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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I’m Mike Klemish and This Is How I Overland

The How I Overland series is a semi-deep dive with Michigan and non-Michigan based overlanders, adventurers, and outdoors enthusiasts. It’s an almost 20 questions in their own words rundown of how they overland, the gear they use, what works well for them, and what doesn’t. If you’re Interested in participating in This Is How I Overland? Click here to fill out the form.

This month we get some insight from Mike Klemish. You might recognize Mike’s Discovery from our website banner. There’s a reason we keep it there. We’ve met Mike and had the chance to get a close up of his Discovery, and we can definitely say it is one of the coolest rigs we’ve seen.

Background Info

I’ve called West Michigan home all my life and worked a whole gamut of trades to end up where I am now working with computer interfaces for manufacturing machinery. Not the
most active line of work compared to others I’ve had in the past, but it affords me the freedom and energy to get outside and enjoy my pursuits.

How Did You Get Into Overlanding?

I think it’s matured from simple family camping trips in my early years, to nonsensical hooning around trails with various beaters as I grew up, then on to involvement in multiple types of offroad racing. All of it just intensified my curiosity in building vehicles, self-sufficiency, exploration, preparedness, & an increased appreciation for the out of doors. The film “The Long Way Round” may have played a part in pushing me over the edge from daydreaming into actual planning. And the more related forums and YouTube channels I discovered only helped to fuel that fire.

Personal Definition Of or Philosophy On Overlanding

I’ve personally found all the online debate over the word itself a bit odd because it always seemed terribly simple to me, it’s just a more concise way to say “vehicle-based travel involving offroading & camping.” Much like how we use BBQ to wrap up “cooking meat over an open fire with a gathering of people” into a neat linguistic package. As far as a philosophy I’d say I like what I’ve seen with Michigan Overland and Overland Bound’s practice of including any & all interested, regardless of vehicle or budget, so long as you’re respectful & are seeking adventure.

What Do You Like About Overlanding?

The vibe. Don’t care if it sounds corny; being surrounded by like-minded freedom seeking individuals is my kind of company. I don’t buy into “energy” in the sense of putting out vibes, not like that, there’s just something to be said for being around others with a venturesome mindset. Also the vehicles, as a disciple of the mechanical arts I can’t help but appreciate the creativity in all the overlanding builds I see these days!

What Do You Dislike About Overlanding?

The social media and commercialization. That being said I fully understand the point of each at their core’s. The former is unmatched in its ability to spread information, so aside from the dirty self-absorbed side of social media, I do recognize that it’s also a tool to introduce overlanding to many who could use the escape and reintroduction to the outdoors. The later has its merits too because I’m well aware that popularity and attention to something like overlanding can drive innovation. And that it has. I also get the aspect that commercialization might encompass people who are just looking for a hustle, a way to make a living themselves and be their own boss. I remain hopeful it won’t jump the shark and go the way that many genre’s of car culture have in the past with huge Sema paddocks full of trucks with wifi driveshafts and Bluetooth brakes, or your local parking lots littered with rooftop tent laden wagons that will never experience a forest pin-striping.

Current Rig? Please Provide Any Modifications and Future Modifications You Have Planned

My recent obsession is a 2002 Land Rover Discovery II that’s in the midst of a huge powertrain upgrade. Not exactly known for their engine’s reliability, but otherwise mechanically impressive underneath that “grocery getter” looking exterior. And that was my plan all along, just limp the Rover V8 along as long as I could manage before installing a 4-cylinder Cummins mechanical diesel that’s unmatched in its reliability. Spent a year tracking down a low mileage and unmolested base model to start to bring the harebrained ideas to reality.
Modifications: In between engine rebuilds I managed to lift it, stuff 35’s with Humvee double bead locks underneath, add some armor, install a giant roof rack, create custom steering links, LED all the lighting, fashion manual windows, and build a full custom sleeper/camper set up behind the front seats. Currently, I’m installing a crazy simple old 3.9L Cummins diesel, custom mounted with a mountain of power and surprising MPG capability, in front of a new 5-speed manual and strengthened Rover full-time 4×4 transfer case.
Planned Modifications: More armor, winches and better recovery gear, bigger American axles with lockers, custom linked suspension, 37″ tires, big brakes, additional tanks underneath, more lighting and communication gear, solar charging and house batteries.

