We have moved from the day hike to an overnight or multi-day adventure and backcountry trip planning is the agenda. The strategy for success is being prepared, being equipped, and traveling light.
There is no universal blueprint by which each and every multi-day hike can be planned but there are certain basic questions and issues that need to be addressed that are common to backcountry trip planning:
- Alone or with a group
- Leave trip details
- The Unexpected
The fundamental question for each of us as we head out to the trailhead or backcountry is; Why are we going? What are our goals and expectations for making the trip and are we achieving them?
A key first step in “Backcountry Trip Planning” is to set out the goals for the trip. During the trip it is good to review those goals and evaluate how you are progressing. By reflecting on your situation you can maximize your opportunities to achieve your goals, or if appropriate, making mid-course adjustments, as needed.
If you are with a buddy or a group, check in with your companions and get their read on the progress; are we going at too fast a pace? How are you feeling? Etc. Lunch break is a great time to get into an informal discussion on progress. If you are alone, this is a good time to write in your trip journal and reflect on progress.
The key, as we discussed in the prior blog on planning, is to have a plan for your hike and have a plan with a purpose. The goal will greatly enhance the accomplishment of the plan and greatly increase the satisfaction in the achievement.
Back at home base, after gear clean up; take the time for some reflection. Ask the questions: What happened on the trip? If there were others on the trail with you, discuss the highlights; bring back the memories about the experience.
Then ask So What? Asking the question as to why certain events were important or had an impact. What did I or we learn? Why am I reacting to the experience the way I am? How did I grow in some skill or insight from the trip?
Lastly ask yourself and your companions; Now What? What comes next after this experience, how can I or we take what we have learned back to other parts of our lives. How will I apply what I have learned, discovered and been challenged by to enhance my next trip or my next week?
Taking time for reflection puts the pieces of life back into a whole and allows your experiences to become both the teacher for the next time out and the inquirer as to why you do what you do and is it what you want from it.
Alone or with a Group?
The mantra of the day is “Walk not your own path but come follow us”.
There is clear wisdom being expressed as it relates to hiking if you are a beginner or even an experienced hiker facing unfamiliar circumstance or challenges. This is not however the only all-encompassing truth. Your choice of solo or with companions ultimately largely depends, as one world traveler stated it, on three principal factors:
- Your level of experience
- The prevailing conditions
- Personal preference
Walking alone in the wilderness can be immensely rewarding. However, problems can occur when hikers venture solo into terrain and conditions for which they are not prepared. It is, therefore important to always balance intangible considerations such as freedom, self-determination, and connection with nature, with a realistic assessment of your backcountry skill set.
You will either take it in or it will take you out. An essential of multi-day hiking preparation is to have yourself physically and mentally fit for the trip. Why? The fitter you are the less of a struggle both physically and mentally. Plan the time to be ready and the best way to be fit is progressive hiking. Start early in the year with the day hikes and slowly build up distance, difficulty, and pack-weight. Supplement with the gym if needed, working on your weak points.
You will find fitness of particular advantage during the first few days of a backpack trip. The last thing you will want from an adventure is to be so exhausted you can’t enjoy your surroundings, missing not only the beauty of it all but the mental acumen to be focusing on the discovery that is lying before you.
Your pre-hike conditioning will also minimize the likelihood of injury.
One of the keys to a safe and enjoyable backcountry experience is pre-hike research.
The first research is to get a clear footing of where you are going, what you are going to face along the way as far as physical challenges, and what preparation is needed to accommodate the route.
Guidebooks, maps, historical weather data, trip reports of other hikers and checking in with the local forest service all provide foundational information to build your route upon.
Backcountry travel can be unpredictable, but by arming yourself with the necessary knowledge before setting out, you improve your chances of successfully dealing with whatever providence may throw your way.
Your research then leads to the planning of the trip. The key element of trip planning is to work out the details of the proposed route; research and route details drive equipment, food, safety issues, skill sets etc.
Once you have obtained all the general information pertinent to your journey, it’s time to work out the details of your proposed route:
- Estimate times and distances; break this down into the various legs of the trip.
- Evaluate opportunities for campsite locations.
- Identify your options for water and if possible the quality of the water.
- A key to map reading and thus staying on course is identifying key landmarks and points of reference along your route.
- Natural and not so natural hazardous areas such as spires and rock falls should be identified and likely avoided. If you chose to or must pass through them make sure you have a what if plan in place to cover worst case situations.
- Check out regulations, restrictions and permits required for your route.
Your research will drive your equipment choice. Pack according to terrain and conditions you expect to encounter. Keep it simple, keep it light and keep it fun. Your starting point is the 11 Essentials.
Ask the two gear questions as you go through your final inventory for the trip. Do I need it? What will happen if I don’t have it? Ultimately your own backcountry experience and personal philosophy of hiking will be your best guide.
Pre trip preparation: Test run your key equipment to make sure it is all working and that includes your water filter and boots. A clogged filter or new boots can be a harbinger for a difficult trip.
Food, as with equipment, function under the same model: keep it good and keep it light. Based upon three season backpacking requirements in general, you will consume 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day. This mix, depending on the length and difficulty of the trip will run 50% Carbs, 25% fats, and 25% protein. Remember to be regularly snacking and drinking water to replenish your energy supply and keep you hydrated. The key accident times are 11 AM and 3 PM due to low blood sugar and dehydration. I like a good mixture of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits as a trail mix. Fluid intake should average 10 to 12 ounces every half hour or more under strenuous or hot conditions.
Weather & Weather Hazards
On trip day, check the weather before you head out. From your prior route evaluation consider your options and challenges if weather conditions turn to the worst.
- Emergency shelters or campsites.
- Emergency food supplies if you are delayed days due to weather.
- River crossings that may become impassable during heavy rains.
- Canyons that may pose a flash flood danger.
- Exposed areas during a lightening storm. Where is accessible cover and how do we get there with an impending storm?
- Evacuation route options.
- Communication options.
Leave Trip Details
Who knows your destination, route, and expected return time? Include also the name of all parties on the trip and cell phone numbers and as much of your literary as possible.
What: 1.Leave this information with a contact person who will be concerned of your situation and checking that you return on time. 2. Leave it in your vehicle where parked at trailhead.
When you return make sure to inform your contact person that you have returned.
Expect The Unexpected
No matter how confident you are that you have covered all bases, nature has forces beyond your predictability or your capacity. When entering the wilderness as with any adventure be aware of what is going on around you. Adjust your agenda and schedule both to accomplish your goals and accommodate your conditions. Safety is a prime consideration in your backcountry trip planning and reasoned forward progress is far more profitable than stubborn determination.