Seven Ways to Make a Good Backpacking Trip Great

Devil's Path in the Catskills definitely
requires teamwork! (D. Herscovitch)
Backpacking trips can be a fantastic way to see some beautiful terrain and get some quality time outside. After spending last weekend out in the woods on what might've been one of the most successful trips I've been on, I compiled a list of things that can make a good trip great, or a potentially good trip disappointing.

1. Know what you're getting into.

Preparedness is important not just because it'll keep you safe, but also because it can make the trip more enjoyable. If you're going with a friends, are you all on the same page about how much ground you want to cover? How fast you want to go? Are the goals you've set for the trip reasonable? Do you have the maps you need? The weather reports? One of the biggest challenges I had on some of my first backpacking trips was understanding the pace we'd be going, and being realistic about times. I didn't understand we'd really only be walking 2-3 miles per hour and what being on my feet for an entire day with a 40 pound pack felt like. Make sure everyone in the group you're going with is on board.

2. Find just the right amount of a challenge.

Pushing your limits can be great fun. Quad burning, heart pounding, walk-until-you-die - that kind of pushing. However, choosing a trail that isn't as challenging, but allows you the time and energy to stop and smell the flowers, that's great fun too. I adore the eastern portion of Devil's Path in the Catskill Mountain because I know I'll be humbled by how difficult it is. That and the fact that monsoon season seems to follow us there every time! I also adore trails like the Pinchot Trail in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The Pinchot features gently rolling hills, beautiful landscapes, and a chance to trek 23 miles in two days without killing yourself. (Look for a video trip diary of last weekend's Pinchot Trail trip soon!) Know what level of a challenge you're looking for, and know that it's alright to forgo the Devil's Path-esque challenge once in a while. 

3. Have a plan, but know you might need to change it.

It's prudent to go out on any backpacking trip with a plan. Know the length of the trail and how long you think it'll take to complete it. Know where viable campsites are. Know where your stopping points are each day. But also, make sure you know where bailout points are. Know that you might have to adjust the mileage you cover each day depending on trail conditions. For me, it's a challenge to accept that things might not always go according to plan, and keeping a positive outlook on things can make the difference between a trip being fun, and a trip being stressful.

Good company can make a good trip great!

4. Bring good company and have good conversation.

Solo trips can be a great way to disconnect and to learn about yourself. But part of what makes the beauty of our world so meaningful is sharing it with others.Watching a stunning sunset with friends, hearing a bird you've never heard before, and laughing about the day's trials and tribulations can really make a trip fun. And if you're alone, there won't be any silly inside jokes to tell after the trip is over!

5. Pack the right stuff.

We all forget to pack things, whether we're on a backpacking trip or staying in a hotel on vacation. Forgetting things like toilet paper, warm gloves, even something as simple as the hot cocoa you love to drink before bed can make the trip a lot less fun. Make a list of everything you'll need before you go, especially the essentials. If you're going with a group, discuss what group gear you'll take and make sure everyone's clear on who is responsible for which items. Prior to flying out to California for an attempt on Mount Agassiz in the Sierras, my three trip mates and I divided up items like water filters and stoves, knowing we wouldn't each need to bring them. It made our packs lighter, and ensured we had the most important pieces of equipment we'd need.

6. Understand the trail.

Prior to heading out on the Batona Trail last spring, I had a vague idea of what it would be like. I knew it would be flat, that there would be a lot of sand, and that we'd likely run into a lot of people. If I'd gone into that weekend expecting elevation change, amazing views and a variety of terrain, it would've been a long few days. Knowing what the trail you've selected has to offer doesn't just help with trip planning, it helps you manage expectations. Take the time to read others' trip reports, look at topo maps and learn about what you'll be seeing while you're out. You might find the trail you've chosen is too challenging, not exciting enough, or just right. 

7. Take the time to enjoy it.

When I lived in Alaska outside of Denali National Park, there were a few go-to 3-4 hour hikes I'd complete just for exercise. I'd just run up and run down, no breaks, no breathers. It was fun to see how fast I could get them done, but I started to forget what the scenery looked like. I'd be up and down so fast I'd miss things, things  you don't want to miss when you're in a place where seasons change seemingly overnight. It's great to power through trails just to see how fast you can get them done, but remember to stop and look around once in a while. Unless you're training for something, and even if you are, don't forget what drew you to that trail in the first place. Put down the camera, slow down, look and listen.

Did I miss anything you think makes for the perfect backpacking trip? Leave a comment!