Money Isn’t a Problem, What Rig Do You Buy?

My default response tends to be a Pinzgauer, but they’re rather small. So after a rethink, I’d say an M997A2 (or the newly announced A3) Humvee ambulance could be a brilliant platform for a dream build! Has to be new or used for administration, because those in combat roles end up seriously haggard and in ill repair. Replace the sluggish 6.5L engine with a built 6BT Cummins, a bulletproof Allison auto, and a monster TWF Hero transfer case. Upgrade everything and utilize all the plentiful interior space to build an incredible adventure home on wheels. Pair its upgrades to the matching lightweight military trailer, and it would be a beautiful thing.

Favorite Piece of Gear?

Cutting tools! Whether it be axes, hatchets, fixed blades, or folders. Even with new knives coming into the picture I think my favorite is still my Buck Hoodlum. A well designed 10 inches of 1/4″ thick steel weighing in at nearly a pound and a half makes for a serious implement around camp.

Least Favorite Piece of Gear?

My Casio G-Shock GD400 wristwatch. It is a great device though, odd as it may sound. I am far from any sort of “watch person” so having one wrapped around my wrist drives me a bit nuts. But lately, I’ve been trying to go out of my way to identify and confront personal deficiencies head-on, which in this case is my less than ideal time management from day to day. Having that clock strapped right alongside my hand is irritating, albeit useful.

Favorite Place You’ve Been To In Michigan?

That’s a tough choice between the Keweenaw peninsula or Drummond Island. If I’m looking to go off the grid almost completely and not see people for some time, then Drummond is a great place to wander offroad. If I want a great selection of trails with food and drink that’s not too far a drive from said trails, then the Keweenaw and Houghton are where I’m headed.

Favorite Place You’ve Been To Outside of Michigan?

Easily the western slope of Colorado. Spent a week wandering the Rockies seeing the wild variety of wildlife, mountains, rivers, canyons, deserts, forests, and deep snow all within a few hours range from where I stayed. Can’t wait to go back with my Rover and properly explore!

Bucket List Place(s) to Visit?

I’d love to see the Northern British Isles via overlanding style travel, namely Ireland and Scotland. Honorable mentions include Scandinavia, Tasmania, New Zealand, & Ukraine.

Current Favorite Podcast, YouTube Channel, or Instagram Account to Follow?

I’ve long struggled to find any offroading or overlanding podcast that is consistent, has better than awful audio quality, or doesn’t put me right to sleep. So the next nearest thing I could come up with is the “Jocko Podcast,” the master of discipline and extreme ownership. There are a plethora of youtube channels in the genre, but my favorite lately has been “Bug Out Vehicles UK.” Good friends, good rigs, good times.

Where Can You Be Found On Social Media?

All my social media went the way of the dodo some time back. Perhaps youtube counts, more media than social, but in any case, I can be found on YouTube as “Tinker” here.

Stanley Coffee Press and Mug Review

mug and press

Sometime in the last couple of years, I ordered a new coffee press and mug from Stanley off of Amazon. Full disclosure here, I’ve never used any Stanley products before, but I needed a new travel coffee mug. A quick search brought me to the Stanley Classic One Hand 20oz Vacuum Mug.

I also enjoy pressed style coffee, so I wanted something other than a glass French press to add to my adventure gear. I initially included a glass French press in my adventure box but thought better of it. Cleaning up broken glass after bumping down the trails at the end of the day didn’t seem like any fun. Stanley released a slew of camping related items, and their Mountain Vacuum Coffee System covers me in terms of having a press.

The Coffee Mug

I’ll start with this. Never have I had a coffee mug that has kept my coffee hot (I mean hot, not lukewarm) throughout the entire day. I’ve tried other sealed mugs where the temperature of the beverage changes throughout the day. And while your hot beverage of choice might be warm-ish by the end of the day in other mugs, the Stanley Vacuum mug won’t let you down.

Stanley states that the mug will keep hot beverages hot for 9 hours, cold beverages cold for 8 hours, and iced beverages iced for 35 hours. I haven’t tried cold or iced beverages yet, but I can attest to the 9 hours for hot drinks. I would even go so far as to say that I’ve had beverages stay hot longer than the 9 hours.

