Recently, I’ve been working with a few first time backpackers in my Thru-Hiking 101 Online course. While they have a lot of hiking experience, transitioning to backpacking is providing some challenges—especially since it is winter right now, and they also don’t have a lot of time.
I developed the idea of a “Mock Overnighter” to help these students feel like they have almost all the experience of an overnight backpacking trip, while still being able to make it home to their kids for dinner. These MicroAdventures can be done super local, close to home, and without a lot of planning or fanfare.
To do a Mock Overnighter, pack up all your gear in your backpack—just as if you were headed on an overnight or multi-day trip. Drive out to your trailhead (it can even be a big park if you live far away from trails). Hike a few miles and find a spot you think would make a good mock campsite.
Set up your shelter—including sleeping bag and sleeping pad—just like you would in camp. Then pull out your stove (if local regulations allow it) and cook yourself up a meal.
If you have time, get in a nap in your tent. Otherwise, get in your tent and do some reading or do a crossword puzzle.
The process of setting up your shelter will not only get you familiar with how that is done, but make it so you are faster at setting it up. By taking a nap or hanging out in your shelter, you’ll become aware of where your shelter may sag, whether your set up is comfortable, and how you can set up your shelter to breathe better. Cooking lunch on your stove will get you familiar with not only operating your stove, but also what kinds of food are cookable on a camp stove.
Walking a mile or two with your pack will be enough time to reveal some major discomforts in either your back or the way you packed it. That way, next time you do a Mock Overnighter, you can pack your backpack differently until you find a set up you like.
Mock Overnighters can be great for trail veterans, too. It’ll keep you fresh on how to set up your shelter and also give you an excuse to inspect your gear before you go on bigger trips and make sure it’s still in good shape and has all its operating parts (e.g. guylines, toggles, buckles, etc.).
The best part of the Mock Overnighter is you’re also getting in physical training. Just hitting the trail or walking for an hour with your full-pack is a great way to transition into or transition back into longer days with a big pack.
Since it’s winter right now, only the bravest want to venture into overnighters. But a mock overnighter lets you test out and practice in low commitment, non-scary terms.