Why You Don’t Need To Go On An Expedition To Have A Real Adventure This Weekend

Adventurer Richard Harpham invited RSNG out of London on a 16-hour Red Paddle Co, SUP micro-adventure – his trips including going from London to Morocco by bike and kayak, but he says we can all get more adventure in our lives, so here are his pro tips for journeys we can all fit into a weekend, or less, and re-wild our lives…

1. Check Your National Trails
One of the good things about finding a microadventure is that there is a ready-made resource of great walking and biking trails, many of which take you directly into national parks for a taste of the wilderness. ‘Our National Trails make an obvious place for micro adventures. I started Project 24 by canoeing the top end of our local river for 24 hours. Then we did about 43 miles in 24 hours on the Pennine Way, but it coincided with a foot of snow, three whiteouts and the trail being closed, so it was a real adventure!’

2. Get SUPing
When RSNG took the train from London we were jammed into the carriage with moody commuters, but one hour later we were on our way to an amazingly tranquil paddle along the Great Ouse, on a Red Paddle Co SUP. Their inflatable boards and collapsible paddles unpack from a transport-friendly bag and inflate into 9ft
, surprisingly fast craft. Once you’ve dialled in your proprioception (AKA balance) it’s easy to get the hang of and I find it less effort to paddle along at fair lick than I would in a canoe or kayak. The experience of paddling down the river for four miles, as the sun goes down, watching kingfishers and herons flitting over the water, then pulling up at an overnight camp to hot chocolate and a meal cooked over an open fire, feels like a full psychological reset.

‘It’s not as easy to plot a route and direction find from a GPS as it is from a map’

3. Learn Some Old-School Nav Skills
In a world full of handheld GPS gadgets, it’s easy to forget that the best way to navigate can still be a map and compass, and that your gadgets can run out of power… ‘It’s not as easy to plot a route and direction find from a GPS as it is from a map. With a map you can get the lie of the land, orientate the map and just see it. On the Pennine Way in the whiteout there were big signs saying don’t stray from the path because of sinkholes, but there was no path due to the snow, so it was all done on night navigation and bearings.’

Harpham teaches navigation skills and the biggest mistake he sees people make is not tracking their progress. ‘If you log where you are using landmarks and direction then it’s much easier to know where you are going.’

4. Turn Your Commute Into A Microadventure
Get hold of a bike and you can convert your daily grind through the traffic into an off-road adventure. ‘Look at the networks like Sustrans, for example, which takes all of the old railways and you can journey between places without touching much tarmac, if any. I used to commute to work 15 miles door to door and I only had to do a mile of it on-road, the rest was off-road through woodland, and trails,’ says Harpham. Working journeys like this into your routine can also help you to log training hours for longer journeys. ‘Before my wife, Ash, did the Peder’s Way she was walking around with her backpack full of books for a few weeks so she could walk 20
miles a day, for four days, in the heat and with a pack.’

5. Work Out What You Need Versus What You Want
Adventuring is the definition of independent travel so you need to work out ahead of time what you’re going to need. ‘You can take Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and apply it to outdoor. If you think of getting to a place where you’re fulfilled at the top of the pyramid, then the base bits are security, water and food – my discomfort levels might be different to yours. If you have got a group then the first thing is to think what is everyone's aspiration and comfort level,’ says Harpham. ‘Think about need versus want – what I need might be quite different to what I want and knowing which is critical. In the Yukon a head net costs two dollars but if you haven’t got one and the no-seeums are out, then it would be horrific.’

6. Use Existing Hut Networks
You don’t always have to camp – just because you’re staying in a staffed shelter doesn’t mean you’re not having an adventure. Harpham recommends the Lake District’s Black Sail Youth Hostel, the most remote in England. ‘We use the Youth Hostels as a springboard for adventures. You can walk into Black Sail on the bottom track for eight miles or over the saddle at Ennerdale Ridge for six miles. You’ve got Pillar and Ennerdale Ridge on either side, and it’s this beautiful shepherd's hut in the middle of the valley. You can get food there if you travel light, or you can carry in and self-cater. You’ve got Great Gable, Pillar, Haystacks - amazing walking, really majestic stuff.’

