Template: Environmental & Route Conditions Assessment

Nineteen years ago at the start of my first real backpacking trip — an over-my-head thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail — I was simultaneously over-, under-, and mis-prepared, and had justified many decisions on the basis of what if and just in case. For example, I had three methods of purifying water but only “water-resistant” rain gear; and I’d packed a signaling mirror to flag down a helicopter, not realizing how many other hikers I’d see or how many roads I’d cross.

My trip planning was a case study in what not to do. Among other things that I failed at, I hadn’t thoroughly researched the environmental and route conditions that I would likely encounter, which made it difficult to determine exactly what gear, supplies, and skills I truly needed.

Template: Conditions assessment

My goal in sharing this template is to help you avoid the same mistakes. It includes specific prompts for each conditions category:

  • Climate/weather
  • Sun & moon cycles
  • Footing
  • Vegetation
  • Navigational aids
  • Sun exposure
  • Water availaiblity
  • Problematic wildlife
  • Biting insects
  • Remoteness
  • Natural hazards

To help you complete a conditions assessment, utilize some of my previous posts on this subject:

If this exercise is new to you, expect it to take several hours. Future assessments will go faster, since you’ll know where and how to look for information.

Create your own copy of this template

Start by opening this Google Doc.

If you are logged into your Google account, go to File > Make a copy. That will save a copy in your own Drive.

If you’re not logged in or if you prefer Microsoft Word, go to File > Download > Microsoft Word.

Other trip planning templates

With the posting of this template, I’ve now shared the three cornerstones of my trip planning process.

These are living documents, updated regularly as I get deeper into the planning process. And additions or changes to one will often have repercussions for another.

Have questions or a comment about the Conditions Assessment, or need tech troubleshooting? Leave a comment below.

Posted in , on March 2, 2021


  1. Cathy on March 2, 2021 at 2:11 pm

    The ones I struggle with the most are the ones where there isn’t really a good, trusted, centralized source of information. Most of my trips are not done in national parks.

    I suspect your answer for many of these will be “trip reports”, but those are catch-as-catch can, may not be trustworthy, and may be few and far between early in the season. Can you suggested a trusted source of trip reports for trips your trusted personal acquaintances don’t cover?


    Timing of tick hatch – How do I find out when a particular elevation in a particular region (e.g, the Whites in New Hampshire) is starting to see ticks?

    Bug pressure (mosquitos, black flies) – This could vary greatly from one elevation to the next, and one ravine to the next.

    Trail conditions related to snow melt – These may vary widely from trail to trail within a single region, with some turning into flowing streams, some muddy but passable, and others decent (think AT/LT in New England). Satellites won’t show which is which, only general snow conditions.

    • Andrew Skurka on March 2, 2021 at 4:57 pm

      Yes, these are the hard ones. A few options:

      1. If you find enough trip reports, you’ll see patterns.
      2. Pitch a specific question to an online group, which is likely to give you back an array of perspectives/experiences.
      3. Find someone who knows the area intimately well and can give you reliable information. Rangers, for example, are great at this, because they are in those woods almost everyday and often hold those jobs for many years, so they understand that seasonal nuance better than anyone.

      • Cathy on March 2, 2021 at 5:24 pm

        Thank you, Andrew. These are all good suggestions.

  2. Michael on March 4, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    Total curiosity, where’s the photo of the mosquitoes and golite pants from?

    • Andrew Skurka on March 4, 2021 at 3:46 pm


  3. Mike Bievenour on May 11, 2021 at 10:27 am

    Thank you for this template as well as the similar information in your book. I teach a Backpack and Camping college course. After going through the information with my class I assigned them a location in the country and they had to pick a 3 day hike and research all the information. They really enjoyed what they learned about the location. Next semester I am going to have them present what they learned. Bottom line they learned and were able to apply the info. Hopefully if they hike or backpack again they will prepare them selves properly.

  4. Dan Collison on May 23, 2021 at 10:29 am

    Wow, those unfortunate Chinese ultramarathoners! They would have benefited from this!


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