Planning your first backpacking trip

Author’s note: This article was first published on Food For the Sole’s blog. Food For the Sole makes tasty, nutritious, lightweight and calorie-dense food that is perfect for backpacking. I was delighted to contribute to their blog. Now, on to the reading…

In 2007 I prepared for one of my first overnight hikes: a 4-day backpacking trip in Olympic National Park. I was joining a group of climbers, most of whom had been there and done that but I decided to plan for this trip on my own. I heaved my backpack onto my body with pride. It was heavy, loaded with everything I’d possibly need and more. All the stuff I couldn’t cram into my pack I creatively attached to the outside. Bits and pieces of gear dangled from every hook, strap and carabiner on my pack. I was ready.

Or so I thought. I brought too much of some things and not enough of others. I failed to adjust my pack adequately to my body. I missed the mark on my footwear and as a result of all my blunders I hobbled around for a week after returning from my trip. Not to be deterred by one miserable experience, I strove to do better next time. Since that outing I’ve gone on many, more enjoyable overnight hikes and today I’ll share some strategies to help you plan a successful first backpacking trip.

Image courtesy of Food For the Sole.

Where and when to go

If you want to enjoy backpacking, it’s important to have a fun first trip. Choosing the right location at the right time is a great start.

Do you have any friends who like to backpack? Ask them for suggested beginner itineraries. Choose a low-mileage option to begin. And remember that out-and-back hikes are easier to bail out on than loop hikes. Knowing your average daily mileage with a light pack will help you choose an appropriate distance for an overnight trip. For example, if your longest day hike tops out around ten miles, start with something shorter, like a 5-8 mile/day target for your first backpacking trip.

Consider the timing of your backpacking trip. What will the weather be like? How about bugs? Will there be running water? Will there be snow on the ground? An ideal first backpacking outing will have mild weather, plenty of fresh water sources and easy access. If you have to post-hole through knee-deep snow, wade creeks or deal with sub-freezing weather at night, you might not have a great time (unless you’re into that kind of thing, and in that case go for it).

Image courtesy of Food For the Sole.

What to bring (and what not to bring)

When packing for one or more nights on the trail, it’s important to think about a few things: what you need, what you might need and how heavy it is. For example, you know you need to bring food, but how much should you bring and what kind? For a multi-day trip you may opt for fruit leather (light, packable) versus a whole watermelon (heavy, cumbersome, produces lots of waste). As a beginner, you probably don’t have all the things you’ll need to have a successful first trip. And if you go into a gear shop to get outfitted for your trip, you might balk at the price tag. Start with your friends: see how much stuff you can borrow for your trip. This serves a few purposes. First, you can get a sense of what you like and don’t like about particular pieces of gear. Second, you save money by not buying stuff that doesn’t meet your needs. Third, you get to pick your friend’s brain about the ins and outs of backpacking.

Having a well-fitted pack and the right shoes will ensure that you are comfortable on your trip. Start with these two things. Then, recall the ten essentials. Make sure you pack items from each category to satisfy the needs of your trip. Here’s the list:

  1. Navigation
  2. Headlamp
  3. Sun protection
  4. First aid
  5. Knife
  6. Fire
  7. Shelter
  8. Extra food
  9. Extra water
  10. Extra clothes

Food and water are heavy and take up precious space in your backpack. When choosing meals for a multi-day trip, aim for foods that are light and calorie dense as well as tasty. And remember if you need to cook your food on the trail you’ll also need to pack a stove, pot and fuel. Know how much water you will plan to see along the way and pack a water filter instead of carrying all of your water for the duration of your trip.

Image courtesy of Food For the Sole.

Logistical planning

Overnight trips can require a bit more advanced planning than day trips. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need a permit and do I need to apply for one in advance?
  • Where will I camp each night?
  • Where can I leave my car overnight?
  • Do I need to organize a car shuttle?
  • Who will I leave my itinerary with?
  • What are my bail out/backup options?

