Planning Course

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 this online 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 an extended version of the curriculum used to prepare clients for our guided trips, which itself is based on the process I used to undertake groundbreaking hikes like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition and Great Western Loop.


Registration for our spring 2020 sessions is now closed. We will offer this course again in spring 2021 and maybe fall 2020.

  • Session 1, starting April 27 (sold out);
  • Session 2, starting June 1 (sold out)
  • Session 3, starting July 13 (closed July 7)

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

What’s the format?

Sessions 1 and 2 followed a set schedule, with one topic being covered most weeks. Session 3 is self-paced, and all modules will be available immediately.

To communicate with students and distribute materials, we use Google Classroom, which is both user-friendly and amply functional.

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 manage most aspects of the course, including curriculum development.

Students will hear most often from Joe McConaughy (“Stringbean”), who handles the day-to-day operations and communications. Joe joined me last year as a guide, and this year took over our guided trip curriculum. He’s a master trip planner in his own right, having set speed records on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail.

Two self-described gear nerds — standout client Hunter Hall, and Appalachian Trail thru-hiker Brandon Chase — assist Joe.

Joe, Hunter, and Brandon will check all of your work, give thorough feedback about your gear list, and host a mid-course virtual meeting.

Regular engagement with instructors is one of the most standout features about our online course. It will help ensure that you learn the information, not just read or watch it.

What will you learn?

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 nineteen separate communications, divided among seven sections. In addition to required readings, there are ten 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.

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 has only one live event, a video call about halfway through. It’s an opportunity to meet others in your group and to discuss gear selection, but it’s not required. Otherwise you can access the materials on your own schedule.

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 $145, 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:

  • Signed copy of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide ($20 value)*;
  • A high route guide of your choice ($25 value);
  • 7-day Premium Membership to Gaia GPS; and,
  • 2-month Pro subscription to CalTopo.

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 2021, 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 in Sessions 1 reported no exceptional difficulties relative to the US students. You may have to do some extra legwork to find relevant resources (e.g. climate data, public maps).

What’s the timeline?

Session 1 starts on Monday, April 27 and finishes on Friday, June 26.

Session 2 starts on Monday, June 1 and finishes on Friday, July 31.

Session 3 starts on Monday, July 13, and is self-paced.

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.

Have questions?

If you have questions, contact me.

How do I register?