Trail Assessment

The Boy Scout motto is “Be prepared” to be prepared on a backpacking trip you must be prepared with both the gear you carry on your back, and most importantly what you bring between your ears!

To enjoy your trip you will be bringing 3 resources; Gear, Supplies and Skills.Be Prepared

But past assembling your gear and food, how can you ensure that you are in fact prepared?

You need to know what to be prepared for! To do this you must ask yourself what is the environment and route conditions you will experience on this trip? The questions you have to ask are: What is the temperature high or low, is there a possibility of rain, will the terrain we are hiking on be muddy or dry, will there be insects or animals we need to take precautions for, and what is the remoteness of our destination.

Trail Assessment:
This might seem like a lot but if we all work together we can quickly and easily gather this information!

Climate & Daylight
• Average Temperature High and Low (Note: adjust about 3 degrees for every 1,000 vertical feet.)
• Average and record high/low precipitation
• Wind & Cloud cover
• Hours between civil sunrise and civil sunset (Note: expect 30-60 minutes of less daylight due to heavy cloud cover.)

Problematic wildlife/insects
• Types, e.g. mosquitoes, black flies, no-see-um’s
• Peak intensity
• Intensity fluctuations based on time of day, location, wind
• Bears
• “Mini bears example: mice, raccoons, marmots

Vegetation & Water Availability
• Types, example: trees, brush, none – Thickness/density
• Allergens, example poison ivy
• Combustibility for fires
• Distance, terrain and time between water sources
• Water Reliability

Footing & Navigation
• Snow-covered or snow-free
• If snow-free: rocks, dirt, sand, vegetation, dry, dusty, wet, muddy, smooth or uneven?
• Visibility, example open or forested
• Topographical relief, example subtle or prominent features
• Quality of trail tread
• Signs, blazes, cairns, posts
• Quantity/frequency of use or social trails

Remoteness
• Distance and time to the closest trafficked road and the closest town with services
• Natural barriers to self-rescue, e.g. canyons, thick brush, big rivers
• Cell reception

What resources should you consult in assessing environmental and route conditions? These will help:
• Climate atlas and historical weather data.
• Landsat images, e.g. “satelite” view on Google Maps
• Geo-tagged photos, e.g. photos on Google Maps
• Topographical maps, e.g. USGS topos
• Guidebooks, databooks, and water charts
• Official information published by land mangers and trail associations, made available on their websites and in their printed materials
• Communities, e.g. online forums, hiking clubs
• Local experts, e.g. backcountry rangers, lodge owners, experienced backcountry users