How I plan for an unforgettable backcountry adventure

A few months ago, I righteously declared this year to be the summer of fun. It’s been a rough few months with some significant life changes. I found myself entering the summer with open arms, ready to lose myself in the bush (figuratively, of course) and let Mother Nature do some good old-fashioned healing.

The New Zealand backcountry heard my cry and answered the call, and with a few months remaining before the snow sets in, I’ve got plenty more trips up my sleeve. I’ve spent the past few months pouring over topo maps, adding new routes to my list, and getting even more excited to explore the South Island.

How to plan for a backcountry adventure never came naturally for me, but NZ Mountain Safety Council has been putting in the hard yards over the past few years to create some epic resources. Here is my step-by-step guide to planning an iconic New Zealand backcountry adventure. Enjoy!

how to plan for a backcountry adventure

Use Plan My Walk to help brainstorm locations

Look, I know I haven’t done everything here on the South Island, but I’ve done enough that I sometimes feel uninspired when it comes to planning a new adventure. How many more times can one walk into Aspiring Hut? (Trick question: the limit does not exist).  

Whenever I feel that I can’t possibly come up with another tramp idea, I head to Plan My Walk for a good old-fashioned brainstorm. The app makes finding a new adventure super simple with its filter features. Choose your preferred length of time, difficulty level, distance, region, and even if the track allows dogs.

After you set the parameters, you can scroll all over New Zealand to see which walks fit your criteria on how to plan for a backcountry adventure.

Research, research, research

Surprised by the beauty of a waterfall? Great. Surprised by the curious native birds following you around? Super cute. But surprised about the track you’re walking? No thanks.

There’s only one way to avoid being taken by surprise in the bush: doing some serious research before you hit the trail. Once you have your track, it’s time to dig in to see what you’re really in for. 

Plan My Walk tells you everything you need to know, from the length and time estimates for each track segment to notable weather conditions and even read reviews from other trampers. Each track has a sliding scale that will give you an indication of how difficult the track is, as rated by other trampers, so that you can be as prepared as possible.

Each walk also has a section for track alerts, so you know trail damage, temporary closures, or anything else to note before hopping in the car. NZ Mountain Safety Council has produced incredible tramping videos detailing everything you need to know about iconic tramps. They are an invaluable resource when it comes to planning new adventures.

Check the weather

If you’ve ever lived in the mountains, you know how quickly the weather patterns can change. Even promising 10-day forecasts should be taken with a grain of salt. 

After choosing the track, checking the conditions, and researching the trail, my next order of business is to plug in my dates and check the weather. Luckily my schedule and work allow me to be a bit more flexible with my dates because if there is one thing I’ve learned living in the South Island, it’s that the weather will never, ever do want you to want it to, even if you plead with the weather gods.

Mother nature has a mind of her own, and if the forecast is looking bad, I always postpone. I remind myself the track will always be there, and I would much rather see the beauty of the Southern Alps in the sunshine anyway. I always do a last-minute weather check before I head out the door if something has changed quickly.

how to plan for a backcountry adventure

All the gear, and some idea

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had a steep learning curve when packing for overnight tramps. If I could go back to younger Liz as she prepared for her first overnight tramp, I might have spared her a few kilograms and lots of stress. Plan My Walk makes it super simple to dial your packing list.

When you’re being self-reliant out in the bush, making sure you’ve got all your bases covered can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to forget things. A packing list helps ensure you’ve got the basics so you can stay safe.

For clothing, I always bring a spare set of warm thermals I can keep dry and wear at camp, as well as extra socks. Never underestimate the power of dry socks! For tramping clothes, I wear merino base layers, fleece mid-layers, and a waterproof jacket. I tend to get cold quickly, so I always back a beanie and gloves, even in the dead of summer.

how to plan for a backcountry adventure

My equipment list for how to plan for a backcountry adventure includes a suitable sleeping bag, sleeping mat, and tent (I always bring one unless I have booked a bed in advance!) as well as a head torch, first aid kit, and a personal locator beacon (PLB).

While we’re on the subject, let’s chat PLBs. PLBs seem to be one of those things you carry around with you on every tramp but, hopefully, never use. For a long while, I assumed I didn’t need to carry one because I was only doing moderate tramping. Still, my good friends at LandSAR were kind enough to tell me that actually, most rescues aren’t even hardcore accidents, but when you’re out of cell phone reception, even a sprained ankle could prevent you from finishing your hike safely. I always take my PLB with me, even if I’m doing a local day hike for the hundredth time. If you have a PLB, make sure it’s registered and up to date before you get into the hills!

And don’t forget the food! I always bring a few spare dehydrated meals and lots of snacks. If you’re not well hydrated and fed, you’re bound to make some missteps in the mountains. Plus, it really really sucks getting to the hut or setting up your tent and not even being able to celebrate with a little bit of well-deserved chocolate.

[infobos]How to prepare for an adventure to a hut in New Zealand[/infobox]

how to plan for a backcountry adventure

Sharing is Caring

These days, most of my adventures are solo hikes. While my confidence in the outdoors grows with every tramp, there are still some sacred rules to follow when you head off into the hills. One of my absolute-non-negotiables is to share my trip details with some trusted friends. I make sure at least two people know where I’m headed, what the route entails, when I’ll be out of reception and when to expect to hear from me again.

Plan My Walk makes sharing your details super easy. Once you’ve decided your route, check for alerts and weather, dialed down your packing; the app lets you quickly share your plans with your mates and an emergency contact in just a few short clicks. Your emergency contact should be someone you trust to alert the authorities if you do not return from your trip as expected.

For an introvert like me, having an emergency contact be on guard could be the difference between “Oh Liz is late from her trip, I should tell the police” and “Oh, Liz off the grid in a cabin in the bush somewhere, so no wonder she isn’t answering her phone.”

how to plan for a backcountry adventure

Get out there and breathe in the good stuff

Once the hard stuff is done on how to plan for a backcountry adventure, you’re off! Unless, of course, your tramp involves a few mountain passes, then maybe you have some hard stuff ahead of you too. But at the very least, you’ll be well prepared to head into the hills safely with confidence.

As someone who didn’t grow up exploring the wild outdoors, learning all of this as an adult in my 30s has been humbling. I’ve come to terms that getting outside isn’t a competition. I know now that it’s okay to be realistic with my current abilities. Now I take things slow and spend extra time looking at plants and observing the birdlife. And most of all, I know that a bit of planning and prep can be the difference between a horror story hike and an epic, carefree adventure. 

What do you think about how to plan for a backcountry adventure? Do you feel ready to tackle your next backcountry adventure? What did I miss? Share!

how to plan for a backcountry adventure

Many thanks to NZ Mountain Safety Council for supporting me this summer on the tracks. Like always, I’m keeping it real; all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me.

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