LNT: Dispose of waste properly

Loo with a view

This is part 3 of a 7 part series exploring the why’s and how’s of practicing the seven principles of Leave No Trace.

The third principle, dispose of waste properly, refers to food waste, human waste and garbage. Knowing how to deal with each of these before your trip will help you make responsible decisions about waste in the backcountry.

Why dispose of waste properly?

From a personal experience perspective, it’s disgusting to see trash and human waste on the trail. It takes away from the experience. I have seen it all, from human feces, toilet paper, water bottles, food wrappers, orange peels, dog waste bags, broken tents, the list goes on and on. I even came across a backcountry campsite that had piles of lemon and lime halves all over the ground, like they had a margarita party and left their waste behind! It is unsightly and inconsiderate to leave waste behind.

From an environmental perspective, human and pet waste can contaminate water supplies. Food scraps can train wild animals to come to rely on humans for food or even make them sick. Products like sunscreen, soap, and insect repellent don’t readily biodegrade and can linger in the soil and water. There are many reasons to be mindful of what you may leave behind on a hiking or camping trip.

As the saying goes: “pack it in, pack it out.” And also, “Your mother doesn’t live here. Clean up after yourself.”

How to dispose of waste properly?

In order to manage waste in the backcountry there are some simple things you can do.

Minimize the trash you generate. Carry what you need. Repackage food into zipper bags or reusable containers. Choose reusable water bottles instead of single-use plastic. and fences are put in place to concentrate the impact.

Carry a trash bag and use it. I often re-use the Ziploc bag from my lunch to haul out trash in. Trash includes fruit peels, nut shells, apple cores and other organic matter. Those pistachio shells you just threw on the trail won’t break down for several years. Imagine how cluttered the trail would be if everyone tossed their shells on the ground!

Picking up other people’s trash

Pick up trash you see while out hiking. Take a hint from the Swedes, who turned “plogging“—picking up trash while jogging—into a fitness craze. Since you’ve already got a trash bag in your pack (see the tip above!) it’s easy to grab litter you see along the trail. If you’re concerned about sanitation, like if you see some TP or bandaids on the trail, put on a pair of latex gloves or use the bag as a barrier between your skin and the discarded item. People are less likely to litter in a clean area than an already trashed one.

Wash your dishes at least 200 feet from streams or lakes. Use biodegradable soap, like Dr. Bronner’s, if any. Take the resulting “gray water” from your dishwashing chore and throw it over a wide area. This prevents concentrating human food waste in a small area, which will attract critters.

Pack out Fido’s poo. Dog poop carries viruses, bacteria and worms that can be spread to humans or wildlife. Due to the processed foods pet owners typically feed dogs, their poo takes much longer to biodegrade than the feces of wild animals who are eating a natural diet. There are a number of reasons why packing our pets’ waste out is really important. Read more on the lnt.org blog: There is no dog poop fairy. And those little poop bags you use to collect the poo in? Carry it out. Don’t set it on the side of the trail for later. I’ve seen some dog owners tie the bags to their dog’s collar or doggie backpack. It can be done!

Dispose of human waste properly. This warrants a longer discussion, which follows…

What to do with your poo

You can read entire books on bathroom hygiene in the backcountry. Actually, I recommend you do! How to Shit in the Woods is a great primer on strategies for dealing with waste in a wide range of situations, including multi-day group camping excursions. But here are a few basic principles and strategies to keep in mind.

Urine is much easier to manage than feces. You can pee in the woods just about anywhere. Try to stay 200 feet away from your camp and water sources whenever possible.

Poop can be a messy problem, but only if you’re not thinking ahead. If you’ll be hiking in a forest where there are opportunities to dig a hole and go, you’re in the best possible situation. Pack a trowel for digging a 6-12″ cathole. Poo in the hole, fill it with soil, cover it up and get on your way. If you choose to use toilet paper, bury it deep in the hole or (ideally) pack it out. There are plenty of alternatives to TP: moss, leaves, rocks and snow can do a great job too!

