Planning a Backpacking Trip Part I

trip planning

These are just a few things I have learned over the years that help me in planning. I hope this information is helpful.

Step One: Write down your hiking goals

This year I decided on two hiking goals. The first one is to get 220 trail miles done and the second is to hike at least one hike in each state that borders Tennessee.

Step Two: Make a list

I have several lists on my Alltrails account. Anytime I see a trail on there or on social media I will pull it up on the app and save to a list. I save them either by state or by a particular hiking goal.

hikinglist 3

Step Three: Decide where

Now is when that list comes in to play. If you have a big trip that you are really wanting to do, like the JMT, or maybe a week on the AT,  pick at least one of those big ones a year to do. The smaller trips you are likely to be able to do most any time, but the bigger ones you don’t want to put on the back burner in the hopes to do them ‘One Day’. One day may never come. So go ahead and take a leap of faith and pick one. If you have to, write them down and stick them in a hat and just pick one randomly.


Honestly, just deciding to do it is the hardest part for me. I have a feeling that’s the way it is with most people

Step Four: Decide when

I try to always plan backpacking trips that revolve around a paid holiday. If I can get a ‘free’ extra day that I don’t have to use PTO for that’s a win win! So get your calendar out and look for all those holidays. Remember, however, that backpacking over a holiday weekend has its disadvantages too. Just remember that others have done the same thing and the camping area you might think you will be staying at will be full. This is something that happened to us when we did the AT section from Carver’s Gap to 19E. I had been the previous year in September and it was not very crowded. However, the next May, over Memorial Day, was a nightmare at Over-mountain Shelter. I would have gotten more sleep in a New York city subway.  Always have a plan B and C for camping options.

I always say once I write it on my calendar it’s a done deal. It means I WILL do it. For me this can be the most difficult step, but once its done I’m all in. I ask my boss if the days are available, they always are, and as soon as I get the approval it goes down on my work calendar.  Planning around a holiday makes a huge difference.


Step Five: How

To fly or drive?  That is the question. Obviously, this will depend on how many days  you are planning. For anything within about ten hours from my house I will likely drive. I will go down the night before and get a hotel and then on the way out get a hotel once the hike is finished so I won’t be driving sleepy. For longer hikes I will fly.

And finally…

Step Six: Don’t OVER-plan

I am the queen of over-planning. Somehow I think if I can’t see and do EVERYTHING there is to do in area I have somehow failed. This has been a hard lesson learned and I do have to reel myself in from time to time and remind myself I want this to enjoyable and not hurried. I have to make a concerted effort to slow myself down and enjoy the moment.

It really is that simple. No need to stress over it. The planning part can be really fun. In a sort of geeky way. So, go on now. Go plan your BIG adventure!

Be sure to come back and read about Route Planning in Part 2 of planning a backpacking trip.

Trekking Poles Fear