Online course: Plan Like A Pro

Brooks Range, Alaska, in the middle of a 650-mile stretch without crossing a road or seeing another human.

Update (November 23, 2021): Registration for the first Plan Like A Pro course of 2022 will open on December 13. The course will start on January 31, 2022. Additional sessions will start in late-February, late-March, and late-April.

“As a novice backpacker, it can be overwhelming to figure out what gear to buy, what kinds and how much food to pack, what skills I need to know, and much more. Andrew’s course saved me money and time and made me feel much more confident in my capacity to plan for a trip.” — Paul S.

“Thank you for helping make me a more organized backpacker. It certainly helped out on the JMT this summer!” — Renata Z.

“This course provides a pragmatic and structured framework for planning your trips, regardless of the duration. It is flexible enough for a weekend getaway and complete enough for a major thru hike. Well worth the time and money spent to learn from the world-class instructors.” — Scott H.

Successful backpacking trips are typically planned, not improvised. A thoughtful approach towards gear, food, maps, permits, travel, fitness, and skills will increase your safety margin and trip quality, and will actually create more potential for adventure — by solving foreseeable problems beforehand, you can respond fully to the true unknowns.

Can you plan all aspects of your first trip, next trip, or dream trip — and without making errors, taking too long, or forgetting key parts?

In the Plan Like A Pro course, we’ll guide you through a comprehensive planning framework that is applicable to every location, season, group size, style, and experience level. It’s most relevant to self-sufficient itineraries, the outer limit of which is about two weeks; but the steps can be repeated for multi-month trips.

The origins of the curriculum go back to my groundbreaking hikes like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition, Great Western Loop, and Sea to Sea Route. I built it out further to help prepare clients for our guided trips and then to offer this standalone course.

What’s the format?

The course follows a set schedule, with one topic being covered most weeks.

The course is comprised of reading materials, assignments with in-depth feedback, discussions and three virtual meetings. To communicate with students and distribute materials, we use Google Classroom, which is both user-friendly and amply functional. For 2021, we have also created a forum platform for additional engagement.

Early on you will be asked to identify a “goal trip” that will serve as a foundation for later topics and assignments. The learning is not merely hypothetical — by the end of the course, you should be fully prepared to undertake this itinerary.

The course culminates with a local shakeout trip so that you can test your gear, practice newly acquired skills, and identify room for improvement.

Who are your instructors?

I oversee the course, and am mostly heavily involved in the curriculum development.

Joe McConaughy (“Stringbean”) manages the day-to-day operations and the student communications, and supports the instructor team. Joe joined the program as a guide in 2019 and is a master trip planner in his own right, having set speed records on the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Long Trails.

We have a team of instructors — specifically Brandon Chase, Hunter Hall, Katie Gerber, and Rebecca Bastian — that will check all of your work, thoroughly review your gear list, and host three virtual meetings with your group. You can find their bios here; Katie and Rebecca also guides for me.

What will you learn?

Perhaps the most standout feature of this course is the regular engagement with instructors. It will help ensure that you learn the information, not just read or watch it; and they will help keep you accountable.

View the full curriculum for all topics. Most importantly, you will learn to:

  • Research likely environmental and route conditions like the weather, bug pressure, water availability, and problem bears;
  • Select appropriate gear for the conditions and your backpacking style;
  • Plan meals, including dinners that go beyond Ramen noodles or expensive freeze-dried packages;
  • Assemble a navigation system of maps, resources, and tools; and,
  • Acquire requisite skills and fitness for your itinerary.

In many of the modules, we will share helpful resources, tools, and tips that you can replicate and use on your future trips.

What is the time commitment?

The course includes twenty-four separate communications, divided in about nine sections. In addition to required readings, there are eleven assignments.

The anticipated total time commitment is 8 to 24 hours, depending on your existing knowledge and your level of engagement. Like most things, the more time and thought you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. In 2020:

  • 11 percent of students spent 10 hours of less
  • 56 percent of students spent 10-19 hours;
  • 33 percent of students spent 20+ on the course.

The curriculum schedule is purposefully designed to keep the workload roughly even. It’s best for students to stay on track, but it’s not catastrophic if you are occasionally late — the assignments will remain available to you, and we will review any submitted work while the course is running.

The course includes three virtual meetings at the beginning, middle and end of the course, that are opportunities to meet others in your group and to discuss involved topics like gear selection. Dates are posted in the curriculum. The meetings are not mandatory.

Large-scale maps for an upcoming trip, sprawled across my kitchen floor so I can see the true scale of the route

How much does it cost?

The course costs $175, which is an exceptional price in consideration of the content quality, instructor engagement, and generous perks. This is a premium product, but we’ve intentionally kept its price accessible.

This course an investment in your backpacking future, and it save you both time and money. Learn from experts who have figured it out already; avoid buying gear that doesn’t ultimately suit your needs; and maximize the full potential of every trip.

What’s included?

Your course fee includes a:

In addition, students who complete the entire course will be given discounts with the following vendors.

Finally, if you decide to join us on a guided trip in the future, your course fee will be applied as a full credit against your trip cost.

* If you are outside CONUS, you will need to purchase a local or digital copy of the Gear Guide, and I will refund you my cost. It’s impractical for me to mail you one, from both a cost and time perspective.

Gear for a 6,875-mile loop around the American West that I completed in 2007. Meticulous planning has always been a hallmark of my trips.

Is the course relevant if you don’t live in the US?

Since the instructors are most familiar with US locations and since most of the students are US-based, the course is biased towards backpacking in the US. However, the framework applies equally well outside the US, like to Canada and Europe. Personally, I’ve used it for planning trips in the Yukon and Iceland, and for running event in the Alps and Chile.

Our international students have not reported difficulties that were exceptional compared to their US counterparts. You may have to do some extra legwork to find relevant resources like climate data and public maps.

What’s the timeline?

A detailed schedule is available.

You need not be always online while the course is running, and being gone for an entire week usually isn’t catastrophic. But you need to have 8 to 24 hours available during these spans, and it’d be better to dedicate a little bit of time each week rather than letting the work stack up.

Will you retain access to the materials?

For as long as Google keeps Classroom live, you will retain access to the materials. Since Classroom is now a major initiative for Google, I suspect this is a reliable long-term solution.

What do former students say about the course?

A few testimonials are below. Read 70 more from the 2020 course.

“What a great course! Applying Andrew’s planning methodology greatly increased my confidence in planning backcountry trips. Between all of the content and perks, the course is more than worth it!” — Patrick M.

“Want to learn how to “dial in your gear” ? It all starts with proper trip planning your trip. Where are you going and what are you doing are fundamental questions that you need to know how to answer before you can decide what to bring. Andrew’s class taught me how to look at all elements of a trip before picking the perfect trail to ensure there were no bad surprises while out on the trail. Recommend this class to anyone who hasn’t planned trip before or those looking for a more detailed “system” to approach planning trips in areas that they have never been to before.” -Liv A.

“This course has great value, especially for beginner and intermediate backpackers. I especially found advice and feedback on gear to helpful. Actual interactions with instructors is really helpful in weeding through the black hole that is internet gear reviews.” — Anonymous

“Andrew Skurka’s course is a must for anyone looking to improve their efficiency in planning trips to the backcountry. From gear selection to navigation to food planning, this class covers it all. The amount of content in the course is astounding and the collective knowledge of the instructors is impressive. If you’re considering signing up, do it now before the next class sells out. The course pays for itself many times over.” — Jordan D

Have questions?

If you have questions, contact me.

How do I register?