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Most of us have jobs that prevent us from just taking off any time we feel like it and staying away as long as we like, but we do have most weekends free from work and available for backpacking if we want them to be. Weekend trips will never allow us to have the same hiking adventures that longer trips provide, but they can nevertheless be quite pleasant and rewarding.
You can try a variety of places, hiking in a different one every weekend. Here in the Pacific NW where I live you could explore a hot springs one weekend, then hike a portion of the PCT, then go to the rain forest or the ocean beach on the Olympic Peninsula, then go to Mount St. Helens, and so on. Or you could pick an area to explore like the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and hike a different trail to different lakes every weekend.
Weekend trips are great for lightweight backpacking because we don't have to carry that much food - easily getting by with just three pounds or so. If our base pack weight is light, total pack weight need not be more than about 20 lbs. I find that at about 20 lbs. or maybe as much as 25 lbs. or less is ideal for hiking because with these light loads you can pay attention to the process of hiking and less to the business of having to pack a load. As yet another bonus from carrying light weekend loads you can cover more miles in a day without any more effort.
From mid-Spring through late Summer the days are long enough we can squeeze in a little extra out of our weekend by leaving on Friday evening and coming back Sunday evening. This works best if your trip is planned in advance, and you have your gear packed and ready to go by Friday morning. (Don't forget to pickup a trailhead-parking permit in advance if they are required.) Then when you get off work on Friday afternoon you can drive right to the trailhead. If you grab a quick meal on the way, it will save you from having to pack an extra meal on the trail and save meal preparation time in camp. Depending on how far you have to drive and how long it takes you to get to the trail, you may be able to get in a couple of hours of hiking on Friday evening. This would put you at least three or four miles down the trail. Many trails will have acceptable camping sites within a mile or so of the trailhead. Then you will have two full days for hiking plus the bonus miles you are able to put on Friday evening. This might be just enough to let you do a loop trip instead of just in and out on the same trail.
If you can't leave on Friday you can still have an excellent overnight hiking experience by leaving on Saturday morning. If you have a ways to drive before your hike starts, you can save even more weight by eating breakfast at home and lunch just before you hit the trail. Now you can get your food down to just two or three meals - Saturday dinner, Sunday breakfast and maybe lunch. This kind of short trip is an excellent time to experiment with stoveless and potless kitchen gear. This will reduce your pack weight even more making your overnight trip feel like you are not carrying much more than you would for a day hike, but with the added bonus of getting to spend a night out.
Weekend trips with their light loads are also great hikes for testing new pieces of gear. Testing around town and in your backyard are a good place to start, but to really test a piece of gear you need to see how it performs when you are out on trail overnight. There are two ways to go. One is to figure that since the trip is short even if your new piece of gear does not perform up to expectations you won't get into trouble because you are headed back home the very next day. The other approach is to carry your standard gear plus the new item to be tested figuring that the extra weight will not have to be carried that far because it is just a short trip.
Never tried tarp camping? On a weekend hike you could carry both a tent and a tarp without feeling too overburdened because you won't be carrying both for that long or far. If the one shelter doesn't work for you, you can always set up the other one. This testing system is also especially good for trying out different pieces of clothes. See how many items you can get by without using comfortably. Then leave the ones you don't use home on the next trip to lighten up your load.
Weekend trips are also good for experimenting with lightweight packs that have no hip belts. At the time I am writing this there are at least three different backpacks commercially available with enough capacity for weekend trips that weigh less than one pound. Weekend trips also are an excellent time to test homemade gear.
Whether you are preparing for a longer hike, or just getting out for an occasional overnighter, take advantage of those weekends to explore and get in touch with nature by taking a backpacking trip. From a hiker's perspective that's what weekends were made for.
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