November 20, 2015 8:16 PM MST - Subscription purchasing, account maintenance, forum profile maintenance, new account registration, and forum posting have been disabled
as we prepare our databases for the final migration to our new server next week. Stay tuned here for more details.
Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter

Get Out Now!

Six steps to streamline your planning from dreaming up a trip to walking out the door.

Print Jump to Reader Comments

by Matt Colon | 2009-10-06 00:01:00-06

Editor's Note: This feature originally ran in Issue 3 of the BackpackingLight Print Magazine.

If industry leaders are correct and scarcity of time is what keeps us from getting out more, then perhaps the most sensible thing to do is to figure out how to streamline the process of taking a backcountry trip. Maybe it's time to redefine what constitutes a satisfactory foray into wild country. Maybe it's time to eliminate, as much as possible, the friction that keeps us from going backpacking.

After all, scarcity of time notwithstanding, many of us still seem to end up spending a few days every so often at some ill-advised gathering with people that annoy us. So why is it that we can take the time to fulfill some of our less compelling social obligations, but we can't find the time to throw a pack on our back and head into the hills for some spiritual sustenance?

The following six steps should help you streamline the process of getting ready for a trip into the backcountry. The idea is to reduce the friction of planning and preparation to an absolute minimum. This, in turn, transforms every gap in your calendar into an opportunity to start your own little cultural revolution.


Create a standard checklist for most of the trips you take. This list need not be set in stone, but should provide a good jumping-off point for all of your backcountry travels. Adjust as necessary, but you won't have to reinvent the wheel every time you get ready to head out.


Store your gear in a big plastic box - all of your gear, all the time. This way you'll always have everything you need for a quick trip organized and in one place. My favorite is a clear plastic 110-liter Sterilite box that I found at a local hardware store. Storing your equipment this way means that everything in your gear box is essentially dedicated backcountry gear. Keeping your gear box stocked with all of the equipment you need for a trip eliminates the hassle of frantically digging through your junk drawer looking for your headlamp or multi-tool while your hiking partner simmers in the car outside, half an hour past your agreed departure time. Taped inside the lid of your gear box should be a manila envelope with copies of your standard gear checklist. Everything that goes into your pack or on your back should be in the box. A quick run through the checklist before departure ensures that you won't arrive at the trailhead without some essential piece of equipment.

Get Out Now! - 1
The contents of the author's gear box.


Rather than trying to make every backcountry sojourn a culinary orgy, create simple and straightforward two-, three-, and five-day menus that are easy to shop for and package. Again, you can adjust as you see fit, but the idea is to reduce the friction of planning and packing to an absolute minimum.


The food box is a second clear plastic container that you store excess backcountry food in. It provides a rolling stock from which to provision your trips. Like the gear box, it has a manila envelope taped inside the lid with copies of shopping lists for your respective menus. When you are getting ready for a trip, you simply grab the most appropriate shopping list and head to the grocery store with the kind of laser-like focus that will have you pointed toward the trailhead pronto.

Get Out Now! - 2
The contents of the author's food box.


For this system to work well, it is important that when you return from a trip, everything goes back in its place. You clean and restock as necessary. That way, the next time you open up your calendar and see a little daylight, getting ready to hit the trail will be virtually effortless.


In addition to getting your house in order from an organizational standpoint, it also makes sense to reassess just how much time you need to pull off a successful and rewarding backpacking trip. A while back, I was talking with a friend who has a family and a demanding job. After he had described a litany of very cool trips he’d taken during the last year, I asked him how he’d been able to get out so often, given the obvious demands on his time. His response? Overnight trips. So if you have trouble knocking loose for more than a day or two, head out anyway. You might be surprised at how much satisfaction you can pack into what seems like only a handful of hours.

Get Out Now! - 3
All the gear a backpacker could want, in easy reach.


"Get Out Now!," by Matt Colon. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-10-06 00:01:00-06.


Reader Comments

You must login to post comments.

New Visitors: Create a new account
Remember my login info.

Get Out Now!
Display Avatars
Sort By:
Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Get Out Now! on 10/06/2009 14:48:52 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Get Out Now!

Mark McLauchlin
(markmclauchlin) - MLife

Locale: Western Australia
Re: Get Out Now! on 10/06/2009 21:54:27 MDT Print View

Good article,

I recently started to store all my gear in large plastic tubs, before it was all over the house. Gear was in cupboards, draws, back fo the car, the shed you name it. Now its all in the one place.