To make your life a bit more comfortable, always carry a hygiene bag in your backpack: Inside a resealable bag, carry some hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and another resealable bag or two. If you use toilet paper you can pack it into a ziploc bag and then use some hand sanitizer once you’re finished. Simple!

In some areas, like popular alpine hiking and climbing areas, there are rules requiring people to pack out their poop. Some agencies will provide a waste kit or blue bag for you to use. Check the local regulations before embarking on such a trip. You can carry your own hard-sided container to transport your used poo bags during your trip. An old Pringles can or plastic container with a lid works just fine. Be sure to label that container clearly!

Feminine hygiene products should always be packed out. Alternatives to disposable products, like the Diva Cup, help to minimize single-use waste in the backcountry.

And one more thing. If you forget your trowel, if you have no waste kit, and you’ve just got to go, please do us all a favor. Find an out-of-the-way place in which to do your business! Nothing drives me crazier than seeing poop right off the side of the trail or piles of TP near a forest campsite. It’s unsanitary, it’s disgusting, it’s thoughtless. Walk off the trail a bit, to a non-desirable location. Scratch a hole in the ground with a stick. Do your thing. Cover it up with leaves, rocks, dirt, whatever you can. And walk back to the trail, reminding yourself to prepare better next time.

If you have questions about how to handle waste in the outdoors, please ask below! Share your stories and strategies. And leave it better than you found it.

LNT: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

This is part 2 of a 7 part series exploring the why’s and how’s of practicing the seven principles of Leave No Trace.

The second principle, travel and camp on durable surfaces, provides guidelines for choosing campsites and walking paths.

Why travel and camp on durable surfaces?

All people who recreate in the outdoors leave a mark on the landscape. Animals do, too. However, people tend to recreate in very large numbers in specific areas. We congregate around streams, meadows and lakes. We tend not to stray too far from access points like parking lots. We move in groups. All those footfalls make an impact, but the impact is greater on some surfaces than others.

According to lnt.org, “Travel damage occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond recovery. ” Alpine meadows and cryptobiotic soil are not very resistant to disturbance. It doesn’t take much to damage the habitat and once disturbed, it can take years or decades to recover. Rock, snow and sand are typically very resistant to disturbance. You can take huge groups of people hiking across these surfaces and leave hardly any impact.

It is especially important to consider surface durability when camping. Think about your behavior once you set up camp. You set your tent on the ground and spent probably 8 hours per night laying on the ground there. During the morning and evening, you walk all over the terrain surrounding your tent, trampling the vegetation over and over again. Once you establish a new campsite, it could remain disturbed for a long time to come. Each subsequent camper will continue to impact that area, making it nearly impossible to recover. Once established, it is best to continue using that site instead of creating new ones.

How to travel and camp on durable surfaces?

First, understand what surfaces are durable. Trails are created to minimize the impact on a landscape by hikers. They are designed to withstand erosive forces and provide a route through a natural space that receives a lot of visitation. If you stick to the trail, you reduce your impact by restraining your impact to a designated area. Imagine a popular place like Yellowstone National Park. If everyone who pulled up to the parking lot walked off in a different direction, the entire landscape surrounding the visitor center would be trampled and barren. Instead, trails and fences are put in place to concentrate the impact. While trails themselves are an impact on the land, they enable large volumes of people to visit and enjoy an area in a more natural state.

Follow the switchbacks!

Does that mean you should always stay on the trail? No! In places that receive high visitation, or where you specifically see “stay on trail” signs, it’s important to walk on the trail. It’s also important to avoid cutting switchbacks. Switchbacks and other trail design features are used to reduce erosion. Yes, you may shave 30 seconds off your hike time, but you are likely contributing to that trail needing more maintenance in the future. Stick to the trail in high use areas!

Off-trail hiking at its finest.

If you like to hike off-trail, as I do, there are different principles to consider. Where it is allowed, hike off-trail in areas where there are not lots of people. If you are hiking off-trail in a group, try not to walk single-file. Repetitive footsteps in the same line will create a trail of convenience, not design. Unofficial trails can cause damage to the landscape. However, if you’re walking on a durable surface like snow or gravel, you need to be less concerned about dispersing use. The bottom line is: consider the degree of impact you (and your group) is making in that particular area.  Then, make decisions that will both help you achieve your goal and minimize disturbance in an area.

