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Planning Complex Backpacking Trips: Best Practices


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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Planning Complex Backpacking Trips: Best Practices

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  • #3419485
    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member

    @emylene-vandervelden

    Companion forum thread to: Planning Complex Backpacking Trips: Best Practices

    Best practices when trip planning includes: booking transportation, gear selection and packing tips for complex backpacking trips.

    #3419945
    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member

    @here

    Locale: Right there

    It gets way easier. So much so that a week long trip in your own country won’t seem complex at all.

    Practice near home on simple overnights till you are comfortable with your kit and skills before biting off more than you can chew.

    Agree?

    #3420462
    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member

    @emylene-vandervelden

    Every time you venture out, the process becomes more clear. The first longer trip feels pretty intimidating regardless of how many shorter local trips happen before hand. The day or two long local trips do provide a good learning environment.

    Though in my experience they didn’t completely prepare me for longer trips. Short trips can be equally difficult logistically. Many people have a few only weeks of holidays and do not live close to a “backpacking hub” and fly or drive long distances to get to one. A day or two long trip with two days of travel can be almost as challenging as a week long trip with two or three days of travel.

    Understanding the process and practicing with kit is absolutely essential. Developing skills and strengths off trail before heading out is crucial to a successful trip.

     

    .

    #3420908
    HiLight
    BPL Member

    @hilight

    Locale: Directorate X

    Emylene, I wish you well on your return to the coast. I’ve wanted to hike the WCT for decades, and visiting Tofino last year only made me more motivated to put a trip together for myself and one of my regular backpacking friends. Thanks for this article, and I’m sure I’m not alone in looking forward to the next. Good luck!

    #3420948
    HkNewman
    BPL Member

    @hknewman

    Locale: The West is (still) the Best

    Yeah, though I lost the taste of some meals tested at home during a long trip earlier this summer.  All good reminders, though the WCT reads as demanding  due to obstacles (way more than even the beach trails of the Olypmics just to the south)  – – down in the rest of States, many trails tend to be more mellow but using interconnections, longer.

    Not my original idea (got it off a blog), but looking at adding for my next long trip a small weekly calendar (grid) with estimated trail segments that week/per day, meal entrees, and estimated town stops/trailhead stops/etc… especially if resupply requires meeting a bus or being in town for certain hours for post offices, businesses, etc… It isn’t perfect but it could minimize extra town days paying for a hotel, waiting for Monday. I saw many younger people spending extra days in a hotel ($ they really didn’t have) waiting for a post office to open.  Could add that to the schedule part of your article since most of us have to be home at a certain date … or at least catch the next plane/train/bus.

    An electronic calendar is easier to edit, though a paper calendar, maybe a 3x5in or 4×6 in Rite in the Rain notebook, may be easier to scan than a small screen. Probably use one of the latters waterproof index cards for shorter trips.  Weight of the small paper notebook is a few oz.

    #3420969
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    It gets way easier. So much so that a week long trip in your own country won’t seem complex at all.

    Practice near home on simple overnights till you are comfortable with your kit and skills before biting off more than you can chew.

    Agree?

    I agree.

    As a society and as backpackers, I think we tend to over analyze and over think just about everything.

    When I got out of the military as a young man I flew home, landing at LAX. Sitting in the terminal, I realized I didn’t want to go home and didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. The Air Force had shipped all my belongings to a storage facility and all I had with me were a few clothes and some odds and ends, because I didn’t know when my belongings would be shipped or arrive at the designated storage facility. I went to the ticket counter and asked where the next available flight was going to. Fresno.

    So I bought a ticket to Fresno. After a couple of days in a Fresno motel I decided to go backpacking, something I had done as a teenager and when on leave in the military. My gear was a mishmash of military and cheap department store stuff and was in the storage boxes, other than a military mess kit and canteen I had put in my luggage. I had a few thousand dollars in the bank I had managed to save while in the military and probably had around $1k in cash wirh me.

    I went to an outfitter and bought everything I would need for an extended backpacking trip and threw away all my clothes and items in my luggage. Luckily I got good gear advice from the outfitter. It was spring and there was too much snow in the Sierra near the Fresno area. So I hitchhiked to the most southern part of the Sierra ending up in Kernville. From there I walked to what is now the Golden Trout Wilderness. Still too much snow, so I spent time in the Greenhorn Mountains and the areas along the drainage of the South Fork of the Kern River. Spent time in what is now known as the Domeland Wilderness and visited the Needles. I used large scale USFS maps and was solo.

