Are you an overwhelmed overpacker? Stuck at home with a huge pile of camping kit in your spare room which is just too stressful to tackle for a short trip? Then why not try a weekend 'mini-camp', leaving some of your larger kit behind for a simple, stress-free get away just for a night or two.
Even if you're a die-hard glamper you still can save space in your car, save time on packing and save yourself the hard work of heavy lifting and playing car tetris if you dare to go without some of the bulkier items of kit. You'll still be comfortable, warm, dry, fed and happy, and also a lot less stressed. So try it, what's the worst that could happen? :-)
What not to take
If you’d like to take your first steps to getting outside with less stuff and less stress, try leaving something behind next time you camp. I have identified my definitive list of absolute non-essentials. The big, bulky, annoying-to-pack-and-store items which won’t add much joy to your experience. Life is simpler and easier, and set-up much quicker, without them.
1. Cool box
I’ll start with the most controversial. No cool box! Are you brave enough to head to hills with an army of children and adults without 3 days of food micro-managed and loving packed into a massive plastic box? Obviously, if you are wild camping you’ll need to bring all your food with you, but for many campers, shops are never far away.Cool boxes require hours spent planning meals, shopping for food, packing and then struggling to keep cold in a sunny field. Hours of your life you will never get back! At the camp site, you will either need to pay for electrical hookup to plug the electric cool box in, (and bring the large cable required with you, and have limited choice of sites and pitches) or wrestle with melting ice packs over several days to stop all this food gradually getting warm and soggy. By packing light you keep your options open to choose the food that suits you when you need it.
I always bring the first meal, a few snacks and breakfast, then just buy fresh daily at the camp shop or a nearby supermarket when I need it. I get fresh cold milk every morning for my cereal. Its not necessary to plan your meals days in advance, after all, who knows that the weather will do? Maybe you''ll discover a great country pub and decide to have dinner there, or hire bikes and stop for a sandwich en route to the beach. By packing light with food you keep your options open and gain a few hours of your life back.
2. Extra bedding
Bedding was one of my biggest kit problems. Bags of duvets and real pillows take up tons of space in the car, and will need lots of time to wash when you return home. As outlined in ‘How to keep warm at night’ (see blog), there is a better way. Each person needs: an insulated self-inflating mattress, full-length thermal underwear, a decent sleeping bag (more about this in the book!) and a hat if its chilly. Try it. If you change just one thing after reading this blog, do this.
3. Big chairs
Don’t be seduced by the armchair-style fold-out chairs you see in camping stores. They may be comfy, but are space-fillers which will ultimately be landfill.
4. Large tent
Downsizing your tent is a key part of minimalist family camping. Why not borrow a smaller one and see how it feels for a weekend mini-camp? Enjoy the ease and speed of a simple set-up.
5. Electrical items
Anything that needs to be plugged in will require electrical hook up at your camp site. You’ll need a bulky cable and adapter and it will limit the type of camp site you can go to. Fridges, heaters and TVs are not required for the kind of wild, peaceful, escape to nature that children love.
6. Large toys
Unless you are a family of outdoor sports fanatics, these are definitely not essential, and a very easy space saver. So leave the bikes, baseballs, swingball and scooters at home. In my experience, many outdoor toys are 5-minute wonders and will spend most of the time lying around the campsite, in the way, being ignored and stepped over. Annoying tent clutter you can happily do without. Nature is an amazing playground, and your kids will be fine without them.
The point of leaving this stuff at home is to reduce your packing time, remove the stress and hard work of car tetris, and give yourself time and freedom to relax.
You can find more information on what to pack, and what NOT to pack in our book, Minimalist Family Camping, available now on Amazon.