How to Plan for an Overnight Backpacking Trip

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Backpacking in the Uintas: Two Days

After going over some of the basics of a day hike in the previous article, let’s get into advanced planning for an overnight trip. Things like checking the elevation gain of the route, monitoring the weather, and packing lightweight meals will all contribute to a positive experience while in the backcountry.

Planning Your Ultimate Adventure

From hiking through alpine meadows to stand-up paddle boarding across a lake, the Uintas offer a multitude of experiences. The trick to a great trip is finding what’s best for you and your group. Researching an area ahead of time will help you navigate the best places to go. Knowing where to find water and how to prepare for bad weather can boost your skills in the backcountry. Communicate with your party before heading out. Discuss the plan and everyone’s needs and expectations so the whole group is on the same page.

Packing for an Overnight

Even in the summer, temperatures can drop in the evening; so having ample layers and good gear can help you stay comfortable when it gets cold. The right sleeping bag, pad, and tent will keep you warm and dry no matter the forecast.

Nutrition is key to enjoying a steady stream of energy throughout your trip. Every hiker has their favorite backcountry meals they enjoy. Some are purchased, like the delicious mushroom risotto from GOOD-TO-Go. If you’re a prepper, you might even have some fun with dehydrating your own meals. Doing this ahead of time with all your favorite spices and veggies will make your experience even better.

If you don’t have access to backpacking meals or a dehydrator, alternatively, dehydrated mashed potatoes, packets of oatmeal, and other dry snacks are available in most grocery stores. Dry food that can be rehydrated with water will keep your pack lighter. For cooking, use camp stoves rather than cooking over a fire to minimize your impact on an area.

Whichever way you go, a healthy portion of protein and calories is vital. If you buy a backpacker meal for two people with 700 calories, then that’s not going to be enough for one meal. Adding an extra pack of lower-calorie food or supplemental snacks can get you to where you need to be. Camping at higher elevation can make summoning an appetite difficult. Adding something spicy and salty to your meal engages your salivary glands, which helps you eat when you don’t feel hungry. Remember that in these situations you must rely on knowing when your body needs food rather than depending on a feeling of hunger.

Jans experts relax near a lake in the Uintas, UT

Gear to Gadgets

Nowadays the list of gear available to the consumer is almost endless. You could spend thousands on ultralight gear and navigation technology, and some of it can really change the game. Having spent many years in the girl scouts, I will say that you can get by with an old-fashion map and compass, and an understanding of those basic skills could save your life. Outdoor stores usually carry a clear compass that is easy to read on top of a map; these are inexpensive and a must-have for any backpacking party.


From natural springs, creeks, lakes, and rivers, the Uintas have an abundance of sources for drinking water. Knowing where to look and having the tools to properly filter it makes drinking the water easy and safe. For an overnight trip, planning ahead can prevent you from carrying extra unnecessary water-weight on long hikes. With the resources of today’s technology-driven world, its fairly easy to read trip reports online and look at satellite maps to locate potential fill-up spots beforehand.

There are many filtration systems out there and each is different, so picking one really depends on your preference. In some areas, sterilizing the water is also recommended even when using a filter. UV pens or iodine tablets will kill any microbes that may have passed through your filter.

Navigating in the Wilderness

Adventurers throughout the ages entered the wilderness to seek solitude. The 21st century introduced a plethora of helpful technologies that benefit outdoor recreationalists, especially in navigation. Most people have access to a smartphone with GPS that works in airplane mode, and common map apps allow you to download areas to reference offline. It’s always a good idea to bring a trusted waterproof map and compass in case your phone or GPS device dies.

First hand accounts of the area can keep you updated on the latest information. National Parks and ranger stations will release weather, traffic, and safety updates regularly, so make sure you stay current on those as well. Think about it this way: the more you know, the better.

Olivia enjoys her coffee after setting up camp in the Uintas, UT

Know Where and How to Camp Safely

There are some safety concerns to keep in mind when deciding where to pitch your tent. In the Uintas especially, there’s an abundance of dead trees. Look above in every direction around where you plan to camp, and consider which trees look dead and compromised. If a storm hits, then some of these trees might fall. You don’t want to pitch your tent within the fall zone of dead trees. In the same vein, avoiding the base of rockfall areas or scree fields is important.

Camp in established sites whenever possible. Make sure your camp is 200 feet from any water source, trail, or other campsite. Right on the river seems like an idyllic place to set up camp, but if there’s a rise in water or a flash flood you could be in extreme danger. This rule was also made to protect vulnerable ecosystems and watersheds.

Fire seasons are growing in length and intensity. Before heading out, check fire regulations and always restrict fires to established fire rings. Use wood that is already dry and on the ground instead of taking branches off living trees; and keep water on hand in case the fire gets out of control.

Bring WAG bags with you and research the area you’re visiting so you know the recommended procedure for human waste. Many public lands allow you to dig a hole but there are many cases where they prefer you pack it out. As always, if you’re burying it make sure you do it 200 feet away from water or trails.

Emergencies and Consequences Can Ruin Your Trip

For a long time, I never considered what would happen if something went horribly wrong in the backcountry. In my early twenties I often wore flip flops or Chacos for the entire trip and rarely checked the weather. I cringe at the amount of times I went into the backcountry with limited food and no emergency gear—not to mention limited water and no idea how I would communicate with people if something went wrong.

Nowadays, I always research and make a plan. I know where my water is, my navigation is charged, and a first-aid kit is easily accessible on the outside of my pack. These things aren’t going to protect me from every danger, but they will help prevent certain accidents from becoming disasters. Lastly, tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back. Pad an extra hour or two onto your expected time to allow wiggle room to be a bit late—this way people aren’t calling the authorities prematurely.

Outdoor Education Saves Lives

The more you educate yourself before you head out, the more likely you are to return safely despite curve balls. Aim to be the person your group can rely on. If you have access to trainings or wilderness medicine certifications, then take advantage of those resources. Knowing what to do and how to help in an emergency could save lives. Reading accident reports or listening to podcasts like The Sharp End highlight the importance of this kind of training. Knowing how to self-rescue if something happens to a member of your party can save time and resources for rescuers and potentially someone’s life.

Now that we have that covered, it’s time to heat some water for dinner and watch the sun set. Backpacking lets you experience nature without the sounds of civilization and appreciate the beauty while being part of it. There are so many people out recreating these days that we should always leave no trace in the outdoors. That means picking up trash, and after enjoying a place, there should be no sign you were ever there.

By Calindra Revier, Jans Content Writer & Media

Additional Links

How to Plan for a Single Day Backpacking Trip

Backpacking in the High Uinta Wilderness Area

Leave No Trace

Dehydrated Camping Meals & Backpacking Food from Good To-Go

The Sharp End Podcast

How to Choose Hiking Shoes