Waitlist guidance

For applicants who have been placed on a waitlist, or prospective applicants who will be placed on a waitlist because the trip in which they’re most interested is currently full, I would like to explain our process and to suggest ways in which you can most reliably and quickly get onto a trip.

On a personal note

It’s reasonable to be frustrated that you’re on a waitlist, or to feel rejected if you weren’t offered a spot when groups were originally formed. In most cases, you can chalk it up to luck — I had more applicants than spots for many trips, and simply didn’t have room for everyone.

I’m frustrated that I have waitlists, too, and it eats at me that I’ve been unable to find spots for perfectly qualified applicants. However, I don’t feel that the obvious solutions are acceptable: if I significantly raise prices to better match supply and demand, the trips will no longer be financially accessible to many; and if I massively scale our operations, it’ll overstress our organization, the guide team, federal land agency permit systems, and the wilderness character of our locations.

Our review process

We give each applicant two ratings:

Qualification Score

We compare the applicant’s backpacking history against our preferred standards for their Top Choice trip. We have three scores:

  • 3: Ideal. We’re confident that these applicants have the requisite experience for their Top Choice.
  • 2: Meets. We think these applicants have enough experience to complete the trip, but it’d be more of a reach.
  • 1: Below. We don’t feel that these applicants have sufficient experience for their Top Choice.

Fitness Level

Our assessment is based on all of the following factors (ordered roughly from most important to least important):

  • Performance on past guided trips (alumni only)
  • Daily mileage and vertical gain on past backpacking trips
  • Weekly fitness regimen
  • Biographical details: age, gender, state, BMI
  • Self-selected Fitness Level, preferred daily mileage, and preferred daily vertical gain, and self-reported fitness versus peers
  • Fear of heights and history of altitude issues

Appealing our review

If you feel that we have misjudged your qualifications and fitness, please make your case to me so that we can reconsider. Unless you are an alumnus, we are basing the Qualification Score and Fitness Level solely on the information in your application. If your application was unclear or light on details, we usually are conservative with our ratings.

Odds of getting off a waitlist

Every year we have cancellations, usually due to physical injury, unexpected scheduling conflicts, personal or family health issues, and employment or geographic changes.

In 2021 the average cancellation rate was nearly 25 percent. On an 8-person group, this means that two members cancelled. In 2022, we have capacity for 478 clients, so we’re expecting about 100-125 cancellations! For context, as of February 10 there are only 117 applicants on waitlists.

But it won’t work out that everyone will get off a waitlist, because the waitlists are not equally long. In mid-February, the waitlists are very short in Utah, rare for 3-day Fundamentals courses, and long for all other trips.

Waitlist lengths

The online schedule specifies the current number of applicants on the waitlist for each trip. This number is based on the Top Choice of each applicant; it does not account for other First Choice locations or trip types.

In some locations, we have identical trips. In those cases, the waitlist is divided among them. For example, we have four Adventure 5-day trips in Utah, all rated Moderate. If we had four applicants on the waitlist, the schedule will show one applicant per trip.

In reality, the waitlists are often shorter than they look, because I often don’t hear from applicants who have moved on and are no longer interested or available. Frequently, I have to contact several waitlisted applicants before finding a replacement.

Waitlist order

When I have an open spot, I look first for applicants whose Top Choice matches the trip location and trip type, and whose Fitness Level matches the vacancy.

If I find multiple matches, I select the applicant with the highest Qualification Score and whose biographical details best match or balance the group. For example, if all members of the current group are between 50 and 65 years-old, I’d be more inclined to offer the spot to a 48 year-old than a 28 year-old. Or, if the group is too heavily male or too heavily female, I will likely look for an applicant who will help balance this out.

If I don’t find any matches, I look for other applicants who listed this location and trip type as a First Choice (or maybe even a Second Choice) and who match the Fitness Level.

What is your Plan B?

Your Plan A was probably to get on a trip right away. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, so let’s come up with a Plan B.

1. Jump on an open spot

Your best chance of getting on a trip is to check the schedule for current openings and to contact me about spots in which you’re interested. If a spot is truly available and if you’re a good match, I can give it to you right away.

2. Change your Top Choice and First Choices

The next best option is to update your trip selections (using this form, the responses from can be easily pasted into your original application) to increase your odds or your options. Specifically, you might:

  • Change your Top Choice to a trip that has shorter waitlists; and/or,
  • Select more locations and durations as First Choices.

3. Stay put

If you are dead set on a single location or trip type, stay where you are — don’t waste your time or money on a trip about which are you only lukewarm.

I would only recommend staying put if your Qualifications Score is “3: Ideal.” If you were rated “2: Meets” or “1: Below,” I encourage you to look at other options.

4. Withdraw

If you no longer want to be considered for a trip, please contact me and I can update your application.

Keep yourself available for as long as you can

If you really want to get onto a trip, do the following:

  1. Block out the dates on your calendar so that you remain available if a spot opens up.
  2. If you start getting pressure on the dates, check in with me, because sometimes there’s an opportunity that’s not yet on the website. For example, maybe I’ve been told about a possible scheduling conflict, but a final decision has not been made yet.
  3. Set a drop-dead date on which a go/no-go decision must be made. Check in with me around this date.

Take Plan Like A Pro

If you are not an alumnus and if you don’t have extensive backpacking experience, consider taking Plan Like A Pro. Session 2 starts in late-February; Session 3, in late-March; Session 4, in late-April.

Completing this course will make you more “plug and play” if a spot opens up, because you’ll be more prepared. Especially for openings less than 30 days out, I often pass over applicants who will need more assistance because our instructors and guides are busy with final trip preparations.

If you take Plan Like A Pro and get on a trip later (this season or a future season), the course fee will be credited to your trip.

Applying again in 2023

If a waitlisted applicant applies again for a trip for which they’re qualified (e.g.”3: Meets”), I try really hard to find them a spot on a trip. It’s not a guarantee, but it bumps you much closer to the front of the line.

If your application was rated “2: Meets” or “1: Below,” I would suggest you try the following next year:

  1. Submit a more detailed (but still honest) application so that we can better judge your credentials;
  2. Improve your qualifications in 2022 by backpacking more. If you’re uncertain what qualifications we prefer for your Top Choice trip, ask me.
  3. Select a less advanced Top Choice trip. For example, rather than an Expedition-level trip, consider an Adventure-level; or rather than a 7-day trip, select a 5-day.


Contact me, using this form or responding to an email.