How do you find this spot? What do you use to track your hikes? How do I download a track? How do you check the weather for your camp location? What gear do you recommend?
These are questions I get asked often and although the answers may seem like common knowledge to veteran hikers, I want to share some of the basic resources I like to use to help me plan my adventures for those of you newer to the wonderful world of hiking and backpacking. I hope this helps you guys prepare better for your outdoor adventures.
Be sure to check more than just Google & your default iPhone app. Always check for the elevation you’re going to be hiking/ camping in. Remember that it’s colder in higher elevation. If you’re sleeping in the mountains, be aware of the wind as well. I’ve hiked in winds as high as 55mph gusts and camped in winds that literally lift my tent off the floor with the poles coming down on me and believe me… it’s not fun. Personally, I feel like 20mph wind/gusts is high… I’m not one for the elements but that’s just me. Here are my two main weather resources and I usually check both. I’m not sure which one is more accurate but I like to prepare for the worst 🙂
- Weather.gov – The National Weather Service lets you pinpoint the exact location you want to camp at. You can search the general area and then zoom in on the map to define it further. It also shows you the elevation the forecast is measuring as well as a detailed hourly forecast (which you can adjust to start a few days out) that shows the temps, wind, wind gust, rain/ thunderstorm/ snow, etc.
- Mountain-forecast.com – this one is good for checking mountain peaks if you’re a peak-bagger. It also allows you to fetch the weather from three different elevations (so you can check camp elevations lower down) and the hourly forecast is in three-hour increments so it’s more limited but I feel like it’s oddly more accurate for peaks.
How Do I Find These Epic Trails
How to find places to go – research, research, research! I like to do all of my own research before asking anyone for help/ tips usually; I try not to ever ask about unnamed locations because they’re usually kept unnamed for a reason, plus it’s a lot more rewarding when you “discover” a place for yourself as opposed to just asking someone “hey where is this, how do I get there.”
- Common resources to find and further look into trails: Google, Google Maps, Instagram for current conditions and wanderlust inspiration, Blogs, etc. There’s also a ton of books out there but I’ve found that the internet knows almost everything 😉
- This one may sound odd but flights – when you’re traveling and sitting in a window seat, look out of your window. See the landscape from above and mark areas that catch your eye on your map to research later.
- Google Earth is also good to help you look at the landscape more in-depth but not usually needed at the beginning stages of your research or for popular trails.
Maps / GPS
- GPS tracker – I like to download my tracks ahead of time for trails that may require route-finding so I don’t get lost (I’m also making an effort to record more of my own and upload them with my blogs). My go-to mobile app is Gaia (affiliate discount link attached). When looking for (other peoples) tracks to download, always look for GPX files so you can upload that into your GPS app (doesn’t have to be Gaia, it also works with my Garmin).
- CalTopo – if you’re going to cross country trek, this is helpful as you can create your own routes to follow, then upload that back into Gaia.
- Google Maps – download the offline area for your trips!
- Satellite – my Garmin InReach Mini comes with me on every hike, big or small. It provides a peace of mind with the SOS feature, allows me to text if needed, allows others to track where I am at if I choose to do so, and I can check the weather of my current location anywhere in the mountains on this!
Permits / LNT
Every area varies but permits for lands managed by most federal lands such as National Park Service (NPS) are found on recreation.gov. Most, if not all, overnight camps require a permit in California… you just have to check if there is a quota or not. From this site, simply type in what you’re looking for, whether it’s backpacking permits, campground reservations, etc. Backcountry overnight permits are generally labeled as wilderness permits.
FYI these are all the same things in my opinion: Backcountry camp permit = overnight camp permit = wilderness permit
BLM (Bureau of Land Management) manages our public lands and have their own website for certain areas such as the wave. Honestly, you’ll just have to check the website for the place you want to visit but if it’s a national park or national forest, I’d bet on recreation.gov.
CA State Parks is another resource for backpacking some of their trails, such as Skyline to the Sea in Santa Cruz Mountains. They also have a site for camp reservations called ReserveCalifornia.
Sequoia NP and Yosemite NP have their own permit system for wilderness permits (other NP may also, I just haven’t looked into it)
There are so many resources and entities out there to booking permits, just always double check before you go. Also know that every type of permit has a certain period of time they are released beforehand, so if you want to visit a popular spot, look it up months in advance!
Leave No Trace – Respect the land you play in – leave it better than you find it, pack it in pack it out, these are all terms you need to familiarize yourself with and practice when you’re out and about.
For help with what to pack on your hikes, how to pack your bag, food ideas, my current and starter gear set, etc, please refer to my Gear Guides:
- Beginners Backpacking Guide – Tips & Gear
- Tiff’s Personal Backpacking List
- Ultralight Backpacking Gear Guide: How to Pack Lighter to Move Faster
- Packing for Patagonia
- Best Hiking Shoes 2023
- Thanksgiving Deals: Shop Tiff’s Favorite Gears
- Snow Hiking Basic Safety Guidelines and Must Have Gear
- Best Hiking Leggings for 2023
- 5 Must-Have Pack Items for Hiking in the Summer
- Resource Guide for How to Plan An Epic Backpacking Trip
- REI Labor Day Sale 2020: Shop My Favorite Items
- My Favorite Gear from the REI Memorial Day Sale 2021
2 thoughts on “Resource Guide for How to Plan An Epic Backpacking Trip”
Thank you so much for all these resources and links Tiffany. You are an inspiration living your best life.
Thank you Mark, I hope this helps you plan your next trip and be more prepared! 🙂