The 7 Rs of Outdoor Minimalism
In this excerpt from her new book, Outdoor Minimalist, the author shares some beginner tips on how to move toward a lower-impact lifestyle
It’s an exciting time for Field & Stream staff writer, Meg Carney: On September 1, her first book, Outdoor Minimalist: Waste Less Hiking, Camping, and Backpacking, will be available. F&S readers know Carney best not only for the great gear reviews and roundups she writes but also for her regular column Gear Rx, in which she shares tips and advice on how to repair and get more life out of the outdoor gear you already own. The D.I.Y. smarts and commitment to sustainability that Carney incorporates into every Gear Rx story are also displayed in Outdoor Minimalist. And, sure, we might be a little biased since she’s part of the F&S team, but her book is excellent—thoughtful, entertaining, and smartly written—and it belongs on the bookshelf of anyone who loves spending time in, and fighting for, wild places. To give you an exclusive sneak peek at her new book, here’s an excerpt from Outdoor Minimalist in which Carney breaks down what she describes as the “7 Rs of Outdoor Minimalism.”
One of the most important aspects of moving toward a lower-impact lifestyle like minimalism is a shift in mindset. We live in a consumer culture of instant gratification that makes us believe more is always better and buying more will make us happy. Minimalism challenges that belief and gradually pushes your mindset from feeling like you should consume more to an evaluation of your needs versus wants. It is the shift from feeling like something external can make you feel fulfilled.
Being ready for a change is the first step, but, beyond that, knowing how to actually implement positive changes to all aspects of your life becomes more challenging. Cue the seven Rs of outdoor minimalism: reduce, refuse, rethink, repair, rehome or repurpose, remove, and restore.
Reducing consumption can come in many very impactful forms, such as reducing the amount of plastic packaging we buy, reducing the number of clothing items we buy each year, and reducing how often we replace our outdoor gear.
The reduction of consumption is an important concept, because we live in a consumer-based economy, but we live on a finite planet. Consumer-based societies often treat items and natural resources as infinite, when that is not the case. Reduction of consumption, no matter the area of reduction, then is a way for consumers to take some responsibility and accountability while recognizing that though humans must consume to survive, we have control over what it is we consume and how much of it we consume.
By first implementing the idea that we should be reducing our purchases of consumer goods, we take more control of our finances and begin to gravitate toward purchasing items that will last far longer. Instead of going for the hottest sale item or mindlessly perusing aisle after aisle, what the outdoor minimalist buys gains more purpose and meaning. When restructuring our idea of meaning when it comes to consumer goods, those items no longer as easily define who we are as a person. Material goods simply begin to serve a specific purpose associated with a task in our doing, not in our being.
Some readers may be thinking, “Isn’t refusing going to be the same thing as reducing?” In some ways, yes, but at its core, it tackles a much deeper concept of minimalism. You see, when we reduce the number of things we are buying, in most circumstances, we are only buying something new (or secondhand) when we can no longer repair or reuse that item. We can reduce our impact on the environment, but we can’t refuse to impact the environment.
When we outright refuse to buy something, it can be seen as a boycott of that specific product. For most of us, this is not going to happen overnight. It takes time to build new habits and to think critically about everything you buy and consume. For instance, when you are buying one item, you can choose to carry the item out in your purse or pocket instead of using a bag. Or before you buy a new pair of running shorts, look through the ones you have and think about how much you need a new pair before buying the new ones you liked while scrolling on social media. Refusal is a shift in behavior away from automatic, compulsive purchasing.
By saying no to things like single-use plastics, fast fashion, and animal products, you are telling the producers that you no longer have an interest in supporting their wasteful and exploitative practices. It is a way to “vote with your money.”
Many of the environmental issues that we face today are a trickle-down from corporate and government systems, making them feel out of our control. Refusing to consume, when it is appropriate in your life situation, is one of the easiest ways to implement an environmentally positive change into your daily life. You are then effectively shifting from an idea to action.
Rethinking is one of the seven Rs of outdoor minimalism because it challenges us to reevaluate how we interact with natural spaces, products, waste, and consumption. No one person will be perfect when it comes to reducing or refusing in every aspect of their lives, and for many people, it comes down to accessibility. How much time can you invest in company research or DIYs? What is your financial situation when it comes to investing in quality gear? Are there gear repair shops or outdoor stores in your city? Not everyone will have access to the same knowledge, resources, money, or community support when integrating the reducing and refusing aspects discussed above.
The importance of rethinking is that we no longer see natural resources as infinite or with a sense of ownership. We see products for their entire life cycle and imagine their lasting impacts, acknowledging that natural resources are finite and necessary for life beyond that of humans. We also acknowledge that we’ve been taught that natural resources are ours to exploit when, in reality, nature is ours to protect and preserve if we want to protect and preserve ourselves. We must begin to acknowledge, if we don’t already, that all things are interconnected and we rely on each other to survive.