Many forests and parks require permits for backpacking trips. Popular areas sometimes have application processes and lottery systems for permits when there are more interested parties than there are available backcountry sites. Check the website for the place you want to visit or call the ranger’s office in order to help plan your trip.

Image courtesy of Food For the Sole.

Leave No Trace

Finally, learn and practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors

The more you plan ahead and prepare (#1), the easier it will be to follow the other principles. The trickiest challenge for new backpackers is waste disposal. Before you leave for your trip, find out if there are backcountry toilets near your planned campsites. If not, you’re responsible for bringing a trowel and burying your poo or packing it out in a wag bag. And remember: waste includes human waste, pet waste and food waste!

Image courtesy of Food For the Sole.

Bon voyage

Know this: you WILL make mistakes on your first backpacking trip, and that is how you’ll learn. Whatever you do, minimize your impact, have fun and take lots of pictures!

LNT: Plan ahead and prepare

This is part 1 of a 7 part series exploring the why’s and how’s of practicing the seven principles of Leave No Trace.

If you’ve read any of the blogs on this website you know I’m a HUGE proponent of good trip planning. A thoughtful plan helps reduce your impact on the land, increases the chances of a successful trip, ensures you understand potential hazards and helps you decide what supplies you’ll need on your adventure. Let’s dive a little deeper into the benefits of trip planning and how you can plan ahead and prepare before your next foray into the backcountry.

Why prepare?

According to, there are four main reasons that it’s important to plan ahead and prepare. The first reason is for safety. Pre-trip research will alert you to things like trail conditions, weather, environmental hazards and physical challenges you may encounter on your trip.

The second reason is to help you practice Leave No Trace. In order to minimize resource damage, you’ll need to know things like what footwear to bring, whether or not there will be toilets and water sources, if hiking off-trail is allowed, where camping is allowed, etc.

The third reason is to accomplish your goals in a safe and fun manner. Want to get to the top of that mountain? You’d better bring an ice ax and crampons. Want to camp at a pristine, backcountry lake? Hope your group has the navigation skills and fitness to get there. Want to enjoy some solitude in a National Park? You might want to check where the most popular sites are and when/how to avoid them.

Lastly, trip planning is important for you to build self-confidence and to learn more about the place in which you’re recreating. Having a sense of pride in the public lands you go out to enjoy is important both now and in the future. A well-planned trip that goes well and feeds your soul will develop a desire to continue loving and protecting these shared resources.

So with that in mind, what are we waiting for? Let’s plan a trip!

How to prepare?

With the help of the Internet and social media, it’s easier now than ever before to plan ahead and prepare. Once you know where you’ll be headed, who you’ll be traveling with and/or what you want to accomplish, you can do some research. Your research will help you decide:

  • how much food to bring
  • how much water to bring
  • what safety supplies you’ll need
  • what permits you’ll need to secure in advance
  • what clothes and shoes to wear/pack
  • where the trails go
  • what hazards to plan for
  • etc…

With experience, the trip planning process will become more natural and simple to do. For your first trip, keep it simple! Have someone else help you. But please do put some thought in before you go. And, upon your return, take a moment to ask, “What could I do differently next time to be better prepared?”

For more details regarding how to plan a trip, check out my 4-part trip planning series:

1.  Coming up with the idea

2. Making a trip outline

3. Making a packing list

4. Go forth and be flexible

Feel free to share your trip planning tips or questions in the comments. Happy trails!

Trip planning: go forth and be flexible

So much for rock climbing…

In 2011, I made a brilliant plan to head into Yosemite for some epic rock climbing with a friend. We went through all the steps of the trip planning process and left town psyched to hit the rock. But then, nature threw every curveball she had and we were forced to make lots of decisions on the fly to get the most fun out of our spoiled adventure. It was a very real reminder that the best made plans can…sometimes not work out.

