How To Plan A Backpacking Trip

backpackers in mountains

Whether you are new to backpacking or a very experienced hiker, there are several factors to consider and plenty of things to do when planning a backpacking trip.

To help you get ready for your next big excursion or trek, in this article we will cover some of the decisions you will need to make, along with the actions you will need to take before setting off on your exciting journey.

How to Plan a Backpacking Trip: Introduction

When planning a backpacking trip, whether a 1-day hike along trails in your favorite wilderness spot or a month’s long journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, there are several planning steps you will need to undertake before you commence with your journey.

Things like deciding where you will hike, the types and amount of food you will need to bring, and the clothes you should pack for your adventure, all come into play when planning a trip such as this.

And while this may seem a bit overwhelming, it is not very difficult if you have the right mindset and a step-by-step guide to follow—a guide such as the one we have put together here.

So without further ado, here are some fundamental tips and strategies for planning your next backpacking outing.

Deciding When You Are Going to Go

Deciding when you will head out on your backpacking trip is the first step when it comes to planning this jaunt. Why? Because all other things will depend on this decision.

For example, you have to decide when you are going before you actually pick a place, because not all trails are open year-round and you need to make sure your intended destination will be available during the time frame you have laid out.

Deciding on a date is also important because you might need to take time off of work—and you will need to let the big bosses know when you will be gone and the date you plan on returning. Also, you must consider the weather and climatic conditions.

For instance, if you plan to backpack during the colder months, you will need to pack along clothes and gear that are appropriate for the temperatures you will no doubt experience. Similarly, if you plan to backpack during the summer, your attire will be much different than it would be for a winter hike, as will the type of gear you ultimately bring.

Selecting a Destination or Trail

Selecting the ideal trail for your backpacking trip requires much more planning than you might think. You cannot, for example, just point to a spot on the map and decide on a trail.

No, you will actually need to research different trails to find the one that is perfect for you and your group. Here are some things to consider when selecting the perfect backpacking trail for your next trip:

  • Trail distance. Most backpackers believe that when you start a backpacking trip on a given trail you should hike the whole of that trail. Thus, you will need to find a trail that matches your time frame. When considering the distance of the trail, you must also consider the experience level of you and your fellow hikers—the distance you can confidently cover in a single day. If you are new to hiking, we strongly recommend that you not “bite off more than you can chew.” Instead, choose a shorter trail that will allow for frequent stops, at least until you become more comfortable with the activity.
  • What Are You Looking to See? Backpacking is all about experiencing nature and making memories with your team. Because of this, you should probably select a trail that offers the types of natural features you want to see. This could be anything from snow-packed peaks, to lakes, to waterfalls to brilliant sunrises and sunsets. Do your research and find a trail that matches your preferences and that of your group.
  • Trail Difficulty. Along with the trail distance, you must also consider the difficulty rating of that trail. Most of that information can be found online, but if you are brand new to backpacking you might want to avoid trails that have significant gains in elevation, are very rocky or unstable, or include parts in which the trail is very narrow and close to cliffs.
  • Do You Want to See Other People? If you and your friends are using this backpacking trip as a way to get away from other people, you’d be wise to choose a trail that is not very popular and populated, perhaps one off the beaten path. On the other hand, if you welcome the company of other hikers and backpackers, the sky is truly the limit.

Once you have considered all of these factors, deciding exactly where to go on your next backpacking trip should be a breeze.

Do I Need a Permit?

Yes, some trails require that you have a permit before you are allowed to backpack on them. This is especially true for some of the very popular hiking trails located in national parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone.

Therefore, before you can lock down an exact location for a trail, be sure to go online and search for the permit requirements of the trail you intend to hike. Some of these trails get so crowded at times that the state and federal agencies that run them require that you put yourself into a permit lottery, in which only a small percentage of people draw the lucky permit.

This is just another reason why it is so important to plan ahead when you decide to go on a backpacking trip.

How Will You Get to Your Destination?

The next thing you will need to do is plan for your transportation to and from your backpacking destination. Of course, if you are only planning a one-day or two-day trip at a local trail near your home, you can always drive your own car to the trail head, provided they have legal places in which to park your car.

Many backpackers, however, do not feel comfortable leaving their vehicle unattended for several days—and for good reason—and opt instead to have a friend or family member drop them off and pick them up.

If your backpacking adventure is not within driving distance, you will of course have to make a few more arrangements. This includes scheduling and purchasing a flight to a city adjacent or nearby the trail you intend to hike, figuring out how you will get to and from the airport, and scheduling transportation to the trail itself.

There are some hotels near some of the bigger national and state parks that will provide shuttle service to the trail head, but do not take that for granted. Planning every step of your transportation plan beforehand will allow you to free for your mind for the more important and more enjoyable stuff.

Gear Up

If you are brand new to the world of wilderness backpacking there is plenty of gear you will need to buy before you are ready to set out on your adventure. This includes your backpack, clothing and vital accessories that every backpacker needs.

This can get expensive fast, so we recommend that you buy this gear over time so as not to stress your budget.

When purchasing the clothing you will need for your backpacking trip you will need to research the weather conditions for the dates you plan to hike and buy attire that is appropriate for the temperatures and climatic conditions you will face, including a good set of rain gear.

If you are unsure about all the gear you will need to participate successfully in this activity, fret not. There are literally hundreds of online sites that offer “Backpacking Gear Checklists”—articles and tips that will ensure you have everything you need.

Once you have purchased your gear, go ahead and test it on a smaller hike, perhaps a trail near your home. You need to make sure it is comfortable and fits your purpose.

If it isn’t—or doesn’t—you don’t want to find that out on the first day of your backpacking trip.

Plan Meals and Purchase Food

As the date of your trip gets closer, you will need to start thinking about the food you will eat when you are on your backpacking quest. In doing this, you will need to plan for food that is functional for your purpose, lightweight enough to carry in your pack, and food that meets all of your nutritional needs.

Foods that are calories dense are great to take along on your backpacking trip. These foods pack a lot of calories—which you will need to replace the ones you are burning—into small packages that are easy to carry in your backpack.

Calorie dense foods include:

  • whole wheat or whole grain pasta
  • brown rice
  • peanut butter
  • olive oil
  • protein bars
  • nuts
  • and even candy (now and then)

Depending on your size, you will need to take in between 2,800 to 3,800 calories a day, so pack smart and understand exactly what you will be eating and when.

Final Planning

The day is almost here and now it is time to make final preparations for your trip. Here are just a few things you will need to do:

  • Buy a map. You will definitely want to buy a detailed map of the area in which you will be backpacking. Even if you never have to use this map, you’ll be truly you have it if you ever get lost in the wilderness.
  • Pack Your Backpack. There is an art to packing up your backpack, and many sites on the Internet do a great job at discussing exactly how one should be packed. Just remember, items that you plan to use most frequently should always be packed near the top. This will prevent you from having to dig through your pack each time you need those items.
  • Check the Weather. Do a final check of the weather at the location where you will be backpacking. This will ensure you pack all the right gear to meet those conditions.
  • Tell someone where you plan to be. This is a very important step. In case you get lost, or in the event that someone in your family has an emergency, it is important that someone close to you knows roughly where they can find you. Never set out on a trip without telling someone where you’ll be.

Go Backpacking!

You have planned and planned some more and have now made your final preparations. Now it’s time to reap the rewards of all your hard work as you venture out to commune with nature and make memories that will last a lifetime.

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