New to Backpacking? Try a Mock Overnighter

MAY 2018
Many people find it challenging and scary to transition from dayhiking to camping on a backpacking trip. Because many students in my Thru-hiking 101 needed to be home to their kids for dinner, they needed a way to get a similar camping experience of an overnight backpacking trip without the commitment.

Best yet, a mock overnighter allows people to test out and practice backpacking in low commitment, non-scary terms. Since these MicroAdventures can be done super local, close to home, they don’t require a lot of planning or fanfare.

A beautiful campsite off-trail in Olympic National Park
Photograph by Liz Thomas
To do a Mock Overnighter, first pack up all your gear in your backpack—just as if you were headed on an overnight or multi-day backpacking trip. Then drive out to your trailhead (it can even be a big park if you live far away from trails). Next, hike a few miles and find a spot you think would make a good mock campsite.

Most importantly: 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 turn the process of staking a tent into habit, but also make you faster at set up.”
By taking a nap or hanging out in your shelter, you’ll become gear aware. Where does your tent sag? Is your set-up comfortable? How can you set your shelter up to be less stuffy inside? 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.

Clockwise from Left: Rent-a-tents on the GR20; a ridge on the CDT in Colorado; a campsite in Olympic National Park; a car-camping spot in Flathead National Forest, CO.
Photographs by Liz Thomas except ONP photo by Grant Sible.
While Mock Overnighters can be a leg-up for first-time backpackers, they can be great for trail veterans, too. It’ll keep you fresh on how to set up your shelter. It will also give you an excuse to inspect your gear before you go on bigger trips. Lastly, a Mock Overnighter lets you know your gear is 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.

Have you been on a mock-overnighter or practiced backyard camping? Let us know in the comments!