A Modest Treatise on Minimalism

It's been a long time since THIS happened, but... This is why I love bike touring always and forever. -- Anthony Musick
“It’s been a long time since THIS happened, but… This is why I love bike touring always and forever.” — Anthony Musick

Mike and I met Anthony Musick outside a gas station in Todos Santos, Mexico. He and his friend were traveling by bike all the way from California to the southern tip of Baja. He had tiny panniers on his bike, but he packed a travel guitar. I knew two things instantly. 1) I liked this guy, and 2) I was talking to a master packer.  A  year or so later when I asked him if he’d like to contribute a pro tip for my book on packing light for round-the-world travel, he came back with something even better so I’m posting it in its entirety here for your packing pleasure.

A Modest Treatise on Minimalism
by Anthony Musick

Perhaps the best few words of advice I have ever received, specifically in regard to ultra-light, unencumbered, freewheelin’ travel, were sagely dictated to me as such: “Take everything you think you’ll need, spread it all out on your bed, then strategically pack one-third of it.”

“Wha?! That’s pretty ambiguous…” I first thought, “Which third of it?”

As human animals, when faced with a venture into the wild unknown, most of us tend to over-think scenarios, over-prepare for projected (and often highly improbable) “what-ifs” & subsequently over-pack, even when we think we know better. Perhaps this reflex harkens back to ancestral memories hibernating deep within our limbic systems, packing everything-but-the-kitchen-sink when we — like nomads — up and leave, if only for a short while.

What years of travel have taught me, however, is that you can take the kitchen sink as long as it’s in the form of, say, an 8″ Tupperware container.

But I digress. Getting back to the “third” thing: You don’t need most of what you’re tempted to bring. Get literal with it and, instead of three pairs of jeans, bring one. (Jeans stay “clean” for an amazingly long time!) Instead of nine pairs of socks, three or four. Six t-shirts, two. You get the idea… Then get creative and resourceful. Adapt, like the chameleon you are, to this adventure, and approach with excitement and ingenuity the fact that everything is going to be different for a while. While on the move, store your few toiletries in the aforementioned 8″ Tupperware container, which while in a motel or camping, doubles as your tiny dishwashing tub. Make cowboy coffee in a 6″ saucepan (strain w/ a small sieve, if you please) then give it a once-over with a bandana and eat your granola out of it, then stuff your bags of coffee & granola in the pan before packing into your chosen travel bags. Every square inch of space can be utilized; the uses of every item can be maximized.

“What years of travel have taught me, however, is that you can take the kitchen sink as long as it’s in the form of, say, an 8″ Tupperware container.”

A lot of my travels have been on my bicycle. While I have marveled at some “complete” — albeit unbelievably loaded down — touring rigs, I’d like to think I pack light. I prefer my days to be a bit more manageable (occasionally at the expense of being completely comfortable), to be able to X a large swath of road from my map, if I feel so inclined. While many, if not most, reading this will not be traveling by bicycle, the daunting task of gear selection, preparation, and packing we all face is more-or-less identical. There are a finite number of cubic inches within our modest bags. And I’ll bet most would prefer to be able to daily X large swaths from their literal or metaphorical maps, rather than luxuriate in the creature comforts of home.

Which brings to mind the best graffiti I have ever seen, which read as such: “The less you own, the more freedom you have.” Amen to that.

As this is indeed a “how-to” article, I feel it’s only fair and appropriate to share what I packed on a recent weeklong bicycle tour. Keep in mind this was while camping in relatively cold weather, with self-sufficiency as a priority. (I deliberately listed bicycle-specific items last, as they may be of little use to many.)

Camp Gear
Hatchet, Marmot down sleeping bag, Thermarest sleeping pad, Sierra Designs 2-person tent, small tarp

Clothing
Thermal underwear, REI warm/waterproof jacket, polyester shirt, t-shirt, jeans, beanie/toque/watchcap, 2 pairs of extra socks, 1 pair of wool socks, 2 pairs of underwear, nylon shorts, small camp towel, 2 bandanas (infinitely useful), wool gloves

Cooking
MSR International camp stove (it can cook with gasoline!), fuel bottle, 6″ stainless sauce pan, 3″ stainless strainer, titanium mug, lighter, combination fork/spoon, Leatherman multi-tool (w/ pocket knife, can opener, screwdriver, etc.)

Toiletries, extras, randoms & luxuries:
Book, 2 bungee cords, 15’ nylon rope, headlamp, sunglasses, toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, map, compass, guitar (Yes, I have to pack along my little Martin backpacker guitar! A worthwhile space/weight sacrifice…) (Speaking of space/weight sacrifices, I often leave a little room in a bag for a post-ride beer, which I’ll wrap in my Thermarest — to keep cool when stores are few and far between — and which will taste better anything imaginable after covering 80-100 miles and burning 10,000[ish] calories!)

Food (usually acquired en route)
Ground coffee, nuts and dried fruit, canned beans, rice, garlic, oats, two 20-oz. bike water bottles and 40-oz. stainless canteen

Bike Stuff
Topeak frame pump, chain-breaker, multi allen key tool, spoke wrench, extra tube, tire levers, cassette-removal tool, small chain whip, extra spokes/nips, front & rear bike lights, cycling shoes, bike shorts/chamois, cycling gloves

Anthony Musick is a boat mechanic and bike touring fanatic living in San Diego, California. Follow his adventures on The Stoked Leucadian and find out what he’s been playing on that travel guitar here.

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