How To Plan A Backpacking Trip | Hikers University

If you're itching to venture into the wilderness because of the nice weather, you must first learn how to plan a backpacking trip.

Backpacking can be super fun and exhausting at the same time. If you don’t properly plan your backpacking trip, you might not be able to enjoy or make the most out of it. It is crucial to know the ins and outs of a trip, even if you’re traveling for the first time.

There are several important factors to consider while planning a backpacking trip. Some important elements include choosing your destination, obtaining relevant information, deciding the route to take, understanding the trails, making an itinerary, preparing gear and supplies, and obtaining permits.

Backpacking can be done with a bunch of friends as well as alone, either way, you’ll have a great time as long as you plan it right. With a few tips and tricks up your sleeve, you’ll be able to tackle every obstacle or challenge that comes your way on your backpacking trip.

We understand that planning a backpacking trip is not easy and requires plenty of due diligence. We have had the privilege of speaking with various experts and experienced professionals, which is why we’ve put together this guide to help you learn how to plan a backpacking trip.  

Table of contents


How To Plan A Backpacking Trip

Narrowing Down Your Options

Understanding the important factors of your journey from the start will ensure your success. List down all of the viable options and the factors associated with each. To choose your precise destination, you must first decide on your travel specifications. This will help you limit your options.

Choosing Your Destination

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, make a list of the pros and cons of each place and how your experience will differ. This will help you choose your destination. You should know exactly where you want to go and how much time you want to spend there.

Distance vs. Time: These two key factors will greatly limit your hiking destination options. If you're short on time, figure out how many miles you want to cover each day and make sure the route you choose fits your schedule. Most people expect to hike 3-10 kilometers per day, depending on their fitness level and the amount of elevation gain.

How far you want to go: If you choose a fixed-length destination, you'll still have to specify how many miles you want to trek each day, but this will define how many days you'll be on the path.

If you only have a weekend, choose a location near home so you can spend more time on the path and less time on the road. You might also decide that you want to see a specific setting or region, which is worth the trip. These details will help you plan your trip's logistics.

When backpacking alone, you have greater flexibility in terms of hiking speed and where to camp for the night; when traveling with others, you must accommodate the pace of the slowest member of your party. However, you can reduce your pack weight by sharing food, a stove, a tent, and other items with others.

Moreover, always remember that there are a few trials that cannot accommodate larger groups due to their requirements for a bigger tent.

Time to prepare: If you're leaving next week, your trip can be different than if you're leaving in three months. Are you ready to take on the challenges of the rough terrains and the tiring journey?

Base Camping: Hiking in and setting up a solid campsite from which to summit ascents or perform day treks is another important consideration. Consider spreading the excess burden of a bigger, more comfortable tent if you're traveling with friends. Don’t forget to carry a lightweight elevation pack in case your other bag does not work out as a day pack.

Season and weather: Some paths will be closed in early spring due to snow.

Transport: If you're hiking a point-to-point trail, you'll need to make certain decisions. Secure a bike at the stop line so you may ride it back to your starting point. You can also pay for local shuttle service if this option is not available.

Backpacking Information

Once you've established your broad requirements, there are a few options for finding paths that will match your objectives while still being appropriate for your skill level:

You can view all the facts you'll need in guidebooks and websites, including trail features, water sources, directions, elevation gain, mileage, route difficulty, and specifics like whether dogs are allowed. Recent trip reports may be featured on websites, giving you a good idea of what the hike will be like at the time you plan to hike it.

Word of mouth: If you're traveling with friends or know people who enjoy backpacking, they might be able to recommend some wonderful spots; just make sure they understand the boundaries you've already set.

Contact local ranger quarters or trekking societies: You can also contact local ranger quarters or trekking societies in the area where you intend to travel. The guards will have the most up-to-date knowledge of trail conditions, so reach out to them before your journey.

