Trekking basics: planning your trip

By Chris Ord 17 October 2012
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Get tips on planning for your next trek, whether it’s your first or your 50th, in this next installment of our series on trekking basics.

Prior preparation and planning prevents poor performance, as the (sanitised) quip goes, and it’s about as solidly truthful a cliche as you’ll find when it comes to trekking.

Planning your trek

One man who knows a thing or two about planning for outdoor adventures (he teaches it) is Beau Miles, an academic for the Bachelor of Sport and Outdoor Recreation program at Monash University and a guide with 12 years’ experience.

“The old credo, ‘an overnight takes as much planning as 20 nights, the only thing that changes is food’, is pretty much a rule of truth,” says Beau.

“All contingencies that need to be in place for a single night carry over to longer journeys. Maps, guidebooks and the internet are the obvious starting points [for planning a trek], but people are key to often the most useful information.

“Guidebooks and maps date the moment they are printed, and while comprehensive, lack the day-to-day adjustments that can occur [management, laws, boundaries, ownership]. Ultimately, there is always a resource of people that have the deepest and most thorough understanding of most places we venture.”

Beau also suggests good reconnaissance: “Recce trips in the area, or in similar terrain, are a good way to iron out needs and you should always be realistic with distance when locking in campsites.

People too often over-estimate their [group’s] ability – 95 per cent of the time a group only really travels at the pace of the slowest member. If, for example, you are walking for five days, allow day three to be a down day, or easy walking – maybe a side trip or fishing day, something different and restorative.”

Group cohesion is important, says Beau, “as people need to be on the same page. Communicating all trip information as comprehensively as possible is paramount.”

Trek planning revision

Other planning points to revise, but in more comprehensive fashion than we have space to go into here include:

Route: Know it intimately. Study it on the best and most up to date maps available. Look for possible points of confusion so you are aware as you approach them in the field.

Weather: Know before you go. What’s it supposed to be like? And given weather bods are the only people on Earth to get paid for being correct 50 per cent of the time, know what it could be like by studying the region’s weather pattern extremes.

If you’re carrying satellite technology, check the weather regularly en route. If not, learn the basic signs to look for in the field that tell you what weather is coming at you, meaning, know your cloud types and what they mean.

Food supplies: Unless you’re an absolute pro and/or know how to live off the land, food is the one thing you should overpack. You want to know that you have extra rations should you get caught out for an extra day or so.

A rudimentary knowledge of the wild food in the area you are trekking wouldn’t hurt either, even if it’s just what berries and mushrooms to avoid and what ones are safe to eat.

Water: Never assume that watercourses will be safe to drink from. Always carry some form of water purification. The best alternative is to harvest from the sky, so learn how to do that most efficiently. Allow for extra rations all the time and don’t scrimp.

Gear: Have the correct gear for the environment you are trekking through, including the appropriate safety stash for the most likely accidents. Always, always take gear for foul weather; that way you won’t have to use it (Murphy’s Law).

Communication and safety: Always trek with a personal locator beacon a mobile phone and perhaps a set of small two-way radios in case you need to separate from your party to, say, get water or help.

Contingency plans: Having studied the route, know what your contingency plans are: Where you can get out of the wilderness at various stages en route; where the best evacuation points may be; and make plans (and ensure your entire party knows what those plans are) to deal with potential accidents or eventualities.

Notification of intentions: Always sign in where there is a walkers’ registry at the trail head or a nearby ranger or police station, and ensure friends or family back home know what the trek plan is and when they should press the panic button.

If travelling overseas: Remember the typical aircraft restrictions (no gas canisters, remember to stash your knives and various bush ointments in your main hold luggage, not take on) and be sure to know local customs laws and cultural norms where you are trekking. Getting caught taking a leak against the wrong tree in some places could land you in serious trouble or have a local rural dweller up in arms.