Just Go: In Defense of Day Hikes and Quick Overnight Backpacking Trips
Words & Photos by Annie MacWilliams
For me, not every trip needs to be epic, #sponsored, or Type 2 fun.
In fact, they rarely are.
Often just being there, outside, feeling small and exposed to the elements, with nothing more than the belongings on my back, is all I need to be filled with satisfaction. I’ve been lucky enough to spend months in the wilderness, both domestic and abroad, all months of the year, and now I’ve developed a strong infatuation for my backyard. Some of my favorite trips include nothing more than a Daybreak daypack filled with the essentials, a headlamp, and 12 hours. I wish I had weeks, months, years to wander, but the critical part is that I still wander.
Quick Hit Tips For Day Hikes and Overnight Backpacking Trips
I’ve never declared myself as ultralight or fast. But put me under a starry sky and my soul brims over with joy and gratitude. For me, carrying light gear just means I can get away easier; my escape into the wilderness is pure fun, unburdened by heavy gear or mental anguish. I don’t get gnarly, I rarely need to bust out my med kit, and I’m usually back at work on time the next day, with a subtle eau de campfire.
Frequently these quick-hitter trips are solo, but I’ve also managed nights with friends, family, and even Tinder matches. The only thing that truly matters is that I go. My backpacking kit is ready at all times, and I’m endlessly seeking out local adventures so that when a window of free time presents itself, I can be packed and out the door in under an hour. I know all the best places to camp just beyond the wilderness designation, and I’ve spent hours spinning around my hometown on Google Earth. If anything, these trips could fit in the category of “training,” but my reason for going is often much less loaded. I just like it out there.
One of my favorite things to chat about on trail with other hikers is gear. People are often shocked that I am carrying everything I need to be comfortable for camping. Compared to the REI or Boy Scout model, my kit looks small and insufficient; not enough straps, whistles or bells. But for me, that’s the best part about an ultralight system. The simplicity means it’s simple to spend time outside. I strongly believe that if every backpacker carried a kit as light and comfortable as mine, they’d be more eager to sleep under the stars on any given Wednesday. With each night outside, I refine my system, keep my camping knowledge sharp, and the longer trips get easier to plan and execute.
June just so happens to be National Camping Month and I encourage you to think small, and local. The lighter and more efficient your gear, the easier it is to grab and go, and the more nights you get to spend outside. Backpacking trips don’t always need freeze-dried meals and plane tickets. Often they just need a little effort and motivation. And trust me, every sunrise is better spent outside, any time of year, with the right gear.
Annie MacWilliams saw the world at 3.5 mph on the Appalachian Trail (’09), Pacific Crest Trail (’11), and Continental Divide Trail (’13). She considers the days of Tarzan-swinging kudzu vines, sunburn-soothing snow angels in the Sierra, gruff-ranchers-turned-hosts in the West, and intimately knowing the cycles of the natural world to be some of the best days spent of her life. She now spends her time in Park City, Utah walking slowly over short distances with a goofy dog, and up snowy mountains to slide down them. But every April she dreams of trail markers.
Follow Annie’s quick hit adventures in and around her home on Instagram @little.endorphin.annie
Wondering what Annie throws in her bag for day hikes? Read: A Season-to-Season Guide to Day Hiking Gear Lists