Topo points: If you know the area you wish to visit and can read a topo map, you might be able to plan a route based on the information you can find there. It's still a good idea to double-check your pick with those who are more knowledgeable about the trail—maps can quickly become outdated.

Route Specifics

Before you even step foot on the path, you need to figure out how many miles to walk before you sleep, where you can rest, and how you’ll find water and other necessary items. After choosing the path, it's time to truly get to know it, plan the itinerary, and organize your day. Get a thorough topo map of your route and study it before you go. To avoid any unpleasant shocks on the route, keep an eye out for the following:

Determine the location of established campsites first. If the distance between camps is too great, see if you can find another suitable location. You can gather details from trip reports or the various hiking resources listed above if you know how to read a topo map.

Water sources: It's important to bring a water filter or purifier, but they're useless if you don't know where your water comes from. Are there any trustworthy streams? You're walking beside a lake? Will you have to detour to get to your water source? You'll need enough gasoline to melt the snow if you're receiving your water from snowfields. You may need to carry a special type of filter or pre-filter if your water is muddy.

Terrain: You should have a good sense of what you're getting yourself into prior to leaving, but your map (or GPS device) will help you know where you'll gain height, take rest breaks with views, and so on.

Trip logs will tell you if the road is closed, whether sections of the trail have been washed away or rerouted, and what to look out for, such as snow on the ground, a lot of muck, or even dangerous plants.

Supplies and Gear

Now that you know the specifics of your trip, you can make sure you have everything you'll need. Here are some things to consider:

Permits and passes: The permission criteria for backcountry camping on federal lands vary. Some wilderness regions have an annual bidding system for access.

Scavengers like mice, raccoons, and other rodents are the most prevalent animals you'll see while trekking. You may need to study what to do if you come across a cougar or deadly snake in some locations. It’s important to learn what to do if you come into direct contact with grizzly or black bears. 

Insects: Check to see if biting insects are an issue where you'll be traveling. Insect-repellent clothes, a hammock sleeping net, or a mosquito net for mealtimes can be extremely useful for comfort. To avoid mosquito bites, some trekkers wear rain gear.

Food: Each person should bring 1 to 2 pounds of dry food per day. How often and how much you eat depends on your elevation gain, pace, and distance traveled. If you're new to backpacking, several experts advocate packing meals at first. Make an overnight test run to determine your individual quantity. Always have extra food on hand in case of an emergency.

Fuel: How much stove fuel you'll need depends on what you eat. Will you start your day with a cup of coffee or a quick breakfast? Do you need to melt snow for your sleeping bag or produce hot water bottles?

Will you be cooking ordinary food or freeze-dried meals? Again, practice ahead of time so you can figure out how much fuel you consume doing all of these tasks and estimate how much you'll need. Also, keep in mind that gasoline cannot be brought onto an aero plane. If you're flying, you'll have to purchase it when you arrive.

Examine your equipment's condition: Make sure your hiking rainwear, shoes or boots, headlamp, sleeping bag, pack, tent, and other items are in good working order and have no holes or malfunctions. Make sure your shoes are comfy and fit nicely. Do an overnight as a warm-up or refresher for a longer hiking trip if possible.

Are you sharing gear and traveling with others? To avoid duplicating or missing things, decide who will bring what. A stove, tent, and water filter are among the commonly shared items.

Checklist: We recommend printing out and keeping this detailed backpacking checklist with your hiking gear. Arrange all of the equipment you intend to bring on the ground at home. This makes it simpler to recognize what's lacking and to get rid of goods you don't need to lose weight. Make sure you tick everything off the list. Also, consider whether this journey requires something you lack.

Last-Minute Preparation

Do the following right before you leave for your trip:

Pack your backpack: After you've stuffed everything into your backpack and hoisted it up, you might find that you don't need that additional can of chili after all. Remove unnecessary items and give your backpack a quick look over before leaving.  

Check the weather forecast: Make plans based on what you find out, or postpone or cancel the trip if necessary.