    When the snow had melted enough, I hiked through the Golden Trout Widerness, up through Tunnel Meadow and then to Horseshoe Meadows. A trail sign pointed to Mt. Whitney, so I hiked to the summit. No permit was needed in 1971. Along the way, I saw trail signs for the JMT, which I had never heard of. From Whitney I walked to Lone Pine to resupply, get a map and information at the Ranger Station about this part of the Sierra.

    I then hiked the JMT, but stopped short when it got too crowded as I approached Yosemite Valley, so I turned around and walked back to Tuolumne Meadows and then down to Bridgeport. Spent a month in the Sierra north of Bridgeport and then walked back to Kernville. Ended up spending 6 months in the Sierra with no planning and no companions.

    Apparently I did everything wrong. But it was a time of no Internet and no information. Backpacker Magazine wouldn’t come into existence until a couple years later. Colin Fletcher had written the Complete Walker in 1969, but I wouldn’t read it until a year later. It was a time when people figured out what to do on their own, and because I figured out what to do on my own, travelled to unknown places with a large scale map, had no definitive plan, resupplied every couple of weeks, it was my best adventure ever.

    #3420977
    HkNewman
    BPL Member

    @hknewman

    Locale: The West is (still) the Best

    Nick, pretty sure Emlyene was talking about complex trips under park regulations (in her case Canada, but applied in the US, tightly regulated areas like the inner Grand Canyon NP or a state parks, .. like the Texas state Big Bend SP).   An unregulated area, like most national forests or BLM land in the USA, requires no plan beyond food, conditions, and general navigation (though it’s stil a plan).

    Many need to return to work sooner or later though, so some sort of time-management plan is needed.  Could call in sick but in the US, the employer can check.  Back in your time, one could conceivably forge a Drs. note with a few passes of the Xerox copy machine … or so I’ve been told (the level of not trusting employees nowadays … indeed.  Time to change my screen-name, btw).

    #3420992
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    I’m not saying some trips require advance planning, such as when permits are needed. It’s the uncertainty of the simplest things.

    Look at all the Main Page posts where people can’t figure out what underwear to use (Ryan Jordan just published an article on that), or what shelter, hat, sunglasses, water bottle, stove, etc. We have become a society of people who cannot make a decision without polling their friends and social media to find out what they should do. How about the threads that start with “Talk me into… ”

    Too many people can’t figure out where to hike or how to get to a trailhead without help. Too many people need trail guides, GPS tracks, and data books to go anywhere. As a people we have lost self-sufficiency and confidence. How can we make important life decisions if we can’t figure out a simple thing like going on a backpacking trip?

     

    #3421001
    HkNewman
    BPL Member

    @hknewman

    Locale: The West is (still) the Best

    Too many people can’t figure out where to hike or how to get to a trailhead without help. Too many people need trail guides, GPS tracks, and data books to go anywhere.

    You have a point there.  Hikers should be able to get to the TH or other access point, and able to navigate with a compass.  What if the electronic doohickey gets knocked out somehow and doesn’t work anymore?

    #3421008
    HiLight
    BPL Member

    @hilight

    Locale: Directorate X

    Too many people can’t figure out where to hike or how to get to a trailhead without help. Too many people need trail guides, GPS tracks, and data books to go anywhere. As a people we have lost self-sufficiency and confidence. How can we make important life decisions if we can’t figure out a simple thing like going on a backpacking trip?

    True. I get what Nick is saying, and I try to leave my trips fairly open when possible. OTOH, there are times where permit availability, transportation issues, resupply, etc. are enough of a concern that a solid plan can really make a trip more enjoyable, and that’s the kind of useful advice I see Emylene providing.

    I see the Outdoor Badass Reality Show Syndrome coming into play with some of this, too. When there’s so much focus on the Look At Me! / Facebook factor, what should be a relaxed trip in the backcountry can seem too sedate to impress, which can lead someone to opt for a more difficult trip than they’re really prepared to complete. Too often, I see more concern given to saying “Look at what I did!” than to enjoying the experience. Add that component to inexperience, and you get people fretting about the best backcountry toothpaste, and whether they should take a backup Spot to make sure they can post a live track to their Facebook. It’s just another sign of the connected world. It’s also why I turn my phone off whenever I can. :)

    #3421015
    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member

    @here

    Locale: Right there

    I usually pick a trailhead, the dates, and send a couple of invites out if a group trip. The rest just happens. If a permit is require it is probably too busy.

    #3421064
    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member

    @emylene-vandervelden

    I think one of my big concern when watching the Facebook phenomenon backpackers is the lack of cognizance of how photos from remote trails come to be. It’s just walking right???