Choosing a campsite that considers this Leave No Trace Principle can be challenging in certain environments. First, check the rules and regulations for the area in which you are planning to camp (see: LNT Principle 1). If there are already designated or obvious campsites, these should be your first choice. Unfortunately, some people choose to make campsites in places where they shouldn’t be, so just because  a site is disturbed doesn’t mean you should camp there. Making camp on durable surfaces is a no-brainer; do this whenever possible. Rock slabs, snowy fields and sandy beaches above high tide line are excellent choices.

A previously disturbed campsite on a durable surface.

In addition, try to use established cooking areas, fire rings and walking routes whenever possible (instead of creating new ones). When you break camp, be sure to clean up all signs that you were there and do your best to naturalize areas you disturbed. Camp like a ninja: make the site look like you were never there…

By traveling and camping on durable surfaces, we can all minimize our impact by concentrating it in high-use areas and dispersing it in low-use areas. What strategies do you use to assess surfaces and reduce your impact?

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 LNT.org, 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!

The final hike of Hike366

The date was highlighted on my calendar: MAY 10. It was the day that I’d fly into the Boston airport for a short visit with my family. It was also the last calendar date I needed to complete the list of 366 hikes. In 13 years I had never hiked on May 10. This was my year.

My dad picked me up from the airport and we immediately drove 2 hours to the trailhead. We stopped for coffee and breakfast because I was running on just a couple hours of bad plane sleep. We had a twelve-mile day ahead.

A history

It felt fitting to complete this project with my dad. I remember trips to Connecticut when I was a kid. Connecticut. It felt like an exotic, distant land. I grew up in Rhode Island, so my sense of distance and time was pretty skewed (I would later learn). Driving just an hour away felt to me like flying across the country. When we landed in a campground in rural Connecticut, I rushed out into the green trees and tall grasses, my imagination on fire. These camping trips meant so much to me. We caught frogs, played games, went swimming, made campfires and took walks in the woods. Hikes.

These hikes were nothing epic. I remember stopping frequently to look for animals or admire the flowers. We flipped over rocks, wandered off trail to explore unique looking things and took time to learn about the world around us. Mileage, time and elevation gain were foreign concepts. We were just out walking as a family.

But I lost interest in these moments as a teenager. It wasn’t cool to hang out with the family anymore and we took vacations to theme parks instead of the forest. In college I was much too busy to hike and besides, all my city friends weren’t interested. It would take several more years for me to reconnect with hiking and spending time out in nature.

The final countdown

Flash forward to today. I was bubbling over with excitement at the idea that I had done it. I was just about to complete a project that I’d been working on for years. Just like my dad, I was very good at starting projects and much worse at actually finishing them. This one was happening.

At the start of the hike!

Our hike began at the Gunstock Ski Resort, which was just ramping up for its summer season activities. We had taken an Uber to get here, since our walk was a one-way traverse. An employee of the resort pointed us to the start of the trail and we were off.

Not long into the adventure we ran into an off-duty hiking guide, who accompanied us on the first three of nine highpoints we’d reach today. He was friendly, very chatty and knowldgeable about the area. When we reached the firetower he bid us adieu and we set off into the woods on our own.

We’d truly be on our own until the very last highpoint. Solitude. Yes. A recurring theme of this project.

On solitude

I’d come into solo hiking out of necessity. As it turned out, my adult friends weren’t interested in hiking, either, so if I was going to get out I’d need to get out on my own. This was terrifying at first, but it grew on me. I liked the feeling of being deep in the mountains by myself. I enjoyed learning how to be self-reliant, how to problem-solve in real time without having someone else to fall back on for advice. I loved the quiet that solo hiking brought. And with my dad here today, I felt all the benefits of solo hiking with a bonus: I got to share lots of special moments with him. The summit views, the snake across the trail, the pretty flowers, the sparkling lakeside lunch stop. Instead of taking a picture to show him later, we were able to have those experiences together.