That leads us to the last step of the trip planning process. This is more of a state of mind than an actual step. Go forward with your plan, but remain flexible. Not only to deal with unexpected situations, but also to allow yourself time to explore things that you learn about while you’re out on your trip. Let’s dig deeper.

Rolling with the obstacles

What are some of the factors that can derail even the most meticulously planned trip? Here are the big ones:

  • weather
  • illness
  • car trouble
  • road closures
  • full campgrounds
  • activity/location did not live up to expectations
  • weather
  • did I mention weather?

When planning a trip months or even weeks in advance, you can’t really predict the weather on any given day. Checking climate data and familiarizing yourself with normal weather patterns is helpful but only to a point. Freak snowstorms can blow in. Wildfires can rage through. Hurricanes. Landslides. You get the picture. Sometimes you can deal with a little more rain, snow or heat than you anticipated. But sometimes adverse weather can make certain activities not fun or even dangerous. Knowing when to cancel and redirect your adventure is key to being safe and enjoying your trip.

I have experienced all of the other factors on various roadtrips. I got really sick on the second to last day of a solo trip to California. I’ve had to take half the day to fix leaking hoses in the car, stopping in tiny, remote towns to ask for help. I’ve had to change camping plans due to all the spots at my desired rest stop being taken. And I’ve pulled in and immediately right out of parks that were not what I thought they would be (hiking in an off-road vehicle playground, yeah no thanks).

Being open to new ideas

Capitol Reef National Park. Have you ever heard of it? Most people I talk to have not. I had not heard about it until just a few hours before we arrived there. I was leafing through my Zion/Bryce guidebook while sitting in the passengers seat on a drive through Utah. I just happened to notice that there was a section in the back on Capitol Reef. After reading a little bit about the park and looking at some of the photos, I opened up the map book to see where it was. Holy cow, we weren’t that far from it. I asked my partner, who was driving, if he’d be interested in a detour. “There’s this amazing hike!” I said. “And canyons, arches, fruit trees and more!”

Well, this was a pleasant surprise.

Since I built in some flex time to our roadtrip plan, it was no big  deal to divert off our path for a couple of days and check out this park. It was one of the best decisions we’d made on this trip.

Often, locals are excellent sources of information that you won’t even find in any guide books. Park rangers, too. So once you’re in an area and have the lay of the land, start asking people where they like to go. What would they recommend? If you’ve got the flexibility to check something else out, you might discover your next favorite place.

I hope this series of articles helps you plan your next roadtrip, big or small. Always start with a plan, but don’t be afraid to shift gears. Hey, what’s that around the corner? There’s only one way to find out…

Trip planning: making a packing list

Let’s recap. You’ve brainstormed some trip ideas. You’ve gathered your resources. You’ve mapped out a trip outline. Now you’ll need to put together a packing list. This list will include gear, food, clothing and any other necessities to make your trip successful (with minimal stops at the store).

If you’re taking a road trip, there are several different categories of items you’ll need to make your trip fun and comfortable. I use a combination of several packing lists when preparing for a trip. Your list will be determined by several factors:

  • How long you will be traveling
  • How much space you have
  • Access to stores along the way
  • What kinds of activities you’ll be doing
  • The anticipated weather along your route
  • Your personal needs and wants
  • How much cooking you plan to do

Food and kitchen supplies

The first thing that comes to my mind is food. What are we going to eat? How much time and space will we have to prepare meals? What about snacks? How much room is in the cooler? I don’t like getting takeout or eating in restaurants as my sole sources of nourishment on a road trip. I do include some flexibility to enjoy local delicacies and try new restaurants along the way but it’s much cheaper and healthier to prepare your own meals. Besides, it give you something to do at camp.