    Not so much in many instances. The WCT being one of those instances. Anyone who has a good deal of outdoor experience is going to be just fine on a backpacking trip because the ‘plan’ is there without too much actual planning. It’s just experience. Ex military, SAR personnel, avid outdoors people and those with outdoor jobs intrinsically know certain needed skills.

    Truly my first WCT trip wasn’t too bad as far as having the equipment I needed or knowing basics like fire starting and navigation. Though, my gear was redundant and heavier than it should have been.

    As a society we have moved to increased urbanization. Many kids can’t identify vegetables in raw form. Lack of physical engagement at home, school and work is common.

    Push back against obesity, sedentary lifestyles and general health concerns includes utilizing national parks and public wild spaces to increase activity levels. Which also means very urban people who have never had to use hard skills like fire starting and map navigation are in the parks. It’s just walking right???

    Again… Not so much in many places. I like the push back to utilize wild places but I am concerned about those who venture in without analyzing where they are at physically and mentally for backpacking. Add in the need for some hard skills, a permit and a deadline and it can feel a bit overwhelming for the green backpacker.

    When I plan a trip the process I have laid out here takes me about 2 hours minus the days and hours I spend hiking and backpacking in anticipation of a long trip. To me it’s a simple process now and half the steps are always in place because I’m out the door backpacking or hiking at least once a week 5-6 months of the year and twice a month on ski’s, snowshoes, horse, canoe or kayak the rest of the year.

    Can you ‘grey haired’ backpackers think of some situations where a little more planning could have helped you on a trip?

    Recently on a trip, I lost my lighter. It’s a good thing I pack extra matches or I would have been eating cold Ramen and dried beef and freezing my feet off. I ran into a backpacker who was headed out that day by helicopter who generously gave me her lighter to get me through a remote pass where I didn’t see anyone besides grizzly bears and partridges for a couple days. Though insanely greatful for the lighter, I would have been ok without it because I planned for the situation where it might get lost by having some matches.

    #3421081
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    Emylene,

    I’m not criticizing your article.

    I just made a social comment about the perceived need to prepare for every potential scenario in life, and the fact we live in a society where the majority is a risk adverse populace that feels the need to seek out advice for most of life’s decisions.

    As a “grey haired backpacker” there have been many times where more planning, or more precisely, more knowledge and skill, would have made a trip better. But I come from a time when we were not afraid to make mistakes — the philosophy of “if you learn from your mistakes, I must be a genius.”

    When one makes mistakes one learns quickly, and one retains that learning better than reading about it or even taking a class. Learning from mistakes, assuming one doesn’t die, teaches us how to remain calm and be resourceful when the unexpected happens. It also builds confidence to go out into the world and face the unknown, instead of sitting at home worrying about “what if” or thinking I can’t do something until my peers validate it.

    I do feel that backpacking “is just walking.” Yes, there are prerequisite skills necessary to stay warm, dry, and safe. All of those can be self-taught and a little common sense dictates not to get in over your head when learning a new skill or hobby. Or as Ken said, practice short trips close to home until you are comfortable with your kit and skills. When I was a child, I taught myself how to surf. Common sense told me not to try and learn during a winter storm when waves were over 20 feet high, but to start out with tiny waves. I suppose I could have taken surfing lessons, but I opted to buy a surfboard and learn on my own; that’s how we did things when I was young — we taught ourselves by just doing the stuff that looked like fun. Bumps, bruises, cuts and scrapes were often part of the learning process.

    IMO, most backpacking trips aren’t complex, people just think they are. As stated earlier, I did most of the JMT with no planning in 1971. I didn’t know the trail existed until I saw a trail sign. That hike wasn’t about any special skills or knowledge; it was just a hike without anyone telling me it was difficult or dangerous. Heck, Dan McHale soloed the JMT in 1969 in 11 days without a re-supply when he was only 17 years old; today people spend months planning to do this trail. Hiking the entire Brooks Range, the Continental Divide Trail, or the doing The Desert Trail from Mexico to Canada would be complex.

    #3421085
    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member

    @emylene-vandervelden

    Absolutely agree Nick! No criticism taken, I suspect you could teach me a fair number of things about backpacking.

    Its a rather sad state of society really. I think of my ancestors. My great great grandma was Irish, she crossed the Pacific Ocean, the entire country of Canada and settled in the western portion of it as a single lady. She was neither prepared for everything nor could she be. Most people could not even imagine making that kind of trip. She made that trip and that’s why I exist today. It was simply a way of life for most people’s ancestors. Albeit our ancestors were in a much better position physically to make such journeys and likely needed less supports to do it.

