Minimalist Camping

Last fall I found that a town forest area had been logged and that a lot of tree parts had been left behind.  Two weeks ago, after a bad wind storm that blew down a lot of tall pines, I was back in the town forest and found one particular pine that had come down,having a large root mass uprooted and leaving a dry spot where the roots had been.  I decided that would be a great area for a minimalist outing.  I went back last week with my shoulder bag packed with the following items: a small butane lighter, a sheath knife, a water bottle, a 15 oz tin can with a lid and a bale wire to use for boiling water, tea bags, some jerky and corn nuts for food, a couple of bandanas, my cell phone and a whistle.  The total weight of my shoulder bag was about 3 1/2 pounds.  My water bottle with a liter of water added another 1 1/4 pounds.  I was wearing waterproof hiking shoes, cargo pants, a chamois shirt and a sweatshirt.  I had a pair of work gloves and a winter coat that I had tied around my waist.

My first task was to improve the hole that was to be my shelter.  One side of the hole had a large, flat stone that I determined would be the reflector for my fire.  The other side was to be my "bed".  Using stones uprooted by fallen trees, I built up the side of my bed area so that I could sit and be out of the wind.  Plus the heat from the fire would reflect into my bed area and then back off the wall.  Then I gathered a bunch of  thin branches left by the loggers and built a framework for a roof.  I spent about 45 minutes gathering downed hemlock branches and used them to form a wind-proof roof, then a gathered a bunch more and built a thick pad for sitting on.  After that I spent the rest of the day gathering downed wood.  I found some hardwood pieces that I could either manage or break into manageable pieces, but most of my wood was dead pine branches.  I knew they would burn fast, so I gathered a huge pile, along with all the kindling I could find and a bunch of pieces of birch bark.  I kept some of the birch bark to use as fire-starters and used the rest to make torches in case I needed lighting at night.

Before it got dark I went down to a small stream made from show melt and filled my tin can pot.  Once it started getting dark, around 7 pm-ish, I started a small fire and boiled up the water for some tea.  The tea, some corn nuts and some jerky made up my dinner.  Then I sat back inside my shelter and listened to the night sounds.

I knew that there was no rain in the forecast, but that the low was expected to be around 30 degrees F, and I expected that my night would be spent dozing, waking up, rebuilding the fire and dozing again, with this process repeated all night.  That's what happened all night.  My shelter was snug and warm as long as the fire was kept burning.  I think that my longest dozing period was about a half hour, but I made it through the night and was really happy to see the darkness give way to light and to see the sun come up.

I boiled up some more water and had coffee and corn nuts for breakfast as I sat in the morning sunlight.  That was my March 2010 minimalist campout.

My experience has been that a minimalist campout really needs a lot of planning and that good weather is an important element in the planning.  If I had expected rain I would have brought along my poncho and would have used that to waterproof my shelter roof.  If the ground had been wet I would have needed a ground cloth; normally I use a left-over piece of Tyvek for the ground cloth.  But all of that adds weight.


rdbrgt rdbrgt
61-65, M
4 Responses Mar 23, 2010

What a great story! Have you read "Trail Life" by Ray Jardine? It's full of good advice based on years of experience.
I spend a lot of time outdoors with my tarp and just basics - and in all seasons. It really gets things back into perspective - well, for me at least.

That's sounds like a neat trip

Actually, I had very little smoke inside the shelter. The root mass apparently drew the smoke up and out right above the fire. The secret to avoid getting choked by smoke seems to be to always build a reflector wall behind the fire. This wall creates an air flow that keeps the smoke away from you. Without such a wall, your body creates an air flow that draws the smoke to you.<br />
Actually, if you are camping in a sandy area, build a hot coal bed. This will keep you warm all night without needing to tend to a fire.<br />
I try to avoid using sleeping bags or blankets because they are just another thing to buy, carry and worry about getting wet. I used to be an ultralight backpacker until I realized that I was still a gearhead and still dependent upon "stuff". Now that I have dumped most of the stuff I find that my outdoor adventures are a lot more fun... and a lot more challenging.

Was it very smoky in your shelter? I always end up choked by smoke when I try to have a fire inside a shelter. Nowadays I only use the fire for cooking and I stay warm with a good quality sleeping bag (rated to -5C as an extreme low, but I've used it down to -12C, maybe lower with my clothes on). <br />
How do you avoid getting choked by the smoke, are there any tips you could share on that please?