You have found yourself with four days free from work, social obligations and you decide its time for a trip. Its time to get to the planning stage, where the idea of a trip meets the reality of it happening is the planning stage.
I have to admit the planning stage is one of my favourite parts of any trip and there are some questions I generally ask myself as i prepare.
This is generally either the easiest part or the hardest part of the process. Sometimes I have to look at the some of the questions below to narrow down the options a bit. For example if the weather forecast is for snow to low levels, rain and high winds for the South East I may look at the East Coast for options. If its the peak of a dry summer and the water situation is unreliable on the coast I may look at the highlands.
What skills will I need?
Taking a personal inventory of the skills you have and the ones you need to develop is crucial in ensuring that you are not too far out of your comfort zone. A little stretch is where we grow as individuals, however being completely unprepared is likely to get you into trouble. This could be as simple as learning how to use your stove effectively in the comfort of your own home before taking it out or it could be taking a wilderness first aid course.
Some skills to develop or consider your level of experience are,
– First Aid
– Food Prep and Packing
– Packing your pack
– How long your will take to cover ground
– Staying fuelled
– Staying hydrated
– Changing Weather
There are plenty of other skills to develop and gradually build as you progress from walk to walk and you will refine these as you go. You may find as your skill in these areas grow you may need to carry less to offset the inexperience as well. For example you may start off with heavier/bulkier food items and as you figure out what food works for you, what food has more calories for the weight and how your body responds to fuelling on the go your food weight may go down.
Is there an Alternate Exit to my route?
Sometimes a trip doesn’t go to plan, even with all the best planning and preparation things can fall apart. Having a good look on the map prior to leaving may show that you have some options to get off the track early and deal with the issue, whether that is sickness, injury, gear malfunction or interpersonal issues.
Knowing in advance where you can take an alternative exit will open up your options.
How much food?
How much food will you be taking and how much does it weigh. I like to plan out my trips by writing the itinerary in a note book and leaving seven lines free underneath to plan meals, snacks and extras before starting the next day. It would look like this,
Day One Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley
This gives me the structure to fill in and then plan what I will need.
Next is the fun part of planning what you are actually going to eat across all these meals. Try to keep weight, packability, rubbish and caloric density in mind.
Day One Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley
Breakfast: Freeze Dried Breakfast x1
Snack: Macadamia Nuts 30g
Lunch: Biscuits with Cashew Nut Butter
Snack: Clif Bar x1
Dinner: Freeze Dried Meal, Large serve x1
Snack: Mixed Nuts 30g
Drinks: AM Coffee, Tea, Packet soup, 2 x Hydration Tablets
By repeating this for each day I get a good overview of what I need for each day and in total for the trip. For a six day trip I know I will need
6 x Breakfast
180g Macadamia nuts
1 x Jar Cashew nut butter
1 x Biscuits for spreading nut butter
6 x Clif bars
6 x Freeze dried dinners
180g mixed nuts
Well you get the idea, I wont list the drinks and so on.
Checking the availability of water ahead of time can make or break your trip, generally speaking water is quite reliable in Tasmania but in parts of mainland Australia and overseas this is not the case.
An example of poor water availability in Tasmania is Freycinet National Park. Once you leave the carpark reliable water is not found again until the hut at cooks beach some 17km away and the popular campsites at Wineglass Bay has no potable water at all. I have seen this leave some people surprised and with no option but to finish their trip early and walk back to the carpark.
This is one area that should not be overlooked, hiking for 6-8 hours a day with all your belongings on your back across varied terrain is hard work on your body and is quite different from the way most people spend their days.
You may get away with little training on short overnight hikes but as the difficulty and duration of your trips increase the amount of preparation you need to put in increases too. This doesn’t mean you need to hire a trainer and dedicate all your free time to training, it can be as simple as loading your pack with some water bottles for weight and heading out for an hour of walking around the neighbourhood.
Some more strenuous trips will require specific training in a more structured manner, starting as far out a possible and building in intensity towards the scheduled departure.
Possible emergencies and hazards can, at times be anticipated ahead of time at least the potential for them. Events such as medical emergencies can be a result of known conditions of group members that may be well managed and have no cause for concern ordinarily. Knowing the medical state of your companions or having at least one member who knows the state of affairs and treatment protocols is a good safety measure.
Other hazards may include environmental factors such as weather, obtaining a reliable forecast for the duration of your trip will help mitigate the risk of exposure to extremes of temperature or associated conditions. Learning to recognise the changes in weather by cloud, wind direction and if available barometric readings from a watch or GPS.
The terrain itself may provide its own hazards, are you simply walking on boarded track that is easy to follow or will you be hopping across boulders? what if those boulders are slippery? will you be traversing along the base of a cliff and exposed to rockfall? is your trip in the higher mountains, above the snowline and potentially exposed to avalanche?
The list of hazards are almost inexhaustible and you should take the time to think through what may be relevant to your trip. Some of the hazards you identify may be reduced by your gear and equipment choices.
Gear and equipment
You have now figured out what the weather and conditions are likely to be, what risks you might face, how much food you are carrying and if you are likely to need to haul along extra water to cope with a dry section so you are in a good position to start selecting the equipment and gear to get you through as safely as possible.
I like to group my gear into categories
In shelter this is primarily what tent, but maybe a tarp be helpful for group cooking, deciding what pegs – normal stakes or will I need snow pegs, perhaps cup hooks for tent platforms.
In sleep I will look at whether I will use a Quilt of Sleeping bag, What Mattress – paying close attention to the R-value. If I will take a liner and which pillow or pillows to take.
In the cook system I will look at which stove, pots, gas, utensils and perhaps bowl and mug. Generally speaking I will eat directly from the cook pot or in the case of freeze dried meals the bag they come in. this generally removes the need for taking a bowl.
Safety items will include my first aid kit, personal locator beacon, GPS, maps, compass, whistle, emergency blanket, repair items and any trip specific items such as microspikes for traction in icy conditions. This is where some of the hazards you identified earlier can be mitigated, others will have already been factored in by your choices in the other gear above.
Clothing is one area that can make or break a trip. As the quote by Ranulph Fiennes says “there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothes”. By selecting the right combination of clothing to suit the conditions you can stay happy and warm in almost all conditions. The key is to work with multiple layers to build up insulation so you can regulate your temperature and stay comfortable.
Carry is generally the last ting I choose, that’s my pack. I choose this last as I have already gathered my other gear and know how much space I will require to take it all with me. In carry I will also include my water carry, how many bottles, do I need a bladder and will I need a dromedary style bag.
So there you have it, some basics to get you going on planning your own hiking trips. Please note this is not exhaustive and you should certainly let someone know your trip intentions, where you will be going, alternative exits, when you will return and who to contact if you fail to make contact by a certain time. make sure that person is reliable and be reliable yourself to actually let them know you are safe, too many time has an alarm been raised only to find the person on their way home or in the pub celebrating their trip.