Minimalist Camping

Kath Heiman — 7 June 2019
We take a look at whether paring back the inventory is as fulfilling as having the comforts of a camper at your disposal.

The other weekend we took a quick trip away. The reason was to attend a military vehicle event. We had some gear to sell at the associated swap meet so we were travelling with a box trailer. Which meant that the camper was left at home.  

Instead, we were equipped with swags and a Rhino Foxwing awning. Apart from a 40 litre fridge, some camp chairs and a few small clothes bags, we didn’t have a lot of creature comforts with us. Our campsite for two nights was the local racecourse which offered flat ground and a little shade, with amenities limited to a handful of toilets and two showers.  With no communal barbecues or electricity, it was fairly primitive for a site so close to town.

This was an unusual style of family camping for us. Because, since our daughter was born eight years ago, we’ve travelled predominantly with our camper in tow. And while it’s not a resort on wheels, it certainly offers the sorts of features that would have made my eyes pop as a kid. A bed that remains warm and dry regardless of the conditions outside. A hundred litres of water available on tap – and the capacity to make it hot. Electric powered fans to circulate air around the cabin to help keep the temperature down. Built-in cupboards for clothes and food. Lights that go on at the flick of a switch. And a fridge/freezer that ensures fresh food is always on hand. 


So our weekend under canvas served as a great reminder of how little we actually need in order to get outdoors and enjoy somewhere new for a few days. When I think back to childhood camping experiences, they involved the barest supply of camping gear – even for trips of thousand kilometres over several weeks. As I remember things, the packing list involved a basic tent, blow-up mattresses, sleeping bags, a Coleman oil lamp, a tuckerbox with tinned food and UHT milk, and a small Esky icebox to store the few bits of fresh produce we picked up along the way. No doubt there were some other things stashed in the back of the FJ-40 Shorty, but I don’t remember them. They probably added to the safety of our trips into remote areas – but I don’t think they added much to the comfort. And as an adult in the Army, I’ve spent enough time sleeping under a hootchie to know what primitive camping really means.

Like most things in life, there’s a time and place for everything. For periods when we’re on the road for weeks at a time, when the weather turns nasty and when we’re in the vicinity of crocodiles, the opportunity to get undercover and off the floor in our camper can feel more like a necessity than a luxury. But I still reckon there’s a lot to be said for keeping things as simple as possible.  

With saturation 24/7 media urging us to put our hands in our pockets to purchase (among other things) the latest camp gear or home away from home, it would be easy to get caught-up in a never-ending competition with ourselves to buy bigger, brighter and better.  The question is whether any of it makes us any happier?

To find the answer, I reckon there’s something to be said for psychologist Maslow’s well-known ‘Hierarchy of Needs’. He told us that our most basic needs are simply access to adequate food, water, warmth and rest. Our basic needs also include security and safety. Looked at this way, most of us who own a camper have probably got it made. Unlike members of society who find themselves outdoors because of homelessness, we enjoy the autonomy and control that comes with having the choice to spend time under the stars, or inside our cosy campers when it suits us. And when we inadvertently turn-up somewhere that doesn’t feel ‘right’, many of us will simply move on to set-up camp somewhere that gives us a better vibe.  

I reckon that the end-game of an overland lifestyle is achieved when you find yourself relaxing under a canopy of stars – which are undoubtedly the biggest, brightest and best thing that this world has to offer. And this experience can be enjoyed equally – whether you’re a budget camper or someone who spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on your rig.

Getting back to basics occasionally is a great way to keep things in perspective and remember how lucky we are.