How to Plan a Backpacking Trip

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Planning a backpacking trip requires a lot more than just finding a place to go and setting a date. If you are wanting to adequately plan a backpacking trip without running into issues along the way you will want to evaluate your backpacking trip thoroughly and develop an itinerary. If you are new to this or are looking for more tips and tricks, then stay tuned and follow our guide for how to plan a backpacking trip.

How do you Plan a Backpacking Trip?

Before saddling up and hitting the trails you need to make sure you are well prepared. Nothing is worse than gathering up your buddies and some gear to hit the trail, only to realize you missed an important detail such as a permit and now have to turn back. We will take you step by step in our guide for how to plan a backpacking trip.

Solo or Group

When planning a backpacking trip, the first thing you have to figure out is who is going. Are you planning a solo trip or will you be going with a group. Group hiking often requires a little more consideration than solo hiking.

If you are planning a group backpacking trip these are common things I recommend considering:

  • What kind of group is it? For example, are you bringing your family and children or is this a group of friends?
  • What is the experience level of the group? Is the group experienced with backpacking will they need guiding principles?
  • What is the fitness level of the group? This dictates how far you might hike in a day; you will want to make sure this is manageable for everyone.
  • How large is the group? This is important for considering campsite sizes, some places have certain numbers for group sites.
  • Does anyone have a health condition? Probably one of the most important considerations, for example if someone has severe asthma you might want to provide multiple opportunities for rest breaks and make daily mileage manageable.
  • How will gear be divided? One big pro of group backpacking is sharing gear, but you will need to figure out who will bring and carry what.

Choosing Your Backpacking Destination

After you have figured out who will be going on the backpacking trip. The next thing to figure out is the destination. You are going to want to find a destination that will not only have amazing views but should also align up well with you or your groups fitness and experience level.

Keep in mind that the terrain and trail difficulty can profoundly affect your backpacking experience. If you are a beginner, it is usually best to start easy, choose well-traveled trails, with established campsites. Then progressively go on more challenging trails.

Regulations and Permits

National Parks and Wilderness areas are popular destinations for many backpackers and have increasingly become popular. A lot of these places now often require special use permits for backpackers, especially for larger groups.

Also, most National Parks will also require a National Park Pass to get in as well. Be mindful, that backcountry permits are most of the time only available at certain times as a lottery and there can be restrictions on group sizes for some parks.

Check Weather Forecast

When choosing a destination assess the general weather forecast. Areas will often have different trail availability and seasons. For example, backpacking season in the United States mountain west areas is a lot different than the southeastern portion of the states. Both have different conditions and peak seasons. The East can be a lot rainier and more humid than southwestern areas.

Cost & Travel

What will the cost of the destination and backpacking trip be? This is a important factor to think about. Also, how are you planning to get to your backpacking destination? Will you be able to drive there or are you going to have to fly and get a rental car?

Specific Gear

Depending on the weather conditions or any other activities you will be doing on your trip, you might need specific gear. Be sure to consider gear specifics to the location, time of year, and activities you will be doing.

How to Plan a Backpacking Route

The backbone of a successful backpacking trip is a well-thought-out backpacking itinerary, and the hiking route is an important piece of the trip. When figuring out how to plan a backpacking trip make sure when planning the route you consider:

  • Trail difficulty
  • Trail mileage
  • Weather conditions
  • Amount of elevation ascent or descent
  • Pack weight
  • Personal or group fitness level
  • Transportation

These factors will affect you or your group’s hiking pace and distance covered. When creating a backpacking itinerary one of my favorite things to do is alternate easier days with harder days or start off with easier days and get slightly longer towards the end when pack weight is lighter.

One really cool way to build in a easy day is to do a day with a small side day hike from camp or stay in camp for a day and do activities like fishing or swimming.

If you and your group are new to backpacking start slow and easy. Do manageable daily miles with minimal elevation gain and length.

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Using FarOut App to assist trip planning

Mapping Out Your Route

Mapping out your route is an essential part of how to plan a backpacking trip. To make sure your backpacking trip is successful and safe you need to map out your route beforehand. I recommend utilizing tools like topographical maps and using digital mapping aids like Gaia GPS, AllTrails, or FarOut.

I really like to use hiking apps, forums, and reviews to find invaluable information about the elevation gains, campsites, typical weather forecast, and terrain of your chosen trail. Most hiking apps now allow you to create a topo map for printout in which I often use for my hard copy as a backup to the app.

Remember, it is best practice to carry a physical map and compass as backups for electronic devices in case of failure or accidents.

Estimating Travel Time

As you are mapping out your route you will need to figure out how long you want to hike each day and how long it might take to get to your campsite. Estimating the time for travel is important for how to plan a backpacking trip. There are so many factors that play into hiking time such as fitness, trail condition, elevation, weight, weather, etc.

In general, when it comes to hiking time or speed, most people will hike at about 30 minutes per mile (1.6 kilometers) or 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) every hour. So the 30 minute per mile rule is a pretty safe estimate for most people.

In addition to the 30 minute per mile rule, I also recommend adding about 1 hour for each 1,000 feet (305 meters) of ascent to your travel time.

Plus, add another 5 – 10 minutes at the top of each hour of hiking to add buffer time for rest, water, or bathroom breaks. If you have more people in your group, you will want to take that in consideration and possibly add 5 – 10 minutes for each 1-2 people in the group.

