The Minimalist Approach To Overlanding

I’ve always liked the idea of having less stuff and living a minimalist lifestyle. The problem is I like things. It doesn’t matter if it’s gear, clothes, movies, books, or whatever thing I might be into at the time. I like the physical items. Over the years, I’ve learned to get rid of certain material items that take up too much space in my small house (books and movies being the primary items). After a few trips into the woods, I wanted to see if I could take a minimalist approach to the gear I overland and camp with. This article is going to focus on strictly my camping gear and what I feel I can manage with for a weekend. In the future, I may expand on some other items.

The Background

One of the first outings I took as an “overlander” was with a bunch of equipment I did not need. It was just my oldest son and I going so I packed my three primary camping tubs into the back of my truck. Once we were on the trails, making camp, and needing to get to the gear, I realized this was an absolutely terrible idea. Not only did I not need all the equipment but it was continually rattling around as we traveled. The primary lesson learned from that trip was to travel with as little as possible and take more of a minimalist approach to hauling and using gear.

Pack too much and you’ll find you don’t need it.

Now there is no denying that if I had been out with my entire family (5 people), I probably would have needed most or all of the stuff in those bins. After that initial trip, I started looking at what I needed versus what I took. Most of the stuff didn’t even get used, and it ended up being more of a hassle to dig through bins to get to what I did need. The outcome was an article on having an adventure-ready set up in your rig.

The New System

I paired down everything I needed into a spare cooler I had. Other than some larger items, most of the gear fit. This included a weekend’s worth of dehydrated meals as emergency food, or if I wasn’t feeling into the groceries, I bought along. A second cooler was used to house all of the food that was needed for a weekend trip. This included all of the cold and non-cold items.

organization cover photo
The little amount of gear I try to carry.

I got a chance to test out my adventure ready set up a couple of times during a Manistee trip and then during a trip in the Grayling/Kalkaska area. It turns out I could whittle down my gear loadout even further than what I had. And to be honest, I added in my camp table and full-size stove to what I have. They fit neatly behind both coolers, so they were not a hassle to get to. Once again, I was able to determine I could remove and substitute some things.

Lightweight vs. Minimalism

There are two ways to look at gear reduction: the weight of items versus the number of items. Weight reduction is not necessary as an overlander because we can use our vehicles to carry heavier weight items. I think the definition of lightweight is pretty understandable, but I’ll give it to you anyway. Merriam-Webster gives one definition of lightweight as “of thin material or build and weighing less than average.”

Minimalism doesn’t focus on weight necessarily but rather “extreme spareness and simplicity,” again the definition comes from Merriam-Webster. The minimalist approach is what I want to focus on when dealing with packing gear for a trip. Some of that gear happens to fall into the lightweight category as well. Even after cutting my gear load out down to a third of what it was, I still found I had more than necessary.

I think there is a balancing act to be had between lightweight gear, approaching packing with the minimalist mindset, and functionality of the equipment you bring. For example, I have an MSR Pocket Rocket as part of my gear loadout and it works great. Functionality wise though I’d much rather use my two burner Coleman stove. So, in the end, I’ll probably transfer the backpacking stove to my survival bag. The survival bag travels along with me so it’ll be there regardless,  just not used as the primary cooking stove.

The Minimalist Approach

While the two cooler system works, the next project on my mind is a modular cargo system for the rear of my rig. I’ve got rough plans drummed up for a cubed drawer system that can work in one of two ways. If my third-row seat is either out or folded up, the cubes would lay flat, giving me drawer access to the rearmost cubes and top access to the front most cubes. If the rear seat is up, which is how it tends to be, then the cubes would stack one on another giving me access to all the available drawers.

When I planned out my idea, I started thinking about what I wanted to have stored in the drawers full time, so I didn’t have to keep packing things. What I took with me on my last trip would end up being more than what I could probably fit in the drawer space, so I had to start listing what the most used and essential was.

  • Cookstove and fuel canisters
  • Cook set
  • Utensils
  • Recovery gear
  • Medical kit
  • Tools
  • Lighting
  • Fire starting kit
  • Hammock/tent
  • Chair(s)
  • Camera

This ended up being what I came up with as full-time stored items. I didn’t include a table because the plans called for either storage for my table or a built-in slide out table. This list isn’t dependent on building my drawer system though. Until that project is done, I’ve taken the same approach and repacked my adventure box with this setup.

Approaches To Packing

There is any number of ways to go about packing light with a minimalist mindset. For me, I don’t mind having heavier items that serve a purpose, which is why my cook table still travels with me. If space claim in your rig is a problem or you’re just looking to run as light as possible, the following packing options might help.