‘In Norway 80 year-olds ski past you at 100mph with five blades on their belt after hunting a moose’

7. Check Out Budget Airline Destinations
You don’t have to stick to home shores for long-weekend microadventures. For friendly, adventure-clued up locals Harpham recommends Morocco, and Norway in winter. ‘Morocco has stuff on the coast, including the surf scene around Safir, then if you head towards the Atlas mountains you’ve got great hiking, biking really testing stuff because it’s a 2000m-4000m range.’

Norway is set up for adventure with a network of DNT huts connected by long distance, 40-50km cross country skiing trails. ’If you want to realise that you are just a baby in the world of outdoor, head to Norway and you will have 80 year olds skiing past you at 100mph with five blades on their belt and they’ve just hunted a moose that day! The Norwegian people are just professors of the outdoor. You can fly to Oslo and get a train up to Lillehammer, everybody speaks English and they are all geared up for hiking, biking and skiing. Everyone gets so excited about Alpine skiing but if you’re a runner you’re going to love cross country skiing.’

8. Pack Light But Leave Room For Fun
They key thing about packing for an adventure is don’t leave it to the go day to find out how much your kit weighs, says Harpham. ‘Pack one set of multi-tasking waterproofs, a very lightweight bivvy bag that you can zip into, or a bivvy bag and a tarp – you often don’t need a tent. Inflatable air mats are great but sometimes a bit squiggy – I like the Thermarest Z Blocks – but you can also get some foliage or a grass bundle and make a bed.’

‘You can take an MSR small stove or jetboil. Taking a Trangia or an MSR pot set means that you can produce some really nice food from scratch. Rather than sawdusty rat packs, if I take a pepper, an onion and ingredients it becomes part of the social scene. It’s not just a schlep and hard work if I get to the end of the day and cook some really nice food. I’ve sat near the Corrie Brechan Whirlpool about to kayak it the next day making pasta meatballs – you need a few pots but it’s worth it.’

‘Remember, if you’ve got a bike, or a kayak, or a SUP then that’s your mule. If I load a kayak then it weighs a bit more but it’s not the same as carrying it on my back. The boat does the work.’

9. Leave No Trace
In many National Parks, wild camping, outside commercial campsites, isn’t technically legal but is tolerated if you leave no trace and don’t set fires. ‘The code is that if you’ve been seen you’ve probably failed,’ says Harpham. ‘Stealth camping is you are up at 7am or earlier and no one knows you are there, and I think that’s a good way to look at it. Ask yourself if you left the campsite as you found it, and I’d say if you are going into the hills then take a bag and take other people’s rubbish home with you. On almost every trip through our river we are de-plasticing. If we all do it, it makes a real difference.’

And the whole the whole point of a microadventure is to de-stress and re-wild yourself so avoid leaving gates open, littering and doing anything that is going to end up in an altercation with a landowner – you really don’t want to be threatened with a shotgun!

10. Check For Lights On The Dashboard
To stay safe in the outdoors you need to know what you are doing but be aware of how situations change too. ‘We call it lights on the dashboard – so if I start to get lights on, like I haven’t had enough sleep, I’m not keeping my food down, I’ve got kit that’s not working, the temperature has dropped by ten degrees – these all mean we’re heading towards something bad. Just surviving is not a good place to be because you leave very little room for error.’

11. Go On A Straight-Line Adventure
It can be hard to know what journey to pick but Harpham has a novel solution – he looks at a map, finds a route with a river and draws a straight line along it, packing his inflatable SUP. ‘Paddles boards are go anywhere – I can look at a map say: “Oh I can carry my paddleboard there on my back.” You can pack a bivvy bag and do a straight-line adventure – I love the idea of knocking on someone’s door and saying: “Sorry, can I go through your back garden, because I’m on a straight-line adventure?”

WHAT NEXT? SUPs are not just great fun on flat water – this Stand Up Paddle TV video shows how to ride surfable waves on a SUP…

For more information on SUP and micro adventures visit Red Paddle Co and Canoe Trail

Follow the writer @mattfitnessray