Badlands, South Dakota

Planning for a Backpacking Trip

Before you take to the Wilderness with your ultralight tent and sleeping bag strapped to your back, it's important to be prepared. The following checklist contains steps to take before and after you hit the trail. Having the greatest amount of information allows you to stay safe and know exactly what to expect on your journey.

Note: At the end of this list is a shared Google Doc of the same information if you would prefer to have it in that format. Finally, this list may change over time, so be sure to check back before your next trip.

Months Before Trip

  • Set budget and range of potential dates for trip
  • Order/acquire National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps for area
  • Order/acquire/research additional resources about trails and sights in the area (books, maps, websites, etc.)
  • Research:
    • area trails/routes and average length of trip timelines
    • topography
    • weather and climate
    • water sources
    • sunrise and sunset times
    • trail hazards (stream crossings, washed out trails, rock climbing)
    • food storage needs (bear canister, rat sack)
    • potentially harmful wildlife in area (snakes, large predators, etc.)
    • nutritional needs for specifics of trip (e.g. high elevation, desert, heat, cold)
  • Ask off work for desired timeline (if applicable)
  • Call and ask area ranger questions about:
    • anticipated trip
    • road conditions
    • are backcountry roads suitable for our specific vehicle
    • trail conditions
    • recommended camping zones
    • recommended side trips/secondary trips in area
    • anticipated trail activity
  • Apply for backcountry, campsite, and/or parking permits (if necessary)
  • Make reservations for travel and lodging/RV parks before and after trip
  • Research cell signal access, if need to work, check-in with work, and/or emergencies:
  • Make plans for pet boarding or whatever is applicable for your pet during the trip
  • Exercise and walk with weighted backpack
  • Apply for SAR card (if applicable)
  • Check all gear, fuel, medical kit, etc., replace items/supplies and customize as necessary

Week Before Trip

  • Test beacon
  • Double check dates and levels on water purification drops
  • Replace batteries in headlamp, watch, and/or whatever needs batteries
  • Download reading material to Kindle (if applicable)
  • Download all specialty maps and apps to phone
  • Refill medications if don’t have enough to make it through trip and return home
  • Meal plan and order dehydrated meals and snacks
  • Review navigation skills, what to do in an animal attack, and other safety procedures
  • Pick up any items will be borrowing from friends for trip
  • Begin packing

Day Before Trip

  • Notify at least 2 people of route and timeline
  • Create list of restaurants that would be great for post-trip meal
  • Charge phone, Kindle, GPS, camera battery, and/or whatever needs to be charged
  • Finish packing
  • Lock up valuables
  • Board pets or whatever is planned for pets while on trip
  • Travel to nearby destination (if applicable and haven’t done so already)
  • Pre-hydrate and eat well

Day of Trip

  • Eat a meal that properly fuels and hydrate well
  • Load vehicle for trip things and post-trip things
  • Pick up backcountry permits and/or register at trailhead
  • Begin backpacking trip

Immediately After Trip

  • Sign-out at trailhead (if applicable)
  • Look under vehicle to make sure no critters are calling the shade home
  • Call/text people that you have safely finished the trip
  • Hydrate and eat!
  • Take a Tylenol (if necessary)

At Some Point After Trip

  • Process and post photos
  • Write up notes and create/amend documents
  • Walk and exercise to reduce pain
  • Wash all gear and properly store

A printable Google Doc of the above information can be found at: