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 (February 8, 2023): Plan Like A Pro courses will not be offered in spring 2023, so that I can focus primarily on the guided trip program. I hope to relaunch PLAP in the future, likely with more updated and more comprehensive material.

“Thank you I went into the course relatively confident in my backcountry abilities.  I received individual attention from expert instructors and was able to fine-tune my gear list and pack for the actual conditions of my hike rather than for my fears.” — Jason B.

Excellent course and worth every dollar. — Carmen S.

“Nothing is left out. No doubt I will be running through these materials again and again as I get ready for my summers in the Sierra…and beyond.” — Dan F.

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. Our instructors provide detailed and thorough feedback for deeper learning and interaction.

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.

When are the dates?

In 2022, we plan to offer four courses. Registration opens on 12/13 and closes a week before the class starts.

  • Session 1: Monday, January 31 to Monday, April 4
  • Session 2: Monday, February 28 to Monday, May 2
  • Session 3: Monday, March 28 to Monday, May 30
  • Session 4: Monday, April 25 to Monday, June 27

*We seasonally run Plan Like a Pro from January-July, and will not be launching new courses in 2022. To be notified of future Plan Like a Pro courses, subscribe to my newsletter.

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. We have also created a forum platform on my website 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 most heavily involved in the curriculum.

Joe McConaughy (“Stringbean”) manages the day-to-day operations, 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, Long Trail and Arizona 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 guide 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.

To hear what past students say, read over 100 reviews from the first two years of this course.

What is the time commitment?

The course includes twenty-six separate communications, divided into about nine sections. In addition to the 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 2021:

  • 12 percent of students spent 10 hours of less
  • 44 percent of students spent 10-19 hours;
  • 44 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 is an investment in your backpacking future, and it saves 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 my book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide ($20 value)*
  • Free download of one of my high route guides ($25 value)
  • 7-day Premium Membership to Gaia GPS
  • 1-month Pro subscription to CalTopo
  • Discounts to select cottage industry vendors, which can be found on the FAQ page.

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.

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.

Have questions?

If you have questions, contact me.

How do I register?