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The Manual: Plan an Expedition

Go big with these expedition trip planning tips.
 june 2010 skills plan an expedition 445x260(Illustration by Supercorn)

You finally cleared the decks for that long-awaited dream hike. But whether this season brings a straightforward John Muir Trail thru-hike or a complicated Alaska bushwhack, big expeditions require a lot more planning than a three-day weekend. The legwork you put in now can make your adventure safer, more enjoyable, and more likely to succeed. Here’s how to pull off that life-list trip.

Scout the Route
>> Dig deep for beta. Cross-reference topos, Google Maps, aerial photos, and elevation profiles to find the best route, resupply points, and campsites. Online trip reports, photos, and forums (like whiteblaze.net for the AT) also provide hard-to-find info.

>> Preload bombsighted waypoints.
Put them in your GPS (for tutorials, see backpacker.com/trips); with practice, you can bombsight key spots, like passes or stream crossings, to within 100 feet or less.

>> Set realistic mileage goals.
Big-trip loads are heavy and day-after-day travel exhausting. For off-trail routes, consider 1 mph an average pace; for on-trail trips with a 12-day load, perhaps 1.5 mph. In Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, budget two weather days a week.

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