The tall and slender design of this mug allows you to quickly wrap your hand around the mug for a secure hold. I purchased the 20 oz mug, which is the larger of three options, so it’s slightly more awkward to hold than the smaller sizes. The 16 oz or even the 12 oz options might be better for full hand engagement or if you have smaller hands.

This is a spill-proof mug, and that is partly due to the top automatically resealing. To drink from this mug, you have to depress and hold the button on the head. It does not lock open and closed. Most of my past coffee mugs either had this option or a lid to flip open. I prefer the locking top so getting used to pressing the button each time was a bit of a hassle, but it did prevent accidental spillage. In the end, I would highly recommend this coffee mug to anyone.

The Press and Thermos

Keeping a glass French press in your camp kit might not be a good idea. While mine hasn’t broken yet, I can see it getting smashed in the future. As I enjoy pressed coffee over traditionally made coffee, I decided to get a more camp friendly option. The Stanley Mountain Vacuum Coffee System fits the bill, with one caveat. It’s big. I decided to go with the larger 1.1-quart size as opposed to the 17 oz size. With the larger sized system, it does not fit snuggly in my adventure box like my current French press does. The Mountain Vacuum Coffee System comes with six pieces: two cups that screw together, a storage top to hold grinds, the thermos, a pot, and press screen for the pot. They all fit together nicely for storage when you’re not making coffee.

Stanley coffee press apart.
Stanley coffee press apart.

The process of making coffee with this system isn’t hard. If you’ve made coffee in a French press before you should know how to do this, heat water, add coffee, and let steep for 5-10 minutes. The nice thing about this system is the thermos top allows for coffee grinds to be stored inside it. The top holds just less than a measuring cups worth of grinds. If you’re just getting out overnight, you can load up the top and not have to carry more than what you need.

I used my stove at home to heat the water in the pot. After about 10 minutes the water was not quite boiling and was ready for the grinds. I poured in half a tops worth of grinds, stirred them up (pack something to stir with), and let the coffee sit for 10 minutes. Once the steeping has completed, you drop the press basket into the pot and carefully press down the grinds.

The one thing to be careful with is how much water to add to the pot. During my initial test, I filled the pot above where the handle resides. Once I added in my coffee and pressed it down, I ended up with a nice coffee pool on my counter. I would recommend not having water above where the handle attaches to the pot.

Pouring the coffee out into a mug was pretty easy, but I do wish the press basket locked into place. I understand it won’t work with the grinds in the bottom, but I was concerned it was going to fall out while pouring. If you’ve got a full pot of water, you should get about 6 cups of coffee out of it using the included mugs. The thermos holds an entire pot of coffee with some possibly left over depending how much water you’ve added (again, I don’t recommend filling past the grab handle).

I poured the contents of my recently made coffee into the thermos and left it on my kitchen counter for about 4 hours. This was an unusually warm day so the air conditioning was running and it was cold in my kitchen. I checked the coffee temperature every hour or so and never experienced a change in temperature. Much like the coffee mug, the thermos will keep hot drinks hot for 24 hours, cold drinks cold for 20 hours, and iced drinks iced for 100 hours. This is an absurd amount of time, but it’s good to know you could have a hot or cold beverage ready to go at the end of a long run of trails.

Conclusions and Field Test

I got the chance to test it out “in the field” several times over a few weekends using my camp stove. I haven’t tried it out on my backpacking stove yet, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever carry it in that sort of setup. As I mentioned, it unpacks and packs up quickly enough, and the stainless steel and plastic cleans up nicely when I’m done with it. The water pot didn’t take long at all to get the water to just below boiling. I didn’t notice the handle getting excessively hot either as I did with my stove test. I used a full cap full of a Tim Horton’s roast and let it steep for about 10 minutes. The screw together integrated mugs came in handy while sitting around the morning fire.

Overall I am very impressed with this system and would recommend it to anyone who wants a French press system in their camping gear. It’s easy to use, packs up nicely, and makes a good cup of coffee. The only downside is it’s not small or light, something I can get over. If you’re a coffee drinker and you keep an adventure box in your car ready to go, you may have to rethink your storage solution, but overall this is a great product.

Mug Purchase Links: Stanley Website | Amazon

Press Purchase LInks: Stanley Website | Amazon

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