Choosing Campsites

Choosing your campsites goes hand and hand with estimating travel time. For most backpacking trips hiking will be done from campsite to the next campsite. So, it is important to figure out how long it will take to arrive to your campsites.

When it comes to choosing your campsites, it helps if you can find already established campsites ahead of time or at least have an idea. A lot of national parks or wilderness areas will have a permit system so you will have reserved sites ahead of time.

However, in some case you will not know where to set up camp and may have to locate a spot during your hike.

Other components to think about when choosing your campsites are:

  • Water availability
  • Campsite space
  • Campsite location

Transportation

After you have finished up planning your campsite the next part of how to plan a backpacking trip involves making sure you know how you will be getting to and from the trail head. There are usually several public transportation options available: Look for local shuttle services, rent a car, or take city travel options.

Most National Park provide some type of shuttle services which give access to various backpacking trails. If you are planning a point-to-point hike you will need to arrange two cars or shuttle services

meal plan for a overnight trip

Meal Planning and Food Storage

Although often overlooked, meal planning is a critical aspect of backpacking. To sustain energy levels, plan for roughly about 2,500 calories per day plus or minus about 250 calories. If you are a smaller person, you can probably do a little less than 2500. But if you are more muscular or larger you will probably want to err on the higher side of the caloric intake.

Reasons you might need to bring more food will depend on the many reasons being:

  • Trail difficulty
  • Duration
  • Own personal preferences

Proper food storage is just as important, especially in bear country, where you must store food and scented items in bear-proof containers or bags. Don’t forget to always pack out all trash and leftover food to leave the wilderness as pristine as you found it.

When packing your food, the goals is to come back from your trip with just your extra rations and nothing else.

Assembling All the Gear You Need

Your backpacking adventure can be made or broken by having the right gear. When trip planning it helps to make a list of the gear you plan to bring on your overnight backpacking trip. This will look slightly different for some people but in general you will want to for sure pack the necessary items such as:

  • Backpack
  • Shelter
  • Sleep equipment
  • Cooking equipment
  • Clothing
  • The hiking essentials
  • Personal items

If you want a comprehensive backpacking list, check out our backpacking gear list guide!

Regular maintenance of your gear, including airing out boots and repairing equipment, is critical to ensure its longevity and preparedness for trips. Organizing gear into categories and using storage solutions like clear bins and stuff sacks can also help keep track of and protect your equipment.

Familiarizing yourself with all your gear before departure is also crucial. Prepare a repair kit to fix any issues that may arise, and practice pitching your tent and using your stove and water filter. This will ensure that you’re well-prepared and confident once you hit the trail.

Gear Essentials for Different Climates

For a comfortable overnight backpacking trip, adapting your backpacking gear essentials based on the climate is important. If you are planning a cold weather backpacking trip, such as a snow camp, ensure you have insulation layers, a warmer sleeping bag rated for low temperatures, and consider a four-season tent for added protection.

On the other hand, desert climates require lightweight, breathable clothing, a wide-brimmed hat for shade, and ample water storage. Don’t forget to pack additional clothing beyond what is expected for unexpected weather changes or unplanned overnight stays.

For most people backpacking in typical hiking season most 3 season rated gear will work for you just be sure to check the temperature and R values of what you buy

Renting vs. Buying Gear

For first-time backpackers or occasional adventurers, renting or buying used gear can be a cost-effective option. Services like Outdoors Geek offer high-quality, lightweight gear for rent, reducing the need for a hefty initial purchase.

Alternatively, buying used backpacking equipment from reputable sources like REI Garage Sales, online consignment shops, and manufacturers’ discount platforms can offer durable gear at significant savings.

Remember, employing strategies such as waiting for off-season sales and using cashback programs can lead to further discounts when purchasing new or used gear.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do I start when planning a backpacking trip?

Start by defining your trip’s parameters and doing some general research on the conditions of the area you want to visit. Then, focus on selecting the appropriate gear, planning your food, and gathering navigational resources. Finally, make sure to work on your fitness and skills before conducting a final check before your trip!

What is a good length for a first backpacking trip?

For a first backpacking trip it really depends on your preference. A good length could be around a 5 – 14-mile total, for an overnight backpacking trip. For example, you could plan a 10 mile overnight backpacking trip in which you would do 6 miles the first day and then 4 miles the next.

How much money do you need to be a backpacker?

Thankfully backpacking can be rather inexpensive if you buy cheaper or used gear. Most backcountry sites are less than $10 dollars a night which is a lot cheaper compared to most traditional camp sites.

More expensive parts of the trip planning can be transportation, food, and attractions. But backpacking really can be done a lot cheaper than traditional camping and most people have something that will work for most pieces of the gear

How do I choose a destination for my backpacking trip?

Consider the scenery, distance, fitness level, and available time when choosing a backpacking trip destination. Trail conditions and elevation gain are also important factors to consider. Consider whether you want to go local or go outside of your local range.

Summary

Well, there you have it, a comprehensive guide for how to plan a backpacking trip. From choosing the perfect destination, crafting a route/itinerary, and assembling the right backpacking gear. Each step is integral to ensuring a successful and safe trip.

We hope this guide inspires you to lace up your boots, pack your bag, and hit the trail. After all, the wilderness is waiting, and a world of adventure awaits. So, why not start planning your first (or next) backpacking trip today?

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