"Taped inside the lid of your gear box should be a manila envelope with copies of your standard gear checklist" This is something I havent done, but will do this weekend, great suggestion.


Hart -
(backpackerchick) - MLife

Locale: Planet Earth
Another Good One on 10/06/2009 23:16:00 MDT Print View

Of course stuff we know but nicely presented in a way that makes me think I can actually DO it!

Mega Tupperwares are awesome.

Edited by backpackerchick on 10/06/2009 23:16:36 MDT.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Another Good One on 10/07/2009 01:13:31 MDT Print View

Nice write-up.

This is pretty close to what I do. I have a baker's rack in the garage. Top shelf is shelters (backpacking and car camping). Next shelf are sleeping bags/quilts and high loft clothing. Third shelf holds the family backpacks. The fourth shelf has a plastic bin which holds "extras", a second bin which holds my "standard load", a stuff sack with a set of trail clothing, a bearvault solo with 2 days of food and fuel, and a weekender with 6 days of food and fuel, and finally my platypus. The fifth shelf is car camping stuff.

Getting out the door is grab a pack. grab a quilt and high loft clothing item, compress/stuff into backpack. Add shelter. Pull out "standard" bin and load everything from that bin into the pack, put the appropriate sized bear canister into the pack. Grab platypus and stuff sack with clothing. Fill platypus with water on the way out. Through pack in the back seat, through the clothing stuff sack and platypus on the passenger seat. Drive away.

If I am wearing trail clothing going out the door, then the clothing in the stuff sack is used from the trailhead to home so I don't stink up my car. If I am wearing street clothing going out the door, I change at the trailhead into the clothing in the stuff sack, and my street clothing is for the ride home.

This allows me to get out the door in around 15 minutes from when I discover that I am free to have a fun outing.

A number of trail maps live in my car. So when I get to my destination I pull the appropriate one out, slide the platypus into the pack, pop the lid of my bear canister to move that days snacks to the side pocket and get started.

As Matt pointed out... this only works if when you return you dry/clean things, refill consumables, and then put everything back in place. As conditions changes I will slowly rotate items between the "standard" bin, and the "extra bin. For example winter -vs- 3 season socks. Headnet & DEET -vs- snow shovel, etc. Some things typically live in the "extra bin" such as the multi-person cook pot. These get pulled out on trips that are more planned.


Edited by verber on 10/07/2009 01:15:44 MDT.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re : "Get Out Now!" on 10/07/2009 01:48:10 MDT Print View

I guess i'm just one of natures mess makers.
My house was one huge, untidy gear room. Piles of stuff lay everywhere, and i had stuff that i didn't even know i had.
A few weeks ago i went down the plastic box route, and had a major re-organisation. For the first time in years i could reach my bed without donning climbing gear to reach it. Everything was neat and tidy.
Cue a few trips later, and i now have lots of plastic boxes buried under a mound of gear. I need the climbing gear to reach my bed even more now, as the height of the gear has increased due to the buried plastic boxes! :)

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re : "Get Out Now!" on 10/07/2009 10:10:23 MDT Print View

"guess i'm just one of natures mess makers"

LOL, I was the same way until my girlfriend moved in. It was straight to store to pick up giant plastic containers for my gear.
I keep a stash of freeze dried meals and granola bars in a container by my gear. I can be ready to go in minutes!

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re : "Get Out Now!" on 10/07/2009 13:16:10 MDT Print View

In our experience, things need to be even more organised when hiking as a couple. The gear checklist needs to have two columns (a column each), so we make sure the tent, pegs, stove, fuel, pots and other shared gear don't get left out (includes first aid etc...). Likewise with food. Our system is that one person carries, say, lunch, snacks and drinks, and the other person carries breakfast and dinner. This means we each lose about the same amount of food weight each day. Guidelines for how much food per meal per day are on the checklist. Our food container is full of homemade dried meals, ready packaged and vacuum sealed with meal name, date, and how much water to add (or other cooking instructions). We have the same foods for breakfast, lunch, drinks and snacks each day to make shopping and packing simple. We vacuum pack our fresh food such as cheeses and salamis into single day servings. This keeps them fresher for longer. On even longer trips, we seal these perishable foods in beeswax.

Our gear is partly stored in a closet, and partly under our beds. There is simply not enough room in the closet for four sleeping bags, one double quilt, four packs, many stoves and fuel containers, several sets of pots, around 8 mats, and three tents! Not to mention all the clothing that two people may own. We seem to have too much gear due to the need to also accommodate solo trips, and bad weather trips, and winter trips...Can't wait for the young adults of the family to move out and free up a whole bedroom for gear storage and organisation!

