When Mark and Katie plan a backpacking trip, it’s usually contained within a 9- or 10-day period of time. This allows us to only take only one full week off of work and still gives us enough time to explore a given park. Here’s how we do it:
Day 1 - Friday
Finish packing bags, food, gear, and other items into the car. Make sure we are ready to go and get a good night’s sleep. If we are meeting friends and leaving from a central location, this is the day we all drive to meet each other. We usually have a pretty good time finishing up the packing.
Day 2 - Saturday
Hit the road! Drive from home/starting location to either the backpacking destination/park or to a midpoint for longer drives. If the drive is less than 12 hours, we usually go all the way. If it's more than 12 hours, we'll generally stay at a hotel or camp somewhere about midway to the destination. If there are any cool cities or other destinations on the way, this is a good opportunity to see those sites. Stay at a hotel, cabin, or campground near the car.
Day 3 - Sunday
Finish the drive to the destination/park if we stayed at a midpoint. Visit the visitor’s center, get permits and pay fees, re-pack backpacks, re-count food, test gear, make sure everything is ready to go, then relax and have a good time with your last night in civilization for the week.
Day 4 - Monday
Backpack: Day 1/Night 1. This is our first day on the trail. We usually keep this day to under 5 miles so we can sleep in if we choose to and so we can get our "trail legs" back without breaking our backs. Also, packs are always heaviest the first day both literally (we have the most food and water) and by perception. Camp at a backcountry site or shelter.
Day 5 - Tuesday
Backpack: Day 2/Night 2. Increase the distance to between 5 and 10 miles. Today our packs are a little bit lighter, and we are lighter on our feet. This is a great day for a scenic hike or to summit a peak. Camp at a backcountry site or shelter.
Day 6 - Wednesday
Backpack: Day 3/Night 3. Hump day is for longer distances. This is usually the transition day from one area of the park to another, so we may do 10-15 or more miles on this day. Camp at a backcountry site or shelter.
Day 7 - Thursday
Backpack: Day 4/Night 4. Another longer day - between 10 and 15 miles usually. This is another good day to do scenic hikes, summits, etc. Camp at a backcountry site or shelter.
Day 8 - Friday
Backpack: Day 5. Do a shorter hike (under 5 miles is preferable) and hike out either back to your car or to the destination trailhead. We like to keep this day a bit shorter to make sure we have enough time to get the car, drive to where we are staying, get some food (we like cheeseburgers and beer after backpacking), and get some rest. Stay at a hotel, cabin, or campsite - but we usually like to stay at a hotel or cabin to shower.
Day 9 - Saturday
Hit the road. This is the drive no-one looks forward to - the drive back. Either drive all the way back or stay at a mid point. If there's a city or spot you didn't get to see on the way there, you could consider visiting that location on this day.
Day 10 - Sunday (Last Day)
Finish the drive home if you stayed at a midpoint or start unpacking if you're already home. It's always a good idea to get your gear out of the car ASAP when you get back. Start cleaning and putting things away so you're not wading through backpacking gear all week when you're trying to catch up on other work.
We really like the set up listed above because it gives us enough time on the trail without starting to feel like a thru hiker, it fits within the span of one week, and it’s simple to plan each trip using that format. It works for 1- or 2-day drives and will allow you to get all your backpacking in while only taking 5 days off of work (if you only work weekdays).
Let us know if you have a different plan for your trips!