5 Steps for Planning a Backpacking Trip


If you’re new to hiking, the task of planning a backpacking trip can feel uncertain, daunting, and maybe even impossible.

Today I will be covering how to plan a backpacking trip, as well as some of my best tips for staying organized.

Step 1: Get Organized

Planning an outdoor adventure can quickly become a disorganized mess filled with dozens of open browser tabs, printed papers that are easy to lose, or revisiting the same website over and over again to get information.

Having one centralized place to keep everything helps make it so much easier to find what I’m looking for.

Any planner, notes app, or notebook will work just fine, but my all-time favorite way to organize my trips is with my Erin Condren Life Planner.

While the EC planner is admittedly a bit more pricey than most, having the ability to choose the layout I wanted for my daily and weekly to-do lists, plus the addition of notebook pages, goal setting spreads, and monthly dashboard pages was a HUGE game changer for me.  It’s sort of like a bullet journal for people who don’t want to go through the effort of actually creating and maintaining a bullet journal.

Planner stickers from TheGingerCatCo on Etsy.

Aside from its durability (I have yet to have one fall apart of uncoil yet), another thing that I love about this planner is that it also has a pocket inside!  Most of the time I use the pocket to stash stickers or notes from work meetings, but when I travel I’ll usually keep my itinerary documents in there so I can get to them easily.

I use the calendars and weekly spreads to keep track of my schedule and to-do lists, as well as for weekly meal planning, tracking my workouts, and to keep notes on any dog training I do with Patronus and Naga.

Most of the time I completely dedicate my lined notebook pages, as well as a few of the boxes on my goal setting page, to hiking, camping, or travel.

We’ll get into that a bit more later on.

Step 2: Get Inspired

This step is the fun part, because it involves scouring books, magazines, and the internet for all of the fun bucket list hikes or trips you want to go on.

Some things you’ll want to take note of:

  • What types of places would you like to see?
  • How difficult are the hikes?  How long are they?  What is the terrain like?
  • What is required as far as cost, transportation, and lodging goes?
  • Are camping permits required, and when do they need to be reserved?
  • Do you plan on going alone?  In a group?  With your dog?
  • Are there places you can start hiking that are close to home?

Once I’ve found some interesting places I’d like to visit, I use the goal setting page in my EC LifePlanner to list them all out.

Typically, I like to dedicate one box on my goals page to any hikes, camping trips, or backpacking trips that I would like to do within the year.

I’ll also create a list in at least one other box with “low hanging fruit”.  In other words, its a list of day hikes and places to camp or backpack that are easier to make happen in the event that any of my “goal trips” for that year don’t work out.

Finally, I dedicate another box to my “bucket list” trips, the ones that may not be feasible to pull off in the near future, but I would be interested in doing someday.

While I love my outdoor adventures, they are not my whole life, so the rest of my goal-setting boxes usually end up getting used for things like household projects, reading lists, dog training, etc.

Step 3: Plan and Prepare

Now that you’ve got a bit of direction, it’s time to sit down and figure out the logistics.

Be Smart

Before you even step foot into the backcountry, PLEASE read up on the Leave No Trace Principles, the Ten Essentials, know how to use a map, study up on bear safety as well as any other wildlife that may live in the area(s) you plan on visiting, and learn the basics of first aid.  These skills will help you not Darwin Award yourself, put yourself and others in danger, or damage wildlife.

There are many how-to books, trail guides, and other resources on camping, backpacking, and hiking basics available at outfitters like REI, book stores, and libraries if you’re looking to expand your skill set.

Train Adequately

Now that you have some “goal hikes” in mind, it’s time to begin training for them.  Before hitting the trail, you should know how to use all your gear and be confident that you’re able to cover the distance on your itinerary.

The best way to train for hiking is to actually get outside and do it.   Start out by hiking some easy trails close to home, and gradually add more distance or difficulty as you become more comfortable.  Aim to hike at least once a week if you can.  (P.S. The Ten Essentials and Leave No Trace apply to day hikes too!) 

As far as hiking gear is concerned, my advice is to start out with only your basic must-haves (an outfit to hike in and the Ten Essentials) and gradually work up to acquiring more stuff.  You’ll get a better idea of what you like or need as you go!

Once you’ve bought or borrowed your camping gear, practice setting up your tent, using your stove, and hanging your food bag (if you’re not using a bear canister and there are no food storage devices available where you’re headed) at home before heading out on a backpacking trip.  Ideally, you’ll also want to have done some day hikes using any shoes or clothing you plan to wear on your trip to make sure they’re comfortable.

If you have never camped before, it may be helpful to arrange a short overnight or weekend car camping trip before you try backpacking.

Once you have your gear in order, it’s time to actually pack your pack so you know that all the items actually fit inside, the weight is distributed properly, and the pack is adjusted comfortably.  You can find some tips on how to do that here.

Be a Team Player

If don’t plan on backpacking alone, it’s good practice to make sure nobody else gets left behind.

Consider inviting any friends or family who you plan on backpacking with on at least a few of your day hikes so they can train too.  (P.S. The same goes for dogs!)

Before heading out, be sure that everyone in your group has a copy of the itinerary and can reasonably complete the hike.

Step 4: Tie Up Loose Ends

Within a month of my trip, I will go through everything in my planner to iron out the final details.

Why one month?  Mostly because it gives me enough time to take care of anything I might have forgotten, but it’s still close enough that I will have a better idea of what I may or may not still need.

I use the lined notebook pages in my EC LifePlanner to write out my packing lists, meal plans, itinerary, etc.  Again, keeping everything all in one place is crucial.

At this point, if I haven’t done so already, I also come up with a plan B (and often also a plan C) in case something doesn’t go according to plan.  I keep that info in my planner as well.

When I’m backpacking with friends, what works well for me is to meet up at least once or twice before hand to iron out the details.  Things to discuss (if you haven’t already done so) might include:

  • Camping and hotel reservations
  • Transportation
  • Gear sharing (or not)
  • Meal planning
  • The cost of the trip
  • Who will be responsible for what

One month out is also a good time to go through your gear to double check if anything is missing or damaged.

Step 5: Adventure Time!

At last, it’s time to head out on your backpacking trip!

By this point in time you have planned a trip, trained for the hike, learned how to use your gear, and packed appropriately.

The day before you leave, go through your itinerary, your packing list, and your gear to double check that you have everything you need.  You’ll also want to look up the weather forecast for the place you will be hiking, and leave a copy of your itinerary (including when you’ll be back) with someone you know and trust in case of an emergency.

The morning of your hike, it’s a good idea to check the weather once again so you can make any last minute adjustments to your hiking clothing or gear if needed.

From here, there is only one more thing to keep in mind: there is no such thing as a “perfect” backpacking trip.  From weather to bugs to blistered feet to gear repairs, no matter how well you plan, it’s highly likely that every single detail will not be ideal.  The beauty of backpacking is that eventually you just sort of learn to let go and roll with it.

A girl and her dog, both donning backpacks, stand atop a scenic overlook along the Jordan Valley Pathway in autumn


That’s it, you made it!

Safe travels and happy hiking!

NOTE:  This post contains a referral links.  If you choose to shop through my link, I will receive credit for a future EC order.  

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