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Trip Planning

by Kevin Estela February 26, 2019

Trip Planning

Where do you even begin when you’re planning a trip and creating a packing list? For some, this process is incredibly intimidating and it carries with it a certain level of anxiety. It’s one thing to forget something at home when you are only a few miles away at work or while at play but it is an entirely different issue when you are hundreds if not thousands of miles from resupply. Sometimes you can’t turn around and grab what you forgot at home. When done correctly, a properly prepared outdoorsman, traveler, explorer should have few items at their end of their trip they didn’t use. Ideally the first-aid kit, repair kit, and other emergency supplies should be untouched. Trip planning is a topic that comes up in conversation frequently with my friends and students. As 2019 continues to roll along and I plan on traveling for work and play, I thought I would share with you the thoughts that run through my mind and the logical order of thinking I apply to making sure nothing is left behind.


An important question to consider is, “when is the trip?” This question will help you later answer what gear you need to carry based on the season. Knowing what time of year you’re going will allow you to determine, with the power of the internet, what the average temperature range will be as well as predicted precipitation. Knowing your departure date will also help you determine how long you have to plan before you leave. The timeline of your trip should include proper planning prior to departure. I like thinking of what I need to accomplish a week from the start, a month out, and 6 months out if time allows. This prevents you from missing deadlines to apply for permits, reservations, and so on. I hate reacting to unexpected trips forcing my timeline but they happen. In those circumstances, you have to fall back on previous trip planning and your past notes to counter the stress of rushing. 
 Another important timeline question to ask is, “how long is the trip?” This will let me know how much I need to pack as well as when I will need to resupply. In general, the more time you spend afield, the more time you will need to prepare in advance. If you are away for an extended period of time, you may have to take into account tending to affairs at home such as setting up automatic bill payments, cutting your grass, and stopping your mail.


Travel To, From, and Around

Your destination may only be a few miles down the road or it could be continents away. Part of effective trip planning is searching the internet for the best method and manner of travel to and from. You may find out cars parked at the trailhead get vandalized frequently making Uber an excellent transportation option. Then again, your trip may require a flight or boat ride and working out the departure and arrival schedules, associated costs, and travel times . 
 Another factor to work into your trip planning equation is getting around once you arrive at your destination. You may have a local contact who volunteers for taxi duty or you may need to find a rental car. One thing you should consider is where your travel will take you. While it is attractive to find the cheapest rental car for money saving (especially if you are traveling alone), the smallest rental cars are often not 4WD. If you end up in a city, there are countless methods of transportation from buses, to trains, to bike or scooter rentals. Just make sure you can get around when you need to. Some transportation options may not be available at all hours of the day. 


Emergency Services

After I’ve concluded when I’m going and how I’m getting there and back, I usually consider emergency services next. I can practically drive myself blindfolded (although I won’t try it like the idiots doing the Birdbox challenge) to my local police department or the hospital at home. I’m familiar with my area. In a new location, I don’t want to wait for an emergency to happen to start looking for help. I’d rather have numbers programmed into my phone, general map orientation of hospitals and refuges done, and an understanding of response times and egress procedures predetermined. You don’t need to wait for an emergency to happen to experience it. You can run scenarios in your head and work toward becoming ready for them. A good question to ask relates to cell phone service and if you will be able to make calls. Another is what level trauma center is the nearest hospital? No one wants to think about trip-ending experiences but they are necessary considerations. What’s that old expression about an ounce of prevention? When service is questionable, I pack an satellite emergency network device. 



