Preparing For Your Wilderness Trip
Almost a decade ago, in 2009 I embarked on one of the most challenging and fulfilling hikes of my entire life. The 850km Bruce Trail which ran from Queenston, Ontario to Tobermory. This hike took over a year to plan, and about four months to execute. It earned me a world record as I was the first person to hike the entire trail completely barefoot. It also changed my life and career path.
Since that hike, I have received hundreds of emails from would-be backpackers who are embarking on similar treks around the world. Many people have questions as to how to get started, what to pack, what to expect, and other such things. In this article I will attempt to describe some of the preparation progress for trips of such grandeur. In this article I will discuss the first preparation stages of a long distance backpack trip.
The First Steps
After you have decided where you want to go, it’s time to start planning the logistics of your trip.
How will you pay your bills when you’re gone? Most people will put away a little bit of money every pay to save up for a trip. This will help a lot of if you’re going away for multiple months. You want to make sure that you’re power isn’t cut off while you’re gone.
Who will take care of your stuff? Be sure someone will come around to your house, cut your grass, bring in the mail, water plants, etc.
What time of year is best for your location? Some areas of the world are subject to vast changes in conditions. You don’t want to be hiking during monsoon season. You have to be careful of blackfly season in some areas. Sometimes summer is the best time of year, other times fall, or even winter if it’s a dogsled expedition.
What Temperature will it be? Temperature changes during the year are another consideration. You want to make sure you know the temperature so you can pack and have the correct clothes for the weather. You don’t need your Canada Goose parka if it’s going to be +40C and you’ll need more than sandals if it’s going to be -20C.
Documents Be sure to have all your documents in place. Park permits, Passport, Drivers Licence, and vaccinations. Be sure to check if you need to make reservations in advance. Many parks fill up quickly in peak season. If you’re going out of country be sure that you have all required documents for yourself and pets before you travel. This will save you a world hurt.
How Will You Get There?
It’s important to know how you will get to and from your destination. Often overlooked this is an important part of your preparation. If you have your own vehicle where will it be left? Will it be safe to leave for a few weeks? If you come back to a dead battery, how will you fix it? Especially if there is no mobile coverage in the area. An open air Jeep such as the one pictured above makes a fantastic travel vehicle, however would not be suitable to leave unattended in a remote parking lot for two weeks. It would most likely become the residence for wild animals such as raccoons, and mice. The vehicle would also get damaged from being exposed to rainfall or worse stolen due to it’s easy access.
Is there bus service to your start point? If bus service doesn’t run close to your start point perhaps you could use uber? Will all your backpacks, dogs, and yourself fit in a small car? (Just beware if you have pets not all uber drivers will accept your dogs.)
Once you have all the boring details above sorted out, now it’s time to plan your actual trip. Get a hold of some maps for your trip. Often maps are available online. Don’t trust sources such as google maps if you’re going into the wilderness. Be sure you get proper topographic maps which will help you learn where things like sources of water, canyons, roads, campsites. If you’re unsure of how to read these maps – now is a good time to start. A proper topography map can save your life during an emergency as well as prevent serious tragedies due to unknown terrain. Areas where there are lots of squiggly lines close together indicate mountains and big hills. The closer the lines are together, the steeper the grade. There are dozens of tutorials available for free around the internet to learn how to properly read a map. Don’t hike hike yourself off a cliff, or end up in boggy swamp being eaten alive by bugs if you can avoid it. These details are listed on maps and will save you a world of suffering and hurt.
Maps also have distance marks and legends where you can plot how far you will hike each day, and can plot where you will camp. Some areas you can camp anywhere, others you have to use proper campsites. You don’t want to stealth camp in a park and get yourself in trouble. Also you don’t want to camp in a boggy swamp. Having a map, knowing its use and plotting your daily route will help make things comfortable.
Before you go off trying to hike 1000km with a 30kg backpack on, ask yourself: “can I do this?” Be sure you know how far you can comfortably hike each day over varied terrain. 10km in the city on pavement is NOT 10km in the mountains! Have you practiced several full day hikes loaded with your entire heavy kit?
While it is possible to “hike yourself thin” on a longer trip, it’s best if you know your limits beforehand to ensure you don’t strain yourself to the point of injury or exhaustion.
Be sure to go on several all-day hikes with a heavy back before your trip. Ensure your body is conditioned to hike long distances. This will ensure you won’t suffer a sprained ankle or be too tired to continue less than half way through your trip.
If you are very limited with time, ensure that you plan at least one or two extra days in the event your body lets you down. For example if you plan to hike 80km at 10km per day, be sure you plan to be gone 10 days. This will allow for a couple of short hike days, a day to relax and enjoy the beauty of your destination, or a zero-kilometre day to rest up if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before because you were kept up by howling wolves nearby.
In the next article in this series I will discuss outdoor gear. Good luck!