I’ve been thinking for a long time now how I could write about preparing to go into the backcountry. It has become a larger topic than I initially thought it would be. So I’ll do my best to keep it concise and to the point. There are so many different types of activities that can be done in the backcountry. Whether you are backpacking, hiking, camping, skiing, backcountry touring, cross country cycling, climbing, mountaineering, canyoneering, and whatever else you want that involves time spent in the backcountry; there are precautions that one should take before going out. However, this post and part two of the series (how to properly pack a backpack) will focus on precautions to take for hiking and backpacking.
Preparing for a trip in the backcountry
There are a few essential things that you must do when planning a trip, whether it is a day hike or several nights. Here are things that I do every time I am getting ready to go out.
- – Where am I going, and what will the weather be like?
- – How long will I be out?
- – What gear do I need?
- – What permits do I need, and what are the emergency contact numbers for the area?
- – What are my sources for water?
- – What maps do I need to carry?
Where am I going, and what will the weather be like?
This is far more than just knowing where I will be, and if it is going to rain or not. Poor planning not only leads to poor decisions, but it inevitably leads to accidents. Take for example our backcountry friend that cut his arm off cause of poor planning. Good trip planning starts with researching about the area you plan to go to. Read guide books and trip reports from reliable sources. Virtually anywhere we go now, has some sort of published information for us to get insight on the area.
The time and season of the year changes the way I plan a trip as well. It also influences the food I eat, the gear I take, and the areas I consider going to. For example, next week I will be spending four days in Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It’s November, and it’s the desert. The way i plan for this trip is influenced by so many factors. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be hard to find good water sources, and there are factors that require me to understand how to stay warm and dry.
Know the climate of the area you plan to go, and the forecasted weather. In Utah during the summer it’s known that there are typically daily rain storms that come through the High Uinta Mountain Wilderness area. Lighting is a concern in that area, and being prepared is key. However, in Utah’s desert, knowing the area is key to find protection from flash flooding. I’ve added a video at the end of this post of some guys a few months ago in Utah that I feel made a series of poor planning decisions when going out canyoneering.
How long will I be out?
This one is simple in theory. Know how long you are going to be gone, and let people know where you are going, and when you plan to be back. Even if you are going for a simple day hike, tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back. Just last week a woman was rescued from Mount Timpanogos at 11,700 feet after spending two nights on the mountain (one of those nights with rescue crews). She went for a day hike, hurt her ankle and ended up spending a lot more time up there she had planned.
What gear do I need?
This is much more complicated than it should be. I always struggle trying to decide what is absolutely essential and what is more of a luxury when out in the backcountry. But a lot of the gear that I choose to take with me is influenced by how long I plan to be out. However, I always take more than what I need. I like to think of worst case scenario, planning that way helps me make sure that I cover all my bases. Never do I plan on something bad happening, but I carry things with me to just be prepared.
Whatever you plan on doing, just make sure that you take time to get the gear you need together, and consider why you would need the gear that you are carrying.
I like to gather all my gear that I know i’ll be taking, and organize it based on it’s need and usage.
What permits do I need, and what are the emergency contact numbers for the area?
Many of the places that we go backpacking, or camping require some kind of permit. Again do your research to find out if you need a permit, If you are going as a group, do you need a special use permit for the group you are going with. Does your permit limit how many people can be in your group. Don’t let yourself forget to research this and have it end or ruin a trip.
Emergency contacts are much more than just dialing 911. In Utah, the sheriffs do much of the search and rescue and evac for people in trouble. There will come a point that cell phone signals can be accessed pretty much anywhere. But until that happens, write down on paper, the emergency contact numbers for more than just one agency or emergency service that can be contacted in the event of an emergency. Make sure that the entire group knows where the numbers are, who is carrying the info and what are the evac plans if it were needed.
What are my sources for water?
When you are doing your research of where you plan to go, how long you will be gone and the time of year it is, know where you can get water. In the mountains there is usually a stream or a lake that you can get water from. However in the desert, the sources of water are much more scarce. Utah’s desert canyons are some of the most beautiful backpacking destinations, however, they are also open range cattle in these areas, which makes getting fresh water much harder than it might have thought to be. Guide books will usually include where there are reliable sources for water.
What maps do I need to carry?
How many people actually carry maps on them when they are out hiking, or backpacking? I know that I didn’t for a really long time. I always do now, and I’d rather carry a map instead of a GPS. That’s just my opinion. But you can find out the exact map to carry again by looking in a guide book that gives the information of the area you plan to go to. The Nat Geo maps are really great maps also if you would rather not carry a topographical map. Get any Nat Geo map from the Backcountry.com Homepage.
The reality is, just take the proper time to prepare for any trip you will be going on. Be smart, and make smart decisions.
When was the last time you went through your first aid kit and refilled it, or replaced things. This should happen every time you are planning a trip. Even if you didn’t use it. There might be something you need to add for the area you plan to be in.
In my opinion, I feel like these guys make some really poor decisions to go into this canyon during one of Utah’s wettest months this year. They are lucky to have made it out. This is a classic example of taking proper precaution when going into the backcountry. Remember, if when planning, it is too risky, it is okay to postpone and not go at all.
Happy planning, and safe travels my friends!