Consolidation Is Key

It might seem like a good idea to carry around a bunch of kitchen gear or cooking gear, but realistically you can consolidate it down. You don’t have to buy each piece. I would recommend investing in something like the GSI Destination Kitchen and a nesting GSI Pinnacle Camper Cookset. Both pack down or nest together into a small footprint that can be stowed easily.

Take The Lightweight Approach

I know my approach is to go the minimalist route without much of a concern for weight, but if certain gear is needed consider going the lighter weight approach. Instead of taking a large foldout table, consider a smaller, more packable table. Pack clothing into a lightweight duffel bag instead of a hard case. Again with clothing, buy something that will stay fresh for days as opposed to packing multiple shirts or underwear. The cost is more for these items, but in the long run, you may only pack one t-shirt versus three or four.

Take The Ultralight Approach

Consider people who ride their bicycles or even motorcycles around the world on trips. The amount of packing space they have is considerably less than what someone with a four-wheel drive is going to have. Most of their stuff could probably fit in one pack in the front seat of any overlanding rig. I would venture to guess most of us could pack everything needed for a three day weekend into one bag and manage just fine.

Don’t Pack It

The last option is not to take it. If it hasn’t been used in a while or never, don’t pack it. Take it out of your kit and leave it at home. If you find you need a certain item, figure out if something you’ve already got packed can pull double duty. I’ve found I pack more camera gear than I probably need so I’m working towards carrying what I use in a smaller, more manageable bag.

Going Forward and A Crazy Idea

In the end, I’d like to have a loadout that can be used for just myself and also for my family that fits in my future drawer system without having to stuff things in. The most change will probably happen with my camp kitchen gear. I have about four different sets that I use items from. Eventually, I’ll possibly replace all of it with a nested cooking set like the GSI mentioned above.

Another idea I have had is to pack everything into a single bag and see if I can sustain myself for a weekend just out of that. This would include all of the necessary cooking items, food, tools, and clothing for a weekend. Because I like to hammock camp, it would also be easy enough to include this as well for sleeping in. Granted this doesn’t include certain items like drinking water, but a well set up rig would include water storage of some kind. While I currently do not have this, a 30 pack of stowed water bottles have worked well in the past.

Maybe this idea will materialize into a Michigan Overland trip of some kind; maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll just end up testing it out myself on a trip. Who knows. Either way, I’m going to continue to ween down the gear I carry into as little as possible. I’m always interested in feedback, so feel free to leave a comment with some suggestions.

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Places to Go: Drummond Island

In keeping with the island theme, we started with Beaver Island, this quarter we’re going to shed some light on Drummond Island. Drummond is pretty well known to the off-road and overland community here in Michigan. It offers a good variety of trails that range from easy to challenging.

The Places to Go series explores adventure related points of interest in the state of Michigan. Highlighting everything from the large to small, the known to the unknown. If it’s interesting we might cover it and you should visit it.

The History

Drummond Island is, interestingly enough, named after a Canadian military officer. Gordon Drummond commanded both the Canadian government and military during the 1800s. It was also the last British outpost during the war of 1812 on American soil. In 1828 the island officially became part of the United States and is the only island in the Manitoulin chain of islands to fall in U.S. territory.

The township of Drummond is part of Chippewa County, which encompasses the eastern arm of the Upper Peninsula. It has a total area of 249 square miles with most of that being split between actual land (128 square miles) and water (120 square miles). Most of the island is actually a state park and is home to a unique environment.

The island is home to a thing grassy plain on a limestone bed known as alvar. Often times flooded in the Spring and dry in the summer, these plains are home to plants and animals more often found in grasslands. The Great Lakes region is home to a good number of these alvar plains though.

What To Do

Drummond Island is accessed only via ferry from mainland Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. Once on the island, there are over 40 miles of closed loop trails available to get lost on.

Marble Head is one of the main attractions on the island. Marble Head finds itself in a unique position. It is the first spot to see the sunrise in the Upper Peninsula at its 100 feet elevation. It also offers a mix of driving and hiking in order to access the top.

The fossil ledges are another unique area to visit on Drummond Island. Made from the remains of a saltwater coral bed, the fossil ledges require a high clearance off-road vehicle to get to.

We’ve only listed two items here because Drummond Island is a place that needs to be seen rather than read about. If you’re planning an off-road, overlanding style trip in the future then consider making Drummond Island your preferred spot.

GCI Slim-Fold Cook Station Review

In 2015, sometime before we kicked off Michigan Overland as more than just an idea I surveyed the gear I had. One thing that was missing was a good table to cook off of. I did my research and looked at several different variations of tables at varying prices. What I ended up with was the GCI Slim-Fold Cook Station that I managed to snag on sale and with a discount at REI.

