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Weekend Warrior Backpacking Guide

Need a quick, free campsite? It's often easy to find a shelter near a road where you can camp out.
Need a quick, free campsite? It’s often easy to find a shelter near a road where you can camp out.

Do you love to backpack, but can’t take off six months at a time for a thru-hike? There’s no shame in becoming a weekend warrior and backpacking once a week or once a month for a few days. After all, it’s how the majority of us get out for our backpacking and wilderness fix.

Here are some tips and tricks to make your adventures great:

1. Drive to your destination on Friday night.

  • Keep your driving time under three hours.
  • Pack up your car the night before so you’re ready to go.
  • Get on the road and out of urban areas before rush “hour.”
  • Better yet. Take a three day weekend and leave Thursday night.

2.  Car camp near the trailhead.

  • Find free campsites near your trailhead where you can crash for the night.
  • Buy the Delorme Gazetteer for your State. It lists many campsites/resources you never knew existed on back roads and state recreation areas.
  • Eat dinner in the car before you arrive to eliminate meal prep.
  • Use a tent or hammock that is very fast to set up and take down.
  • Bring an easy breakfast.

3.  Work a list.

  • Section hike a trail, climb all the mountains in the same park, or backpack all of the hiking trails in a forest or wilderness area over the course of many trips to the same area.
  • Driving, hiking, and camping in the same area reduces the amount of planning it takes to go backpacking without a loss of variety or novelty.
  • Meet other people working the same list and build community

4.  Get off the grid.

  • Turn off your cell phone. Really. No email, no news, no movies, no Kindle.
  • Make a campfire and hang out
  • Slow down at night, even if you hike hard all day.

5.  Go alone sometimes.

  • Going alone minimizes planning and logistics.
  • It’s ok to go on a trip by yourself. You might discover that you like it.
  • Get a dog. They’ll follow you anywhere and never complain.

I’ve been backpacking for years like this, just a few days a week, more or less every weekend and it’s a great way to escape the grind. If you have a love interest, it does help to have a sympathetic partner who comes with you or stays at home. If the latter (especially if you’ve been married for a while), you may find that they may look forward your absences and homecomings as much as you do.

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17 comments

  1. I disagree with your first point on #4. I almost always hike alone, and I like to read books on my Kindle or listen to podcasts on my iPod at night. I still consider that off the grid. I think there’s a big difference between having internet access or not.

    • I can see how you meant to only refer to groups, which is fine.

      • If you think about it, a Kindle is an ultralight tool, holding the knowledge of at least 5 sets of encyclopedias. Weighs less than the LMNOP section that’s for sure folks.

      • Or you can run Kindle on a cell phone, which is what I do.

      • I’ll have to try that, thanks for the suggestion

      • I personally can’t stand reading news articles or anything on my cell phone. I like a big viewing screen. I usually make a choice each trip, I’ll bring my Kindle or my iPod. They’re about the same weight. Depends on my mood.

    • I like to have a print book or my Kindle, which is way lighter/smaller. I do like to unplug as much as possible though…Turning off my cell phone makes me so much calmer. I understand what you mean though, Zachary. Cheers

  2. The three hour rule is a good one. I wish I could pack my car the night before but I can’t cause my driver’s side door doesn’t lock. So it’s like open season on all my gear. Lots of petty theft in my area. Instead I leave it all in front of the front door of my crib (inside).

  3. Sadly, this is how I get in the vast majority of my hiking. I say sadly because I would really enjoy being able to take more 4-7 day trips. Don’t really have any desire for a long through-hike, but a couple extra days would open a world a possibilities re: route planning.

  4. Phil, I really like this list and as a weekend warrior myself (except my “weekend” is Monday-Tuesday), I find we’re in agreement about a lot of things.

    For example, I’m a huge proponent of Tip #1: Drive to your destination Friday night. I even do this for non-camping weekend trips I take. It allows my “Saturday” to be a day where I’m neither coming or going (at least vehicularly speaking) and helps me get the most out of my time off.

    A variation that I’ll add, especially if I’ve been on the trail before and aware of a good spot, is to start hiking a little bit Friday night in the dark with a headlamp. While I prefer not to set up camp in the dark, it does have it’s own unique charm and challenge (and often, by the time my drive is done, I’d be setting up camp in the dark at a campground anyway), and it’s worth it to me to wake up the next day and already be in the woods.

    For this reason, I tend to scope out and make note of good spots to camp that are about an hour or two’s hike in from the trailhead that I can make use of on a future trip.

  5. Thanks for posting this, I recently moved from a trail poor area to a trail rich area. Where I used to plan for a month to get away for a weekend because of the distance to the trailhead. I can now make a decision on Wednesday where I am heading on Friday because there are over a hundred trail heads within a couple of hours of my house. I repack my pack when I get back from a trip so it’s ready for the next trip. I use my last trip as a jumping off point for the next trip. There is so much to see that a lifetime is not enough.

  6. I’m a week warrior! retired for about 12 years now I do a half day walk most days and one or two day trips at weekends further afield as I have free public transport. I also do at least a couple of longer trips into alpine areas each summer – autumn. the only extras I carry is a very basic cell phone, a book and a tenkara rod. Long gone are the 75 lb packs of yesteryear and now my multi day set up is a 20/22 lb 45 liter pack and for two days (overnight) everything fits into a 30 liter pack and is around the 10 lb which includes my tarp, sleeping bag and mat. Older and bolder and using it not loosing it!

  7. How safe would this be for a 60 year old female alone? I love to hike and I am wanting to give the Mount Rogers area a try. I would have to hike and tent alone.

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