Planning Trips That Fit Your Backpacking Style

Three considerations for planning trips that fit your backpacking style, goals, and interests

How to plan backpacking trips

Before you determine the type of backpacking trip to plan, take the time to think about what you want out of the trip. While others may influence where you choose to go, you should plan the trip according to your needs. Attempting to stick to a plan that is unrealistic for you can be frustrating, or worse, lead to a trip that makes backpacking seem like a miserable chore. Instead, learn how to plan the type of trip that fits your backpacking style.

1. What are your goals for the trip?

backpacking trip styles

Recognizing how you like to backpack can help you plan the most enjoyable trip for you. Before starting out, take some time to consider your goals and interests.

For many backpackers, especially beginners, a balance of hiking and spending time in camp is an enjoyable way to backpack, as well as being less strenuous. An easy trip might mean hiking in a few miles and setting up camp, then doing a mix of relaxing at camp and hiking short distances on subsequent days. If you are spending more time at camp, you might want to bring a backpacking chair, extra cookware, or reading material.

time at camp versus hiking miles

Others might prefer to do more hiking, covering as many miles as they can before stopping to camp for the night. In this case, bringing as little as possible is the goal, keeping pack weight to a minimum so that you can hike longer distances. This approach will allow you to see more of an area, and would be suitable for longer loop or shuttle trips. 

star-filled sky

For those interested in photographing scenery and wildlife, a trip plan might include shorter hikes to allow for carrying camera equipment and more frequent stops for photo opportunities. Photographers usually have a different type of schedule on backpacking trips. Capturing the best light of the day often means getting up before dawn, scouting locations for sunset, or staying up late to capture a star-studded sky.

2. What is your preferred level of difficulty?

consider terrain for backpacking trips

Consider all of the parameters that can determine the difficulty of a trip:

  • How many days is the trip? Longer trips require more food, which adds pack weight. In addition, the longer a trip is, the more energy it takes to complete.
  • How much distance and elevation gain due you plan to cover on each day? Consider the cumulative total hiked over several days instead of individual days.
  • The terrain you’ll encounter can also have a big impact on how many miles you’ll be able to travel. For example, does the trail have any steep and rocky ascents or difficult water crossings? Or is it a well-groomed trail with gradual elevation gain?
  • Is water available along the route and near the camp area? Hiking additional miles to gather water and/or carrying extra water can impact trip difficulty.
  • What is the altitude at the destination? Hiking above 6,000 feet can be more challenging for some people.
  • What is the weather expected? For example, will there be exposure to cold, heat, or stormy conditions?

3. Which type of route fits your needs?

backpacking route types

For planning a route and campsites, do you prefer to do an out-and-back, a shuttle, or a loop hike?

  • Out-and-back trips are often the easiest since they offer the opportunity to set up a basecamp and day hike from there instead of hiking with a fully loaded pack each day.
  • Loop hikes offer the ability to cover more miles, requiring moving campsites from night to night in order to complete the loop.
  • Like loop trips, shuttle trips allow you to cover more miles but require more planning, with a need to shuttle cars to multiple trailheads.
  • Both loop trips and shuttle trips include an element of commitment once you begin a trip since you’ll tend to hike farther from established trailheads during the middle of the trip.

Carefully consider all of these factors when creating a daily itinerary to get the most out of your next trip.

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