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Only One of Something

Bushcraft knives compared

It’s a simple concept. How would things change if you had only one of something?

  • one backpack,
  • one stove,
  • one knife,
  • one shelter,
  • one jacket?

I saw this question asked online recently by a friend and felt inspired to do something about it for myself. It beautifully summed up how I have been feeling about my backpacking gear and personal possessions of late. I have too much stuff. Most of it is not getting used. And I no longer have room for it all.

Quality over Quantity

Over the years I have advocated purchasing quality gear over cheap gear, saving your money and making shrewd purchases that will, hopefully, last you your lifetime. I like to think that I even practice what I preach, lord knows I have a lot of very good quality gear. Yet, at some point along the way I got wrapped up in seeking out those “great deals” and bought gear just for the sake of it, not because I needed it.

I’ve made up my mind. It’s time to use the gear that I have, get rid of the things that I am not using, and stop collecting for the sake of having more. Using the gear is the easy part. Letting go of the gear that isn’t being used and curbing my gear lusting and purchases will be much harder.

I’ve tried giving away my gear before. I ran into one hiccup. It was costing me a lot of money just to give it away. I have already made plans to donate a significant amount of my gear closet to local Boy Scout troops, but the more niche ultralight gear will be up for grabs to all of you – stay tuned…

Gear Drawer

Less is Better

I’m beginning to wonder if only having one of something will actually be more of a benefit than an inconvenience? Maybe it will force me to become more proficient with the few items that I keep and learn how to make them adapt to conditions they were not made for? Maybe I’ll be less reliant on the gear and start developing and improving my own skills? It will certainly make picking my gear for any given trip much easier!

What Do You Think?

How often do we really need more than one of anything? Could YOU make do with only one of something?

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  • Brad Attaway

    The trick here is in the way you define the categories you have “one” of. For instance, sleeping bags: Do you have “one sleeping bag” or is it “one 3 season bag and one winter” or is it “one 45, one 30, one 15, one zero, etc”. I’ve rarely made a duplicate purchase, but it’d be easy for some to look in my closet and say I’ve got 3 of everything.

    • I hear you loud and clear, and can probably trump that. I’m pairing back on versions, scenarios, and spares. Let’s see how much I can comfortably get rid of. It’s hard to let go and you seem to be in the same situation. I wonder how many of us have way too much gear? 50% of us, 75% of us, more?

  • Joslyn Bloodworth

    I have to say, this is how Richard and I have chosen to live for the last 4 years. It’s part of our minimalist life choice as well as being too frugal to afford more than one of anything. It’s very freeing in a lot of ways, but it is a challenge at first. It’s not so hard for me in backpacking gear because we decided to be this way before I started backpacking, but some things are really interesting. We have, for example, one computer and one tablet between the two of us. That’s not always easy and does cause some friction, but we also have found it is of benefit as well because when one of us is using the laptop, the other has to get creative in our choice of entertainment. One of the hardest places was the kitchen. It means I actually have to do the dishes. :) There are still some holes in my year round gear list so I’ll be keeping my eye out for you selling stuff!

    • Creativity born out of necessity, it’s a beautiful thing and not at all bad. I’m adopting this new approach in all aspect of life, not just my backpacking gear, so this will be very interesting.

      Oh and make sure you do stay tuned. I never said I was selling it all, or just giving it away. I think I’ve come up with a simple solution where everyone will benefit and I’ll have no more excuses.

      • Joslyn Bloodworth

        It has been very interesting to get rid of so much of our things over the last few years. It has also forced me to rethink much of what I’ve taken for granted over the years, like how much trash I produce and what impact my actions could be having on the wilderness I love.

        I sure will be keeping an eye out, now you’ve got me curious!

  • Doc Rader

    I agree in paring down. But I subscribe to the adage “Two is one and one is none”.

