.

Of course, some of us may have had the experience of »luxury tenting« on a campground with a double-stove… But, if you keep it real and rather light-weight, the normal restrictions that you face on the road, resp. trail, will inevitably lead to a simpler lifestyle for however long you are outside.

Hiking longer distances changes people. It teaches you to be satisfied with less.

I especially like the effect that this has on my mood and mental state. Not just, when I’m out in the woods. More so even when coming back to civilization. There is this appreciation and gratitude for all the simple things, like running water and fresh vegetables.

And also you may develop this minimalist mindset when hiking or backpacking. Even if it is just a week-long tour. Maybe not a weekend hike. But surely, if you have to get by with very few things for a while, you realize that most of your belongings are luxuries. That can be a good or a bad epiphany. However, it is an experience that definitely happens to a lot of hikers, myself included.

Even when I was just on vacation in a cottage or a tiny house, I have felt this. Not having my things around was often almost a relief, and not a discomfort. I rarely ever miss my things when I’m not at home, and that makes me realize: Most of the stuff I still own – minimalist or not – are luxury items.

Maybe you will feel the same when you go on vacation or live in a tent for a while. I think that it can be pretty humbling and that it is nice to find out that you actually don’t need all these things you might have in your home. And not just by realizing it in a theoretical way, but by experiencing it in real-life for a while.

This can actually be an important source of motivation to start decluttering your home. I find that, with every vacation, with every simple day-hike sometimes, my number of belongings shrinks. My need for things is replaced by my wish to own less.

In the forest, it is so easy to feel more »grounded«… Yes, I know… This word has been written down too often, but I don’t have a better one. And it just fits. Like this joke that says: »Go to the woods. You won’t have Wifi, but I promise, you will find a better connection.« – As lame as it sounds, it is actually 100% true.

Trees in a landsape called »Felsenmeer« (ocean of rocks) in Baden-Württemberg

However, there are some more aspects of hiking, that always bring me back to minimalism, that I want to get into. I want to talk about gear, simplicity and spending money in this context…

No. Hiking does not require much equipment.

Even though a lot of people will keep telling you what you need, even as a simple day-hiker, I actually believe that minimalism is a good concept when it comes to gear. I am a fan of light-weight gear, but not an extremist. I have concentrated much on the weight factor in the past, even for short hikes. But today, I believe that it is more important to keep it convenient in one’s own scope – with disregard of the opinions of others.

I am not saying to be uninformed and ignorant. But extremes lead to high costs and frustration fast, whereas moderate and adequate practical solutions usually lead to a more satisfying “outdoor experience”. If I just go on a dayhike, I don’t think of my weight. I think: Do I have enough water and snacks? Do I have a shit-rag? Do I have fresh underwear for my kid? Do my clothes match the weather forecast?

Stalactites in a caved rock in the »Felsenmeer« area near Ulm, Germany

Hiking is simple

At least I like to think it is. As you may be able to judge from the previous paragraph, I am not a competitive hiker. I’ve had my fair share of sports from mountain biking over swimming to a half-marathon, and I’m kind of done. The only thing that I care about today is to do it regularly. To not forget about it.

These things, these activities that you have to get up early for, make plans, be prepared and so one… they tend to die in your head or on Pinterest or some other app before you even start. You might plan out these perfect trails, think of how far you could come in one year, you even make it a competition for yourself. But all of this really leads to nothing, because it doesn’t matter whether you want to go for a 2 hour walk or a 10 hour walk that day, if you don’t get up at the right time. And that initial energy that you need to get your ass out of bed, that’s basically the kind of activation energy that’s required to get anything in life done.

So you just have to get there, and from there it is pretty simple. Hiking is not hard. A haf-marathon is not hard. I had a running partner for two weeks. Then she broke her foot and I was on my own. I had no idea what to do. YouTube wasn’t big back then. So I just went running. For the first few months I wore cotton clothes only. Some saggy yoga pants and an old shirt. Most of the time, I ran at night after the afternoon shift or in the morning before I got to the hospital. I didn’t read a book about it. (I did invest into two pair of really good shoes, don’t want to lie about that.) And I’d say hiking is much easier than running… less risk of injuries and with access to a broader group of people. Everyone who can walk can also hike, it just depends on the terrain.

Icy fields near Würm river grounds in the south of Munich, Germany

Hiking is cheap

Yes, hiking is also cheap. If you do not go ultra-light (which you don’t need to for dayhiking, unless you have pretty compelling medical reasons or a kid to carry) hiking is one of the cheapest sports I know. Even swimming was more expensive in the long run for me. Depending on how you treat your gear, it can last you up to a decade. I still have my first outdoor jacket, and it is about 15 years old.

I’m not a cheapskate but I have been a frugal minimalist for quite a while. As an apprentice and later student, I often didn’t have much money, so I used everything I had for as long as I could. During that time, I did a lot of hiking, both alone and with friends. Whenever I was near a mountain, I went up. Often just wearing my everyday jeans (I know, cotton kills… guess what, I’m still alive, and no, I don’t wear cotton anymore, but I guess, cotton doesn’t kill day-hikers).

This aspect of minimalism has always been important to me. Minimalism for me is about saving three things: Space, time and money. And that is how I choose my activities and hobbies. Hiking fits perfect into that scheme. My gear doesn’t take up much space, it can be done almost anywhere and everywhere, and it’s cheap.

When I wrote this down, all of the trips I had done came back to me, and I kept thinking: Why the heck to I have this weird break of about 5-10 years in my life where I didn’t even think of going to the mountains or going hiking? It was mostly due to a bike accident I had after which I could not bend my knee for about two years. Strange enough, I got back on the bike and it made my knee better, but never that good that it was reliable on a mountain tour. So I just gave it up.

Then I had to study quite a bit and I just didn’t have the time, or I didn’t want to make the time. That is the saddest part, I think. Because I actually believe, this would have been so good for me. So just after a very long break I found out that I can still do it and that movement actually helps my knee. I’m not pain-free today, but I am nowhere near the level of frustration that I felt when I had to give up sports and hiking ten years ago.

I am writing this, because this has been very important to me in 2020. Due to the lockdown and all the restrictions here in Germany, my yogamat and nature were the only places I could always go to. So, at some point, I just decided to try again and take advantage of it. I’m very glad I did, because otherwise I would have never found out that I could once again walk these distances.

Minimalism and hiking, maybe my two favorite things

If you want to know what my plans for the future are, check out this YouTube video. I’m talking a bit about minimalism and hiking and the boring forests around Munich in it.

I also sometimes track my tours on komoot, an app to plan hiking trips, which you can check out here.

Links & Affiliations

None of the mentions of apps or products in this article were sponsored. I just wear what I wear. I’m aware that the above video, at some point, almost looks like a Fjällräven ad – and I couldn’t care less. I love all of their clothes (the trekking backpacks are a bit too heavy for my taste), because the material is breatheable and has awesome hipster colors. If you want to have what I wear, check out these badboys, uhm, affiliate links here: jacket · wool cardigan ×

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