Planning a Wilderness Trip
Taking some time to properly plan and prepare for recreating in a wilderness area can make or break your experience:
Sierra Nevada Wilderness Areas
- Ansel Adams Wilderness
- Bucks Lake wilderness
- Carson Iceberg Wilderness
- Caribou Wilderness
- Desolation Wilderness
- Dinkey Lakes Wilderness
- Emigrant Wilderness
- Golden Trout Wilderness
- Granite Chief wilderness
- Hoover wilderness
- Jennie Lakes Wilderness
- John Muir wilderness
- Kaiser Wilderness
- Mokelumne Wilderness
- Monarch wilderness
- Sequoia / Kings Canyon wilderness
- South sierra Wilderness
- Yosemite Wilderness
Some General Planning Tips
- Make sure the area you plan to visit fits your needs: Do you want to bring your dog? Is that route too challenging? Do you need to get a permit in advance?
- Be flexible: Have a backup option in case the area you planned for doesn’t work out. There are endless great wilderness trips in the Sierra.
- If possible, avoid the most popular areas on busy weekends and holidays. Midweek and during off-seasons popular trails can be almost deserted.
- Pick your gear carefully with safety and Leave No Trace in mind. Double-check our Backpacking Gear List as a starting point.
- Plan your food with bears and food storage in mind: Is everything going to fit in your bear canister?
Protecting What We Enjoy
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
- Unknown (but clearly someone exceptionally wise)
Leave No Trace is a philosophy, an organization, and a set of techniques that enable us to enjoy wild places while preserving them. Here are the Seven Basic Principles:
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
More on Planning from LNT.org
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
More on Durable Surfaces from LNT.org
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
More on Waste Disposal from LNT.org
4. Leave What You Find
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
More on Leaving Things Intact from LNT.org
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
More on Campfires from LNT.org
6. Respect Wildlife
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
More on Wildlife from LNT.org
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises
More on Being Considerate from LNT.org
What to Pack…
Everyone brings different equipment when they head into the Sierra Wilderness. Your experience level and the type of trip you’re planning will play a huge role in determining what gear you bring, but here are some basics to consider when packing for any overnight wilderness trip in the Sierra.
- Hiking boots – should be broken-in and waterproofed.
- Rain jacket and pants (Optional in the Sierra)
- Thin wool or synthetic pants
- wool sweater, lightweight down or synthetic jacket
- Wool socks (Pro Tip Bring clean pair for sleeping on cold nights)
- Liner socks (if you like liners)
- Synthetic underwear, synthetic t-shirt (no cotton)
- Quick drying shorts or pants
- Wool or synthtic cap
- Wool or synthetic gloves or mittens
- Lightweight hat with brim
These items may be crucial to a great trip, but they are also where many people cut weight for lighter trip. Evaluate items based on your willingness to carry and the importance for safe and fun experience.
- Backpack with pack cover
- Map of your route, and compass or GPS (and the ability to use them)
- Appropriate food for your trip, plus some extra
- Bear canister allowed for use in the area you’re visiting
- Sleeping bag and waterproof stuff sack
- Tent or tarp with ground cloth or Hammock
- Sleeping pad
- First-aid kit – don’t forget moleskin
- Stove, cook-kit, mug, utensils, and fuel
- Matches or lighter
- Lightweight eating gear – cup, bowl, spoon.
- Flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries
- Pocket knife or multi-tool
- Garbage bags – Leave No trace!
- Water bottle and water treatment or filter
- Collapsable water container for camp
- Mosquito repellant or bug net
- Chapstick and sun screen
- Toilet paper in a plastic bag
- Trowel for digging cat holes (for human waste)
- Toiletries – toothbrush/paste, glasses or contacts, personal medications
- Repair kit
- Decent sunglasses
- Duct tape
- Maybe some more duct tape
- Sandals or camp shoes- Bringing camp shoes changed backpacking for me to a leisure activity.
- Journal and pen/pencil
- Fishing gear with a fishing permit
- Hiking poles
- Book or magazine
Some Important Wilderness Tips:
Know what you’re getting into and be realistic with your abilities: If you are not an experienced wilderness traveler, keep your ego in-check and be conservative when it comes to new adventures. If you are an experienced wilderness user, still keep that ego in-check and know your own limits.
Research the area you’re planning to visit: Talk to people who have been there before, ask rangers familiar with the area about local concerns, carry the appropriate maps, and know how to read those maps.
Tell someone where you’re going: Make sure you tell someone exactly where you’re headed and when to start worrying about you, especially if you’re hiking alone.
Bring the appropriate equipment, and know how to use it: Every wilderness experience requires slightly different gear, but wherever you’re headed here are some basic items that are always a good idea to carry:
- Flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries
- Rain/wind/sun/cold weather gear (light layers and sunscreen)
- Plenty of water and/or a water filtration system (consume at least 3 liters of water per day per person)
- whistle, signal mirror
- First aid items (including your medication and an emergency blanket)
- Decent footwear
- Map, compass, and GPS device (optional) Make sure you know how to use them!
- Firestarters (matches, lighter, fire ribbon, etc.)- Many wilderness areas in the sierra don’t allow fires. So you don’t need this if you are not packing a stove.