What is a Microadventure?
The term “microadventure” was coined by Alastair Humphreys to represent, at its core, a trip taken very close to home for a short period of time. It involves less time, less prep, less gear, and less cleanup.
The Benefits of a Microadventure
I texted BPL Editor Jonathan Davis at 4:57 PM:
“Wanna go spend the night up on Saddle Peak 2nite? Leaving the Middle Cottonwood TH at about 8pm.”
Jonathan used our microadventure as an opportunity to test the backpack we affectionately call “The Medicine Chest”. Note that his headlamp is at the ready, in preparation for our nighttime hike up the mountain!
By 5:25 PM, he had the blessing to go from his wife. By 6:19 PM, all of our logistics were sorted out in terms of gear, food, etc. By 8:15 PM, we were hiking. By 10:30 PM, we had put in several miles and a few thousand feet of elevation gain, and were settling in with our bivy sacks in a meadow and brewing up a freeze-dried meal as a late-night snack. We were back in town by late morning the next day.
Microadventures should be just that – little tiny bits of activity with no barriers that should prevent you from going.
The benefits of a microadventure are many:
- They require little time and energy to prepare for, or cleanup from.
- They require little physical, mental, or emotional investment if things don’t go as planned.
- They require little sacrifice in terms of time spent away from family, jobs, or other responsibilities.
- They’re fun.
For the low cost of participation, the benefits are extremely high!
Within an hour, we were in a high meadow, the little flickering lights of the Gallatin Valley now far below, and darkness rapidly approaching. As we hiked higher, and the night fell darker, we gained freedom.
For me, the primary benefits of a microadventure are even less tangible than those listed above. Microadventures provide an emotional release valve that allows me to effectively cope with the constant strain of managing personal and business financial matters, a to-do list that grows at a faster rate than it shrinks, the complex logistics of owning and sharing one car in a family where three sets of busy schedules need to be constantly synchronized, and the challenge of preparing for and cleaning up from summer expeditions, business travel, and anxious visits with the in-laws!
What to Bring on a Microadventure?
Deciding what to bring will depend on a variety of circumstances: options you have available to you, the immediate weather forecast, and your own styles and desires.
Our camp consisted of little more than two bivy sacks hidden behind a grassy knoll at the edge of a stand of trees, only 50 yards from the trail but out of its view. Situated on a bench, we still had a view of the valley below that we had ascended the night before.
When Jonathan and I went on our microadventure together, I knew the following would dictate my equipment and supply needs:
- I had a packed schedule during the afternoon before we left, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to fit in making dinner or eating out before hitting the trail. I knew that I wanted hot food at camp when we finished our hike, so I’d need a stove, pot, fuel, and food. I grabbed my MSR Reactor, which still had a partially used canister of fuel packed inside of it, and an old freeze dried meal (Mountain House Spaghetti!) from a miscellaneous food bin. I threw in a few packets of Gu gels from my training supply that I knew would get me to camp, a few more that I knew would get me back home, and a packet of Via for a morning brew. Double checking the little dorm fridge in my garage, I found a forgotten, half-empty 500 ml box of wine tucked back in the corner, ignored the expiry date, and threw it in the pack.
- I would be arriving to camp late, in the dark. I’d need a headlamp! And I didn’t want to fool around with pitching a tent. I didn’t bother to check the weather forecast, but I decided to grab two bivy sacks (one for me, one for Jonathan), and call it good. If it was going to rain, I was confident we could deal with it by tucking under a tree stand.
- Layers? I simply wore what I had on at the time – a t-shirt, some nylon work pants, wool socks, and trail running shoes. I added a rain jacket and down vest, and figured I’d stay warm enough for the rest of the time with just my sleeping quilt.
- I knew where I was going, so we skipped the map, compass, GPS, etc.
Microadventures strip off so much of what we deem “essential” about backcountry travel. The result: the clarity and focus required to think, contemplate, meditate.
What about the other “essentials”?
- First aid kit? Nope. I could suffer a cut or bruise ’til I got back home.
- Toilet supplies? Natural materials!
- Sunglasses and sunscreen? For hiking in the dark and early morning? Mostly forested trail? No snow? Why bother?
- Firestarting kit? I had a sparker in my stove kit and I suppose if I really needed a fire, I could light it using the stove.
- Knife? This has always been a funny one to me. The only time I’ve ever found myself in need of a knife was to win a battle separated between me and Calories by stubborn food packaging!
