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The Plan You Leave Behind

Two weeks ago, I received a random message on Facebook of lost hikers in need of help. A father and two sons went missing in the Ouachita Mountains, they only told their family where they were goin and nothing more. They promised to call but there was only limited cell service and the only text the sent out was "we are LOST." My frequent posts of the pictures helped a friend of their family locate me which I helped them initiate a search for them. They were later found safe and sound after being lost for 2 days. To make a long story short, a hiker found them along the trail and led them back to their car. That was a story of luck, but when we venture into areas we are not familiar with we risk the possibility of something going south. With cell phones being unreliable in most backcountry areas, a solid plan left with a friend or family could be a last hope if something did go wrong. I have been asked several times what one of my trip plans look like. So below is the contents and a real example of one that we distributed to persons that have both a level head and trust.

12 things you should have in every trip plan:

  • Names and contact info of the traveling party (this should also include sat phone number or locator becon if traveling with one)

  • Destination

  • Duration of trip

  • Location of your transportation

  • Starting point & end point

  • Hazards along the way

  • Forecasted camp locations, daily mileage, direction of travel, etc.

  • Alternate plans

  • Local contacts, guides, groups

  • Local authorities

  • GPS way points or route of trail, river, camps, etc.

  • Links to any important info (river gauges, local weather forecasts, etc.)

You want to communicate you plan in an easy way to understand.  If cell phone coverage is limited or non-existent, renting a satellite phone or purchasing a GPS locator beacon is an effective but not always reliable way to reach out for a rescue or help.

Here is an example of a trip plan we used on one our river expeditions:


To Whom It May Concern,

We will be embarking on a river trip on March 20 – 25 down the Pecos River

Attached are GPS coordinates for the trip we are headed out on this week and can be loaded on google earth to review. We have outlined our camps by each day and have several alternate camp grounds marked as backup plans. We have also marked several points of interest and hazards that we will be exploring or facing. Our put in location and take out locations are also markeed. We are utilizing a shuttle service and they will be keeping are vehicles at there house and will be available if need be. The contact information is at the end of this email along with other resources.

There will be Four Persons in our group and here are their names and contact info:

            Daniel Underbrink

            Mike Kulbeth

            Luke ******

            Dan *****

 Local Person Contact and shuttle: ******************

We will have a satellite phone but it will not always be on. The canyon walls can affect the reliability of it but we take multiple hikes to the rim during the trip so this will be the best time for us to receive and communication or contact you. Please Store this number and Answer immediately or you need to reach us. This phone does accept Text messages and this will be the best form or communication.

Satellite Phone Number is (863-***-***)

The Drainage area for the river is very large and we will be taking every precaution necessary for our safe return. There is rain in the forecast but I feel it will be safe as it is only isolated in a small area of the drainage area.

The following links are as described:

We need to be contacted immediately if any Flood Watches or Warnings are in effect for any of the Gauge points or areas these gauges are located

River Gauges – There are always uptick with any amount of rain please use your best judgement not to alert anyone unnecessarily as false rescues can be very expensive and the stress of waiting for a no rise in water levels can be tough on persons. If water levels are expected to rise let us know via text and we will contact you all to discuss.  I am thinking any Amount in a rise Past 300 CFM or a 1-3 foot Rise (pending Gauge, see details Below) will need to be of low concern but still would be nice to know so we don’t wake up in a puddle of water

Pandale Gauge – This is where we are putting in- This link will forecast if any Flood warnings or watches are in affect for the area. It will be shown as a dotted line. We need to be Contacted immediately if any Flood watches or warnings are in effect.

Panda Gauge Info and Descriptions - these will tell you what we will face at different water levels 


(8.2 meters), Life threatening major flooding occurs below Sheffield downstream to Amistad Reservoir. Flow at Pandale Crossing is over one third mile wide and two hundred thousand cfs. Flow inundates the channel bottom above Pandale to Amistad Reservoir and is life threatening to campers and river recreationists.


(7.0 meters), Major flooding is well into the flood plain and can wash campers, vehicles and gear downstream. Roads and crossings in the Pecos River flood plain and tributaries are extremely dangerous to motorists. The Pecos River at Pandale Crossing is near 1/3 mile wide.


(5.8 meters), The Pecos river at Pandale Crossing is over one quarter mile wide and extremely turbulent. Campers, river recreationists, and RVs camped near the river can easily be swept downstream as the major flood wave moving downstream causes very rapid rises.


