Essential Tips to Avoid Trouble on Extended Backpacking Trips

©istockphoto/AscentXmedia

Trav­el­ing into the wilder­ness for a cou­ple of weeks may seem daunt­ing at first. No cell phones, wine bars, ice cold drinks, or hos­pi­tals near­by. Yet, this is part of the adven­ture of immers­ing your­self in the woods, far from town. Keep in mind, though, that adven­ture does not sug­gest reck­less aban­don. Plan­ning is vital, espe­cial­ly if that longer dura­tion finds you head­ing deep into the wilder­ness. This won’t be an exhaus­tive list of what to bring, but rather some con­sid­er­a­tions to help keep you out of trouble.

Plan Ahead
Two weeks can be a long time if you don’t plan cor­rect­ly. That is, don’t begin plan­ning a few days or a week before you leave. Give your­self at least a month—and don’t just do some minor plan­ning a month in advance, then dive in when your depar­ture date looms.

Reeval­u­ate Your Gear Checklist
If you have a check­list for backpacking—an excel­lent idea, even for short trips—build upon it. Look at each item afresh, think­ing about its impor­tance when back­pack­ing for more than just a few days. For exam­ple, you might choose to ignore your sup­ple­ments (vit­a­mins) is gone for three or four days, but a long trip should change your mind if they are a part of your health regime. Have enough socks, or the abil­i­ty to wash them, to keep your feet dry and clean.

Dis­tance and Capability
Con­sid­er what is com­fort­able, and appro­pri­ate, as to how far you go in, how far from “civ­i­liza­tion” you are. Think about how many miles a day you are com­fort­able trav­el­ing, and how many miles you would have to trav­el to get out if an emer­gency comes up. If you feel like hik­ing 10 miles a day, then halfway through your trip you’ll be 70 miles out; but don’t for­get you’ll have to come back anoth­er 70 miles. Remem­ber to fac­tor in your phys­i­cal fit­ness and your well­ness, tak­ing into account any par­tic­u­lar sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty you may have to med­ical sit­u­a­tions pos­si­bly requir­ing a hasty retreat.

Base Camp
As to dis­tance trav­eled, while you could trav­el 140 miles (or more) in four­teen days, it could be gen­tler to head in per­haps 4–10 miles, set up a base camp, then day hike from there. Alter­nate­ly, you could hike in twen­ty miles, or so, again depen­dent on your com­fort, pre­pared­ness, and health, then set up that base camp. Ulti­mate­ly, it is up to you (and your com­pan­ions, if not trav­el­ing alone) to have a base camp in only as far as you would be com­fort­able head­ing back home from.

©istockphoto/warrengoldswain

Tell Some­one
No mat­ter how short or long your trip, leav­ing an itin­er­ary with a trust­ed fam­i­ly or friends is impor­tant. Leave instruc­tions on when these guardians should be pre­pared to con­tact appro­pri­ate author­i­ties if you don’t return accord­ing to your agree­ment. Keep in mind that there could be sig­nif­i­cant costs billed to you if a res­cue team is sent in, espe­cial­ly if it is deter­mined that you were neg­li­gent or unwise in your back­pack­ing choices.

Qual­i­ty Check Your Gear
For these longer trips, it is espe­cial­ly impor­tant to pre-check your gear, espe­cial­ly boots and what­ev­er keeps you insu­lat­ed from the ele­ments. Since the gath­er­ing of fire­wood is often dis­al­lowed, your camp stove must be in per­fect work­ing order, with plen­ty of back­up fuel. Your first-aid kit needs to be a bit beefi­er, since you may need a dai­ly change of ban­dages or addi­tion­al appli­ca­tion of first-aid ointments.

Be Proac­tive in Case of Sickness
Pay close atten­tion to any con­sid­ered onset of ill­ness. Pack up and head clos­er to the trail­head if you have any doubt about your up-and-com­ing well-being or that of any­one in your par­ty. Watch­ing the flu poten­tial­ly take hold 20 miles in, and then final­ly decid­ing to pack up and head home does­n’t end very well.

Weath­er is More of a Factor
The far­ther in you go, the more you need to pay atten­tion to poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous weath­er. It’s not that you ignore this if on a short trip, but a heavy snow­storm when you are two hours from the trail­head is quite dif­fer­ent from a two-day jour­ney to get out.

Emer­gency Options
How do you get help? Ask a ranger about the options where you are going. Some­times there is a remote ranger sta­tion clos­er to you than the trail­head, though this is not typ­i­cal­ly the case. There are satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions devices such as Per­son­al Loca­tor Bea­cons that send an emer­gency dis­tress sig­nal, or Satel­lite Mes­sen­gers (fee-based) that let you send emer­gency “text” messages.

If you are rel­a­tive­ly new to back­pack­ing, make your first trips short ones. There is a great deal to know and pay atten­tion to when in the wild. In oth­er words, don’t head out for a long wilder­ness excur­sion until you are clear­ly an expe­ri­enced back­coun­try traveler.