    I would love to see more people engaged in backpacking and other type activities which promote self sufficiency. sometimes I watch my nieces and nephews glued to an Xbox, TV, Smartphone or PlayStation and really worry about what would happen to them if they ever got lost in the woods…  Fortunately, as they get older they all seem to like playing with Auntie and learning how her backpack of tricks works.

    #3421097
    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member

    @here

    Locale: Right there

    I guess complex is a relative term then.

    #3421111
    Paul Magnanti
    BPL Member

    @paulmags

    Locale: Colorado Plateau

    I think John Muir summed it up best

    throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence

    :)

    He did walk or two here and there…

    I could be wrong, but my gut feeling is that soon as a route or trail gets an alphabet soup designation, it becomes complex all of a sudden versus  just being a simple backpacking trip.

    I am sure the West Coast Trail is a wonderful jaunt. I’ve seen photos of it and such. But this a 50 mile trail. Five days of backpacking for an average backpacker. Less so for many however…

    Is it really that complex?

    Fifty miles of backpacking, a five day trip, used to simply be called a “backpacking trip”.

    Get some maps, square way the permits, pack five days of food and off you go.

    And an alphabet soup route typically has guidebooks, designated maps sets and even resources on exactly how to do the trip.  Even easier..

    What am I missing here? :)

    (I’m a no hair backpacker.but I’ve been that way since I was about 27 or so..)

    #3421126
    W I S N E R !
    Spectator

    @xnomanx

    It was a time when people figured out what to do on their own, and because I figured out what to do on my own, travelled to unknown places with a large scale map, had no definitive plan, resupplied every couple of weeks, it was my best adventure ever.

    +1 Ken and Nick and Paul.

    Edit: On second thought, I’ll keep the overly long-winded response I just wrote to myself….

     

    #3421139
    Alex H
    BPL Member

    @abhitt

    Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW

    I guess complex is a relative term then.

    I would say that is correct in relation to the article.  To me it was a basic “how to prepare for a trip not close to home” piece.  Could be going to the beach or traveling to Europe.  Choosing travel companions, logistics on getting there, money, gear etc. all to insure a good time when you get there.  Particularly when you have only a certain window to do the trip then you want to maximize it and not waste days and dollars.

    I completely agree with Nick’s social observations but that is aside from the article on how to go about planning for a big trip.  I fly frequently to the West to backpack and as much as it is mentally appealing to just throw stuff in a bag and go without a plan, I don’t (and most folks don’t) have that luxury.

    My most “complex” walk was a long section of the Hayduke with very limited resupply options, infrequent water and 300 miles from the nearest airport on either end, I had to resort to a spread sheet to ensure we would have the right amount of food and fuel at resupply stops and how long the waterless stretches were which dictated how long the walking days would be,etc.  Sometimes you just have to plan, it has nothing to do with being “risk averse”, I just try not to have regular Death marches anymore ;).  Some people also really enjoy the planning and see it as part of the whole pastime of backpacking.

    #3421185
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    I tried to post this but the software won’t allow more than one URL in a post. Hopefully the people running this software are better backpackers than they are programmers.

    So I will break it up into 3 posts.

    <hr />

    How I plan a backpacking trip isn’t necessarily the best way, it is however the best way for me.

    I enjoy finding remote places where I will encounter few people, and most importantly where I don’t know what I will see or what I will do. I particularly enjoy finding little used places close to population centers… there are more of these places than most people realize.

    In 2000 I found myself unexpectedly with over 30 days of time off from work and decided to go backpacking during my time off. With the onset of winter I didn’t want to try a month in the mountains, and at the time I didn’t have a lot of money to spend. So I walked from my house in Palm Springs to Lake Mead and back using mostly road maps. I was able to spend most of my walk in wilderness areas devoid of people. There were a few iffy days where more planning would have been a better approach, but I am glad I did it “my way.” I documented this trip in my blog’s backpacking trip reports page.

    A couple years ago I wrote this on how to plan a backpacking trip.

     

    #3421186
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    Part 2

     

     

    This is my approach to finding secret places and keeping them secret and it applies to both camping and backpacking.

     

    #3421187
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    Part 3

    The primary audience for my blog is my kids. I don’t write about all my camping and backpacking trips. I do write about the trips that are spur of the moment and somewhat unusual, most of which involve very little planning. My goal is to communicate to my kids the importance of self reliance in everything they do in life. You may find something of interest as it relates to formulating a trip with little planning.

    Backpacking Trip Reports

    #3421206
    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member

    @emylene-vandervelden

    Excellent thoughts Nick!

