Beginner Backpacking Skills: Day-to-Day Planning and Adapting to the Unexpected
What is the most important skill that a beginner backpacker has to master? Is it pacing, packing, how to use trekking poles, proper hydration, footwork, or navigation? While those are all essential, none is as important as planning: planning before your trip and planning each day as it comes. In this post, I discuss the need to re-evaluate and reformulate your trip plan on a daily basis as you encounter unexpected conditions and situations.
The Daily Plan
While you planned the length of your trip and the number of days you’d take to hike it before you left home, there are many factors than can throw your plan off when you start hiking. Heavy rain and flooding can make river crossing hazardous, blisters can slow down your pace, you might discover that you’re in worse physical shape than you expected and can’t hike as fast as you thought you could. “It is what it is,” is an expression used by many backpackers to describe the need to bow to the circumstances that arise during a trip.
That’s why it’s useful to reassess your itinerary each night before you go to bed, so you can be prepared for the following morning.
- Has your pace been slower than originally planned?
- Do you need to wake up and get started extra early tomorrow to get to camp before sundown on the following day?
- Do you need to get to a river crossing early, before snowmelt raises the water level and makes the crossing dangerous?
- Do you need to stop during the day and dry out wet gear in the sunshine?
- Do you need to hike further than expected because you’re running out of food?
- Do you need to carry more water because it has proven more scarce than expected?
- What kind of distance do your partners want to travel tomorrow?
As you can see, there are many unexpected and unpredictable variables that can throw off your original trip plan and force you to relax some of your original trip objectives. The self-sufficiency that arises when you successfully cope with the unexpected is one of the rewards of backpacking, and you’ll come to relish the freedom that comes with it.