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Frequently Asked Questions about Backcountry Response Teams

Frequently asked questions about Washington Trails Association's backcountry response teams (BCRTs), including how they differ from a volunteer vacation, what volunteers need to bring and more.


What is a BCRT?

Backcountry Response Teams (BCRTs) are 3-8-day overnight work parties. Participants bring and carry all the gear required for a multi-night backpacking trip, including a tent, a sleeping bag, cooking gear and all the food they will need.

What are the benefits of volunteering with WTA?

Work parties are a great way to get some exercise outdoors while enjoying the company of fellow volunteers. At the end of the day you can see how much you’ve accomplished and feel good about improving a wonderful resource for others to enjoy well into the future. We do also give out swag

Who can register for a BCRT? 

WTA welcomes anyone interested in doing trail work; however, due to the nature of these trips there are some specific requirements to ensure that everyone has a safe trip. Here's what it takes to join a BCRT:

  • The physical conditioning to hike with a fully-loaded backpack and be physically active for about 8-9 hours a day on uneven terrain
  • Weather appropriate backpacking gear and enough food for the duration of the trip
  • Prior backpacking experience including the ability to run your own camp following Leave No Trace principles
  • Participation in the full length of the trip. Arriving late or leaving early is not allowed
  • Flexibility: Weather and land manager priorities can change the project last minute
  • The ability to work on a team
  • At least one daylong work party's experience is encouraged
  • Minimum age is 18
  • In 2021, we're also making adjustments to our processes in order to be in compliance with COVID-19 protocols. Volunteers must agree to abide by WTA's COVID-19 protocols to join a BCRT.

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Masks and physical distancing will make the 2021 BCRT season a success. Photo by Nate Schmidt.  . 

How do I register? 

In 2021, registration for BCRTs through June opens Saturday, February 13, at 10:00 a.m. Registration for BCRTs from July to October will open on April 23 at 6:00 p.m. Be ready for registration by doing the following.

  • Create or access your My Backpack account. For more info about My Backpack, check out these FAQs.
  • Complete your Backcountry and Medical forms. To find these go to your My Backpack account, click on “My work Parties” then look under “Crew Leader Corner” on the right. Pro tip: Do these in advance of registration day.
  • Find the trip you want and click “Join Work Party,” fill out the registration form and you’re all signed up! For BCRTs marked 'Strenuous', you will complete a second step in the screening process with one of our staff before being registered.
  • Still have questions? Contact us at volunteer@wta.org or 206.625.1367.

Why is BCRT registration staggered? 

We're continuing this registration model to help limit the amount of cancellations before late summer and fall trips. Registration for BCRTs from July to October will open on April 23.

The trip I want to go on is full. Is there a waitlist? 

Yes! Any trip that is accepting volunteers for a waitlist will be indicated as “Full - Join Waitlist.” Hit the “Join Waitlist” button and complete the registration form to be added. We'll email you if a spot opens up.

How much does it cost?

BCRTs are free for participants; however, WTA staff and volunteers invest a lot of time and resources preparing for each project and they are counting on all registered volunteers to show up.

Can I join multiple BCRTs?

Yes, but please only register for work parties you are confident you can participate in. Remember that you must be able to stay for the full trip; no late arrivals or early departures are permitted.

What is your cancellation policy? 

If you do need to cancel your registration, you can do so from the My Work Parties page of your My Backpack account, or you can notify us at volunteer@wta.org or 206.625.1367.

Can my group of friends and I join together?

You can register up to one additional person with you when signing up for a trip. They must have a My Backpack account with completed backcountry experience and medical history forms.

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Hiking to your worksite each day can offer a great view. Photo from WTA archives. 

How is WTA running these work parties while COVID-19 is still a concern?

Since late spring of 2020, WTA has had a series of protocols in place so we can get our work done safely. This year, we're continuing those safety practices so we can run a full season of BCRTs.

How many people are on a trip?

