Pre-Trip Planning

This is about being organized and to take preventative measures so that the trip will be enjoyable.

Before heading out, determine as part of your trip preparations the guidelines and protocols that will be put into place in the event an incident occurs.

Consider this as an insurance policy in the event anything goes wrong.

This is a part of what is called pre-trip planning, and a part of this information should be included in your trip itinerary.

An itinerary is a document that you leave with a responsible person before leaving on your trip, so that if you do not contact them by the agreed time, this person can notify the authorities to begin search and rescue. It is preferable to give this itinerary to at least two people if you are going on a multi-day excursion. Advise all concerned of the others who also possess this document with all contact information so that they can coordinate between themselves.

This document needs to include at least the following information, but you may add information as needed according to the trip. I'll write as though for a group, however this applies for solo travelers as well.

1. Names, phone numbers and addresses of all who will be participating in the trip.

2. Physical description including whether male or female etc. Photos are a good idea to include. Have a front and side detail including any scars and tattoos if you have any.

3. Contact information. This is the names and numbers of those who will have the itinerary. Be certain that all who have it know their responsibility, including who starts the process of alert in the event something happens. This information will also serve the authorities and search and rescue (SAR) services.

4. Date of departure and location where the car will be parked. Include the make and model of the car with the license plate number.

5. Location of the trip, description of the routes, campsites and duration of stays at each site, with the coordinates or marked on a map that you include with the itinerary.

6. Any deviations from the route to visit an area.

7. Estimated time of arrival. Advise your contacts who will have your itinerary to contact the authorities if they do not receive word from you at the time agreed upon. Be certain to call them if you did make it back safely! Be certain to plan the ETA wisely to avoid being late which could precipitate a search and rescue response. Then do ALL that you can to make it back safely in order to call your contacts to let them know that all is well.

8. Leave a copy of the itinerary in the car. SAR may use it.

9. Indicate the experience level of the persons going out on the trip, including any medical training, wilderness survival knowledge etc.

10. Indicate any special equipment that you brought along, such as a satellite phone, emergency locator transmitter (ELT) etc. If you have a satellite phone remember to note the number in the itinerary!

Depending on the location you may have some cellular coverage, so bring the phone along just in case. Be certain the battery is charged and turn the phone off until needed to save battery power. However do not let your guard down out there because of it. Having extra equipment on a trip has caused some people to have a false sense of security which led them to making bad decisions or being careless, and then receive the consequences that came with that.

Not obligatory, but an imprint of the soles of the boots of the group would immensely help SAR personnel if they needed to track you and your group. This should always be done with young children even if only for the family camping trip out in the woods. Have a look here for more information about preparing younger children so that they may be safe.

Determine who will be in charge if an emergency does occur, which is normally based upon the level of knowledge and experience this person has.

Also, know the area you'll be going into before heading out on your trip including any dangers. This will help you to plan a route to safety and make a contingency plan should anything happen. Everyone needs to be involved in the process, and needs to know the details. Finally, everyone needs to agree with the planifications and the trip itinerary before heading out.

Always head out with the proper equipment for the trip you are about to undertake, taking into account the season and the environment, the number of persons in the group etc.

This is a skill because it is essential to know why and how to make a proper pre-trip plan and itinerary in order to avoid possible problems in the field. It is also to have solutions should you get into trouble once out in the woods or other remote area.

A well thought out itinerary is essential to your safety and that of the group. Plan escape routes, having a system in place to be able to regroup if someone gets lost or left behind, and in fine have a contingency plan for the unexpected as much as that is possible.

Look at the potential trouble spots that may occur during the trip such as a particularly difficult or technical section you'll confront. Are all members of the group prepared mentally and physically, and are they sufficiently experienced for the proposed trip? Are there any potential personality conflicts that may occur that could compromise the safety of the group? If there are any problems, re-evaluate your itinerary. It may be necessary to consider denying a person or persons participation in the trip that is planned. This is because they do not have the experience level required or the physical condition or proper attitude etc. To do otherwise would be to introduce an increased risk factor that may jeopardize the group.

If you travel a lot by airplane, whether overseas or over large areas of land, consider the trajectory of the aircraft and what would happen should there be an emergency and the aircraft went down. Know the geography of the areas you'll be flying over such as islands if going overseas, and mountain ranges if flying over these types of region. If this sounds extreme, remember that it depends on a persons perspective. Some people would consider stockpiling food and water, or even having a few items like in a personal survival kit to be extreme.

Emergencies happen and that cannot be denied. If an emergency of some sort should come upon us and we are prepared, these preparations may make all the difference for our well-being. We cannot expect that emergencies only happen to other people, right? Have a look at The Andes Accident 1972 website to learn about what had happened back in 1972, with photos etc.

Also, find out what kinds of animals, insects, plants, trees and shrubs will be in your area, and learn about sun and celestial navigation. This information will be beneficial, particularly in an emergency for food, clothing, shelter, medicinal, insect repellent, navigation and weather prediction. Learning about what kind of animals you may encounter on your trip such as bears or moose etc., will enable you to know how to deal with any such encounters.

Learn survival skills as well. Knowing how to camp and navigate with modern equipment is fine, but prepare as though you didn't have your modern instruments and that your life and that of the group depended on it, because it might.

This is not a complete guide to trip planning and itinerary making. I encourage you to study further on the subject to get more detailed information.

Here is a  link to aid you in your research on pre-trip planning and itineraries.

1. Princeton University Outdoor Action It is item No 4 on the list. Have a look at the other information on this page while you are there.


Mastering The Wilderness: Pre Trip Planning. Part 1:Paul Tarsitano

Executive producer/director, Colin Rayner; Checkmate Film Productions
Mastering The Wilderness: Pre Trip Planning. Part 2:Paul Tarsitano

Executive producer/director, Colin Rayner; Checkmate Film Productions
The above films are from 1985. I give the attribution as written above. If there is a problem in utilizing them here please contact me through the contact form on the homepage. Thank you.