Experienced backpackers typically aren’t too worried when it comes to trip planning. After all, there are many things that you’ll hit along the trail that are unpredictable, anyway. That being said, there are some things that are always worth organizing before you go, no matter how much or how little experience you have. Planning for a long trip helps reduce stress by ensuring you don’t forget anything when you’re miles out into the wilderness.
A Year to Six Months Before
Decide where, when and with whom you’ll be backpacking with. Your destination might have already been decided years ago, or it might be unknown at this point. Decide now. From here on out, how much time you really need to prepare is at your discretion.
If you only recently decided the destination, take time to narrow it down to the specific trails or mountains you want to hike. Decide the dates you’ll be going or estimate how much time you’ll need. If you’re going on a vacation from work, then this part will be easy. Of course, if you do work, this would be a good time (if not earlier), to let your boss know that you’ll be taking some time off. Make sure there aren’t any other conflicting factors, like a wedding or the due date of your sibling’s child.
Know how much money you’ll need, and begin planning a budget. If you’re staying domestic, you might only need to save for gear, food, supplies, a permit, entrance to parks, and transportation. Some trips require a lot more money than others, so make sure you have time to financially prepare. If you’re going across borders, make sure your passport is updated.
Three Months Before
Once you’re sure when and where you’ll be going, it’s time to get more information. Check on websites, read blogs, and ask other backpackers what to expect. Analyze maps, understand the different trails, and know if you’ll need a permit for any places you plan on going. If you’re going hiking with a group, you might need to even reserve your place on the trail. Figure this all out as soon as you can. Don’t leave out any details.
Two Months Before
Evaluate your main gear. See what you have and what you need to get. Don’t wait until a week before your trip to get a new backpack or a new pair of shoes. Maybe you’re due for a new tent, or maybe your buddy has a sleeping bag they can lend you. Start shopping now, even if you can’t get everything all at once.
Start to really narrow down your trip. Get an idea of how many miles you’ll be able to hike in a day, and mark down where you plan on setting up camp every night. Do some short day hikes or weekend hikes to start preparing physically, and do it with the gear you plan on bringing.
Understand what the weather conditions might be where you’re going, and make sure you know what natural disasters, if any, could impact that area, too. Although you can’t get your 10 day forecast now, you should find out whether or not that volcano hike you’re doing has had any recent seismic activity.
A Month Before
If it’s been a while, go to your doctor to make sure everything is in check. Get prescriptions for any medications you’ll need while backpacking, especially if you have allergies. Of course, if you have more serious health issues, you should consult your doctor at the first planning stage, to make sure you don’t have any restrictions.
Finalize your itinerary, and make sure you have any special documents you need for your hike. Let friends and family know your itinerary in case of an emergency, and if necessary, create a means of ‘checking in’ throughout your trip.
Gather together all your big gear, and set out to get everything else. Using a backpacking checklist, give yourself enough time to get absolutely everything you need. If you wait until a few days before to get everything, you’re putting yourself at risk of forgetting something.
A Week Before
Using the checklist again as well as your own individual checklist; pack. This could mean organizing and reorganize your bag several times. Prepare any meals you’ll need for your hike. Triple check your first aid kits, fire starters, cooking stove, and water source, whatever it may be. Go through your checklist several times, and even ask a friend or family member to help you out, since two heads are better than one.
Do some exercises, like stretches, bike rides, long walks, or sprints, to get your body loosened up. Relax your nerves through some meditation, listening to music, or reading a book. Run to the store and get any last minute things.
A Day Before
While everything should already be prepped, check one last time. Eat a hearty, but not heavy, meal, hydrate, stretch, and get a good night’s sleep! Tomorrow is the day!