Mad Already #4 — A Minimalist Hitchhiking (and Tree-Climbing!) Kit

(Last updated on August 28th, 2018.)

When i began traveling long-term, i was cycle touring — weight/volume was, therefore, not much of an issue. So, one of the biggest challenges when i started assimilating the practice of hitchhiking about a year ago was that i couldn’t possibly fit all that shit into my 32-liter backpack!

my cycle touring rig on April 2nd, 2017, the first day of my 154-day long journey across Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, and my 32-liter backpack (which you might be able to see constituting a tiny fraction of the rig!)

Having now hitchhiked over 17000 Km in 17 countries and given a fair amount of consideration to what to carry along each of those kilometers, i have developed a pretty sweet minimalist setup. It does fit into my 32-liter backpack without compromising on luxury and self-sufficiency — indeed, it includes camping gear, with a kitchen and enough food for half a week, and still leaves room for my (also minimalist) tree-climbing gear 😀 (You may, of course, replace that with your idiosyncratic hobby of choice.)

the kit – basics

  1. papers — passport, residence permit, vaccination card; wallet, house keys
  2. on me — pair of pants, long sleeves, underwear, pair of socks, sandals
  3. “bedroom” — 0°C-rated sleeping bag, sleeping mat, hammock, tarp-poncho (plus 4 lengths of accessory cord and 4 pegs); earplugs
  4. thermal comfort — wool pants and long sleeves, wool gloves and socks, baclava
  5. “washroom” — toothbrush, toothpaste, travel towel, soap, nail clippers, moisturizer; toilet paper, shovel, trash bags; first aid kit (tick removal tool, Vietnamese star, sports tape and plasters, assortment of over-the-counter medicine, wet wipes, bandages, water tablets, eye drops)
  6. gadgets — phone, action camera and selfie stick, DSLR camera and bag, earphones; power bank, respective cables and chargers
  7. hitchhiking gear — water bottle, reflective vest, reflective straps; hat, sunglasses, hoodie, marker; souvenirs (foreign coins, Not Mad Yet postcards, business cards)
  8. extra — long sleeves, pair of socks, 2 pieces of underwear
  9. “kitchen” — stove, fuel, lighter; spork, knife, mug, pot; headlamp, sponge, tissues; food (detailed below)
  10. optional — paper maps, book, fast carbs tube, emergency warm bag

This is what i left home with on my latest solo, “freestyle” hitchhiking trip — meaning, what i might have taken on an open-ended hitchhiking journey. I sometimes hitchhike to visit my brother-in-law one town over, and i occasionally go on a “there-and-back mission” to apply for a visa in Poland, or whatever — what i’d take on such a trip would depend on the context and duration of the stay — for instance, if i know i’ll reach my destination within a single day on the road and have a place to stay upon arrival, i might replace some of my “autonomy” items such as the kitchen or the hammock by “comfort and etiquette” ones such as extra clothes, a netbook to do some work, gifts, “orders,” etc.

The kitchen. If you’re traveling on a larger budget that allows for you to eat your meals out, or if you just don’t mind eating canned food or bread with peanut butter every day, you might as well drop the kitchen — besides the fact that i just enjoy a hot meal at the end of the day and the underlying ritual in the morning, it’s just a lot cheaper to cook my own food and make my own coffee.

Thermal comfort. If you know where you’re going will definitely be warm enough, you might also do fine with a lighter sleeping bag or without the thermal layers — for me, they were a necessity in my latest trip to Estonia.

Optional items. My point here is, you’ll have some space for things people will make fun of you for carrying 😉 I got the fast carbs tube and emergency warm bag from a party of Polish paramedics returning from a course they were ministering at the border, and figured i might as well just keep them. Although i do carry offline maps on my phone as well, i personally like paper maps because it seems easier to get the big picture from them and discuss the route with drivers. I personally like passing my books on and picking new ones up along my way, so the moment i might invest on an e-reader hasn’t yet come either.

my pocket map of Poland, with an overlay of the offline map on my phone adjusted to its scale


  • 300g of cornmeal
  • 200g of dehydrated soy
  • 300g of oatmeal
  • 150g of powdered milk
  • 500g of trail mix
  • 350g of peanut butter
  • loaf of bread
  • instant coffee
  • salt, pepper, broth (tablets), and oil

Again, this is just what i took on my latest solo trip — your circumstances, dietary needs and preferences will dictate what and how much of it to bring. I like to carry food that is high on calories and easy to prepare — meaning, pour some boiling water over it and let it sit for a few minutes — it saves fuel! I also like to have enough food on me for at least three days without restocking — grocery shops are often a long walk from the road, and/or i might want to go hiking for a couple of days without an opportunity to visit one of them.

In practice, you’ll likely be offered food from some of your drivers and other folks along the way, and your supplies will last longer than you planned them to. Some drivers will also be gladly willing to swing by the groceries or anywhere else you might need — just ask!

sleeping on a haMmock

i was confident it wasn’t going to rain that night, so i didn’t bother setting the tarp

I’m working on a short video describing my experience traveling with and sleeping on a hammock, where i’ll show how i’ve been using it and share my impressions, as well as some of the beginner mistakes i made, and which you will hopefully avoid! I’ll update this post with the video as soon as it’s out.


