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How to Make a Perfect Hiking Plan in 5 Steps

No matter how modest or ambitious your hiking goals, a good plan is the key to helping you achieve them.
Liberty Bell by James Phan.jpgTaking in the big picture on Liberty Bell in the North Cascades. Photo by James Phan.

No matter how modest or ambitious your hiking goals, a good plan is the key to helping you achieve them.

Want to try hiking with your toddler? Explore a favorite trail in the snowy shoulder season? Rehab a knee so you can hike to Spray Park in wildflower season? Section hike the Pacific Crest Trail—while keeping your day job? Want to spend 10 percent of your year sleeping under the stars?

A great plan is the first step.

Five key elements of a good plan


Know what, exactly, is required

Time, money, permits, physical strength, skills, co-conspirators, gear: Before you can do anything, you need to know what you’ll need. Make a list and get really specific about it.


Research early

Part of defining what your goals are will take some research. When researching your trips, knowing as many details as possible ahead of time can make all the difference. Look at maps, read trip reports and hiker blogs. Call ranger stations. Research the likely weather. Know the regulations. If your goals are largely physical, talk to your doctor.


Create an action plan

Now that you’ve researched and listed your requirements, it’s time to work backward. If your goal requires training, you’ll want to build time into your life. When will you need to start saving your gas money and asking around for gear you might borrow or get cheap? If your goal will require new skills—such as navigation or changing a diaper on trail—figure out when and how you will learn and practice those skills.

Make an action plan that includes a few backup options to turn your dreams into reality. Photo by Loren Drummond.

Invite co-conspirators

You have a community—your family, friends, colleagues and the larger hiking community. Use them! Share your goals and (this one is hard for many of us) ask for help. Work out a plan to open up time to work toward your goal. Join a hiking group or sign up for Hike-a-Thon with WTA. If you want to take your baby backpacking, start recruiting friends to help share the load. Find a training partner to keep you honest.


Have a backup plan

Any good plan has a backup. A backup plan for your backup plan isn’t a bad idea either. Life happens, so try to anticipate any possible barriers to your goals: weather, wildfire, work emergencies, injuries. Having a Plan B and C will keep your options open when things go sideways.

A final word: Celebrate the small wins along the way. Every mile on the way to your goal is an achievement. The first time you find yourself on a map: success. You hike pain free after surgery: success. Take the little wins, and eventually they’ll add up to something greater.

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This article originally appeared in the Jan+Feb 2017 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.