How to microadventure with kids

Alex Tzelnic 2 June 2022

Having a kid might dampen your adventurous lifestyle, but it doesn't have to wipe it out altogether. Here's how to fit in a microadventure around parenting

Before my daughter was born my wife and I hit the trails on weekends, bagging peaks and exploring breweries.

We went trekking in New Zealand, mountain biking and surfing in Portugal, and camping in Maine. The world was our oyster. Then we had a kid. 

It's a tale as old as time, but the last couple of years have seen a significant reduction in adventuring (though I can't say the same for beer).

I reached a breaking point last winter, when, instead of a planned ascent of Mt Monadnock, I stayed home with my daughter, who'd caught a cold. Since that day I have been satisfying my itch for the outdoors with a significant amount of microadventuring.

What is a microadventure? Alastair Humphreys, the go-to author on the subject, calls it, "an adventure that is short, simple, local, cheap—yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding."

For a parent squeezing in this kind of targeted strike before dawn, during naptime, or after bedtime, microadventures can be a way to get all the benefits of nature and exercise in small doses. The result will be a parent that is more replenished and less resentful—a win for the whole family. 

So how can one begin their microadventure career? Here are three ways to get started.

Identify the low-hanging fruit

If your adventure calls for an alignment of schedules, weather patterns, and transportation, your chances of making it happen are slim.

A full day outing that is reliant upon you using the family car, getting a clear weather window, and requiring the right trail conditions might come around next Halley’s Comet.

"The conservation land that is 15 minutes from your front door will give you your fix"

In the meantime, the conservation land that is 15 minutes from your front door will give you your fix with minimal hassle.

Look up local parks. Plot routes and figure out what could make for a quick outing that might even be accessible by foot or bike.

You will be setting yourself up for a micro success rather than a grand failure. In the war of attrition that is personal time as a parent, that is a definite win.

Adjust slack and tension

A young couple sit talking at a kitchen island with a notebookTry negotiating with your partner about when each of you can pick up the slack for the other

I recently read an article by a couple who began to conceive of their household as an ecosystem with inputs, outputs, and flows. This economic model allowed them to adjust slack when available in order to relieve tension in the system, manipulating flows in order to find balance.

As my wife can attest, I became enamoured with this concept, especially when I could use it as an argument to go play tennis. 

"Receiving slack can also create the opportunity to give slack"

So how does this apply to microadventures? Receiving slack can also create the opportunity to give slack. Especially if this leads to an intentional conversation about where that reciprocal slack can be given.

I’m much more likely to be granted an hour to go on a trail run if I’m then able to give my wife an hour to go and get a massage.

Of course, in the tangled web that is a weekend schedule with a toddler, this neat give-and-take won’t always have the chance to be realised, but being conscientious about it goes a long way towards reducing resentment and increasing adventure opportunities. 

Get the gear

There is a classic Portlandia sketch (at least in my household ecosystem) in which Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein remain constantly on the cusp of a trip because they keep getting more gear. “Got the gear? Gotta get the gear.”

This is a tip that completely goes against the dirtbagging counter culture ethos of many outdoorsy folks, but getting the gear is a form of aspiration that frequently turns into inspiration.

When I can’t actually be out on a microadventure, I’m often looking at the latest and greatest in lightweight anoraks and mountain bike helmets. It is essentially a promise to myself that I will lace up and get out.

For those rightfully concerned about the environmental impact of the exploding gear industry, I would argue that thoughtful engagement with nature can increase our willingness to protect it.

In addition, many brands and retailers are now offering consumers platforms for purchasing used gear, an excellent option for the budget and eco-conscious.

Why is microadventuring important?

Man walks through trees by lake in sunshineWith a little careful planning and compromise, new parenthood doesn't have to mean waving good bye to your sense of adventure

The new routines that accompany child-rearing don’t typically leave space for the gnarly activities of one’s youth, and it is all too easy to fall into the rut of repetition.

As a first time parent one often hears that one should rest when one’s child is resting and catch up on all that missed sleep. And while I believe a good nap can be as restorative as a good hike, I might offer a different perspective.

"The couch will always be there"

Identify easily accessible adventures, negotiate the best time with your significant other, put on your superhero cape (i.e. waterproof yet shockingly breathable new anorak), and do something epic.

The couch will always be there. The chance to bag Monadnock on a perfectly icy February day may not.

Read more: 7 Tips for a winter travel adventure

Read more: How to prepare for a thrilling hike experience

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