Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   



Great Outdoors

Camping With Less

I had hiked three days into the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California a few years ago when a burly guy staggered down the trail near me and slung down his backpack.

He grunted, then lowered himself onto a log and started dumping stuff out of his pack. The castoffs included enough energy bars to sustain someone eating nothing else for at least two weeks, plus a book and some heavy camera gear. He’d packed so much that he’d made himself miserable trying to haul everything up and over steep hills. I half expected him to pull out a kitchen sink.

I love backpacking, but I’ve learned along the way that the less I bring, the more I enjoy the trip. It’s a lesson that rolls over into car camping.

I’ve heard about “weight weenies” who snap their toothbrushes in half, use their hiking poles as tent poles, wad up clothes for a pillow and employ Fritos as fire starters, all in the name of saving a few ounces. You don’t have to go to those extremes. I once interviewed a product specialist at Gossamer Gear, an Austin-based company that makes ultralight backpacking equipment, who gave me some good advice.

Don’t stuff things willy-nilly into your backpack – or, in the case of car camping, your car, he told me. Think about each item. Do you really need it? Would you be any less safe without it?
The easiest way to simplify the experience is to leave stuff at home in the first place. Nix the copy of War and Peace and the horseshoe set. Less gear means less mess – and more time to focus on hiking, swimming or communing with nature.

Rich Colfack, 52, of Austin, a retired real estate professional, prides himself on his ultralight backpacking setup, which includes featherweight gear like the pair of homemade camp sandals he crafted from sneaker insoles and lightweight string. But even when he’s car camping with his family, he prefers to go simple.


“Some people have the idea that camping is re-creating your home in the outdoors,” Colfack says. “You have to figure out what you’re comfortable bringing versus leaving at home, and you kind of have to push that boundary a bit — otherwise you’ll just bring everything.”

Rich has introduced me to joys of a Snickers-sized camp stove (BRS and Snow Peak make good ones), dehydrated toothpaste tabs and dehydrated meals (I love Austin-made Packit Gourmet). His packing list includes a scrunchable no-frills Froggs Toggs rain jacket, a lightweight backpack from Zpacks, and packets of instant coffee that eliminate the need for a whole coffee pot.

That’s a far cry from the family I once saw at a state park, camping with a television, a fish tank and a portable fence to contain their dog.

You can skip your favorite show for a weekend, keep your dog on a leash and survive without the tank. They won’t improve the hiking or the sunset. They’ll just bog you down


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