Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip

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I’m home from a short backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park! It’s our third trip, and I’m sore, tired, and cannot seem to stop eating. Maybe that’s a different concern…I am by no means an expert when it comes to planning and/or executing a backpacking trip, but here are some things I learned that you may find helpful as well. 


Know if you need them, when you can apply, how to pay, know how you will get the permit. While having a permit to take a jaunt in the wilderness may sound a little too much like “the man” is trying to keep you down, it is for safety and to keep the trails from being flooded with people. Don’t just head out assuming you can hike and camp wherever you please, there are probably permits needed.

Know the area 

Will you be able to have a fire or open flame? Will there be water crossings? Are there already established sites available? Where can you park your vehicle? Where is the nearest ranger station? If bears can poop in the woods, can you? Speaking of bears, what kinds of critters will you encounter? Can you bring a gun? Is it hunting season? Is the area known for drug activity? Knowing the area before heading out will help you plan ahead…which is important for safety. You’ll know if you need extra socks, extra sunscreen, or if you should leave your slackline at home.

Know your limits 

While a campsite 5 miles from the trailhead sounds easy as pie, remember that you will be carrying gear with you. Our first Yosemite overnight trip seemed like the trail out was taking forever, it was only 7 miles! Train before you head out, wear a weighted pack so you can get used to hiking with an extra 20 or so pounds on your back, and don’t let your ego get the better of you when planning your trip.

The same goes for elevation, temperature, water crossings, and weather change. Elevation change surprises a lot of people, it is harder to do things with less oxygen! You get dehydrated faster and may get elevation sickness. The weather and temperature are a little easier to keep in mind, what would you do if a thunderstorm starts and you’re on a granite slab? Water crossings are deceptive when it comes to temperature, depth, the movement of the water, water level, and how sturdy the crossings are. Don’t be surprised to see a log or a few large boulders as your path to the other side. 

Pare down what you are bringing and go lightweight (or without) when you can. I’m tempted to get a hammock for a future trip so I don’t have to carry the tent and poles. We recently sold our original bear canister and downgraded to a smaller size so to cut weight a bit. My pack alone weights 5 pounds when empty so I have to be super careful how much gear I fit into my pack. 

Height: This is always a consideration for me. Alex can easily scale things, doesn’t tire as easily when it comes to stairs carved from stone that aren’t necessarily ADA approved, and when it comes to water crossings. When in Yosemite (last year), most people were able to cross using a giant log, but this little lady couldn’t cover the last portion between the log and dry land…so I did what I usually do, I found a different way. It involved me taking off my shoes and socks and forging part of the crossing barefoot. Sounds dumb, but it was the safest way for me to do it. During our hike in the Hidden Canyon trail in Zion, I had to call it quits when I couldn’t reach a foothold to climb to the next part of the trail. 

Know your limits and don’t put yourself in danger. 

Plan for before and after 

Will you drive straight to the trailhead or stay in a hotel or trailhead campsite the night before? What about the day you come off the trail? Will you need to story anything in bear lockers before heading onto the trail? Is there someplace to eat that doesn’t focus on peanut butter…you backpackers know what I mean. Like last year, we elected to stay in Mammoth Lakes the night before we started on the trail. This allowed us to get to the permit station before they gave away our permits and to avoid sitting in the car for 7 hours before heading into the woods. We also pass through Mammoth on the way home so we can grab a pizza, any beer we’d like to take home, some coffee for the road, and one last potty break. Last time it was so hot that we decided to take a few hours to sleep in the visitor center parking lot before heading home through the desert. Have a plan, have a backup plan to your plan. This goes full circle to knowing your limits…can you drive for hours in a hot car after trudging through the forest since dawn? Maybe staying the night in a motel would be better/safer/a cool part of your story.

What tips would you add?
Do you backpack?
Are you interested in backpacking?
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Adventure Backpacking Camping From a Beginner Hiking National Park

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Laurie July 25, 2014, 10:03 am

    Hi campfire chic, nice to read your tips. Especially the ‘don’t overrate yourself’-thing is one I need. I’m heading for a hiking trip in the Ardennen (Belgium). I walked a lot before, but never with al my stuff. I hope we (my friend and me) will make it.

    • Kam August 2, 2014, 4:10 pm

      I hope you enjoy your trip! If you share photos/stories, can you send me a link? I’d love to check it out!


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