My meal planning list includes two parts: the meals and the grocery list. For a long trip, you’ll need to plan multiple stops at the grocery store for fresh food, so it’s a good idea to time those grocery re-supply days on days you’ll be in a larger town. It’s not impossible to shop at a hole-in-the-wall rural grocery store but the chances of finding good produce can be slim. Of course that depends where you are: in the middle of the desert in the winter time or in a prolific farming area in the summer?

Start by making a grid of all the days you’ll be traveling and make columns that include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Write down the meals you’d like to make for each box in the grid. Keep in mind that some preparations can be used multiple ways, like chili. Make chili once and then have chili dogs, chili on baked potatoes, chili mac, etc.

Make sure to refer back to your trip plan when thinking about your meals. If you’ll be out climbing a mountain all day, for example, you’ll probably want a quick and hearty breakfast, an easy, packable lunch and a super easy and high-calorie dinner. If you’ll be playing tourist around town, you might plan a more elaborate breakfast, go out for lunch and make a nice meal around the evening campfire.

Pro tip: when you’re making your grocery list, don’t forget the condiments! Butter, oil, mustard, salad dressing, spices, etc will make your dishes much tastier.

Download the Road trip meal planner

Camp supplies

In camp, you want to have enough supplies to be functional and relatively comfortable. You should be able to set up and break it down easily and quickly. You should be self-sufficient, able to cook food, supply water, keep clean and provide adequate shelter, all while minimizing your impact on the land.

I have tent-camped my entire life and have been able to keep my supplies to a minimum while still meeting all of my needs in camp. The next spreadsheet includes my camp packing list as well as all of the supplies mentioned in the next sections. Give it a look.

Download all the gear checklists

Hiking gear

I hope you’ll get out and do some hiking on your trip. This is a hiking project after all. The second tab on the gear checklist includes everything you’ll need for a typical day hike. Keep in mind that every hike is different, so your needs may vary slightly. But the basics are all in there, and you may as well get into the habit of carrying the basics on every hike.

Review the list of the ten essentials whether you need a refresher, or if you’re hearing about it for the first time.

Winter provides its own challenges, so the third tab in the gear checklist includes some things you’ll want to think about putting in your winter hiking pack. Items like ice axes and crampons require some practical knowledge as well, so be sure you’re tackling adventures that are within your ability level. If you want to venture out into winter mountaineering, it’s best to find a mentor, hire a guide or take a class!

Download all the gear checklists

Car comforts

Finally, if your road trip is going to involve a lot of car time, think about what will make that drive more enjoyable. Here are my top 5 creature comforts.

  1. Podcasts. When you’ve got hours of driving ahead, it’s nice to have something to listen to. Radio stations can be, uh, limited when you’re 200 miles from anywhere, so having a long queue of podcasts can be entertaining and educational. Audio books or your favorite CD collection make great alternatives.
  2. Cozy clothes. Would you rather sit in the car for 6 hours wearing a stiff pair of jeans or some comfy sweats? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Dress comfortably (and that includes shoes) when you’re gearing up for a long drive. You can always change into more formal attire before you drop in to a fancy restaurant, but chances are you’ll be just fine wearing your car clothes out and about.
  3. Good snacks. No need to get hangry and have to swerve in to buy crappy fast food along your drive. Keep the car well-stocked with a variety of foods and beverages to choose from. Make sure the passenger can reach the food supply without having to pull over, too.
  4.  Books and maps. All of your guidebooks and maps really come to life when you’re actually traveling through the area. Even if you did thorough research at home, pull out the guidebook and see if you missed something. Find yourself on the map and notice if anything suddenly grabs your attention. You might discover something you missed!
  5. Rest breaks. While this is not something you need to remember to pack, it is something you need to remember to do. The human body does not like to be still for multiple hours at a time. Take regular rest breaks and get out of your seated position. Do some jumping jacks. Climb a tree. Run around. Do a cartwheel. Have a dance party. Do not worry about what the other people at the rest area think of you. If they’re super cool, they’ll probably want to join in.