Hart -
(backpackerchick) - MLife

Locale: Planet Earth
Hiking as a Couple on 10/07/2009 13:25:37 MDT Print View

Yeah, I would think with someone else you'd have to be much more organized or risk no longer being a couple.

Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
Organization. on 10/07/2009 13:52:31 MDT Print View

I really like this idea of being ready to go on a short trip at a moment's notice.
Mike Reid said: "I need the climbing gear to reach my bed even more now, as the height of the gear has increased due to the buried plastic boxes!"
Be aware of the high avalanche danger, Mike.
I have the same problem of chronic disorganization at home. I've managed to keep my bedroom pretty clear of clutter, but the rest of the house ... On the trail I like to be very organized and usually manage it. I'm tempted to go back to my old Kelty external frame pack because it has lots of little cubby holes so everything has its place.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re : "Get Out Now!" on 10/07/2009 14:18:40 MDT Print View

I think UL backpacking means so much to me because of my disorganised nature. Leaving the clutter of urban life behind on a regular basis is vital medicine to me. I've tried to simplify my life in many ways, but collecting gear is still a vice. Travelling with the bare minimum of gear forces me to only take what i need. Unfortunately, being a gear monster means i've about 10 different 'bare minimum' set-ups! :)

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Good Article on 10/13/2009 19:29:17 MDT Print View

Kind of a trip; I do something roughly similar. I've got my BP'ing bin, my food bin, and my hiking bin. I've got a checklist. I actually created it for some friends I took on their first time BP, but I now use it for myself.

Generally, I just grab my pack, load the gear from the BP'ing bin, add the appropriate amount of food, and I'm just about ready.

I keep a few things in an always packed day pack (headlamp etc.). I add those basics to the BP, and then go to my map bin, and pull maps as needed. That's about it. I'm pretty much ready at that point for a quick overnighter or full weekend trip. A "quick overnighter" is where I go out after work on Friday, hike in a short distance to camp, then hike some on Saturday, exiting sometime on Saturday. Sure, I'd rather do a week (or more!) in the Sierra, but quick overnighters keep my BP'ing skills and gear familiarity fresh. Things are a lot easier if you've got your routine down before you hit the trail on the big hike. If I'm not doing local quick overnighters and weekend trips, I some times find that it takes me a couple of nights on the trail to "get back in the groove" when I go out on a multi-day trip. I'd rather have the routine stuff down so I can "enjoy the ride" from day 1.

I notice as the seasons change, I pull different gear out of the attic and put it in my hiking bin and backpacking bin. So, I have extra gear (plenty of it, lol), but the two "ready bins" (hiking bin and backpacking bin) stay relatively uncluttered.

If someone calls me Friday P.M. for a Saturday hike, I grab my continuously packed day pack, add food and water, grab a map, and I'm out the door.

Ed Collyer
(ecollyer) - F

Locale: East Bay Area
Gear storage on 04/27/2010 09:04:55 MDT Print View

I have been blessed with space. I live in a 4-bedroom house with just me and my fiance. I tried this method, in a 1-bed apt., of using bins and boxes, but found everything scattered around after a trip. I had no real place to store my large collection. On top of that, I could not find some gear during the move. Anyways, I have dedicated one of my available room to gear and maps. I use multiple wire shelf units to store my bins, and the wire frame of the shelf allow gear to be clipped and gear room
I have the sleeping bags hanging, gear in a box and a corner that is mine, another corner belongs to my gf. Sleeping pads, tarps, bivy, tent, etc. are stored in bins in the closet, with another bin of winter gear. I am able to leave in 20 minutes packed and ready to go.

I also have a map table and we got those retro chairs from my parents, they got them like 35 years ago.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Gear storage on 04/27/2010 09:19:21 MDT Print View

Ed, what kind of dead animal do you have hanging on the right wall?


Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Get Out Now! on 04/27/2010 12:58:04 MDT Print View

I just want to mention that mice can chew through those plastic storage boxes! If you're going to store food in them, the garage (or possibly basement) is not a good place for them! I found this out the hard way when a mouse got into my car while parked three days at a trailhead. I had food stored for the next trip in the storage box in the car. I still don't know how a mouse could get into a completely closed car, but another person had the same thing happen at the same trailhead!

Is that a souvenir from the days of the old "Davey Crockett" TV show on the wall?

Edited by hikinggranny on 04/27/2010 13:03:24 MDT.