Crew size can vary depending on the number of sign-ups and the project location, but a typical crew size is around 12 people including the crew leader. This is due to Forest Service wilderness regulations capping group size at 12. Due to COVID-19 protocols, crews may be smaller in 2021.

I don’t know anyone on my crew. Are people friendly?

Yes! People are what make WTA the great organization that it is. WTA work parties foster a friendly and social atmosphere where you will get to know the people you are working alongside.  

How hard is a BCRT?

All BCRTs are a challenging mix of backpacking and trail work, but the parameters of each trip are different. The trip description indicates whether you will be backpacking into a basecamp or moving camp throughout the trip. The descriptions also address the expected daily hike to the work site. Information about hiking distance and elevation gain is included whenever possible to help you choose a trip that best fits your abilities and goals.

A day's trail work can be physically demanding if you are not accustomed to it — especially after hiking with a fully loaded backpack and heavy trail tools. We strongly encourage you to start with a day work party before committing to a full week of trail work.

If you have a health condition that might be aggravated by physical exertion and cannot be controlled at a safe level while in the field, a Backcountry Response Team trip is probably not the right fit for you.

What does it mean when a trip is marked "strenuous"?

A strenuous rating means the trip will be especially challenging due to the mileage, elevation gain and/or duration. Participants should be comfortable traveling long distances over steep terrain, performing physically taxing tasks for multiple days, having limited access to communication and living for an extended period in a backcountry setting. Participants on a trip rated as strenuous must meet fitness and experience criteria, and will have a one-on-one conversation with a WTA trail maintenance staff member before being approved for participation.

What do past participants have to say about BCRTs?

Past participants come away from a BCRT with lasting memories and new friendships. The best review is the fact that many volunteers return for BCRTs year after year.

This sounds too hard for me but I still want to do trail work. Do you offer another option?

Volunteers are always welcome to join a day work party. Or if you’d rather have a short overnight experience, keep an eye out for the occasional weekend work party. Week-long volunteer vacations are also another option.

How can I get in shape for a BCRT?

Read our tips for physical conditioning and where to find a trail to get started.  It’s also a good idea to come out to some one-day work parties to get practice doing trail work.

It’s been a while since I went backpacking. How can I brush up on my skills?

Read our Backpacking 101 tips and check out our Trail Smarts page for a crash course in backcountry travel. You might also try an overnight trip to test your gear and get reacquainted with Leave No Trace practices.

What should I bring? 

Volunteers must be equipped with and able to carry all gear required for multiple nights on the trail. You may already have your own preferred packing list, but please make sure it includes the items on our BCRT packing list.

You must also arrive with the skills to be self-sufficient and follow Leave No Trace principles in camp, from cooking your meals and keeping your food safe from wildlife to managing waste.

What does WTA provide?

WTA provides all the tools and hardhats needed to do the work safely and effectively. We also plan the project and where the crew will camp. It is up to volunteers to bring everything else they will need, including a tent, a sleeping bag, cooking equipment, all food, water filtration, work gloves and safety glasses.

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WTA provides the tools, you just need to provide the gloves and elbow grease. Photo by Dawn Rorvik. 

I want to join but I don’t have any gear. What can I do?

Consider buying used gear, renting gear, or borrowing from your friends and neighbors. Just be sure to test everything before the trip and know how to use it.

What kind of project will I be working on? 

Backcountry Response Teams tackle a range of trail maintenance projects. Each trip description indicates the type of work that is planned. Whatever the project, you’ll be amazed at what you and your fellow volunteers accomplish by the end of the week! Check out WTA’s Trail Work Guide for an introduction to basic trail maintenance concepts.

What is the day-to-day schedule like?

The schedule for each trip varies depending on the length, the project, and weather conditions, but a typical schedule looks something like this:

Day 1

  • Meet the crew at the trailhead for introductions and a safety briefing. Pick up tools and begin the hike to camp. (Specific meeting time and location will be confirmed in advance).
  • Arrive at camp, set up your tent and break for lunch.
  • If camp is reached by midday, hike to work site to begin the project.
  • Return to camp with plenty of time to prepare your dinner. Enjoy the evening getting to know the crew or retire to your tent with a good book.

