Backpack trip planning checklist: To do before you go

I have planned hundreds of backpacking trips. Many have been personal outings, ranging from long weekends in nearby destinations to multi-month thru-hikes in faraway places. The rest have been guided, when I’ve been accountable to paying clients.

To maximize my working efficiency and to prevent oversights when getting backpacking trips out the door, I use a trip planning checklist — a spreadsheet, actually — of tasks that must be completed before I go.

This list represents the outer limit of things that can or must be done. If my trip is local, for example, I need not book airfare or a rental car. And for areas where I backpack regularly, it’s not as critical that I research the conditions and create a gear list prior to each trip.

Several of these tasks are quick and easy, but others like food preparation and gear lists can involve substantial time.

Stocking up on bear spray in Fairbanks prior to running four guided trips in the Brooks Range

Trip parameters


  • Settle on a location, trail, or route
  • Block out dates and clear the calendar
  • For the group, if not going solo
  • Determine the trip style, in terms of hiking versus camping


  • Secure trailhead or campsite permits
  • Coordinate travel plans with group members
  • Book airfare
  • Book ground transportation
  • Book pre-trip lodging
  • Book post-trip lodging


  • Research likely environmental & route conditions
  • Create a gear list
  • Acquire all necessary gear
  • Update settings for satellite-enabled devices (e.g. SPOT, inReach)
  • Wash, renew, and repair gear, fabrics, and insulations that need it
  • Check and possibly charge batteries, e.g. camera, smartphone, headlamp, GPS watch, satellite communicator, backup charger
  • Insert an empty memory card into camera

Food & supplies


  • Finalize the intended route
  • Create or collect necessary guidebooks, databooks, and maps
  • Load digital files (e.g. GPX, topo maps) onto GPS or smartphone

Shut down the house

  • Add vacation message to email and voicemail
  • Backup computer files
  • Water plants
  • Pay bills
  • Forward mail (for a long trip)

The final pack-up

  • Food
  • Gear
  • Permits, maps, guidebooks, databooks
  • Park pass
  • Perishable food items, e.g. avocados, cheese, butter*
  • Personal items: fresh clothes, flip-flops, toiletries, electronics and chargers, e.g. phone, laptop, tablet, e-reader, driving GPS
  • Water and food for pre-trip consumption
  • Leave itinerary with emergency contacts

* Do not purchase these items until you’re on-site, since they can’t be carried onto a plane or even checked.

Clothing, footwear, and a few other items for the winter months of my Alaska-Yukon Expedition
Posted in , on April 22, 2015


  1. Amytys on July 6, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    Transfer photos off camera memory card. Nothing like hitting the mountains with a near-full memory card of precious moments that haven’t been transferred to another storage device yet.

    • Albert on July 7, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      Or realizing on the trail, during that first photo moment, that I left the memory card at home altogether :-(.

  2. Amytys on July 6, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    Check condition of headlamp batteries.
    Pay bills (avoid those late charges)
    Unplug computer/appliances (nothing like a power spike when you’re not home)
    Water plants
    Lock house (amazing what you can forget when excited to leave for a trip)
    If not flying, fill up water bottles

  3. Jess on July 7, 2015 at 8:21 am

    Leave an itinerary with someone so that if worst comes to worst search and rescue has something to work off of. (Not that I always do that, but yah know)

  4. Sam H on July 7, 2015 at 9:16 am

    Stash beer in creek at trip take-out.

  5. Vadim Fedorovsky on July 8, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Andrew, do you store your quilt at home in the provided mesh bag from SD or do you hang it?

    I have never understood how sensitive down actually is to compression.

    Is it crucial that there is as minimal compression of it as possible or is it just a matter of avoiding storing it completely compressed (i.e. in a stuff sack all the time)?

    Thank you!

  6. Roleigh Martin on July 11, 2015 at 1:07 am

    Don’t forget to have your mail held if you live alone. If the hike is a long hike, create automatic payments for regular bills so you’re not put into overdue status. If you have a Delorme, switch (upgrade) your plan if you want “unlimited texts” while on the trail. Itemize your incidentals you ship to resupply points so you don’t forget what you shipped and either forget or duplicately pack incidentals. If you are hiking through the Sierras, bring the JMT Crib Sheet (one sheet of paper) with about 179 phone numbers, bus schedules, etc., on it. Get it here: — for other long hikes, other web sites may have a crib sheet for that hike. Or create your own and post it on the web to help others.

  7. Vadim Fedorovsky on July 14, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    According to Sierra Designs staff member: “Best to store any down gear hung in a closet and as uncompressed as possible.

    If a closet is unavailable, then store loosely inside mesh sack.”


  8. Jean on July 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    I live in Africa so these may be somewhat unique:
    Ensure that your passport is up to date, and will take you where you want to gi and back;
    Ditto for visas, international driving licence, gun permit etc;
    Ensure your malaria meds are up to date;
    If needed, get a yellow fever shot and certificate;
    Arrange emergency evacuation insurance and medical support.

  9. Jillian on September 29, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks for the tips!

  10. Andy T. on October 26, 2015 at 8:03 am

    Your packing tips are amazing and can serve as a great reminder as well. Thanks for sharing the helpful list!

  11. anti on June 17, 2016 at 3:37 am

    first for me is ALWAYS make sure the 5 C’s(or10) are IN the pack because you KNOW if you forget something you can still thrive and stay out THERE>>> and they should be carried as a base at ALL times even on day walks…

    if using filtration check status of filter and system replace filter if necessary and carry backup as well as redundancy in carrying tablets/iodine/potassium magnamate or similar…

    seam seal anything that needs it…

    check ALL buckles and lashing points for weaknesses and/or breakage…

    clean/oil/sharpen ALL tools and knives check thoroughly…

    clean/oil/check ALL firearms and ammo thoroughly…

    if sequoia, they ‘force’ you to bear-cancarry til offseason you can ‘risk’ it if you want but i am told current fines are ‘steep’ ^^^$$$^^^$$$^^^$$$ so don’t leave your own behind or remind and reserve!!!

    check exp. dates on ALL aspirin/ibupro/meds…

    if you have any special medical conditions or allergies/special doctors names and contacts write them down and put one in pack and carry one on body (and wear med. bracelet if apply)

    the dog man!!! do NOT forget the dog!!!…

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