Meanwhile, if you search “hammock camping” on YouTube, you’ll find a plethora of good videos on the topic such as this one or this other one (skip the first 6 minutes, and don’t pay too much attention to what he says about the costs — my hammock cost USD 15 and weights less than “16oz”, with the straps).

It goes without saying that you should double check that you can actually find trees where you’re going — a hammock would have been useless in Iceland or the Faroe Islands, or even in many places in the Carpathian mountains, near where i live 😉

tree-climbing gear

Speaking of trees …

… given how often people find it so strange that an adult is recreationally climbing trees, i want to clarify that i’m not sharing this assuming that you will be specifically interested in that yourself! My point is, if the equipment needed for your quirky hobby of choice weights less than 5 Kg, you can probably fit it in as well — indeed, my tree-climbing gear alone takes about half of the space in my 32-liter backpack.

my current traveling tree-climbing kit
  • 25m of 11mm, semi-static rope
  • harness
  • (2x) pear-shape locking carabiners, tubular belay/rappel device, length of 6mm accessory cord
  • (2x) daisy chains, (2x) D-shape locking carabiners, (2x) bent-gate non-locking carabiners, (2x) lengths of 6mm accessory cord; 120cm sling, small, wire-gate non-locking carabiner
  • (2x) 60cm slings, (2x) 120cm slings, (1x) 180cm sling, (4x) small wire-gate non-locking carabiners, (1x) pear-shape locking carabiner
  • SAR insurance tracker, water bottle, (2x) small wire-gate non-locking carabiner
  • tight “ballerina” shorts, tight t-shirt

Once again, this is what i took in my latest hitchhiking trip in which i also climbed trees. I’ve been working on a new climbing technique that should not only allow for me to drop a fair chunk of that but also be much safer — i will update this section when it’s been tested in the field 😉

TREEfool, perhaps my favorite tree-climber on the Internet, has extensively experimented with minimalist tree-climbing gear for traveling/tree-camping, and i’ve gotten many good ideas from his videos. Many online shops for tree-climbing gear have minimalist kits for recreational climbers as well, and the Tree Buzz forums are a great place to ask questions about the topic.

If you rock-climb instead, you may probably replace the semi-static rope and some of the other items by a longer length of thinner dynamic rope plus a handful of quick-draws for the sport routes along your way, while remaining at about the same weight and volume.

If you don’t even metaphorically climb trees and don’t have any distinctive items you need to bring along, you probably don’t need a 32–40-liter backpack either — your day pack would likely do, as long as it’s comfortable and has good back support — mine doesn’t, so i wouldn’t travel with it, but this is what it looks like with all the gear listed above packed into it, except for the food and the tree-climbing equipment:

something i wouldn’t quite do!

closing thoughts

Thank you for reading this far, and i hope this detailed breakdown of what i carry on my hitchhiking trips will be helpful to you. This is, of course, work in progress — i will continue experimenting with what to bring on future hitchhiking trips, and update this article whenever any significant changes or insights have developed. (Sign up for the mailing list if you’d like to be notified when that happens!)

If you’d like to send me any gear to play with and review, i’d be gratefully delighted — just send me a message, and we’ll work out the details 😀 You may also help me fund future overland travel experiments with hitchhiking or otherwise by donating an item from my wish list or “buying” a Not Mad Yet postcard.

How about you? What do you take when you’re hitchhiking? What’s your metaphorical tree-climbing gear? — i’m always curious to hear what other traveler’s “non-essential essentials” are, so please share yours in the comments below 😉

All the content i create is made available to all, and for free. If you find value in it, then please consider becoming a recurring donor — it is the best way to help me continue doing it! You may also find alternate ways to contribute on the support tab.

read more

Mad Already is a series of articles with concrete, tested travel advice written in counterpoint to my more “literary” chronicles and short reads. As such, it has been roughly divided into cycle touring, hitchhiking and general advice — follow the links to read more, and sign up for the Not Mad Yet mailing list to be notified when new articles go live and get other updates!

Mad Already #1 — 3 Readings to Avoid:  Your Ultimate New Year’s Guide to Sanity

(last updated on January 7th, 2018)

The Internet is exhausting — it keeps showing you stuff to click on — it’s now shown you this, and you’ve just clicked on it — see how it works?

In 2018 i will continue to actively steer clear of three kinds of reading in particular: the news, self-improvement articles, and listicles

Here’s roughly why.

#1. The News

It’s no conspiracy theory that the news are designed with one key purpose in mind: to sell advertising space. Your newspaper costs a lot more to make than the $1–2 per issue or however much you pay for the online subscription — that’s not the business model — the business model is to get your eyes on that underwear ad right next to the story on Trump’s latest tweet.

