Microadventures: A Way of Life

By Alex Phillips

Apr 30, 2015

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an article praising the concept of the microadventure, or the adventure found in our immediate, local surroundings. As I read it, I smiled. I spent half of my childhood sleeping outside thanks to my parents’ ingenious idea to put a bed under a wall-free lean-to in our yard. My family’s perception of a weekend party was inviting everyone over to play hide and seek on our four-acre, wooded property; there were no guarantees you would be found. In essence, I was raised to be a micro adventurer. It was only on my first NOLS course that I realized how my upbringing had shaped me and fed a desire for adventure both large and small. 

The shock that sometimes overwhelms people when they face the idea of living in the backcountry for weeks on end never came. At first, I was puzzled and anxiously awaited its sudden arrival, but as the course went on, I saw that I simply felt at home. My life in the backcountry perhaps involved less showering than I was used to, but I still felt at ease.

In a world that is so often driven by the ‘go big’ mantra, I feel truly lucky not to need an adrenaline kick to feel alive. Of course, I still love to climb high and navigate white water—activities that have a reputation for getting your heart rate going—but my sense of adventure is not restricted to my interpretation of risk. It is, however, acutely linked to my sense of being present and enjoying my surroundings. As an adult, I often find myself having adventures quite unexpectedly. Like deciding to take a solo overnight in the Alps on a work night. Because why wouldn’t I?


Waking up in a sleeping bag on a weekday.
Waking up in a sleeping bag on a weekday.

Last year, I upgraded my daypack to a Deuter Spectro AC SL to make it easier to pick up and go. Since, it has proven itself to be a vital piece of equipment, accompanying me on numerous last-minute, unexpected journeys. It sits by my front door, filled with the standard safety equipment, maps, and snacks that you would expect any NOLSie to carry, only with a few added layers and comforts hinting that this girl is always ready for a night under the stars. Because that is just it: we might not know what is coming, but we can keep a few things to be prepared for any unexpected turns we might take. And isn’t that ultimately what adventure is about?

Equipped to go light and get out the door.

Are you interested in going on an macroadventure? Check out NOLS expeditions and wilderness medicine courses to develop your technical outdoor skills, preparing you for microadventures to be remembered.

Editor's note: Post updated Oct. 17, 2017

Written By

Alex Phillips

Alex Phillips worked as the NOLS European recruitment coordinator. Alex has been on multiple NOLS courses, including an Outdoor Educator course in the Rockies, which she took for professional development while working at an international school in Switzerland. In addition to working for NOLS, she is currently completing her master’s in experiential education at the University of Cumbria.

Up Next

NOLS Grad Nominated for 2015 Adventurer of the Year Award

“Now what do you think each one of those people who voted for you needs to learn?" “And what do you think you need to learn?"

These are two questions Kit DesLauriers was asked by her NOLS instructor when selected by her coursemates to lead a small group through a three-day backpacking journey in Alaska. Over 20 years later DesLauriers says, “Of course both of those questions were largely rhetorical but they remain relevant to this day.”

DesLauriers, a NOLS Semester in Alaska ’91 graduate, who currently resides in Jackson, Wyoming, is one of the most well-known ski mountaineers around the world and a nominee for the 2015 Adventures of the Year Award. This award is presented by National Geographic and selected by readers. It recognizes people who have helped make our year in adventure that much better. Through exploration, adventure sports, conservation, and humanitarianism DesLauriers has shown her dedication to her passion in life.

You can vote for DesLauriers every day until Jan. 31.


Andy Bardon photo

From early childhood, DesLauriers remembers having had a passion for the outdoors, whether it was hiking in the desert or canoeing down a river with her family. By the age of 19, DesLauriers was ready to take her adventure abroad and traveled to France to study at the University of Marseilles. Once October break came about, she took advantage of her location and traveled to Switzerland to backpack through the Alps.

“I realized that with some formal training to supplement my desire to see the world, I, too, could go to these far off places,” she said she realized while reading through some books at a local’s cabin. Little did she know, NOLS was going to give her this opportunity.

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