Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter

One Night At A Time

Quit making it so hard: jeepers, just cram a few things in your pack and let's go!

Print Jump to Reader Comments

by Mike Clelland! | 2009-10-06 00:10:00-06

One Night At A Time

Editor's Note: This feature originally ran in Issue 8 of the BackpackingLight Print Magazine.

Pencil Pushing

My desk is boring. On a nice summer day, I get all itchy. I work at home, and looking out the windows, I see mountains. This lovely view can really needle me, those mountains whispering that I ditch the desk and enter.

I live in a beautiful place. Home for me is rural Idaho, just three miles from the Wyoming state line. When I look out my window, I can see the rolling foothills of the Tetons across the border in Wyoming. Beyond is the astounding backcountry of the Jedediah Smith Wilderness and the big peaks of Grand Teton National Park.

Right next to my desk there's a clock, and over the last few summers I've made good use of that thing.

In summer, when the days are long, I can quickly pack up all the essentials for a single overnight and walk out the door. It's a short drive to the nearest trailhead. From backing out of my driveway to hiking on the trail: about twenty minutes. In mid-summer, there is plenty of time before the sun goes down. With a light pack on my back, I can take advantage of this additional daylight and get surprisingly deep into the mountains to set up camp with a headlamp.

If I leave my house at 6 o'clock, I can walk for a few hours, sleep out under the stars, wake up early and walk around, and be home before noon. Then, back at the desk, I'm rejuvenated and content. The computer and pens are a little less oppressive, and my work is a little more enjoyable.

It's Not a Marathon

These little one-night excursions now feel like something essential to my psyche. They are an exercise in spiritual renewal, a much needed revival of the soul. Yes, I know that sounds all lofty and snooty. I'll put it a different way: It can be really nice to get away from all the trappings of "this" world and get out into "that" world, even if only for a few hours. The lessons I've learned from this are simple and rewarding. The most important is that sleeping outside in the forest is easy. Grabbing some gear and just going is always an option. It's not difficult.

My calling: Make it even easier. I can look out my window, and I can usually get a pretty good idea what the weather is going to do in the short term. If it all looks good, I leave the weight of the shelter behind and sleep out under the stars.

I want to share this with friends, so I'll get on the phone and pester them to join me, and they'll tell me how wonderful it sounds. They act enthusiastic, but all too often they never come along. They really seem to want to, but their hurdle always ends up being, "My camping gear is all stored away, and it's just too complicated to get it all organized."

It's a sad excuse. How much gear is really required? The thing that has made this easy for me has been to simply have all my gear ready to go, all summer long. It's merely in a big cardboard box, and I rummage through and toss stuff in my pack. Why does it seem so difficult? Somehow camping has become a reflection of our gadget hungry consciousness In their eyes, it's all equated to problematic loads of tricked-out materialism.

We've separated ourselves from Mother Nature, and the simple act of walking out into her nurturing embrace should never be daunting. Jeepers, just cram a few things in your pack and let's go!

Doesn't Have to Be Perfect

Another bonus of these modest outings: It's a good way for me to fine tune my ever-evolving system. As a way to challenge myself, I'll always try to do something different. It's a fun experiment to tweak the contents of my pack on every one of these outings. Cut the sleeping pad even shorter? Leave the stove behind? Jolt caffeine gum instead of coffee?

Maybe someday it'll become perfect, but where's the fun in that? These little one-nighters allow me to refine my skills at ultralight backpacking and camping, and I reap the benefits when it comes time to plan those more ambitious multi-day trips.

More than anything, I go into nature for my own sanity. It's a metaphysical fix, and even if it's only one night, there's a renewal of the spirit. On such a deep and simple level, sleeping on the ground is truly rejuvenating. I love the smell of the pine needles, the sound of the crickets and the connection I feel lying upon this magnificent earth. I experience an alteration of my busy mind, and I delight in its result.

How difficult is it, really? I am very fortunate to live so close to such impressive wilderness, but we all must have someplace beautiful and secluded nearby.

I lived for a time in New York City. Just a little bit north of that urban prison, I had a perfect flat spot, just big enough for me to lie down, and it was easy to get to from the confines of my apartment. I slept there often.

It can be done.


"One Night At A Time," by Mike Clelland!. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-10-06 00:10:00-06.


Reader Comments

You must login to post comments.

New Visitors: Create a new account
Remember my login info.

One Night At A Time
Display Avatars
Sort By:
Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
One Night At A Time on 10/06/2009 15:02:14 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

One Night At A Time

Mark McLauchlin
(markmclauchlin) - MLife

Locale: Western Australia
Re: One Night At A Time on 10/06/2009 21:21:08 MDT Print View

"The computer and pens are a little less oppressive, and my work is a little more enjoyable."

Well spoken Mike, I know that feeling all too well.

Working in the busy city, looking out my window with views of the mighty swan river and kings park, then looking straight back at a computer screen....ho hum!

Till your next hike, best wishes.


Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Re: One Night At A Time on 10/06/2009 21:56:34 MDT Print View


Hart -
(backpackerchick) - MLife

Locale: Planet Earth
LIKE on 10/06/2009 22:14:22 MDT Print View

Just joined here and already started thinking to myself…shut up and hike!

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: One Night At A Time on 10/07/2009 11:38:19 MDT Print View

Mike said:

They are an exercise in spiritual renewal, a much needed revival of the soul.
It can be really nice to get away from all the trappings of "this" world and get out into "that" world, even if only for a few hours.

John Muir said:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

-- Our National Parks , 1901, page 56.

Thanks for the good article. Emphasizes to all of us that it is right there now if we just learn to see it and then go to it.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Uh Huh! on 10/07/2009 12:01:08 MDT Print View

As a retired backpacker I have a lot of time to hike and backpack. Only in the past few years have I discovered the spectacular beauty of the trails in the Spring Mountains just outside Las Vegas. I mean beauty like one sees in Yosemite. The altitudes are 8,000 to 11,000 ft. and the air is thin but the views are fantastic.

So even though water is scarce up there I find ways to backpack from water source to water source, sometimes travelling cross country to reach them.

But hey, a place like this only one hour away deserves to be visited as much as I can. Usually I go solo when the backpacking urge strikes me in the middle of the week.

My equipment is ready and my food is handy so packing takes only a few hours. (C'mon, show me someone who can really pack for a trip in under an hour.)


Edited by Danepacker on 10/07/2009 12:02:52 MDT.

Nick Truax
(nicktruax) - F

Locale: SW Montana
Nice one on 10/07/2009 15:01:54 MDT Print View

I've been recently enjoying some quick overnights, and rejuvenating they are! Thanks for the well composed article.

Ian Schumann

Locale: Central TX
Re: metaphysical fix on 10/07/2009 15:03:31 MDT Print View

I'm all behind this. A great little manifesto for getting back to what we all showed up here for in the first place: getting out there, and doing it better and easier.

Shame that we've figured out ever-increasing ways to complicate it all over again. Beautiful that we get to remember the good things once in a while, and get after those again. Thanks Mike.

Allen O'Bannon
(zebebu) - F

Locale: Wyodaho
well done mike! on 10/08/2009 01:45:39 MDT Print View

Good article Mike, it was nice to see this. hope all is well.

Shahrin Bin Shariff
(zzmelayu) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Table Mountain
simple on 10/08/2009 08:17:14 MDT Print View

Love this article Mike. A little jolt to the system (mine) ... to remind myself it is not complicated at all.

Edited by zzmelayu on 10/08/2009 08:18:01 MDT.

Jace Mullen
(climberslacker) - F

Locale: Your guess is as good as mine.
Re: Uh Huh! on 10/08/2009 18:40:45 MDT Print View

"My equipment is ready and my food is handy so packing takes only a few hours. (C'mon, show me someone who can really pack for a trip in under an hour.)"

Ive been known to start packing a week in advance... and then mess with my pack every day after school, untill it is as light as possible :)


Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Gear ready? Really? on 10/08/2009 20:37:17 MDT Print View

How do you keep a down quilt or sleeping bag ready to go? If you store it in its stuff sack in your pack, you're losing insulation to compression. And since the quilt/sleeping bag generally goes in the bottom of the pack, how do you leave your pack all ready to go?

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Gear ready? Really? on 10/08/2009 22:56:45 MDT Print View

thanks mike. loved the articles. Even though mountains aren't close enough for me to see. I hear them call and I need to get away from this screen. For me the closest away from noise and city lights is 2 hours (ventana wilderness). My 24hours is typically 26 hours... but it's the same idea.

Jace... it is totally possible to get out of the house in 1 hour. I have made it out of the house in 15 minutes. My standard gear isn't pre-packed, but separated so I can grab it without thinking.

Stephen... my solutions is that the bag isn't compressed. I pack my quilt drop and then pour everything in. I asked Ryan about his grab and go bag and the impact of long term compression. He also leaves the the bag uncompressed and stuffs as he heads out. He indicated the compressed wet down will disintegrate in a period of days. He didn't offer a guess with dry down other than to say eventually it will cause a problem so why age your bag prematurely.


Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
One Night At A Time on 10/09/2009 11:52:39 MDT Print View

Reply to Stephen Barber,

About the sleeping bag (and puffy jacket)

I keep these items in a big laundry bag (it hangs on a hook) in my closet, right near my plastic tote.

Presently, i don't keep a backpack all packed and ready to go. I just have one key plastic tub (called my "HREO" tub) and I use this to store the key items required for an overnight trip.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Uh Huh! on 10/09/2009 12:05:17 MDT Print View

(C'mon, show me someone who can really pack for a trip in under an hour.)"

I can't seem to pack given an entire day ... but I know an hour is possible because when first married and with few possessions I could step out for lunch on a Friday and if the weather looked good call my wife (also at work) and ask if she wanted to go camping for the weekend. Leave work at 4:30pm, hit the grocery store on the way home (15 minute commute back then) and be packed and on our way by 6:30pm.