Minimum Required Clothing

Eventually in your trip planning process, you need to look at the personal gear you will carry with you. Since your clothing is your first line of defense against the environment, I like to start with that and apply a system of planning I learned back in the day at Eastern Mountain Sports. I apply the “E.M.S.” method of picking out clothing. Starting from layer closest to my “S”kin, I lay out underwear, socks, liner gloves, and hat. Working to the “M”iddle layer, I set aside the insulative clothing I may need like fleece jacket, neckerchief, puffy jacket, warmer gloves, etc. The last layer is the “E”xternal layer that provides wind and rain protection as well as protection for my feet. At the very minimum, I want at least one set of clothes squared away before I start planning what other clothing items to pack. In my mind, I can make do wearing the same clothes for a few days. Hell, in Alaska I wore the same clothes almost 3 weeks. After setting aside my must have clothes for the field, I can work on packing nice-to-have clothes like sandals and sweats for around the hotel room/camp. If I am flying, all of these clothes are packed in my carry-on bag. My rationale is simple. It’s easier to borrow the right gear than it is the right clothing if I were separated from my checked baggage. I can get by for a while with one complete set of clothes only sacrificing a little creature comfort when they start to smell or get dirty. Good clothes are hard to improvise but a single complete set will take you far. If space allows, I’ll pack a set of clean clothes for the trip home and a spare set to sit around camp or the local bar/restaurant in. 


Shelter, Food, Hygiene Considerations

Some of my equipment comes with me regardless of where I travel. My pocket gear (Swiss Army Knife, flashlight, bandana, tourniquet, lighter) are generally accepted everywhere. The next tier of equipment (KE Bushie, canteen, fire kit, tarp, etc, headlamp, signaling equipment) also mostly stays the same. The noticeable changes come with my shelter, food, and hygiene prep. While I love my hammock, some locations are not suited for them. I simply ask the question, “can I hang my hammock?” to determine if I’m tenting it or packing the hammock. Overnight temperatures determine if I bring my lightest quilt, mid-range bag, my warmest -20 sleeping bag or another insulation option.
There are some trips where planning food is easier than others. Food can become very heavy as days are added onto the itinerary. My rule of thumb is pretty simple, if I can purchase provisions easily where I’m headed, I do. I’ll usually scope out a good Walmart or Target in the area and stock up early. If I plan on being in the backwoods away from stores and eateries, I pack my own. Based on the number of days afield and physical output, I’ll either eat twice a day and snack in between or have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with smaller snacks here and there. Food should be consumed in order from the most perishable to the least perishable. Dried foods are easily carried and prepared if water isn’t an issue. If you have any specific dietary needs or staples in your diet that are hard to find, packing it along makes sense. I can’t tell you what it feels like to run out of good coffee but I do recall that horrible feeling on more than one trip and usually pack more than not enough. Keep in mind, when you think back on your trip 20 years from now, you’ll probably remember if the food was good or not. Make it just as exciting as your destination if you can and build a great memory. 

Something commonly overlooked is camp hygiene. All that food has to go somewhere right? This part of this blog will skate the lines of decency but it is important to bring up. If you are going to be away from civilization for a while, you need to stay clean and germ free. It never makes it into cool instagram photos but toilet paper, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer are important to a healthy trip. If running out of coffee is bad, running out of TP is a nightmare. If you are concerned about showering, you can go a long way with just a sponge or washcloth and some warm water. Remember, you only get one chance at staying healthy and you can’t enjoy these trips if you are sick. A small packable folding shovel and green-friendly soap are great add ons to your packing list. 


After Action and Return Trips

A time-tested practice is keeping track of what you used and what you didn’t. If you were to check in any of my notebooks from trips I’ve taken, you’ll find a section where I made recommendations for the next trip and noted what gear I should have packed for that one. My collection of full notebooks is impressive. The process of trip planning doesn’t end as each destination presents a new challenge. The important thing to remember is trip planning is more about the process than it is the product. When the process is correct and you ask the right questions, you can rest assured your gear, the product, will be correct as well. 

Kevin Estela
Kevin Estela


Kevin Estela is a Survival Instructor at Estela Wilderness Education. Kevin is a frequent contributing writer for publications such as RECOIL, Athlon Outdoors, and Beckett Media. He is a Sayoc Kali Associate Instructor Level 5, as well as a BJJ Purple Belt.

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