Cooking up some tasty burgers at camp.

Eventually I concluded that, while cool, I did not want a table that required a lot of assembly. Something that folded up. Had a low profile. And would pack easily into the back of my Suburban.

The cook station itself unfolds with ease and has four fold-out plastic side tables. The main middle section is made of aluminum, unfolds up, and locks into place. I can say that I have not had any issues with the main section or the side sections folding back down once they are up and locked. There is also a lower section that folds out by itself and can be used for storage.

The GCI Cook Station almost completely unfolded.

Folded up it only takes up about 4 inches of space. It’s till pretty tall folded up at just under 35 inches. It fits in the back of my Suburban behind the third row with no problem, but something smaller might have issues. I will say that despite its weight at 20 pounds it does not feel overly cumbersome. The counter section will hold up to 48 pounds and each side shelf will hold up to 30lbs.

Packed up and ready to be deployed or stowed.

There is really only a few small drawbacks I’ve had with this table. Adding a stove makes cooking easy at a manageable and comfortable height.

However, cutting on the side shelves is a different story. You end up hunched over in an uncomfortable position whatever you are cutting up. Along with that, the shelves feel flimsy when cutting on them. To the point where it almost feels like you are going to slip or the shelf itself is going to collapse.

Overall this has been a solid table and cook station. It packs up easily and is small enough to be out of the way in and out of the vehicle. For the price, either bought on Amazon or directly from GCI, I would recommend this to anyone in the market for a folding cook-station.

Purchase Links: GCI | Amazon

Going Solo On An Overland Trip

Going solo on an overland trip is not something we recommend. We enjoy the camaraderie of having other people with us on top of the apparent safety net other rigs provide. However, we know it gets done, and given proper planning, it can be done with no problems.

A solo trip could be sought for any number of reasons. In this article, we are going to cover some things to consider when planning a solo trip. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to doing it, just a rough outline of what to consider.

The Benefits of Going Solo

There are benefits to go solo on any adventure, not just an overlanding trip. Going alone allows you to move at your own pace. You aren’t going to be held to a schedule or even a set route. You get to choose your timing and your route and move as fast or slow as necessary.

Being solo also means you are only responsible for yourself in every aspect. Want to break from a pre-planned route? You only have to convince yourself. Want to make something weird for dinner? You’re the only one who has to eat it. This also means you are responsible for your health and well-being. Do something dumb? You’ve got to patch yourself up.

Reasons For Going Solo

There is any number of reasons for venturing out solo on your own. Either way, you need to make sure you are prepared and have planned accordingly, something we cover later on in this article.

Bug Out Planning

Having contingency plans in place in case of emergencies is important. One reason for potentially going solo is to test a bug out plan out of town. You’ve got your rig loaded and ready to go, so you just head out on your pre-planned route. This gives you the chance to see the route and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Testing Your Skills

This falls in line with planning a bug out scenario. A particular set of skills (read in best Liam Nesson voice) is necessary when venturing out on an adventure. Similar to the bug out planning, testing what you know helps you determine where you may need more training. We highly recommend getting trained in specific areas before going solo. There is no need to get stuck only to find out what you thought you knew about recovery is wrong or dangerous.

Clearing Your Head

The last option may be more in line with what most people are after — a chance to clear your head with no other distractions. Getting into the middle of nowhere in the woods can do wonders for mental well-being.

What To Consider

Just as with planning a group trip, there are several things to consider when planning a solo trip. The difference here is you are entirely self-reliant. Planning becomes more important to ensure you have the right tools and information to successfully and safely complete your trip.

Plan Accordingly

The best thing you can do is plan accordingly. Track the weather before going to make sure you aren’t going to run into anything bad. Check on trail and road conditions in the area to make sure nothing is closed or impassable. Knowing what you are getting into can go a long way to keeping things running smoothly.

Plan With Redundancies

The saying one is none; two is one, etc. is popular in the preparedness community. Planning redundancies are going to be beneficial for a solo trek into the woods. Make sure the gear you carry can serve a dual purpose. Try to think of some scenarios where things might go wrong and plan what you take around those.

Have Someone Else Go Over Your Plan

You may think you have thought of everything, but it might be a good idea to let someone else go over what you’re the plan is. They may find a flaw with what you are doing or know the area you are planning on being in.

Share Your Plans With Multiple People

Let more than one person know you are going. Give them your route and itinerary for the time you will be gone. Exchange contact information so you can get in touch with them or vice versa in the case of an emergency.

