Route planning for the Copper Canyon, Mexico, 2013

One of the keys to a safe and enjoyable wilderness experience is pre-hike research. Internet, guidebooks, maps, Outdoor magazines, experienced hiker friends; knowing what you are getting yourself in for before embarking on your journey can make all the difference.


  • In Season: Ideal weather-wise, but depending on where you are hiking, crowds may be an issue. May not be the best time for those seeking solitude, however it is the optimum period for beginners looking to gain experience.

  • Out of Season: No crowds, but weather can be an issue.  Generally requires a higher level of backcountry skill and experience in order to deal with what could potentially be difficult conditions.

  • The Shoulder Seasons: Can be an ideal compromise for seasoned hikers wanting to avoid the crowds, but at the same time providing the possibility of good weather.

  • Other Contributing Factors:  Flora (e.g. autumn colours, spring foliage), fauna (e.g. migration, mating season) and cultural (e.g. ceremonies, festivals).


  • Maps and/or Guidebook: If you are planning on hiking off the beaten track in developing countries, whenever possible it is wise to organize topographical maps before departure. If you can’t download what you are looking for off the Net, two companies that have a wide range of international mapping options are Omnimap and East View Geospatial.

  • Historical Weather Data: Instrumental in making an educated decision about when you want to go and what you will need to take equipment-wise in order to have a safe and enjoyable hike.

  • Permits: Organize permission (e.g. If trekking over private lands) and/or permits (e.g. National Park, camping or hut fees) before setting out.

  • Resupply points and/or Mail Drops: Most countries offer the service by which a Post Office will hold mail until the recipient comes to collect it. These packages are usually addressed General Delivery (USA & Canada)  or Poste Restante (Australia, NZ and many other countries).

  • Getting There & Away: Always have a backup plan in case injury, illness or other circumstances force you to finish early.


Once you have obtained all the general information relevant to your proposed journey, it’s time to work out the details of your proposed route:

  • Estimate time and distance; both for the hike in its entirety as well as for individual sections

  • Identify possible campsites.

  • Note the location of water sources.

  • Note the location of notable landmarks and/or points of reference along your chosen route.

  • Identify potentially hazardous areas and possible evacuation routes (see Weather below)..

  • Prior to setting out, objectively assess your level of fitness, experience and skill. Problems in the backcountry can occur when ill-prepared hikers attempt routes that are currently beyond them.