Share Your Itinerary: Always share your full agenda with someone you can trust. If you don't arrive at your scheduled time, write down who to contact and when. Also, keep a piece of paper with your contact information under your front seat.

When planning an evening backpacking trip, whether you are a first-time traveler or have been trekking through the wilderness for years, there are a few questions to consider. What should I do now? Is a permit required? What should I have for dinner? What should I bring? I've been there before. I had no idea how to arrange a backpacking trip when I first started trekking and spending time outside. Years later, one of my favorite aspects of the whole process is organizing a hiking trip. It can be intimidating if you're new to it, but don't worry; we've got you covered.

Planning a Backpacking Trip

Schedule the Trip

The first step in planning a backpacking trip is determining when you want to embark on your overnight expedition. Because of the weather, your dates will determine where you can go (unless you want to snow camp). If you want to travel in January, you'll have to stick to warmer destinations like Southern California, Arizona, and Florida. If it's summer, head to the mountains for milder temps.

If you're a first-time traveler, 1-2 nights is a fair length of time to get your feet wet. After your first hike, you'll be able to answer a lot of questions. What equipment worked and what equipment didn't. What you absolutely must carry versus what you can leave at home to lose weight. Consider doing a longer trip if you are more experienced and have the time. The more time you spend in the woods, the more time you have to decompress and enjoy all of its benefits.

Choose the Trail

With so many amazing trails and sites to choose from, choosing a trail for a backpacking trip can be difficult. What is your hiking distance goal? If you're new to backpacking, aim for 5-7 miles per day. Remember that backpacking is more difficult than a day trek if you aren't used to carrying a lot of weight. Depending on how much elevation gain there is, the average confident backpacker can normally go between 8 and 12 kilometers.

How challenging do you want your trail to be?

What are the most important characteristics you're looking for? Is it necessary to be alone? Make a mental note of the type of experience you desire to have. Then begin reading trail descriptions and planning a backpacking trip that meets your needs.

Permits and Licenses

So you've chosen a path that seems fantastic for the season you want to hike. Check to determine if a license is required before getting too excited and making plans. Many paths, particularly those in National Parks, necessitate wilderness permits, which must be booked months in advance. Many popular trekking paths (such as those in the Grand Canyon or Yosemite) are assigned by lottery up to 4 or 5 months in advance. Permit requirements can usually be found on the federal or state agency's website if you Google the trail. We've also included a list of license dates for the most famous hikes we've covered. Your permit may have extra requirements depending on where you are backpacking.

Going Solo or with Friends

If you want some company, see if you can round up a few friends. Give them a call or send them a message. If that doesn't work and you can't locate anyone to accompany you, you have a few other possibilities.

See if there are any Facebook groups for hikers or outdoor enthusiasts in your region. Don't let the fact that you can't find anyone deters you. Backpacking is an uplifting experience that everyone should do at least once. So, if you have to go alone, go alone.

Transport Plan

The next stage in planning a hiking trip is to figure out how you'll get to and from the summit. You can usually leave your car in the trailhead parking area if your trail is a loop. You have a few possibilities if you're performing a one-way hike. If you're hiking with a group, you can create your own taxi by leaving one car at the end and driving another to the beginning. If two automobiles aren't an alternative, you can ask a family member or friend to drop you off, or you can book a cab or shuttle service. If you choose this route, many outhouses and hotels in famous hiking destinations will provide shuttle services, so perform a fast Google search to see what's available.

Meet the Requirements

Perhaps you've already figured out your trekking gear. If so, that's fantastic! If not, a 3-day backpacking checklist is an excellent place to start. So what if this gear is prohibitively expensive? Don't let this put you off going on a backpacking trip. Ask your pals if they have any equipment you can borrow. However, be sure that a rented hiking bag fits comfortably and that the things you're carrying along aren't too heavy before you leave; otherwise, you might not enjoy your trip.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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