Day 2 and Beyond

  • 6:30 – Rise and shine, make your breakfast and pack your lunch.
  • By 8:00 – Leave camp with the crew for the hike to the work site.
  • 8:30-9:00 – Begin work on the project, taking periodic breaks.
  • Noon - Lunch break
  • Afternoon - Continue trail work, stopping periodically for breaks. Depending on the project and the weather, work may end at different times each day.
  • 4:00-5:00 – Arrive back at camp to unwind.
  • Evening – Prepare your own dinner, hang out with the crew to swap backpacking tips and stories or stargaze before you retire for the night.

Final Day

  • 6:30 – Rise and shine, eat breakfast, pack your lunch and break down camp.
  • By 8:00 – Leave camp with the crew for the hike to the work site.
  • 8:30-9:00 – Begin last day of work to complete the project.
  • Noon - Lunch break
  • Afternoon – Hike with the crew back to the trailhead and say goodbye.

How do I get to the trailhead?

Each volunteer is responsible for finding their own way to the meet-up location (which may or may not be the actual trailhead). When you register you can indicate if you would like to carpool and we will connect you with other volunteers who would like to carpool. Coordinating the details of the carpool is up to you. Carpooling is not required. On certain trips the crew may need to caravan from the meet-up location to the trailhead. Participants will be notified of all these details in advance of the start day.

Who are the leaders? And how many?

There will always be one main leader who will be wearing a blue hat. The crew leader's name can be seen from the work party trip page. If a trip says "WTA Crew Leader" on the trip page, it means that a crew leader has not yet been assigned. Get to know who will be leading your trip. The number of assistant crew leads (ACLs), who will be wearing orange hats, varies on the trip but we always try to have a good ratio of leaders to participants.

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You and your crew will get to work in gorgeous settings during the day and camp in the same spot by night! Photo by Owen Vogeli. 

Will there be pack animals on the trip?

Pack animals are not usually a part of a BCRT, so it is unlikely that you will encounter them. Sometimes we work with Back Country Horsemen of Washington on trails that are open to equestrian use so it is possible that trail users will be coming by on horses. Learn more about who has the right-of-way on trail if you do come across a horseback rider.

What can I do during my free time?

The majority of the day will be spent doing trail work with your crew but there will be some downtime at the beginning and end of the day. It's your free time, do what you want to do (safely of course). Hike on your own or with a friend, read a book, play cards, sleep, relax, tidy up camp, watch clouds. If you're leaving camp, you should let the crew leader know what your itinerary and when you'll be back. Volunteers will be expected back at camp by a designated time.

Will there be a toilet or option for bathing?

No, folks should expect to bury their waste following Leave No Trace guidelines. Sometimes these are different when you're in a large group; get an idea of how BCRTs typically manage waste from our blog about backcountry poop.  There may be an outdoor toilet maintained by the Forest Service depending on the trip. 

What is the alcohol policy? 

The consumption of alcoholic beverages is not permitted before or during the work day. Consumption of alcoholic beverages after the work day is discouraged to ensure a safe, positive experience for all volunteers and requires moderation by the user; anyone abusing this rule will be directed to leave if the conduct persists. Please be respectful of others.

What is WTA's policy on firearms and weapons? 

Volunteers are not allowed to bring firearms or weapons on a Backcountry Response Team trip (regardless of whether they are licensed to carry a concealed weapon).

What other rules are there?

We want our work parties to be inclusive and welcoming for everyone. We ask that volunteers be respectful of everyone on the trip and contribute to a culture of caring and understanding. You can always talk with your crew leader if someone is making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Who do I contact if I have more questions?

Email us at volunteer@wta.org or call 206.625.1367