    • Oh, you’re an enabler…

      • Doc Rader

        Not so much an enabler as a person who likes to maximize the utility of gear. Sometimes past manufacturer’s recommended tolerances…

  • D. I. von Briesen

    I tried this exercise with footwear once- it gets tricky. You want some flipflops for showers, camping, backyard, etc… but then you need something nice for work- but that won’t do for exercising. Then comes winter and you need something that’ll deal with water and/or snow… at that point you’re already up to four pair, and you haven’t covered ski boots, snowboard boots, hiking boots (ok, maybe with the snow thing), biking shoes, rock-climbing shoes, winter slippers, or water socks…

    I think if we use your knife picture as an example, we could argue that you don’t really need any more than one TYPE of something – if x will do it and y will do it, keep the one that will do more. If they are the same, lose one. Alternatively, there’s something to be said for distribution- have a good knife, flashlight, multitool and towel in each glove compartment- or just have a kit in each car… (i have 4 minivans). Definitely a worthy conversation though. I’ve recently hit the attitude more often that “if it doesn’t do exactly what I want, they way I want, I get rid of it”. That can be freeing.


    • I never said it was going to be easy. In fact I kept my blog post deliberately vague because I know (from experience) that it can very quickly become a matter of one of something for every scenario. I want to avoid that as much as possible.

      Also, I got your email. Yes and yes! I replied, we’ll put a bunch of the gear to good use :)

  • runbot

    90% of life is what you have on you (or in your Brain). Get the lightest & best. EDC: cell, $15 EBAY knife, Surefire 123 light, NAA mini .22 WMR, Mini ziploc 1st aid kit with Celox, bic lighter. Any more weight is driven by access to water.

  • LanaOV

    I was a hoarder for years. Most of my gear and property I gave away in the past 10 years. These days, when I want to buy something that I need, I look for something to give away (or sell) first so that I’m no longer collecting

    • Something in, something out. That is going to be one of my new rules too. If I need to make a purchase, what is it replacing or do I even need it? Awesome!

      • LanaOV

        If I have duplication of gear items, the duplicate moves to the bug out bag. If I have more than two, it’s gifted to someone who can use it.

  • Michael Goehring

    I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the fact that I would go as light as possible when backpacking, yet when I opened the garage cabinet where my gear is stored, it seem to continue multiplying year by year. A while ago I finally said enough, and spread every single thing out on the garage floor- taking up the entire space- and got rid of 3/4 of it until it would all fit in one cabinet. No more purchases until I NEED it – so far, I’m sticking to it. I can say I haven’t once missed something that’s no longer in the cabinet.

    • You’re living the dream. That’s my plan exactly. I figure that if I haven’t used a piece of gear in over two years, it’s likely I’m not going to use it any time soon. I probably won’t miss any of it. I am going to see what I can do to make this happen. Congrats on your clean out and with sticking to it. I’m sure it feels liberating.

  • Beenthere N Survived

    Always have a back-up. You never know when you’ll need it for yourself or possibly for a friend. So the answer is two.

  • nemo

    You hit uncomfortably close to home. I admit, I am a hoarder. I also am faced, occasionally, with the reality that I devote a great deal of time to managing my hoard, rather than using it. Or searching for something I want to use. The two sides of my brain are duking it out. Sadly, no answers.

    • Been there for far too long. Something needs to change for me. There is far too much gear and money sitting around in my (now numerous) gear closets. I can’t recover what I’ve spent and to be honest I don’t care any more. I want it to go to a good home, hopefully not to perpetuate another hoarder’s obsession, and I want to see it being used – after all that’s what it is for.

      I’ve “collected” gear myself. Sometimes I’ll buy multiples of something because I like it so much, and then use the first one so carefully that I’ll never need the second, third, or fourth one I have in storage.

  • Excellent post… but… Oh my! :)

    • Hits pretty close to home for ya don’t it..? (no pressure)

  • kcdan

    This has been hard to figure for me I keep thinking my kids might go but haven’t I have used my gear with my sisters boys. Its hard I have 4 stoves 4 different kinds of filtering systems . 10 backpacks. And god knows what else and not the thing I need most now lol .what should I do how do you sale the older stuff and not give it away . Its still good just have something smaller lighter ect

    • I’ve move past the point of trying to sell the gear. That’s been my excuse now for over two years. I’m at the point where I want it gone, or better yet to be used, more than I want the money. It’s a shame to see so much great gear sitting around. I will say though, my plan of giving it all away does come with a twist – I plan for it to be at no additional cost to me… I’ll stop right there.