Worst case scenario: you forget something on your list. You either make an extra stop at a local store or you improvise. Both options end up being interesting learning experiences. Start packing!

The last installment of this series will be all about executing your trip and being flexible. Aren’t you getting excited for your next big adventure?

Trip planning: making an outline

You’ve got a sweet idea. You did some preliminary research. Now it’s time to make a rough outline of what your trip is going to look like. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Paper and pencil
  • Road maps
  • Internet access and/or hiking books

Let’s get started. I’ll use a trip I took in 2011 as the reference point for the outline making process, since I made nice overview maps of each day that I wrote up on my blog. If you start reading here, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

You’ll want to start a couple of things concurrently, the map and the itinerary outline.

The map

Using Google Maps in conjunction with paper maps is the best strategy I’ve come up with for helping prepare a trip overview. Based on your research, you probably have some ideas for a handful of “must-see” locations on your trip. Find these on Google Maps and your paper map.

Why Google Maps? You can quickly and easily plot a route, quantify the distance between points and note any points of interest along your route.

Switch back and forth between the Google and the paper to find things you may have missed otherwise. You’ll be able to tell if your dream itinerary will be able to fit into the time span you have or if you’re going to have to call in sick for an extra week.

The outline

Grab your paper and pencil…or create a spreadsheet, Word document or whatever suits your style. I go back and forth between using paper or typing on Word. It’s easier to change plans when you can just delete text in a word processing document. But sometimes it’s nice to put pencil to paper.

Here’s a framework for getting started:

  • Date
  • Distance/time
  • From > to
  • Stops and notes

And an example:

You can customize the columns to suit your needs. Maybe you want to note camping or hotel locations, or add a section for permit information, or add room for Plan “B.” You get the idea.

Remember that this is a first draft that you can modify as more information becomes available. The most important pieces are to have start and end points, with a rough distance between them. Some places that are tucked back off gravel roads will take much more time to get to than a rest stop on a major highway. Be sure to estimate the time it will take and not just list the mileage.


Most of the information you’ll find online about visiting popular destinations will tell you how amazing it is…but only in the perfect weather and best lighting. Be sure to read up on what weather to expect while you’re visiting a new area. You might happen to travel during a 100-year storm event, or experience driving in snow or navigating around washed out roads. Know that Instagram shares the highlights, but those don’t happen every day. Be prepared to research the weather and keep checking the latest updates during your travels.

Also, be aware of seasonal closures or other access issues. Do you need an advanced permit to get to that backcountry campsite? Are there fire-season closures? Snow closures? Is it hunting season? Are you allowed to go off trail there? These factors may influence which day you visit a certain place, or if you cross it off the list entirely.

Build in some flexibility. Be willing to change your plans on the fly if you gather new information while you’re out. This is where having a shareable Google Doc can be handy for communicating your change in plans to a responsible party back home. You did leave a trip itinerary with someone back home, right?

For my 2011 trip I built in a bunch of flex time around the things I really wanted to see. That allowed me to make diversions based on recommendations from people I’d met along the way. That was the only way I would have ever known about Hot Lake, for example.

Movie set? Historical reconstruction? Resort spa? You decide.

Remember that failing to plan is planning to fail. An outline will provide a framework for your trip, allowing you to hit your objectives while also building in some flex time to explore.  Next, we’ll tackle the packing list!

Trip planning: gathering resources

Once you’ve got an idea for a trip, the next step is gathering resources. This research phase of trip planning is one of my favorite things to do. There are so many possibilities and it’s fun to imagine how each one might play out. It can be very hard to pick and choose, but this is the time to dream big and discover what magic you can make happen.

Step two: research

There are several ways to get information about your adventure destinations. Here are my top four:

1. Books

2. Maps

3. Word of mouth

4. Internet

We’ll take a look at each one of these categories of information in turn. Using all four will help you paint a better picture of what’s out there.