Check-Ins and Contingency Planning

Establish check-in times and frequencies with the people you gave your plan to. You may need to establish a contingency plan if you have passed a check-in time. Establish a hierarchy of who gets contacted first, second, etc. If you are traveling in a remote area with limited signal, messages may only go to one person.

Take It Slow

Most likely, what you drove in will be what you have to drive out as well. Take things slow and ensure you are not causing damage that cannot be trail repaired. Don’t put yourself in positions that are dangerous. If you do, take your time and do not rush through them. This goes for simple tasks that seem mundane but could lead to injury.

Dress Brightly

This may seem like a silly thing. If you get stuck or lost being in bright clothing can go a long way for you to be found. Don’t pack earth tones or camo patterns that will make it difficult for someone to see you.

It’s Completely Doable

While we aren’t fans of going solo, it is completely doable and has been done. People go out alone on adventures all the time, whether it’s backpacking or biking or kayaking. All of these are done with less gear than what we as overlanders would carry. The key to being successful and safe is to plan and let people know what your plan is.


Shake Off The Dust

The plan was to map something useable. Something we could use as a training route for people new to overlanding. Training and experience type events are down the road still, but I like planning ahead. The plan for our shake off the dust trip did not go according to plan.

Our Friday meetup in Cadillac went without out a hitch. We spent about an hour and a half in the Meijer parking lot talking and walking rigs. Sometime around 6:30 – 7 we gathered up, discussed the plan for the night, and moved out. There wasn’t going to be much daylight left so we made a beeline for camp.

The first hiccup came running down M55 and getting to a closed road. Now, this is the part where I say I should have just listened to my wife and gone through. But of course, I didn’t. We diverted around and attempted to get to the campsite the back way but ended up at a creek that wasn’t able to be crossed.

We pushed on, back on the main roads and made it in to camp with a few hours of daylight left. The spot was a wide open area that easily accommodated the 11 or 12 rigs we had. In fact, we could almost have fit double that if we had too at some point. Everyone set up camp and started working on some dinner. After cracking a few beers and having some dinner, everyone did the obligatory walk around camp and chat.

Eventually we got a fire going, did some more BS’ing before finally calling it a night. At some point around midnight, I started to hear rumblings of exhaust in the distance. Sure enough, someone was out for a late night ride and felt the need to stop at our campsite. Of course they also decided to run their engine before finally taking off down the trail.

Morning started out a little chilly but by the time we broke camp it had warmed up to a comfortable temperature. After a quick brief on what we would be attempting we got everyone rolling and to the road. Our first drop in was just a short pavement drive north.

We pulled off the road and made sure we had everyone before proceeding north along the trail. Our initial drop in was pretty easy going. We stopped a short distance in for anyone who wanted to capture some video or pictures. At this point, Mike, who we were expecting to meet up with further north, had managed to catch us on the trail.

We moved on until we hit a clearing to stop for lunch. Turns out we ended up losing about half of the group at some point. Eventually we had everyone rallied in the clearing, made some lunch, and then continued on. This is where things started to go south. The next section of the trail was pretty much blocked every 50-100 feet by downed trees. We did our part and cleared everything as the trail become more and more narrow.

Eventually we hit a large enough tree that we could not clear. After consulting the map, it also turned out that the last 100 feet of trail cut through the middle of someone’s property. Whether the tree was deliberately put down to block access or not, we still had to back everyone up and turn back round. We trucked back the way we came to the clearing before realigning and heading to where we were supposed to come out and back into the woods.

This put us at the the northernmost loop of the route. We dumped in to the trail, making our way along until we were supposed to hit a turn to the north. Unfortunately, what showed in the satellite was no longer there. The current route we were on looked like it hit a dead end, but we decided to move on anyway.

The trail turned into this really cool valley for a short distance. It would have been great for it to continue through, but it ended at a pretty awesome campsite overlooking a river. Which, unfortunately was full. We marked it for another time and once again turned around, heading back the way we came.

I made the decision because of the time to head back to camp for the evening. We were camped in a spot that had a good amount of trails around it for anyone who wanted to partake. The rest of the evening was highlighted by sitting around the fire and BS’ing late into the night.

Sunday morning there was no real rush to get moving. Breakfast and coffee was made before we packed up and decided to find some trails. At this point we were lighter by about half of our group with only 5 or 6 of us left. I decided to hit the middle line of the planned figure 8 and make our way back to the Cadillac area. We hit a good amount of fire and dirt roads but did get into some tight trails.

Eventually, we parted ways with the group around noon and headed back for home. Despite the weekends apparent failure (to me at least) I did get to meet some of the people I’ve interacted with online. As I might have stated before, that’s what I get enjoyment out of. Meeting other people who enjoy overlanding and getting outdoors.