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Chapter 1 - Trip Planning

Sample from Chapter 1 to help you get started planning a trip

Look Inside


Planning a trip requires more than simply deciding where to go and when. Whether it’s a weekend trip with friends, a formal outdoor program, or a major expedition, you need to evaluate your trip across a number of categories and develop a solid plan. One or two people may take on the role of planner, or the process of planning can be spread out among the entire group. I’ve planned and run trips for thousands of people both around the U.S. and around the world. Here are the elements I consider when planning any trip.


Whenever you’re planning a trip, you need to determine if the route should fit the group or the group fit the route. The group may have a range of experience levels, physical conditions, and goals, in which case, your goal should be to plan a trip that is appropriate for everyone. Other times, you may have a specific trip you want to do that may be very challenging or require special skills. For this kind of trip, you need to select a group that has the right qualifications to participate. Here’s a checklist of questions to ask when planning a group trip:

  • What kind of group is it? Is it an informal group of friends or a formal group like an outdoor education program. Are the participants friends, students, volunteers, paying customers, Formal groups may have a series of specific policies and protocols that must be followed.
  • What are the goals of each group member? Are people required to attend? (This factor can have a significant impact on how committed or not the group is to the wilderness experience.). Does the group have collective goals?
  • What is the experience level of each member? What is the average experience level?
  • Are there people in the group with the necessary skills to lead and manage the group or do you need to find other people to go? (See Appendix, “Outdoor Leadership”).
  • How big is the group?
  • What is the age range of group members?
  • What is the physical condition of each member? What is the average physical condition of the group?
  • Do people have particular health issues that could impact their participation?

Determine the level of experience, physical ability, etc. as much as possible before you set out. This will enable you to plan a smoother and more successful trip. More importantly, it will diminish the potential for dangerous situations (see Chapter 8, “Safety & Emergency Procedures”). Keep the group’s parameters in mind as you evaluate the other categories, thinking in terms of both optimal challenge and safety. Be aware that you will often have a great range of experience levels and physical abilities, so plan the trip at a level that will be fun, educational, challenging, and safe for everyone. Think about the high end and the low end of the experience level and physical condition, and err in the direction of the low end. Gathering physical fitness and basic health information will help you determine different abilities and experience levels (for a sample form, see page 000).

Group Dynamics
  • How are costs going to be handled—equipment, food, transportation, permits, etc.? If you have to buy gear, who keeps it? It’s really important to work these things out before the trip, otherwise serious tensions can arise later.
  • How will leadership be handled during the trip? See Chapter 8 “Safety and Emergency Procedures” and Appendix “Outdoor Leadership”).


When planning the activities for a particular trip, you need to consider the following:

  • What activity(ies) do you want to do on your trip (backpacking, peak climbing, canoeing, and/or glacier travel, for example)?
  • What are the goals for the trip?
  • What skills will people need? Do they already have the skills or do they need to learn them?
  • How do you integrate time for teaching skills with time for traveling?

Once you’ve evaluated the group members’ abilities, you can adapt your goals to an appropriate level. Plan activities that will be both appropriately challenging and safe. Be aware of how mileage, elevation change, and time for teaching and learning skills will affect your route (see Chapter 1, “Trip Planning" - Estimating Travel Times). Start easily and increase the level of difficulty gradually so that participants can be progressively challenged at appropriate level, rather than placing them in a situation that is beyond their abilities.


Research Your Destination
  • Investigate the availability of guidebooks and maps.
  • Contact area rangers or land managers to get more information. Inquire about permits required, safety issues like hunting season, and seasonal hazards like wildfires.
  • Talk with other people who have been to the area before. If possible, check their trip logs, which may have important information not found in guidebooks.
Trip Planning Questions
  • How long is the trip? Can the trip be self-supporting in terms of equipment and food, or will you need to resupply?
  • How will you do the resupply—cache items ahead of time, hike out, or have someone hike in?
  • How remote is the trip from ‘civilization’ and help in case of an emergency?
  • What are the trail conditions?
  • Are there special places you want to see?
  • Are there places you want to avoid like high use areas?
  • Are shelters available on a daily basis, or do you need to bring your own?
  • Where is parking and trailhead access?
  • What is the water availability and water quality on a daily basis?
  • Are there safety issues—hunting season, off-road vehicles, etc.?
  • Are there any special natural hazards—flash floods in desert canyons, wildfires, etc.? (See How Accidents Happen)
  • What Leave No Trace practices will you need to implement to safeguard the environment? (See Chapter 5, “Leave No Trace Hiking and Camping”)
Regulations & Permits

Each location can have its own unique set of regulations and requirements. It is important to check these out in detail before you go. Here are some of the possible issues to research:

  • Are permits needed, and how do you obtain them?
  • How far in advance do you need to apply for a permit?
  • Is there a cost for the permit?
  • Are their any special regulations about rescue? (Some parks like Denali in Alaska require that you pay for your own rescue.)
  • Are there limitations to group size?
  • Where is camping allowed and not allowed?
  • Are there any restricted areas, hazardous zones, protected areas for endangered species, and such?
  • Are fires allowed? If fires are allowed, will wood be available? Or will you need to bring a stove?
  • Are there special regulations about Leave No Trace practices like disposing of human waste?
  • How many hours of daylight will there be? Check the Web at sites like the for sunrise and sunset times.
  • How will the season determine the weather? Are storms or particular weather patterns likely? (See Chapter 7, “Nature and Weather”).
  • How will weather affect trip activities? How might it affect the safety of the group?
  • Will altitude changes during the trip have an impact on weather or temperature?


When planning a trip, remember that the ultimate goal is for people to have fun. Here are some tips to planning a trip that everyone can enjoy:

  • Make a plan that can be modified during the trip. All sorts of factors—bad weather, changing trail conditions, broken equipment, ill-prepared participants, an injury—may require you to change your itinerary.
  • Don’t plan long or difficult hikes on every day of the trip. Vary the mileage so that you have some days when you can get a later start or get in to camp early.
  • On longer trips, schedule a rest day every five to seven days.
  • Make sure that people have some time during each day to kick back—to read, watch the sunset, or write in their journals.
  • When hiking at high altitudes, people acclimatize at different rates. You may have to adjust your trip to give people time to properly acclimatize before going higher especially if people are coming straight from sea level to a high altitude. (See Chapter 9, "First Aid")