The grand finale

It was a long, hard day. Nine highpoints meant lots of ups and downs. New Hampshire meant lots of steep ups and downs. But we pushed through, together, racing to stay ahead of storm clouds and finish the hike in a reasonable amount of time. There was no turning back, since we were hiking to the car at the other end.

Atop the last highpoint, a broad summit with panoramic views, I took a deep breath. We did it. There were a few other people there, sitting and taking it all in. It was a popular hike, and a heck of a climb to get up there. This was a place to rest and reflect. So we did.

The hike down involved some bouldery, steep descents. The adventure wasn’t over yet! We shared the trail with some people still going up, others coming down. Near the bottom we met a guy who was working on a very similar project to mine, except his goal was to hike that single trail on all 366 calendar dates. Wow!

Last hike complete!

Now that the hiking is done, what does that mean? I have focused so intently on this goal for so long that I’m going to need time to figure out my next steps: for this project and for my next hikes. I’ve got a long list of trip reports to catch up on, photos to edit and organize, big ideas to put together. My next step is to tell the whole story. My drive to complete Hike366, what it means to me and what lessons I can share with others. Hiking has been, and continues to be, a source of passion and meaning in my life. As an activity that can be done every day of the year, it is a great way to remain grounded (literally and figuratively) in the ever-more-complicated world.

So, stay tuned. I’m not done yet. I’m definitely not done hiking. But I’m also not done speaking. There’s lots more to be shared. Follow the Instagram feed for almost daily photos and keep an eye on this blog for more good stuff about hiking.

On being a responsible hiker

I’m freshly back from taking a much-anticipated two week road trip. My partner and I spent most of those two weeks driving, hiking, camping and exploring new places. We covered a lot of ground and had a number of diverse experiences. In all those miles of hiking, one theme kept coming up again and again.

That theme? The responsibility of hikers to know and practice Leave No Trace principles.

On nearly every hike we did, I observed violations of these principles pretty regularly. People carving their names into rocks and trees. Trash littering the sides of the trail. Toilet paper, and worse, a big pile of human poop not more than a foot off the trail. The remains of poorly placed campfires. Footprints in cryptobiotic soil. And there were things we could not observe: geological features and artifacts that had been taken out of the environment by past looters and trophy-collectors.

When I’m out enjoying a hike I try really hard not to let my thoughts focus on negative things that bum me out. But some of these experiences really bummed me out. Who poops on the trail!? How would you not KNOW that is not an okay thing to do? And I was shocked by how much graffiti there was: on rocks, trees, signs, literally anything something could paint, carve or ink up had someone’s name on it. So weird. It would seem that in the age of social media, leaving one’s mark on a place would be a thing of the past. You can easily take a picture and share it worldwide within seconds. And yet, graffiti doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

It is therefore going to be a recurring theme of this blog, for the next few weeks at least, to focus on each principle of Leave No Trace. My goal is to identify the principle, explain why it matters and then offer practical ways to put that principle into practice. I hope that in my heart no one means to do the environment or other people wrong, and with the right education and practice that we can all learn to share these special places with each other, leaving the land as we found it.

Or better. We picked up trash on almost every hike and we cleaned up every messy dispersed campsite we stayed at (they were all littered with trash). On hikes I only sometimes remembered to carry a little trash bag. Other times we shoved trash into outside mesh pockets of backpacks or into our pants pockets. At camp it was much easier to walk around with a bag and toss away all the garbage before we set up our things.

I am glad that so many people are excited to get out and experience the wonders of our natural world. The next step is to advance the notion of being a responsible hiker and a good steward of the land. I’ll start by writing blog posts and sharing more insights in the Instagram feed, but I have a feeling it’s going to get bigger than that. Stay tuned, and share your ideas about how you think we can all be a little better to preserving our land and being mindful of each other’s experiences outdoors.

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.

Considerations

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.

Books

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.

Maps

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 🙂

Internet

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 hikeaz.com. 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 hikeaz.com 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:

NWHikers.net: 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.

Oregonhikers.org: What began as a website for Portland area hikers to share information, the new Oregonhikers.org 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 hikeaz.com 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.