      Good luck with whatever direction you go in. There are some great gear trade sites out there that you may want to look into. There’s alway ebay of the Backpacking light forums?

  • I always read the gear-heavy blogs and wonder how you all have money and room for everything… It’s not so much the quantity as how much is used. If I use all 25 of my widgets multiple times in a given year, than that’s not too many. If I have 2 thingees and only ever use one, obviously one needs to go. Paring down is hard, good luck!

    • The point is that I don’t have the room for it and wish I hadn’t spent all the money that I have on gear, but that’s too late now. Hobbies and passions seem to cost money over time anyway, and there’s a natural progression to almost every hobby. You start with a low investment to see if you like it, then over time you replace pieces of gear with higher quality items – before you know it you have multiples of things.

      I’m trying to put aside the cost and get this gear into the hands of people that will use it and enjoy it. I’ve dwelled for too long on the issue of how much money I’ve plowed into this and that’s resulted in a reluctance to let it all go. I’m not cool with it, but it has to go :)

  • Just donated 9 bags of stuff – gear, boots, snowshoes, backpacks, etc to Goodwill. Where is charity in this dicussion?

    • Philip it’s great to hear that you have donated such an enormous amount of gear to Goodwill, although it wouldn’t be my first choice for backpacking related equipment. Just because you didn’t see “charity” explicitly mentioned here don’t assume that it isn’t the case (we all know what assuming does). I am surprised that no one else mentioned it.

      Some of my local readers have already reached out to me directly to work on putting a large portion of this unused gear to great use among programs for under privileged children in my community. Something I am very excited about and looking forward to participating with.

      I donate a substantial amount of gear throughout the year to various charities and organizations where I think it will do the most good, I just don’t publicize it or make a particularly big deal about it. I assume that charitable donations (monetary contributions or clothing/gear) are something that everyone just does anyway.

      Congrats on blazing a lead on giving back, I imagine that hundreds of lightweight backpackers are storming their way to the Goodwill stores in your area in an attempt to snap up some of the bag loads of bargains you’ve just donated :)

      • Jeremy Rardin

        I think being more intentional about giving your gear to inner city groups or boy scout groups is a lot more responsible than dropping it off at Goodwill. It is people like me who end up buying that stuff, but I can imagine that the gear would go to better use to some sort of outreach program that works towards taking people on trips who cannot afford to enjoy that luxury.

    • Mitchell Ebbott

      As a rather poor graduate student still in the gear acquisition phase… which Goodwill is this?

  • Dark

    Very interesting post, as this is something that I’ve been working on for about a year and a half. Allow me to share a few points from what I have learned (assuming of course that this is my opinion, and may not work for everyone), some of which repeat what has already been commented upon (forgive me)

    1.) I love the “1 in, 1 out” policy. In fact when I was first starting, I actually needed to do a “1 in, 2 or 3 out” policy.

    2.) The first year I spent clearing the clear and undeniable excess out (half sold, half given away). I then purchased any gear that wasn’t exactly what I needed, or wasn’t of sufficient quality to last me for the rest of my life. For example, I sold 3 backpacks in order to buy one that would a.) be passed down to my kids, b.) couldn’t have been better designed if I did it myself, and c.) covers 95% of my outdoor activities.

    3.) Juggling my 2 main philosophies (“2 is 1 and 1 is none” and “go light, go fast, go easy”) was a HUGE struggle. Ultimately, I decided to keep a back-up of everything for a BOB, but no more than that, and the stuff I kept was held to very strict ‘multi-use” principles.

    4.) In some cases, I had to do some serious cost-benefit analysis. For example, i COULD have cut my total number of backpacks down to 2, but it would require $850 in purchases to get bags that would be multifunctional and of sufficient quality to cover all of my uses. For me, it’s worth having 3 bags instead of two because it costs too much to cut down any more. The lesson here is to find the sweet spot for your need; how much can you give up?