(4.6 meters), Major flooding makes low water crossings along the Pecos River and tributaries potentially deadly. The flood wave moving downstream causes rapid rises dangerous to campers on the low banks below Sheffield to Amistad Reservoir. Autos and gear can be swept downstream.


(3.0 meters), Moderate flooding is well into the flood plain making secondary roads and crossings along the Pecos River and tributaries very dangerous to travel. Swimmers and tubers should leave the river as flow is dangerously turbulent. Campers vehicles and gear in the flood plain can be swept downstream.


(2.1 meters), Minor lowland flooding is a significant threat to swimmers, tubers and campers on the low banks of the Pecos River above Pandale to above Langtry.


Lowland flooding makes low water crossings at Pandale on the Pecos River and tributaries flooded and impassable.


Sheffield gauge – Upriver Gauge from Pandale Use Above Link to navigate to it – Important Gauge

This gauge works off and on and needs to be monitored, as it’s a good indicator of what is going to happen at the Pandale Gauge.

Independence Creek – This Is a major Drainage area for the Pecos if this is forecasted to Flood. We need to be notified of the extent of flooding or water rise. The gauge typically does not Work but if the area is in a flood warning or watch, we need to be contacted.

Girvan Gauge – This is quite a distance upstream from our put in site this will be an indicator of what the river will do downstream and we will need to be notified of any Forecasted Water rise or floodwarnings or watches are in this area.

Local Rescue Personnel – Border patrol

We will be in limited Contact with Our Wives and family and will alert everyone in case of an emergency. In case they are predicting minor Flooding or a drastic water rise please do everything you can to contact us through the Satellite Phone ( text message and Calls)


I would be very careful who you send this information to, they will need an understanding of many things including river Gauges, Water levels, forecast, weather, and local area all play huge factors in predicting what a river will do. Small upticks on a river gauge graph can look like a massive flood but only be an inch or two. The projections are showing no forecasted rise in water level, things can change very quickly and we need to be notified and prepared. This is not to scare persons but these are the realities to spending time in the remote wilderness and needs to be said and understood.

Thanks for keeping an eye out for us see you in a week!!!


I send these plans to my Father only, for I feel he will not alert anyone unless completely necessary and will stay calm and be very calculated in his decisions. If rain was not in the forecast, I would still only send this to him. You too will need to choose people that will stay controlled in there thinking but know when a danger may present itself that could lead to a situation out of your hands. If you want to know how a well planned trip turned bad but survival was possible due to a prepared and well executed plan continue here


Budget Meals for the Backcountry

It is very easy to spend a bunch of money planning an adventure. Getting three square meals, fuel for the journey, and a few comfort items adds up quick. Dehydrated meals can run anywhere from 5-15 bucks a meal, add in a snack or two, a few drink mixes and you are up to 50 bucks a day. That can be a hard meal to swallow when you start extending trips out past a day or two. To save some cash, try to be proactive throughout the year to pick up deals on meals, stash away some freebies, learn DIY meals, and pick up a few extras on routine trips to the grocer. Below Ill share some of the ways I save some dough and field prepared meals that are simple and easy on the trail.

To start off and set the stage for budget planning, I want to go over a no brainer and a technique you are probably already doing. Start with stashing condiments, tea, and coffee. I am not advocating stealing, but simply asking your server or order taker for a few extra ketchups, mayos, and the like. The following are commonly found single serve packets that you can pick up throughout the year. I keep a bag in my Pantry and just toss in any extras I do not use with my takeout. After a few months you will have more than enough to get you through a week long hike or river trip.

Commonly found Single Serve Condiments:

  • Ketchup
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Soy Sauce
  • Honey
  • Butter
  • Jelly
  • Pickle Relish
  • Limon Juice
  • Parmesan 
  • Red Pepper
  • Salsa 
  • Salad Dressing
  • BBQ Sauce 
  • And many other Spices, sauces, and dressing

Hotels tend to leave complimentary Coffee and Tea bags in your room for that morning kick start. Ask for a few before you check out,  they always seem to accommodate me when I do. if you crunched for time and procrastinated Amazon and Pack it gourmet are great place to order individual items if your local take out is too stingy.