Note that in Ryan's "24" article he has most of his gear pre-packed and he makes batches of meals in advance. Most of his prep is not accomplished in an hour ... but the extra time is spent in advance.

Edited by jcolten on 10/09/2009 12:06:37 MDT.

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
same here! on 10/10/2009 07:02:00 MDT Print View

This article pretty much describes 90 percent of my solo, summer backpacking trips.

My backpack is almost always packed and ready to go (minus the quilt, which is usually on my bed) or all my gear is laid out on a table. My GF is constantly teasing me about having my backpacking by the front door, but I'm pretty sure that she just thinks it's funny. ha!

Typically, once a week during the summer I'll come home from work, grab my pack, shove the quilt in and take off for the mountains. It's about a 30 minute drive to most of the trails in my area. I hike until sunset, set up camp, eat, and then fall asleep under the stars. In the morning, I wake up to the sunrise and bomb down the hill. Most of the time, I get home and up to work by 8am. Not a bad way to live!


Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Thanks on 10/10/2009 22:28:23 MDT Print View

well done Mike.

"I want to share this with friends, so I'll get on the phone and pester them to join me, and they'll tell me how wonderful it sounds."

I think this is the best part of this (if your friends buy in and go with you!) I had such a blast on our jaunt this summer (I think we went the opposite direction of your illustration!) and even after working hard for a week prior and being tired, it was so nice to get out there with a friend and just travel.


Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
Re: One Night at a Time on 10/18/2009 20:28:48 MDT Print View

What a wonderful article, Mike! To me, it's all those little things - the short trips, the day hikes - that can add up to as much soul satisfaction as a long trip.

Your area of abode sounds so fantastic! It's the kind of place I'm looking for, for when I retire (in 4 more years! yay!). I'll be downsizing to a little - and I mean "little": between 200 and 300 square feet - house. I want to live in an area like yours and to live off the grid, to be as independent as I can, and be able to head off any time I like, whether it be a short overnighter, or a longer trip.

The way life is supposed to be; at least, that's what I think.

Rob Harrison
(robhar54) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Grant Petersen's sub-24 hour trips on 10/26/2009 23:45:38 MDT Print View

Great article--thanks!

Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycles does the same kinda thing:

Rob in Seattle

Edited by robhar54 on 10/26/2009 23:46:57 MDT.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Grant Petersen's sub-24 hour trips on 10/27/2009 13:04:57 MDT Print View

There really is nothing knew in 24 hour trips. They just more frequently are called overnight backpacks ; ). Been going on since the beginning of backpacking probably.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: Re: One Night at a Time on 10/27/2009 14:05:19 MDT Print View

Great little article. I've been doing quick overnighters for some time. They do let me test out gear and ideas -- things that I wouldn't want to have not work when multiple days away from a trailhead. And they let me keep "fresh" so that my setting up camp, breaking down camp, and packing are matters of routine, matters that I don't have to waste time on the first couple of days of a longer hike just to get back into the "groove."

I usually head out Friday after work, hike to a spot I can get to (hopefully) before dark, and set up camp. I'm usually out before noon the next day, although sometimes I use my camps to get a "jump" on a big day hike the next day (I cache my overnight gear and retrieve on the way out. If I'm out before noon, I still have practically a full weekend if I've got social commitments, "honey do" projects, etc.

In many areas, even fairly popular ones, I can camp alone on a Friday night just a mile or two from the trailhead.

It's a great way to spend time with friends: no distractions, no closing times, and nothing to do but "hang out."

Ed Collyer
(ecollyer) - F

Locale: East Bay Area
I like your style! on 01/05/2010 10:16:12 MST Print View

Since I graduated college, it is harder to find time to get out. I have been trying over-nighters as you described and have been working out great. Going light makes a near 5-day trip possible in 2-days. Example: The Traverse by Matt Heid. A hike in the Bay Area from Palo Alto Hills to the coast at Big Basin SP. The hike is around 40-45 miles depending on route and says it is a 5-day trip. I completed this trip in 2-days, one night and was home for supper! By packing light and making it an over-nighter I was able to pretty much have some bagels and cheese, snickers and chocolate and peanut butter chips, but no stove.

Anyways, I about people like John Muir and Edward Abbey, who just throw some nuts in their pockets and go, if they had to sleep in the dirt, they did so and lived to tell about it.

Bob Gough
(Raven333) - F

Locale: New York
Couldn't agree more on 06/25/2010 06:19:51 MDT Print View

What a wonderful piece. You bring life to the reason most of us decide to hike/camp. As a New York City resident, I can tell you that the few hours I drive to get away on my one night outings are always worth it.

Thank you

Bart Newton
Thanks for the reminder on 09/02/2012 18:41:44 MDT Print View

Great article.

Like others have already mentioned, this reminds me of Grant Petersen's S24O bicycle trips:

Fortunately, I live where I can walk out the door with my pack on and in less than 10 minutes of walking be out of town, on the trail and in seclusion.

Edited by bwnewton on 09/02/2012 18:45:26 MDT.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Thanks for the reminder on 09/02/2012 18:45:22 MDT Print View

Hey they brought him up back in Oct. '09