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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Countdown to a Successful Hike

Stop trailhead snafus with this pretrip checklist.

by: Jason Stevenson, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Backpacking and Hiking

A detailed map shows alternate trails in case Plan A falls through. (JS)
A detailed map shows alternate trails in case Plan A falls through. (JS)

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T-minus: 24 hours
Tonight is when you pack your gear. Of course, by this point you’ve already assembled, tested, and organized your stuff—so there shouldn’t be any surprises. You should also check the weather one last time. Go to the NOAA website on to find “Detailed Point Forecasts” for your backcountry destination. Fill your water bottles and hydration bladders the night before, but don’t pack them yet. A squished and leaky bladder can ruin your hike before it starts. And remember to pack an extra bottle for the car ride to the trailhead.

This night is also when you should inform a trusted friend or family member about your trip. Email or tell them your destination, planned route, car info, cell phone number and service provider, and expected return time. To be extra safe, schedule a time when you’ll call in after you leave the trail.

24-hours pitfall: Packing all your gear
Making your backpack trail-ready at home isn’t smart or efficient. Chances are you’re going to need to unpack something stuffed at the bottom of your pack when you reach the trailhead—upsetting your immaculate system. While still at home, fill your backpack with the big stuff—tent, sleeping bag and pad, first-aid kit—but bring the smaller stuff like food and clothing in separate duffel bags or plastic tubs. Finish packing the rest of your gear just before you start hiking—but check beforehand to make sure it all fits.

Have you ever packed a tent but forgot the poles? Share your mishap (or surefire way to remember essentials) by commenting below or sending an email to

—Jason Stevenson

idiot's guide to backpacking and hikingJason Stevenson is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Backpacking and Hiking

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Reader Rating: -


Apr 21, 2011

Being in a tropical country (Philippines), we always bring extra tarps to place under and above our tents for sudden rains even when the tent promise to be rainproof ...

Apr 18, 2011

The only thing I could see that would be different from the typical described would be if you wanted to go to a national park... permits for choice trails run out quick - I tend to apply for mine as soon as the window opens in March-April.

Apr 14, 2011

I also like to keep a running e-mail or google wave going for constant updates for party members. Gear, fitness, questions those kind of things. That way I can make appropriate changes to planned trails, areas and any special dietary needs.

Apr 13, 2011

Thanks for the great tips!! Our pre-trip meeting is Monday so this was perfectly timed. Look forward to the next post.

Apr 13, 2011

Two weeks out, I generally start planning my menus so that I can scope out great new recipes, gather ingredients, and dehydrate what I need to.


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