The first thing I look to when planning an adventure is the library. It might be my home library, the public library or an Internet bookstore. Nothing replaces leafing through a hiking or travel guidebook to get an idea about a new place (or maybe a familiar one!). Unless you have a really clear idea of what you want to do, a guidebook is an excellent place to start.

Over the years I’ve accumulated a pretty comprehensive collection of local hiking guidebooks, plus a few from the distant places I’ve traveled:

What can you get in a book that you can’t get online? You get an overall sense of an area. You can see an overview map of where all the sights are located. You have an expert’s curated list of places to start with. You can see mileage, relative difficulty, driving time, elevation change and many other features of various places very quickly, without having to do multiple searches or waiting for individual pages to load online. Having a book is a great time saver. And you can take the book with you when you travel, so if you need to make a last minute change of plans or want to find something quickly nearby, you’ve got that information in your hands. And it works with or without access to WiFi!

Yes, books cost money. But you’d be surprised what you can find at the library or at a used bookstore. Shop online and search for used books, too. Think of it as an investment in your experience. Spend $20 now and save time later.


I love maps. There’s nothing like spreading out a map on the kitchen table and poring over every detail in search for something amazing or curious. A map gives you a visual reference of all the ideas that are bouncing around in your head. Once you have a list of hikes or points of interest you want to see, you can grab a map and a stack of post-it-notes and start to visualize your trip.

There are a few different types of maps that are useful in trip planning. The first is a state gazeteer.

This is your big-picture map. Use this in conjunction with Google maps to plan out a driving route for your next big road trip. This map might also indicate some points of interest that you’ll want to research in more detail. I’ve discovered some things I never would have known about just by looking at my route in the Gazeteer and searching for points of interest along the drive.

Next you might want a map that provides some more details. Forest Service and BLM overview maps are great tools for providing a little closer view of your area of interest. These will include all those little side roads you’ll need to navigate to get to out-of-the-way places. These maps may also reveal some special places you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

But they’re not hiking maps, so you’ll also need…

Hiking maps. These provide much better detail on a smaller scale. A hiking map will indicate locations of trailheads, ranger stations, points of interest, etc. They will have topographic lines so that you can get a better sense of the lay of  the land. You’ll see rivers, mountains, canyons, plains, forests, lakes, etc. This is the map you will want in your backpack when you set off on a hike. You can also use these maps to get ideas on how to link up peaks or plan backpacking trips.

National Geographic, Adventure Maps and Green Trails Maps produce excellent maps for those of us on the west coast. You may find other brands that cover different areas of the U.S. and the rest of the world.

If you’re  technologically inclined, you can also print your own maps from websites like CalTopo or National Geographic Maps. Personally, I prefer the larger area covered by the waterproof, foldable maps as opposed to a printout on standard letter paper. Your mileage may vary.

Word of mouth

Once you’ve scoured the books and maps that cover a given area, think about reaching out to people who are frequent visitors to that region. Ask your friends. Post a question to a regional hiking message board. Seek out adventurers on Instagram and send them a private message. People love sharing the places that are meaningful to them, within reason. Don’t go asking a local to out their secret hangout. They won’t take very kindly to you. And PLEASE don’t go asking a question that you could easily answer by doing a few minutes of research. It pains me to see the same questions asked over and over again by a person who has not spent any time studying the map or book first.

You’ll get MUCH better beta from people who can tell you’ve done your homework. They’ll be more willing to turn you on to less popular places if they’re confident you’re not a typical tourist. This is especially true of park rangers. They’re so used to dealing with terribly unprepared visitors that they’ll send you right to the best stuff if you demonstrate just a little bit of knowledge 🙂


I put the Internet last for a reason. Most people start here first. Maybe I’m an old curmudgeon, but maybe I’m on to something here. There is a wealth of information on the Internet. It is totally overwhelming to start your search here. When I began researching my Arizona trip I found a great website called But there’s just so much information on that site I couldn’t make any sense of it. I hadn’t wrapped my head around the geography of the state, so I had no clue where most of the hikes I found were located. And it just felt like information overload.