Now for the stuff that costs you part of that hard-earned pay check. To minimize the impact of the main courses of an outing you will need to be proactive. Too often I find myself trying to get creative and unique but 5 days into a 10-day trip home comforts often are the best thing you have in your pack. In addition, being overly creative tends to get expensive and not always the most appetizing on the trail. Stick with the basics. When I hit the Grocery store I will add 3 extras items to my basket that I set aside for my next trip. These are standard items that I can use in conjunction with my newly acquired condiments.

Grocery Items

  • Tuna Packets (I get the ones in the foil packets that come in different flavors)
  • Chicken Breast in a can (usually found next to the tuna)
  • Mash potato packets
  • Raman noodles (non flavored and flavored)
  • Lipton noodle meals
  • Instant Rice
  • Grits
  • Oatmeal
  • Meal Bars
  • Single serve mixed nuts
  • Tomato Paste tubes
  • Real Bacon Bits
  • Shelf stable Cheeses
  • Chicken, beef, or veggie Bouillon Cubes


Now that you have the staples downs you are ready to put some meals together.For breakfast, I tend to eat on the go or mix up some simple morning fuel and add a twist.


Buttery Bacon Grits

  • Grits - 2 Packets of instant
  • Two Butter packets
  • Handful of Shelf Stable Bacon Bits or Bacon Jerky

Cook Grits as specified on packet. Stir in the butter and bacon.


Blueberry Granola

  • ½ cup vanilla flavored or plain granola
  • 2-3 tbl of powdered milk

Add ¼- ½ cup water, mix and eat immediately


Unless I am at a base camp, lunches tend to turn out as more of hourly snacks that keep me fueled for the journey and I can eat on the move. Meal bars, trail mix, and tuna packets tend to dominate the course but some of my favorites are simple but effective fuel sources that don't tend to linger in the gut. These are staples for me on the trail when in motion

  • Date rolls
  • Peanut or Almond Butter (I get the Justin Single serve packets)
  • Tuna salad
  • Dried Sausage
  • Pro Bars
  • Macaroons
  • Beef Jerky
  • Mixed nuts
  • Energy gels 
  • Dried Fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Meal replacement powders


Dinner is my important meal, I try to pack the most nutrition I can before I go to sleep. After I set up camp Ill snack on some beef jerky, reup my electrolytes, and cook dinner. I am not going to lie this is where my dehydrated meals come into play. I have been using Heathers Choice as they seem to have the best health benefit, taste great, and calorie dense dehydrated food on the market in my opinion. (no we are not sponsored by Heather's Choice) But dehydrated meals get old fast if you don't have a large variety or find something that does not agree with you so I also try and bring comfort foods that I know I can always stomach. (I wrote a previous post in regards to some of the fresh cooked foods here) below are a few additional recipes that are quick, cheap, and taste great. 

Tuna or Chicken Salad

  • 2 Packages of Single serve tuna (I like hickory smoked tuna)
  • 3 single serve mayo
  • 1 single serve mustard
  • I Single serve dill relish
  • 2 salt a peppers
  • Mix contents and serve. To add additional calories, serve in a tortilla or add bacon jerky to the mix.

Trail Side spaghetti

  • 1/4 cup of macaroni noodles or Raman (Raman will cook much faster)
  • 1 Tbl of Italian seasoning 
  • 1/4 tsp of salt and pepper (4 or 5 little packets from your local take out)
  • Parmesan cheese and red pepper packets (think takeout pizza)
  • Tube of tomato paste
  • Cube of chicken bullion 
  • Dried sausage for the meat eater

Boil water. Add chicken bouillon and dissolve then add noodles. (turn off heat or lower flame so it doesn't over flow) - cook until noodles are tender. Once noodles are done pour off water until you are left with a 1/2 cup. Add in seasoning, salt & pepper, and a small bit of tomato paste stir until tomato paste is dissolved and mixed in evenly. Add cuts of dried sausage wait a few min then add red pepper and Parmesan and enjoy


But don't just stop here

Invest in a dehydrator, for the cost of a days’ worth of dehydrated meals, you can purchase one on Amazon. This allows you to make your own Beef Jerky, Dried Sausage, Dried Fruits and even take leftovers and turn them into backpacking meals. If you just put in a simple search to google you will find an abundant of recipes and how to videos that will keep you busy for months leading up to a big adventure. Don’t forget the Preparation can be just as much funs as the trip itself.


