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Is Your Outdoor Trip Plan Rescue-Worthy?

 In backpacking skills, Hiking Skills, Mountain Skills, Skills, Snow Skills


You’ve got your gear checked and double checked. Your map is loaded on your GPS, you’ve got a printed copy stored somewhere safe. The weather looks beautiful. It’s time to hit the road on your latest epic adventure. But where’s your trip plan? Wait…oops…you didn’t write one did you? A trip plan is an invaluable tool should something go wrong and here’s what you need to include in your trip plan.  

What Is a Trip Plan? 

A trip plan is an essential safety tool for anyone embarking on a trip outside. It’s planning tool that mountaineers, backcountry skiers and snowboarders, and guides use to organize, plan, and execute their adventures. How complicated your trip plan needs to be depends on several factors.  

  • Are you doing something new or dangerous? If it’s a simple day out hiking, you might not need a full-blown trip plan, but you certainly need to inform someone on where you are going, what you’re wearing and driving, and when you plan on returning. 
  • Are you traveling off-trail? Going solo? Any off-trail or solo adventure should be taken seriously and a trip plan should be left with someone you trust. 
  • Are you traveling with a big group? If so a trip plan is an extremely useful tool for tracking group gear, meeting points, and any special needs within the group. 
  • Will you be gone for multiple days? Consider a trip plan that takes into account where you plan on sleeping, what you’ll be doing, and when you plan on getting back. 

Consider creating a trip plan template for your trips. A template makes it easy to have your trip plan ready in a jiffy.

trip plan tips for backcountry travel

Big epics start with big planning. This is how we find the best places to backpack

 Things to Include in Your Trip Plan: Who, What, When, and Where 

Depending on activity and group size, your trip plan may be long or short. When you’ve got a group, use something like Google Docs to create a trip plan that can easily be shared and edited between the group.  

Where are You Going? 

Trip plans contain a detailed description of where you will be. Include key pieces of information such as what trailhead you’ll be parking at as well as a description of the vehicle you’ll be driving. That way, if something happens, search and rescue can start by locating your vehicle. 

For riskier sports like climbing, mountaineering, bushwhacking, hunting or backcountry touring be sure to include a digital map of your route. Use a tool like Hillmap if you are traveling along a non-standard trail, or include a link using AllTrails. Most search and rescue personnel (SAR) encourage you to have a GPX file of your route. A GPX file helps SAR members start their search.  

If you’ll be gone for multiple days, be sure to describe where you plan on camping each night. It’s ok if you don’t have every last detail figured out, but having a rough plan will help immensely should there be an emergency. Even something as simple as a daily mileage goal can help narrow down a search area. 

trip plan for rescue

If you’re traveling over dangerous terrain, always prepare a trip plan and leave it with someone you trust.

Your Trip Plan Should Include a Lot of “Whats” 

In your trip plan spell out what you are doing. Are you biking, camping, then climbing a peak? Say so. Stating your activities helps clue in SAR to where you may be or what may have gone wrong. This also helps you start to think about what you are bringing. If you’re spending the night, include a description of your tent. Think about it, SAR may be able to find your camp, but not you.  

One important aspect of search and rescue is understanding how prepared the victim (in this case you or a party member) is. Having a list of what you are bringing not only tells SAR how prepared you are, but it also helps you get organized.   

plan a backpacking trip

In the backcountry, safety is your number one priority.

If you’re on a group trip, using Google Docs and having a gear list keeps everyone organized. Try sorting out individual and group gear. Make sure to note any special items you may need for your journey. If you’re out on a simple day hike, you probably don’t need an exhaustive list but do check that you have packed the 10 Essentials. 

Another big “what” is weather and conditions. For winter journeys, be sure to include your avalanche conditions analysis. Note any special weather you may be concerned about such as storms, rain, or excessive heat. 

Who Will be with You? 

This is another big item a lot of people fail to include in their trip plan. Trip plans should include a description of each of the party members. Note any special medical needs and allergies. Another good idea is to note any clothing. You may have seen my bright red windbreaker. I wear this color specifically to be seen in an alpine environment. You bet that I’ll note it on my trip plan that I usually wear a bright red or blue jacket.  

safety in the mountains

Providing a description of your tent, pack, or a bright article of clothing goes a long way if something goes wrong.

Who is the first person to call in the event of an emergency? The person you leave your trip plan with should have detailed instructions on what to do if you don’t make it back. In the case of Colorado, direct them to the sheriff’s office in the county you will be traveling in.  

When are You Leaving and When Will You Be Back? 

Each trip plan should have the details about when you are leaving and when you expect to be home. It’s ok if you can’t quite pinpoint the exact minute you’ll be back to the car. Give a timeframe such as I expect to be back early in the evening.   

stay safe in the mountains

Leave Your Trip Plan with Someone at Home  

All of that planning will be in vain unless you give your trip plan to someone. Some people may be a bit nervous with all the information. Simply tell them what area you are going to and when you expect to return. Ask them to reach out to you if they haven’t heard from you (sometimes it’s easy to forget after getting back from an epic adventure). If they still haven’t heard from you, give them a time at which they should call search and rescue.  

Now that your trip plan is bomber-proof, you’re finally ready to get out there and have that kick-ass epic adventure. What else do you do to safely prepare for your outdoor adventures? 

Before you head outdoors, be sure you have your trip plan. A trip plan not only helps to keep you organized, but it helps search and rescue in the event of an accident. Here's how to write an outdoor trip plan and what to do in the event of an emergency. #outdoorskills #hikingskills #outdoorsafety

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