After I did my book and map research and created a list of hikes that I was interested in, then became a useful resource. Save yourself the trouble and read the books first!

I’ve got a personal list of favorite websites to do adventure planning research and I’ll share some of them here. Know that most of the best websites are regional or activity-based. So if you want to plan a mountain biking trip in Utah, then find a mountain biking resource or a Utah travel resource online. There are few national databases but they’re not particularly good at any one thing. Search around and when you find a valuable resource, bookmark it.

General adventure planning:

Outdoor Project: Full disclosure, I contribute content to this website so I am a little partial to using it. The database keeps growing and growing, and the site catalogues a wide array of adventure types: skiing, rafting, hiking, biking, hot springs, etc. You can search by specific location, activity type and region.

Hiking and climbing:

Mountain Project: This climbing-focused resource provides route information for rock and alpine climbing around the world. They also have an app that you can use to download and store route information on your phone.

Summit Post: If you want to get to the top of a mountain via hiking or climbing, this is your website. Search for a summit or an area. Get background information, driving directions, route beta and recent trip reports. Plus there’s a forum that is divided by geographic region so you can post your questions for the locals there. An excellent resource.

Super Topo: Another rock climbing guide, Super Topo has print guidebooks in addition to online beta. There are descriptions, reviews, photos and some free downloadable guides.

Pacific Northwest: A very active forum for local hikers, this website is geared mostly towards trails and routes in the state of Washington. A great place to look for recent trip reports and to ask questions related to hiking in the northwest. What began as a website for Portland area hikers to share information, the new contains information about hiking areas across the state. Trip reports, trail information and updates from local hikers make this a great resource for hiking in Oregon.

Washington Trails Association: This comprehensive website includes hike descriptions, recent trail reports, hiking-related blog posts and more. Join the WTA on trail maintenance trips and group hikes, too!

Other online resources:

Many people live on social media so this is a great place to connect with others who like to adventure, too. Go to Instagram and search for hashtags that interest you, and try to be specific: #hiking #oregon #oregonhikers #mounthood etc. Follow the people who are doing the fun things you want to be doing and watch their feed! Send them messages if you have a question about something they’ve just posted, or if you think they might be an expert in an area you want to learn more about. Most people are happy to share their knowledge (especially if you’ve done some research first!)

Facebook groups can also be a great source of brainpower and updates on recent trail/road conditions. Search for a group that suits your needs. For example, before I road-tripped down to Southern California I joined a group of California hikers. There I was able to connect with some folks to learn more about what to expect on my trip. I then shared my trip reports after I returned from my adventure. Remember to give a little back instead of just asking questions and taking information. It’s just good karma.

Go forth and gather!

Trip research can be very time-intensive. But it’s an essential part of the trip planning process. First, it will help you devise a plan that meets your wants and needs while sticking to your parameters. Second, it will help you optimize your time so you’re not stuck figuring everything out on the fly. And third it will get you REALLY EXCITED about the adventure you’re about to undertake! Now you’re ready to make a trip outline. Happy trip planning 🙂

Trip planning: the idea

To me, planning a trip is an exciting adventure. The possibilities are endless. I’ve learned that not many other people feel this way so I would like to share a series of posts that walk through the trip planning process in hopes of clarifying what it’s all about and inspiring others to tackle this monumental task themselves.

Right now I’m in the middle of planning a road trip that will span at least 2 weeks. Not a small undertaking, but not a huge deal either. People hit the road for months at a time. But it’s been a couple of years since my last road trip and there’s a lot of ground I want to cover. It’s best to think about these things in stages, so this blog will come out in stages. First things first…

Road trip, anyone?

Step one: the idea

Any specific details must spring from an initial idea. A thought. A possibility. Perhaps you have some vacation time you have to use before a certain date. Or you want to visit a relative in a different geographic location. Or perhaps catch a particular season or weather condition. There’s always a seed. And your job is to determine where best to plant that seed.