    Most people my age have not been raised with self sufficiency, its rather frustrating truly. It’s nice to see you investing in your kids that way and sharing it with all of us.

    What I’m hearing everyone ask is: Does a complex backpacking trip exist?

    Ten years ago the WCT seemed like an impossible leap from hiking to backpacking. It is still ranked among the most technical backpacking trips in Canada. Today, I cover more mileage than the WCT in four days and come back tired but with no serious ill effects. At this point I don’t get ready for a trip, I keep ready. Any given day I can pack up and walk out my door and likely make a four day trip. Longer international trips take a bit more effort but not much. (Airline tickets and passports)

    Though I wrote the article: the title is slightly tongue in cheek. What is a complex backpacking trip for an 18 year old with no experience and what is a complex trip for someone who has hundreds of trips behind them are two very different things. At this point in my experience, is there a complex trip? Probably, but I haven’t found one lately.

    Complex defined is: consisting of many different and connected parts. Interconnected parts are what all good backpacking trips are made of. Does a complex backpacking trip exist? Sure does.

    How difficult such trips are depends on the organizational skills and experience of the backpacker.

    As far as the “alphabet soup” hikes (I like that) I think they get almost more complex because suddenly permits become required, transportation to trail heads is required because the road is closed to non local traffic. I think most “alphabet soup” hikes are still worth doing, I just do them in the off season at the end of September, mid week when all the college kids and school age kids are in their classrooms. I’m a big fan of empty trails. During the summer, I look for places which will have empty trails and alternate routes into “destination backpacking trips.” Though in my experience, the back door into a destination backpacking trip is usually unused for good reason, its more difficult than the other routes in. You guys will have to read my upcoming article on Mount Assiniboine to learn more about that :-P

     

    #3421216
    Paul Magnanti
    BPL Member

    @paulmags

    Locale: Colorado Plateau

    Most people my age have not been raised with self sufficiency, its rather frustrating truly. It’s nice to see you investing in your kids that way and sharing it with all of us.

    Eh..let’s not get into a generational thing.

    I am one of 16 grandchildren on mom’s side.  My under-30 cousins have world views similar to myself in many ways. So did most of the people I grew up with and their younger siblings or cousins.

    Nothing special.

    I was on a 300 mile walk  needing a national park permit with less than one week notice. The trip was 1000 miles away and I had to arrange a shuttle. I truly don’t see any big achievement in these facts.

    I suspect my cousins could have managed as well in terms of logistics if they had any inclination to backpack. :)

    People make things complex. I am with Nick on this idea.

    The D-DAy invasion was complex.

    A backpacking trip on a well known trail? Naah..

     

    #3421218
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    Let’s call it a cultural thing perhaps.

    Absolutely. I have worked with and around young people all my life and we cannot generalize about any generation.

    A lot of people my age couldn’t fix a leaky sink faucet, and the most exercise they get is walking from the TV chair to the fridge. For many of them experiencing nature is taking a picture of Half Dome while sitting behind the steering wheel of their car and getting back to the Ahwahnee Hotel (or whatever it is called now) in time for Happy Hour.

     

    #3421219
    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member

    @emylene-vandervelden

    Haha, fair enough Paul.

    I’m also one of sixteen on my mom’s side and one of the younger ones! Almost all my cousins have dabbled with backpacking in one form or another. None of us have died yet. There is a family culture which goes into raising self sufficient kids who decide walking miles on end is a great idea :-) (Heaven help the enemy if we ever get left in charge of a D-Day invasion lol We’d likely do it just for entertainment.)

    I would say backpacking, gives many of us a sense of direction and purpose in absence of other meaningful physical activity. Same reason little boys play ‘war’ or ‘cops and robbers’ and little girls play ‘house’ and dolls. Although that is a gross gender stereotype, I played ‘war’ and ‘cops and robbers’ with the boys.

    Truly, people make things complex. Though planning a backpacking trip does take some know how. No body likes getting “beaver fever” from water they should have been able to treat or dying from thirst in a dessert.

    As a culture we are loosing many of the ‘hard’ skills like fire starting and survival techniques due to urbanization. Again a gross generalization but stats say there are children in cities who have never been to a farm or gone camping. Outdoor experiences for many of these young people are scary at best. For them a backpacking trip is complex and takes a learning curve which many backpackers take for granted. I could start a fire and boil water to drink by age six. Today, many six year old kids aren’t allowed to touch lighters or matches, if they do their parents are “irresponsible.” Personally, I’d say if my parents were ‘irresponsible’ for teaching me basic survival skills, I’ll make sure I’m an ‘irresponsible’ influence on the younger generation too.

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