Got a big expedition coming up? Thinking about a way to mix all of your favourite adventure sports into one big holiday? Good planning can mean the difference between a mind-blowing trip and assuming the foetal position in a thunderstorm. Luckily, James Stuart has some handy hints for planning (and packing) for that trip of a lifetime.
If you’re like me then planning a big trip can be almost as much fun as the expedition itself (#spreadsheetnerd). If you’re not like me then, as Jabba the Hut once said, ‘in time you will learn to love planning’. Follow these 7 lessons learnt from years of climbing, canyoning and hiking (and a recent 6-week adventure extravaganza in North America).
1. Book Early, Book Often
If you’ve ever showed up at a full campground, you’re already sold on this notion. But it’s especially important when you’re doing backcountry activities. Does the area you’re heading to require hiking permits (like Yosemite National Park or the Overland Track) or even guides?
Accommodation around, and transport to/from, your destination is likely to be limited, especially in peak seasons and on weekends so make sure you lock that in too.
2. Get Spreadsheety
Spreadsheets are the best way to create a single document that lists out travel itineraries, accommodation details, arrivals/departures, track notes, gear lists, etc. Cloud-based documents are best as you can easily share with others.
Here’s a Google Sheets template I used for a 2 week trip through California and a detailed itinerary, gear list and meal planner for our 4 day walk in Yosemite’s backcountry — which I mapped out day by day.
Bonus: If you’re doing the same walk as us, I’ve already done the planning for you!
3. Plan For The Worst Conditions (But Only Just)
Being caught short (or in shorts) when a snowstorm hits is just the pits. You need to factor in the realistic odds of any given climatic conditions and pack accordingly (but don’t overpack).
This is especially true if you’re going into an alpine zone or travelling across different parts of the country (or globe). My most recent trip took me from Californian desert into the Canadian rockies. I did a lot of research. I packed a lot of collapsible water bottles. I took an unusually wide range (but limited number) of clothes and approached them as layers.
4. Assess Your Abilities, Do A Training Run
Having a frank discussion with your team about the level of fitness required for your chosen adventure, and how close everyone is to that level, is critical. This can be hard if you’re going with a bunch of mates and even harder if they haven’t done something like this before.
To overcome these issues, do a training run. I took a couple of friends up Mt Solitary’s Eastern flank (a brutal 1,000m ascent) on an overnight walk in preparation for a big hike in Yosemite. There was pain and there was suffering (aka Type 2 Fun).
Scarred as we all were, the experience ended up motivating everyone to train hard (and see a physio). We made it through 4 days in Yosemite with few issues.
5. Invest In Light And Versatile Gear
Cramming all that gear into your suitcase, pack or duffel bag is no mean feat, especially if you want to come in under the airline weight limit (generally 23kg).
The wonder of modern gear means that you can have your cake and eat it too. It’s a real incentive to choose gear based on its weight and packability (albeit at some expense).
The so-called Big 3 (pack, sleeping bag and tent) are the obvious starting point for hiking expeditions, but don’t forget your camp kitchen and clothes either — the star of my kit is a down hoody, which packs to nothing, and my hiking pants don’t look too naff around town either.
6. Pack Smart
The amount of gear required for a multi-sports holiday is frightening — often more than can fit in your standard 60L overnight pack. I ended up using a 90L wheeled duffel bag (the Osprey Transporter 90) which swallowed up all my hiking gear with room to spare for some climbing essentials (harness, shoes, belay device).
I used small bags to store gear individually and chose a lightweight pack that was able to fit comfortably inside the bag. It’s also important to have a list of critical gear and pack that well in advance — this will give you an idea of how much room you have for luxuries like books or spare undies. You can also arrange your gear for one of those birds-eye shots that helps justify the ridiculous amount of money you’ve blown on gear for the trip.
7. Buy Local Where Possible
Finally, don’t forget you can generally supplement your gear with local items. Can’t fit in those bowls? Buy some cheap ones on the ground. No room for extra water containers? Get some single-use bottles from a supermarket (not ideal from a sustainability perspective of course; make sure you recycle them!).
Food and other perishable items are the prime candidates for things you can buy in-situ. My advice: write up a meal plan and shopping list at home so that you’re not wasting valuable holiday/adventure time at your dream destination trying to work out how many packs of ramen you need.
James was given the Osprey Transporter 90 Duffel for this trip and by all accounts it was a raging success.
All photos by James Stuart