I’m not saying the news are lying to you — they’re probably not outright lying to you, even if they do have an agenda on top of their ad revenue. I’m not saying the news are not interesting either — gosh, they’re so alluring! — nobody would read them otherwise. No. The biggest problem with the news is that unexamined reliance on them for information can harmfully distort your perception of reality — they draw a disproportionate amount of your attention to unusual facts and events such as the all too sad stories of people displaced or killed by Hurricane Harvey, while neglecting to adequately inform you about the daily disaster of malaria in the developing world. It’s not that those behind the news don’t care about people suffering from malaria — they simply know you wouldn’t pay as much attention to that as you will to the first hurricane to make landfall in the US in 12 years — and they want to sell that advertisement space right next to it!

If you paid any attention to the news, you might never want to go to Ukraine. However reality can not only be quite different but, to some extent, perhaps even unrelated to what you might have seen on the news, as i experienced in  my very first time in the country.

I eventually moved to Ukraine four months ago, and this is what i can confidently say so far: it’s a huge and diverse country under insanely complex circumstances.

You won’t be missing much without the news. First of all, you don’t need most of that stuff being advertised anyways, don’t worry — you know what you need — look it up — ask around — you’ll find it — you’ll even get a good deal for it! And concerning where to go to stay informed about current events, there is now a wealth of podcasts such as Sam Harris’ Waking Up (and some references therein) that are delivered as ad-free, transparent, in depth conversations with authorities on the topic of interest, discussing many of the very questions you might  be asking yourself about what’s going on in the world.

By the way, this piece of advice includes comedy news — stay away from them — they will eat your brain. It does, however, exclude The Onion — please keep reading The Onion — and keep listening to Reggie Watts, and such as, a lot:

#2. Self-Improvement

I’m mostly referring to the kind of article claiming in their very title to be the last thing you’ll ever need to read to become the next Elon Musk, or whatever.

To begin with, you probably don’t need most of that either.

If you do want to level up on any aspect of your life, then pick up a book by someone who spent a significant amount of their lives devoted to the feature of interest, and start working on it — follow the blog in which they regularly write about it, or join a meetup or online forum and start interacting with people pursuing the same path, or all of the above — or yet something else that involves taking some action.

Change is an active process — figure out what’s the first step towards whatever it is that you want to get better at or incorporate in your life, and get started — today — now! Acknowledge that by reading those articles you’re simply procrastinating that first step. Indeed, i’ll be far more likely to read and take the advice of an article that gives me a clear, manageable first step, so i can actually go out and do it, rather than an article with so many recommendations that they will require me to spend half an hour after reading it pretending that i can immediately redesign how i spend 10% of my time.

#3. Listicles

Listicles seem to be most often about something i wasn’t even interested in, but now think is the most important topic in the world to believe i’m learning something about. They’re designed to be consumed mindlessly, like cheese puffs — and also sell advertising space, by the way — and typically teach me nothing of substance about something i actually care about.

Wanna become acquainted with remote places on Earth? Play around with Google maps, or post a question on some travel forum, and get involved in the discussion of what being ‘remote’ even means! Is it remote in the sense that it’s super far away? — difficult to reach? — because it’s been culturally isolated for a very long time? — because it’s unknown? Read up the Wikipedia articles about the places you get referred to — perhaps there’s a well produced documentary or a well written book on them — maybe someone has visited those places, taken good photographs, talked to people living there, and written an engaging account of it in their blog! Don’t settle for the listicle — maybe an opportunity to go there yourself is not even such a long shot, as it was for me the opportunity to visit the Faroe Islands in 2016.

It’s not that i’ll avoid reading lists altogether — in fact, i like lists —  very much so! I just prefer the kind of list that helps me think about how they’re constructed, and teach me something about the underlying theme. If you’re interested in the intersection between ethics and entertainment, the Very Bad Wizards podcast is a good place to find such thoughtful lists — their episodes on their five favorite movies on the nature of reality or the more recent one on dystopias immediately come to mind — a passionate podcast by avid consumers of pop culture who also happen to be scholars in the subsuming fields of moral philosophy, psychology and neuroscience.

If you’re not interested in something, then don’t worry about it — and if you are, then don’t be shy to go all nerdy on it!

Oh, you noticed!

That’s right — this is (almost) a listicle — and essentially a self-improvement one at that — that’s two out of three :p

It’s OK — you didn’t know any better 😉

But now you do — so, share it, close the tab, and move on with you life!

This is the 2018 revised and updated edition of the article i first wrote on January 3rd, 2017 on Medium, and then published on this blog with some changes on January 15th, 2017. Featured photo courtesy of Nicolai Berntsen.

All the content i create is made available to all, and for free. If you find value in it, then please consider becoming a recurring donor — it is the best way to help me continue doing it! You may also find alternate ways to contribute on the support tab.

read more

Mad Already is a series of articles with concrete, tested travel advice written in counterpoint to my more “literary” chronicles and short reads. As such, it has been roughly divided into cycle touring, hitchhiking and general advice — follow the links to read more, and sign up for the Not Mad Yet mailing list to be notified when new articles go live and get other updates!