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Expedition Planning

As a graduate you already have a sense of an expedition planning. You understand the skills and relationships necessary to live in the mountains for extended periods of time. In this chapter, we review how to use this knowledge to plan, organize, and execute extended personal trips in the backcountry.

Choosing an expedition goal

Selecting an objective for your expedition is very important. The goal may be as simple as catching fish or identifying birds, or as complex as summiting K2 or kayaking the Colorado River. The critical thing is that all team members have the same basic mission in mind. Consider having a backup objective in case certain factors, such as weather or group motivation, force a change. These alternative plans ensure that the trip is not a total loss if the original goal is not attained.

Choosing your team

Select a team of people who work well together and enjoy each other's company. Make sure that you have people with the skills and experience necessary to attain your objective. All team members should be aware of the expedition goals and willing to share in the trip's expenses.

Coordinating your logistics

Do your homework before you get to the trailhead to avoid logistical nightmares in the field. Your research should include looking into routes, knowing regulations, and planning for emergencies. Logistics also include planning for food, finances, transportation, and fuel.

Planning your route

A. Information sources:

  • guide books, trail guides, outdoor magazines, mountaineering journals,
  • outdoor retailers,
  • Park rangers and public land managers at both the regional and local offices,
  • local residents who have been to the place before at the same time of year.

B. Map sources:

C. Permits and backcountry regulations:

  • check with local land agencies for specific regulations.

D. Emergencies resources:

  • plan how to handle any emergency encountered during your expedition,
  • know the nearest hospital to your roadhead,
  • find out who handles rescues and helicopters in your trip area. Check to see if there are any specific requirements or limitations for this kind of assistance.

Getting to the roadhead

A. Travel plans

  • figure out exactly where you are going and how you will get there,
  • take care of any airline tickets, bus transportation, or car expenses required,
  • find out if there are luggage requirements or restrictions,
  • make sure you have all the necessary visas, shots and papers.

B. Money

  • finances are more easily dealt with before the excursion begins,
  • consider requiring a deposit to cement members' commitment during the planning stages,
  • depending on the nature of your expedition, you may want to approach equipment manufacturers and food producers for donations. Offer to do product testing or provide testimonials and photographs in return for their support. However, sponsorship is difficult to get. If it is your first big expedition, don't count on getting many freebies.


  • Choose clothing, equipment and shelters that are able to accommodate the weather found in the region you will be traveling.
  • Leave with gear in good order. Pick items that do not require special equipment to fix. Bring a basic repair kit that includes: stove parts, duct tape, wire, needles, thread, and ripstop nylon.
  • Prior to leaving discuss who will pay for any personal gear used by the group that is either damaged or lost.
  • Pack a first aid kit. Stock it with supplies that have multiple uses, such as tape, 4X4 gauze pads, and disinfectant. Keep this kit small and practical.

Food and fuel

  • Poor food planning or insufficient fuel supplies can transform a nice trip in a beautiful place into a bad experience. The NOLS Cookery has a comprehensive rations and fuel planning section.
  • Keep in mind personal tastes, caloric requirements, weight, cost, packaging, and ease of preparation when creating the menu.
  • Cheap bulk food can be obtained in the bulk food sections in some super market chains, at food co-ops, ethnic grocers, and from restaurant supply distributors.

The aftermath

  • Make sure you put the gear away clean, dry and repaired.
  • Make notes on what worked well and what you would do differently next time.

Expedition planning is about leading or participating in a personal expedition--really it is a summary of what a NOLS course is all about.


Petzoldt, Paul, The New Wilderness Handbook. 1974.
Mountaineers, Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, 5th edition, 1992, pp. 6-88, 397-388.
NOLS Cookery.


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