I knew I wanted to craft a trip around the completion of the hikes for the Hike366 Project. At the time I started planning, my finish date was April 13*. That was my seed: a date. Then I could ask myself the following questions in order to pick a location:

1.  Is there good hiking in mid-April?

2. Is it an area I haven’t been to?

3. Is it driving distance from my home?

4. Are the roads/trailheads accessible in April?

5. Is there a variety of things to do and see around this location?

These questions helped me narrow down the infinite possibilities into a much more manageable number of choices. 1: it would definitely have to be an excellent hiking area. 2: I love novelty, so I’d like to find a place that was new to me. 3: I didn’t want to have to fly anywhere and I enjoy long road trips, so this idea narrowed down my choices to the western half of the U.S. 4: April is a tough month to plan for in certain locations due to snowpack, so it would have to be somewhere warm. 5: I’d be on the road with my husband, and although he likes hiking, he would prefer to mix it up with a variety of activities. There would ideally be places to see along the way as well as a number of interesting things to do besides hiking.

With those questions in mind, I quickly ruled out places like all of the Sierra and Cascades mountains, most of the state of Washington and Oregon. Within driving range included Idaho, Southern California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Our last road trip took us through a few of those states and I’d just driven to Southern California in the spring. That easily brought me to Arizona: a place that I knew very little about and would have ideal hiking conditions in early spring. It felt a little far away, but once I started mapping it out, Arizona became much more plausible in my mind.

You can cover a lot of ground hiking in Arizona. There’s the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. There’s the northern half with its snowy peaks and the southern half with towering Saguaro cactus. There are slot canyons, mesas, mountains, desert, tribal lands and national parks. Like Oregon there are wide open spaces and busy cities. There was a lot to choose from. One quick glance at opened the door to thousands of possibilities.

Not all decisions are this clear.

Here I had to ask myself another set of questions. Your questions might differ based on what’s important to you. Here’s my list:

1. Can I get away from the crowds?

2. Does it provide different scenery than the desert I live in?

3. Does it have unique and interesting natural features?

4. Can I camp nearby?

5. Is it within a reasonable driving distance?

The distance came up again because I was already stretching the length of the drive time to get to Arizona. I decided that while southern Arizona looked incredible, it was simply too far away. I’d be driving past plenty of things that met my criteria on my way there. So I decided on Northern Arizona, the part OUTSIDE Grand Canyon National Park. I’d been there once, a long time ago, for a day. All I remember is the stench of urine and the throngs of people. Now I know there are parts of the Grand Canyon where you can get away from all that but I had the feeling that Arizona had more in store for me. I did a little digging around online, using Google searches, scanning Instagram feeds and reading hiking websites. Yeah, Northern Arizona was going to meet my needs and suit my values.

In Summary

Planning a trip is a fun activity that does not need to intimidate you. It will help your actual trip go more smoothly, feel more meaningful and be more memorable than if you left it all to chance.

You’ll need a seed before you begin to brainstorm. That seed may be: time frame, location or activity type.

Once you have your seed then determine a list of questions that can help you narrow down the possibilities. Think logistics: amount of time you have, your budget, your interests, etc.

Then once you have a shortlist of places to go, make your decision based on your interests and values. You might need to do a little preliminary research online to get to “know” your options a little better. Choose the option that feels right and then you’re ready for step 2!

I would love to hear your ideas for upcoming trips. Please feel free to share in the comments section, or ask some questions related to the trip planning process. There are a few more installments in this series to come, so stay tuned!


*I’d later find out, when reviewing my trip data, that in fact May 10 would be my last day. Ooops! I’d already got myself invested in the Arizona trip that I did not change my intention to go there. That just means I get to plan another adventure in May.


Ready for step 2? Learn more about gathering resources.