If you’re starting a zero-waste, minimalist, or low-waste journey, the idea of rethinking every purchase or action seems exhausting because it can be. Start with what you know and move out from there. For instance, if you know that an outdoor gear company like Osprey makes backpacks and they offer lifetime repairs, you may want to reconsider that a cheaper alternative will go straight to a landfill if a zipper breaks and you can’t fix it. Rethinking purchases and your interaction with outdoor spaces can take more initial research and sometimes means investing more money up front.
Rethinking purchases comes down to answering one question: Is it necessary? Yes, this is a simple question, but I challenge you, the next time you feel an impulse to buy something, stop, and ask yourself, “is this necessary?” If you even hesitate, don’t buy it. Rethink your intention and redirect your attention.
Knowing how to repair outdoor gear can not only save you when in the backcountry, but it can save your gear from being “retired” too early. When it comes to outdoor gear, many items like backpacks, clothing, tents, and boots use long-lasting materials in the form of polyester or other plastics. Yes, these materials are durable and hold up well outdoors, but that is because plastic never fully biodegrades, and many materials, like nylon, have a high melting point. Both of these aspects make them perfect for rugged outdoor use, but impossible to recycle or dispose of in an ecologically responsible way.
Look at the life span of a product like a backpack. It lasts for years but might become effectively useless if one small piece, like a buckle, breaks. Without trying or knowing how to fix the buckle, the whole backpack could be destined for the landfill. The thing is, a simple fix could extend the life of the backpack tenfold. Depending on the brand, the user might not even have to repair it themselves. Yes, they would have to send it to the company and maybe be without a pack for a few weeks, but they also wouldn’t have to buy a brand-new pack and would save a lot of plastic from entering the landfill.
5) Rehome or Repurpose
Rehome and repurpose are grouped together because in most cases when you’re choosing to rehome or repurpose something, that particular item no longer serves its original purpose. You are ready to move on from using it, and now you need to find something else to do with it. If we take the case of the backpack buckle breaking above; if the owner is set on getting a new pack, they also can choose to rehome the pack to someone who maybe can’t afford a backpack but is willing to repair the old one.
Then, there comes a time when we simply outgrow a piece of gear, and that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean that we should throw it in the garbage or just let it degrade in the back of a closet somewhere. When you’re getting to a point where you need to upgrade your gear, first consider rehoming it. By rehoming something as simple as a decent pair of rain pants, a tent, or a backpack, you likely are giving someone a chance to experience the outdoors when they couldn’t afford to do otherwise. It’s no secret that high-quality outdoor equipment is expensive, and the high-price point makes accessibility to some outdoor experiences feel elitist. Rehoming gear that is still functional and safe opens up accessibility to others.
Repurposing doesn’t always work for outdoor equipment, which is part of the reason why it is grouped with rehoming. However, it is possible. For example, an old climbing rope should not be rehomed for safety reasons. To avoid throwing a rope largely made from plastic fibers into the trash, you can donate it to companies, like CragDog, that make dog leashes and toys out of ropes. Or you can invest time into a craft project to make an entry mat from the rope. So, while not every piece of equipment can be repurposed, some of them can, and you’ll get more life out of your initial purchase by doing so.
Every time you enter a natural space, be it the neighborhood near your home, a city park, a mountain trail, or the lakes of a wilderness area, you’ve likely noticed trash left by humans who used the area before you or that was brought by wind or water. No matter how the trash ended up there, it becomes a detriment to your experience, and litter is known to harm plants and animals that call that ecosystem home.
A good practice to get into when using outdoor spaces is to leave it better than you found it. This idea is adopted from a quote by Robert Baden-Powell urging everyone to “try and leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best.”
At its core, leaving a natural space better than you found it means that even if you were not the one who left that beer can or that candy wrapper, you have the shared responsibility to remove it.
The final R of outdoor minimalism is to restore natural areas. Not everyone will have the same ability to effectively restore land in the same way a conservationist or restoration program does. Still, in essence, all outdoor enthusiasts can contribute to land restoration.
Within the outdoor community, hunters and anglers are often the most active in habitat restoration. That is partly due to the conservation funds set up to funnel money from hunting and fishing purchases, like licenses and some gear, to conservation organizations. Hunters and anglers also often see a more direct impact of the habitat degradation that their sporting activity has on habitat, making them quicker to take action in an effort to protect the ecosystems but also to protect their personal sporting pursuits.
If you are not involved in hunting or fishing or don’t have the funds to donate to conservation programs, the next best thing you can do is donate time, talents, and exposure to your community’s conservation efforts. If you have the knowledge and ability to restore small ecosystems like your yard or land, this can be done in partnership with conservation organizations. Many restoration and conservation projects take volunteers for large-scale projects like planting trees or cleaning up an area before restoring.
This excerpt from Outdoor Minimalist: Waste Less Hiking, Backpacking, and Camping, was published with permission from Falcon Guides.