Work-Life-Outdoors Balance

How to get outdoors as much as possible while balancing work, a relationship, and other obligations? Read on!

Well known backpacker and ultra runner  Garrett “The Onion” Christensen asked this question via e-mail:

Holding down a normal office job, how do you maximize your weekend trips? (In a recent web profile I think you said something about getting out _every_ weekend? I run every weekend, but rarely do short backpacking/camping trips.) Do you leave your bag packed? Do you get every other Friday off like some places allow? Pack on Thursday to leave right after work Friday? Own a car you can sleep in at the trailhead if you get a late start?

Balancing a career, home life, a relationship, and the day-to-day activities that help keep a household running does mean less time for the outdoors then I would prefer.

A large part of me is always tempted to repeat the cycle I have used in the past:  work hard, save money, quit work, go hiking [1].

But the cycle of working jobs, quitting and then looking for another job after a hike can be challenging.   Personally, it is not a cycle that I could sustain for the long-term.

Now that I am almost 40, the pesky “real world” has crept into my thoughts in recent years.  I want to maintain my marriage, actually retire at a decent age and not start over again at a job.

Currently, I am fashioning a career that allows more flexibility and time off. I am not quite there, but hope to be in the next two years or so. Will I take off for 4-6 months at a time? Probably not. (Nor do I really wish to right now) Will I be in the position to take of 4-6 weeks at a time? I feel that is a goal that is realistic and attainable.

In the meantime, how do I get out on a regular basis? The first step is simple: I  make the outdoors a priority.

Not a priority




Not being flip when I make that statement, but my plans often revolve around time in the outdoors.   I have a three-day weekend; what can I do? A comp day available? Time to take a day hike.

To take advantage of that free time, the key for me is the old Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.

What “being prepared” means to me is having everything pre-packed and ready to go.

In winter, my ski pack has my wax, skins, avy shovel and warm clothing all in one area. For winter backpacking trips, my winter sleeping bag and winter pack is also nearby.

Backpacking? Same idea.  My sleeping pad, clothing, stove (if I take one) and other pieces of gear are all pre-staged in my backpack. My quilt is nearby.

With a little adjustment and taking out some of my backpacking gear, my daypack is ready to go, too.

For base camp style car camping, the gear is logically pre-packed and ready to go as well.

During the summer, with its long days, my climbing pack is ready to go and packed in the car with gear, climbing shoes and clothing. There is always the off-chance I can sneak out of work a little early and get in a few hours of climbing.

Another common theme is being flexible with what I do.  I can’t always get away for a 40+ mile backpacking weekend, nor do I want to.

Sometimes I have a leisurely breakfast with someone and then have “twenty-four hours in the woods“.  Or if I have social obligations at some point during the weekend, I may take a very long day hike off-trail and solo for an intense hike.

Sometimes if I want to get in a “big mileage” backpacking weekend, I may do a “truck bivvy” at the trail head on a Friday evening. I’ll then start early in the morning on a Saturday to attain my goals for the trip.

Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico

Flexibility is the key to getting my outdoor fix while maintaining a social life and enjoying time with my wife. It may mean easier trips with Mrs. Mags or even car camping in the off seasons to places that have an allure separate from backpacking.

Ski touring Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park


Naturally, I enjoy time with my friends, too. Luckily, many of my friends are outdoors minded. Some of my closest friendships were formed and strengthened through shared outdoors experience.

With my buddy Markhamm in Utah


Tying this all together is something missed for easy getaways: Having enough food on hand for outdoor use for easy access. Having my backpacking staples on hand in quantity means that I eliminate going to the grocery store on a (typically) busy Friday. With food on hand, some prep time is easily saved.

So that is how I maintain a “Work-Life-Outdoors” balance:  Be flexible, enjoy experiencing the outdoors in a few different ways, have the gear pre-packed and have supplies on hand to eliminate last-minute shopping. And getting to the point where my career allows me to take off more time so I can be immersed even more in the outdoors.

[1] Update 2018: Hoo boy..what a difference a few years makes! 🙂  I think I may have found the balance, but it is not a path I expected back in 2013! 

Note: Oddly enough, my previous “Disaster Preparedness” article applies to this type of mindset, too.

I should also add, that I’ve seemed to have had these thoughts for a while now!

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10 years ago

Good advice and the article is motivating me to get my escape pack in order. You are correct about the cycle of work, save, quit, hike, and repeat. It does get old after awhile always starting over. The life balance and taking other people opinions into consideration is important.

10 years ago

I got laid off for the last time 2 years ago, and started a freelance career. Great, I thought — more time to go hiking. I’ll work at night, on weekends, etc. Well, that isn’t exactly how it panned out, as it turns out I do need to spend a significant amount of time working on my freelance gigs. I moved to live on a mountain so I stroll every day, but only hike when I can shove all my other tasks into their cubby holes. Seems like other than a lottery win, it’s going to have to be a… Read more »

Another Kevin
10 years ago

I hear ya! At this point in my life, I can make it out for only a few weekends a year, which perforce must be short-mileage because I don’t hike enough to stay in trail shape. But I cherish those trips, and try to stay prepared so that I can grab them when I can. Maybe once I retire I’ll get out more. All my life I’ve had too much responsibility to do much hiking. (I grew up in a rather regimented household, and never took a long break in school or between school and work – my parents were… Read more »