- Extra food? I knew where a stash of miner’s lettuce was up in the canyon where we were hiking, as well as a few edible roots and flowers. But essential for an overnight microadventure? Certainly not – heck, we could have fasted for the duration plus another day and been just fine.
What to Do on a Microadventure?
I threw in a camera to snap a few photos, but other than the little box of wine, we didn’t plan on any extravagant entertainment. After all, I had a pal with me. Mix a pal with a late night, no distractions, and a few sips of a favorite drink, and (*gasp*) you might actually have to talk. This fosters relationship and forges bonds. I can’t think of anything better to do on a microadventure.
I woke up early, and while Jonathan was snoozing in his bivy sack, I laid on my stomach to have a closer peek at the wild plants. There’s something about looking at a paintbrush flower – a flower that I’d seen thousands of times during a lifetime of rambling in the wilds – up close and backlit by the sky above, that allowed me to see it in a new way.
When I go solo, I try not to plan “activities”. Microadventures are ultimately vehicles of R&R for me. Sometimes I like to do nothing at all except look at the natural world around me. More than anything, it gives me an appreciation for the simplicity of having to do nothing – allowing thoughts to pass in and out of my head in a state of relaxed, dynamic meditation. For me, this is a fast road to relaxation, a positive mental and emotional state, and ultimately, gratitude for my life. In and of itself, that’s a worthy and refreshing goal for any microadventure.
That said, some microadventures are necessarily filled with activity: the need to go capture some photography for a story, test out and record (write notes about) first impressions of a new piece of equipment, achieve some type of physical training goal, or find a quiet spot to immerse myself in some research reading with no other distractions.
Microadventure Tips: Top 5
The key to a successful microadventure is to ensure that preparation and execution should not employ an expedition mentality: keep them simple!
Here are my Top 5 tips for keeping macroadventures simple.
1. Simplify the Menu!
When I think of a microadventure, the most complex part of trips for me is food planning, packaging, and preparation. I employ a few strategies to simplify this process:
- Focus on cold, no-cook foods;
- Start the microadventure after an early dinner (especially in the summer, when days are long) and return before the next day’s dinner;
2. Simplify the Camping Bed!
I like to go on a microadventure when the weather forecast is fair – that means I can get away with sleeping out under the stars, or at least, in a simple bivy sack.
3. Simplify the Clothing System!
To keep clothing needs to a minimum, I prefer to take less clothing and rely on my sleeping bag for warmth in camp.
4. Be Ready at All Times!
Keep your microadventure pack hanging on a hook by the door – packed and ready to go with the following items:
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- Bivy Sack
- Rain Jacket
- One pound of assorted snack foods that can be eaten cold
- Local map & compass
- Microadventuring clothes to wear: trail shoes, wool socks, trekking shirt and pants, and ballcap
It’s astonishing what you can accomplish with just a minimal kit like this! If it’s ready to go, you may be even more astonished by how often you use it!
5. Do Your Own Thing! (and Adapt Accordingly)
Your microadventures may not look like mine. Adapt accordingly, and create your own microadventure philosophy. Maybe you wish to create a framework for a bikepacking, packrafting, car camping, day hiking, or urban microadventure. Regardless, think about the absolute minimum you need to accomplish it and build from there. Remember, a microadventure should be easy to plan and easy to execute. Don’t create barriers or you won’t be a microadventurer.
Microadventures are ideal pursuits for busy professionals, people who need to escape the confines of modern civilization for a bit, families with kids, and inexperienced adventurers. Plus, they are a great quick fix for those who regularly adventure on more complex expeditions and simply want to try new gear or skills.
- Read Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes by Alastair Humphreys
My normal weekly routine involves guzzling a few cups of coffee in the morning while checking email, sorting out my daily schedule and priorities, and at times, reacting to the urgency and panic of the day. Here, I enjoyed slow joe while not doing any of this, and it was wonderful. I hope to translate this habit back into my life, regardless of whether I have WiFi or not! Perhaps you have learned something about going on microadventures that you can use to improve your quality of life?
Share Your Microadventure Stories
I hope this article stimulates some discussion that might be valuable for others who are considering a microadventure or two in the near future. A few questions for the readers:
- What value (benefits) have your microadventures provided for you?
- How long does it take you to prepare for a microadventure?
- What gear and supplies do you bring on your microadventure?
- What life lessons have you learned by going on microadventures?
- Share your microadventure photos and stories in the forum below!