    5.) MINDSET IS KEY. I’ve tried not buying anything new, getting rid of excess, etc. in the past for a host of various reasons, but I always binged after whatever the allotted time of the experiment was. This time, though, I started to think about how I could do more with less, challenging myself to make what I had work whenever I “thought” that I needed something. For some reason, that mindset of being more creative with making my current gear work is what stuck with me, and it has resulted in a ton of great gear mods, DIY projects, and pairing down of my kit without even feeling like I need to buy anything.

    6.) It’s a progression. As you do more with less, you find out how little you need. At first, you need a lot more. As you get better at making things work, you realize you need a bit more, and so on.

    7.) I am nowhere near where I want to be (as I am sure many of you are), both in my outdoor gear or general amount of stuff in general, but good gracious is it a freeing feeling. The amount of time and mental energy I used to spend on looking at gear, reading reviews, rethinking and rethinking my kit, was staggering and exhausting, regardless of the joy it brought me. The “lightness” isn’t just from physically having less stuff, but also from letting go of the mental and emotional barbell that it forces you to unknowingly carry.

    Good luck to all in working this out, and congrats to those who are making strides!

    • Excellently put.

    • alysdexia

      Fast is not going.


  • Adam

    Great post man. Love it. Spent 3 years traveling and came home to my storage unit (which I probably paid more to keep than the value of it’s contents) and promptly donated about 80% of my stuff to Goodwill. You just don’t need that much stuff. Love that you’re donating it to your local Boy Scouts.

    I will say that I wish sunglasses came in 10-packs though. Or maybe in rolls like toilet paper. I’d go through a couple rolls a year I think.

    • Oh boy, don’t get me started about sunglasses. I lost my first ever good quality (read as expensive) pair recently and it about sent me over the edge…

  • I try to live as close to this line as I can. I think in some regards, the pursuit of a really light weight pack can contribute to this problem somewhat. Gear that can be used over a wide variety of situations and conditions tends to be a little heavier than the lightest counterpart available. Take trekking poles for example… if you want to use them for backcountry skiing too, then a pair of LT4’s won’t do it for you!

    • There definitely needs to be a compromise in certain areas, I won’t deny that. I try to be minimal and efficient in other areas of my life, but this just got out of control. Time to fix that and help others in return.

  • Brian Fullford

    The distinction is between technical and basic, to a degree. Without knowing the breadth of your gear it is difficult to qualify a response. We have always had our children (14 and 18) go 1 in, 1 out with gifts but for hiking my stance has been to bring extra should someone need it. Socks, headlamps, matches, first aid needs, etc. But that may not be your scope.

    You have been blessed by The Fates with a passion that affords you items. You review them to the benefit of others. The logical, and moral, extension is to allow others to then use them should they have a need. So many great observations below, such that I’m simply walking into the party to be part of the crowd.

    The irony here, now that the Santa Claus “noble lie” no longer permeates my house, the philosophy of quality over quantity can be absolutely taught as a general life skill. But what to do when your quantity is quality? I guess that goes to need an purpose, which cannot be absolute.

    There is a reason why a car has a spare tire, and why people carry spare fuses. Minimalism can be romantic, but discipline and wisdom should guide her.

    Be well my friend.

  • Shawn Amison

    I already do this. As someone who is on a tight budget, with my wife no longer working and just having a kid I have to cut corners and put a lot of thought into what I purchase for hiking and backpacking. I only have 1 daypack, 1 large backpack, 1 sleeping bag, 1 home made alcohol stove (these don’t cost anything I should make some more!), and 1 knife that I carry on me ever day. My gear closet is pretty minimal, and this is because I have to be. Honestly it is sort of nice not having to make decisions on what to pack and what to leave behind, I can just take everything I have and my pack is still under 20 pounds dry weight!

    I’ve already started to adopt a lot of what you previously talked about in other posts about being minimalist. A lot of my edc stuff is very small. Minimalist wallet, small folding Gerber knife, small LED flashlight, phone, and pretty much nothing else in my pockets just to save weight and space.

