Route Planning: Details to Consider About Backpacking Trails

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Now that you have your trail all picked out, its time to make sure you didn’t’t look over any of the details so you can really start planning the logistics of your backpacking trip. When you get excited about a trail it’s easy to over look some of the most important details.


[series title=”This post is part of the How to Plan a Backpacking Trip Series” title_wrap=”h5″ list=”ol” future=”off”]


I’m guilty of this myself. Ive been super close to pulling the trigger on a backpacking trip, only to realize that you need to apply for a reservation lottery months ago.

Don’t make that mistake. Make sure you have all your bases cover and understand exactly what to expect on the trail when it comes to camping, water, fire, and pooping.

Camping in the Backcountry

Before you take off down the trail, you will want to find out what the rules are in the area. Every national park and every trail have different rules about things like camping, fires, human waste, etc. If you are hiking in a national park, this information should be easy to find on the nation parks website. If not, a quick call to the ranger station should answer all your questions.

Something you will want to know about before you start your backpacking trip include:

Campsites – Some trails have designated camp sites that require a reservation, while others may have designated campsites that are first come first serve. On the other hand, there are some trails that don’t have any designated campsite, but that may have rules about how far away you must be camped from certain features or water sources.

Campfires – This one is pretty simple, either you are allowed to have campfires or your not. If you were counting on campfires as a source of cooking, you may want to double check the regulations for your trail.

Human Waste – In many places following the leave no trace rules for taking care of business are just find. In more sensitive ecosystems though, you will be required to pack out your own waste. yes, I mean you have to carry your poop out with you. In these areas the ranger station will likely provide you with a special bag to do just that.

Water Sources Along the Trail

Choosing trail with ample water sources is one of the most important factors I consider when looking for a good backpacking trail. This is mainly due to the fact that I hate having to carry extra water. Water is heavy!

A good trip report will likely have told you about water sources along the trail. However, you still need to double check those water sources against the time of year you will be traveling.

If you are traveling at higher elevations early in the season, those water sources may still be frozen. Travel later in the season and they may barely be running at all.

If you can’t find any specific seasonal information around your water sources on the trail, try asking in some forums or calling the local ranger station.

Temperatures and Elevation Gain

If you are backpacking in the mountains, you probably know that the higher you get, the colder it will be. The problem is, just how cold will it be? Even if you checked the highs and lows for the temperature on your trail, thats not the temperature on the mountain.

So how do you know what the temperature is the higher up you go so you can plan for it?

As a general rule of thumb, you will lose an average 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1000 feet of elevation you gain.

Do the math before you start packing to figure out what gear and what sleeping bag you will need to bring.

I learned this rule the hard way and spent two nights in 20F. weather in a 30F bag. Which might not sound bad, but with no fires aloud in the area, it made it near impossible to warm up.

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