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A day trip is as simple as adventure gets. With nothing more than a a few outdoor gear essentials, you can get lost in the great wilderness that lurks just outside, wherever you happen to live. Here we present you our favorite compact outdoor gear for quick, spur-of-the-moment getaways that will turn your basic day trip into a mini-vacation. This is the essence of a microEscape.
1. Use Gear You Already Have
Don’t let the lack of specialty gear keep you from embracing adventures in your life. You probably already have all the outdoor gear essentials for an enjoyable getaway.
You literally need nothing more than a good pair of shoes or a no-frills bicycle to venture into the great outdoors within one hour of Chicago, or any other major city. Chances are that you already own those, plus some kind of serviceable backpack. Yes, we have some of our own favorites in each of these categories (and we’ll get to that in another post), but I promise that you can work with what you have.
The question for now is what other essential outdoor gear to put in that backpack for a satisfying day-long microescape, so that you feel like you’re getting away from it all, even if it’s only for a few hours.
2. Compact Outdoor Gear for Hanging out
Not much bigger than your fist, this ultra compact Grand Trunk Nano Hammock
is one of our favorite outdoor gear essentials, providing hours of relaxation.
Outdoor adventures don’t have to be all grueling, painful and dangerous. This is why we endorse the idea of micro-escape: a quick outing that gets you out of your routine, puts some physical demands on your body, and forces your mind to focus on something other than the daily grind.
But at some point in your outing, you want to find a moment to rest, relax, maybe even meditate (or nap).
Our hands-down favorite unwinding tool is a packable hammock, which can be hung nearly anywhere where there are trees, if you pair if with a set of flexible hanging straps or slings. Select a hanging kit that is safe for use on trees and won’t damage the bark.
Hammocks range in price from $30 to $70 (plus $20-$30 for the hanging kit), and some pack down smaller (and way lighter) than a beer can. You can set one up in minutes and drift off for a delightful snooze among the trees.
For hanging out in cooler weather, or where there are no trees, or if you simply prefer a more upright posture, you can carry along a portable Joey Chair (pictured in main image) that sets up quickly with simple shock-corded poles similar to a tent, and packs down to a a cylinder the size of a large thermos. We take a lot of our micro-escapes in the sandy dunes around Lake Michigan, and we love the feet on the Joey chair, because they dig into the soft ground without sinking, providing a stable seating position for kicking back.
If you’re really short on space, Helinox Chair Zero is one of the most compact on the market.
Portable chairs provide a good perch for preparing and consuming food outdoors, and are much more comfortable than knotty logs.
3. Compact Cooking Gear
While you’re hanging out, you may want to enjoy some refreshment.
I’m not a huge fan of packaged bars, and always prefer to bring along a sandwich or other simply prepared food (which always tastes better outdoors). Sometimes I bring strong hot tea in a thermal container, such as this TK Pro from Kleen Kanteen, which is super clean, and free from unnecessary rubber and plastic pieces found in less expensive carafes.
But actually cooking food, or at least a hot drink, over a flame, is incomparable for making your day outing feel more like real camping. Therefore, a compact cooking implement is usually on my list of outdoor gear essentials.
One super compact and dependable outdoor cooking option, even in bad weather, is the MSR PocketRocket-2 fuel stove. It lights up reliably (use windscreen in windy weather), and cooks water and food quickly. However, if does require the use of fuel, which comes in a disposable and hard to recycle metal container, and personally, I find keeping track of how much fuel still remains a bit stressful.
So, while the Pocket Rocket is probably the most reliable option, on many day outings and short overnights in fair weather, I prefer a compact stove that doesn’t rely on chemical fuel, or create disposal difficulties. Vargo Titanium Wood Stove folds flat into a pouch the size of a small saucer, and uses only found twigs and sticks for fuel. It can be finicky to start, so I recommend you pair it with Baddest Bees all-natural fire starting wicks for a more reliable way to cook in any weather.
Cooking food requires carrying more utensils. A quick off-the-shelf solution is this simple kit from MSR, which accommodates two people. But for a short day’s outing you don’t need to be overly concerned about weight, and you may be able to work with what you already have. We discuss some quickly improvised solutions here.
Most of the time we carry our own water on day trips in collapsible pouches, but water is heavy and takes up a lot of space. If you’re planning to bike or hike near a water source, you can try the TrailShot, a handy, highly portable and very effective water filter from MSR. It allows you to pump about 16oz of water directly from the source into your cooking/drinking vessel in about 30 seconds with simple squeezing action.
4. Weather Protection
A compact hammock tarp sets up in minutes using included tie-downs and trees or optional stakes, and reliably protects an area big enough for two from rain or snow.
It would be a dang shame if you had to cancel your outing, because on the one day you carved out from your busy schedule, the skies opened up. Instead of canceling your plans, make less-than-perfect weather your friend.
A lightweight tarp definitely has a key place among my outdoor gear essentials. It takes up about as much space as a hammock, you can set one up in minutes, and enjoy a snug enclosure for your outdoor repast.
I firmly believe that a good rain tarp can turn a wet-day day trip into a most memorable and renewing outing. We humans relish both the beauty of nature, and our ability to shelter and protect ourselves from its force. There is magic in the sound of the rain drumming on a tautly stretched cloth as you sit safely under it, in your comfortable collapsible chair, while the hot flame from your tiny portable stove quickly heats up your outdoor meal or bracing beverage.
It takes just a little ingenuity to create opportunities for micro-escapes in your life, and having a dependable arsenal of compact outdoor gear essentials will help you make the most of those opportunities.