Over the course of my hiking “career”, I’ve been blessed with being able to hike weeks or even months at a time. I’ve seen the spring flowers of the Appalachians, the first snows hinting at an upcoming winter in the Rockies and the green of summer giving to the brilliant colors of fall.
I’d put one front in foot of another and walk from one end of the country to another. Miles would go by one step at a time. Katahdin, the Canadian or the Mexican borders would be reached. A journey, or a few journeys of a lifetime, would be had.
But life has a funny way of changing priorities. A new marriage is started. Plans are made of the future. The seemingly opposed goals of yearning for adventure and trying to maintain a career of sorts, a marriage and a community all compete for time and energy.
Yet the yearning for the outdoors never goes away. A journey is always desired even if it is very short one.
How to help fill the needs for a sense of wilderness in life while maintaining a balance with other goals?
The answer is shorter backpacking trips.
Where getting out for two or three days is a needed salve to the busy life I (temporarily) find myself living, weekend backpacks don’t necessarily have the epic feel of a multi-month thru-hike, but they can be a satisfying, necessary and memorable way of experiencing the backcountry.
On my weekend backpacks, I am able to see places often skipped by traditional thru-hikes: Off-trail jaunts to alpine lakes tucked away behind obscure peaks, wilderness areas not crossed by any long trail, and areas seen during peak season with no snow or perhaps being full of the brilliant colors of autumn or even peak wildflower season.
After a week of meaningless meetings and PowerPoint presentations with equally meaningless metrics, the weekend backpack is a salvation. Reminder of what is important is important in life and why I am in the office (hint: It ain’t for the free coffee!)
And how to take advantage of these weekend opportunities fully? Here are a few tips:
- Pre-pack! Have your clothing, shelter, accessories, etc. in your overnight pack ready to go. The only item I don’t have pre-packed is my quilt. If some free time becomes available, you can be packed and ready to go in a half-hour. Or less.
- By food in bulk ahead of time. The last minute shopping trip before an excursion can take a surprisingly large amount of time. Especially on a Friday after work when everyone else is also trying to get out town on a weekend, fighting traffic and doing last minute errands. Have your gorp, cous cous, oat meal and so on already in your pantry. A last minute trip can be packed for quite easily with no last minute and time consuming shopping needed. Sneak out of work a little early if you can with everything packed and be at the trailhead before you know it.
- Pack light and efficiently. On thru-hikes, packing light and efficiently is important. Goals need to be reached, miles need to covered and the hiking is more enjoyable. On a weekend backpack, these goals are just as important, but perhaps even more so. Time is more limited, you do not have time to get up to speed and iron out kinks in your gear system. And cutting the day short due to discomfort also means cutting your hiking time short. Lighter gear helps you achieve your goals more. Be it hiking more miles or getting to that off-trail camping spot by a lake for the entire weekend and practicing your fly-fishing.
- Learn the fine art of trailhead camping or nearby bivy. Drive up Friday. Camp at or near the trailhead. Get an early start on Saturday. And have a fuller weekend of hiking.
- Or perhaps time is more limited? Family and social obligations can make getting away for two full days difficult. In bike touring lingo, there is the concept of the “S240”: Sub-twenty-four-hour-overnight. Get an early start on Saturday, be on the trail by 10am or earlier and be home by 10am or so the following day. On a similar vein, hike in on Friday and hiking out sometime on Saturday is another option that works well.
- Have an understanding spouse. Mrs. Mags knows that if I do not get away for my regular backpacking fix, I steadily turn into what she calls “The Grumptster”. The Grumpster looks a lot like me but with a shorter temper, less patience and much more irritability. Weekend backpacks helps keep The Grumpster away and the marriage intact. Thank you Mrs Mags!
I am trying to arrange my life where if I cannot be away for many months at a time, then at least for weeks at a time is feasible.
In the meantime, these weekend backpacks help me to be immersed in nature. To continue to see the alpenglow from my secluded campsite, to walk alpine ridges, enjoy the riot of colors found in the Rocky Mountain wildflowers and to be reminded again of why I enjoy the outdoors.
I love any time spent outdoors. And the weekend outings are no exception. The thru-hikes may have been milestones in my life, but the weekend outings continue to bring the joys of the wilderness into my life on a regular basis.
This post was contributed former Trail Ambassador Paul Magnanti.