    With that said, if you have any shelters or sleeping bags or anything you just NEED to get rid of I’ll gladly pay shipping :)

  • There’s a stove for every occasion. A quilt for every season. backpacks & shelter all depend on trip.. – just saying ;)

    oh! but to add. many smaller items I have narrowed down to just one

  • Jeremy Rardin

    I think what you are doing is awesome! (Though gear companies might disagree!! haha) Honestly, I try to pick gear based on this principle because what has motivated me towards backpacking is the living out of a pack going anywhere with everything you own with you. I’m sure if I walked into your room of gear I would most likely not leave without a few hours spent rifling, but I love what you are doing! Its super cool you have found some boy scouts to benefit from this as well. A lot of my extra gear goes to friends and/or taking friends on trips that can’t/won’t invest in that sort of thing! Love what you are doing!

  • Krazykiddjoe

    I read an article about a man that only owned 26 items. He worked in IT, did contract work and traveled a lot. So the plus to this concept would be that if you only own 1 of something and you are gainfully employed then that 1 can cost whatever and you would most likely be able to justify the expense. 1 $100 pair of jeans, 1 $75.00 shirt, 1 $400 backpack, 1 $3500 pistol. 1 $5000 rifle…. Then the old adage, I fear not the man that owns 100 guns, I fear the man that only owns 1, for he shall know how to use it. In Backpacking this could become problematic to an extent, do you plan for 4 season use only, then take the weight penalty in the dead of summer? In day to day life, I have read of guys using a rule of 3 meter cube, that is the “goal” of “ultralight living” fit all you own in a 9 foot square box… I would love it, imagine how easy it would be to pick up and move, to clean, to replace or upgrade items. I really would like to get a hard drive and copy every DVD I own and CD I own to it and then not have to keep them on the shelves. Same with photos, except the ones on the walls do we need to keep them? Why not a hardened and backed up encrypted online “cloud” and FlashDrive. Sorry for the spastic rant. This is a really interesting concept and one that i would love to explore on many levels of my life. The wife is not nearly enthusiastic about it tho, she is very sentimental about belongings, which I can understand to an extent. Even if I could get to two of everything. It would be very simple in life. I am a very big proponent of Simplicity and Efficiency. Although in my professional life, I am delegated to have extras of things. I just recently became the two cell phone guy, I HATE it. Work Cell (Flip Phone) and Personal Cell (iPhone)…

    • alysdexia

      See the proliferation of tiny house and small house shows.

  • Henrik

    I’ve practiced quality over quantity for a long time.
    One downside is that it takes me forever to decide on which [product] to buy. If you only get to buy one backpack for hiking and traveling then how do you decide?

    • Ha! I never said I had all the answers, I just feel like many of us (myself included) have too much stuff. I’m on a mission to simplify as much as possible and tend to keep track along the way. One watch will about kill me….

  • geospud

    I only have one work shop, with 14 backpacks, 7 tents, 3 sets of hiking sticks, 4 pairs of books, and every DIY alcohol stove known to man……

    • That’s a lot of backpacks (and other gear).

  • Jess Taylor

    I went through a major ultralight phase, and while I liked the lighter pack, it just wasn’t working when it came to certain gear. With most of my gear, I was always wanting a little more out of it, like it wasn’t quite living up to my expectations. I started to be more selective when purchasing my equipment. I did more research. I wanted ultralight, but there were definitely certain tools that became necessities for me, that didn’t fit the lightweight model. Then money got tight. I found myself buying a lot less and altering what I already had. Some of my gear is still quite lacking, but I either haven’t found better, or don’t have the money. Here is the kicker, I still love backpacking regardless of my equipment and I spend less time packing.

  • Bill Garlinghouse

    While I’m always attracted to any “If I could only have one …” discussions, Brad echoed my initial thoughts. I’m wouldn’t want to pare myself down to one pack, or one sleeping bag, but I can certainly divest myself of some bags that have been replaced by a quilt. As discussed elsewhere here, I would not use the little 1.5 oz knife I use for long distance hiking for a trip that might call for woodcraft or filleting trout. Cooking gear, shelters, all have specific purposes …