Mikes DYI Bulk Trail Mix

  • Bulk Mixed Nuts
  • Bag of Raw Almonds
  • Bag of Raisins
  • Bag Shaved Coconut
  • Peanut M&Ms (heavy on the M&Ms, you’ll thank us later)
  • DYI Dehydrated Fruit (Bananas, Apples, Cranberries etc.…)
  • Yogurt Covered Raisins

Use a giant bowl and mix it all up. Proportion it to meet your caloric needs in individual sandwich bags or vacuum seal for shelfs stability and future use. Be careful when vacuum sealing dehydrated fruits they tend to clump and stick together. Using grated coconut helps remedy this. Once it’s all mixed in just separate into Ziplocs or vacuum bags and you’re ready to roll for many trips and days ahead.


So to keep the spend down and the quality up do these tips throughout the year to plan for your next backcountry trip. Load up on freebies - save all unused single serve condiments and throw them in a designated bag in the pantry.

  • Grocery shopping - pick up one or two items each trip to the store that I save for camping trips, trail runs, and kayaking trips. 
  • Look for sells on Dehydrated meals and closeouts at your local sporting goods store
  • Think outside the box and prepare your own dried or shelf stable meals a head of time.
  • Invest in a dehydrator, this alone opens up a whole new way to planning meals with Health and wellness in the forefront
  • Be creative with what you have on had and  think about your normal everyday comfort foods.

The Hidden Dimension of Planning an Adventure

The Hidden Dimension of Planning an Adventure

Expectations are high, that moment of no return, your headed out. It is one way in and one way out, miles need to be covered, elements endured, and the end goal has no exceptions. But is your expectation the same as your adventure bud’s? Are your ideas aligned? Do you want the same out of the trip as they? Do you ask these questions during planning? We plan logistics, mileage, days, gear, and food. Yet, how many times have you discussed the goals of the individual? 

You send out a group text that reads, “ITS ON, LET THE TRIP PLANNING BEGIN.”  The next series of texts roll in with aligning of dates, checking in with your significant other, coordination to and from, and a few sights you may see while out. Then as time inches closer, you begin discussing gear and food. Then you discuss that some more. About a week out, you realize you need more gear and start hitting up your personal gearhead at and convince them to ship everything overnight for free (yes you can do this, don't tell anyone.) You send pics of the new pack and whatever that thing you thought you need but will never use.

Departure day comes with anticipation and the high of the unknown is in full effect. The nervousness kicks in and you are stepping into the point of no return. You have planned for months, have every detail outlined, and now it is just that age old saying, one foot in front of the other. Everyone is full of energy, invincible, talking of what lies ahead, and knowing nothing can get in our way.  This is "Day One" in a nut shell

The first few steps into the wild the groups ultimate goal is aligned, there is a start point and an end point, daily mileage goal, approximate camp locations. Why does it matter anyway, we are all in this together and that’s is all you need, right?  Well no... Not exactly… 

Wide awake I begin to break my camp, it was the 2nd night of a 3 night trip and we still had a ways to go. With many miles and a few major obstacles a head of us I knew we needed to get on the water to make our destination. I had work in a few days and could not miss it. This was my first problem. I was in my head. We had a long way to go and I had no flexibility in time. I knew we had to make certain amount of mileage for me to be able to complete the trip. We had to get on the water, waste no time, and paddle. My idea and the group’s idea where the same with the exception of when to start and when to end each day. I wanted to get on the water and go, they liked the morning to be relaxed and feel alive with that freedom of today. Though not one way or the other was wrong, it was just misaligned. We never discussed it, there was no plan. So there should be no expectation. Right??? But there was, it was my expectation, and mine only. It was never discussed so it was never aligned.

There are always differences to the path that we discuss in the planning stages. Though the ultimate goal may be aligned with the group, it is the individual’s goal that are the most important. I like to call these “the hidden dimension or micro goal.” These are the individual goals of each team member that may not be inline with our own. There is the guy that wants to climb that peak on day 3, the person that want to spend a day fishing, or one that wants to put in a PR (personal Record) mileage day, or just a lazy day to work on their bushcraft skills. There is nothing wrong with these things, but they are the hidden dimension. These are the things that propel a team to accomplishment, fulfillment, or even failure.

Though in my situation it worked out to make the trip that much more pleasurable for me, and I am better because of it. I learned a lot about myself on that trip but It doesn’t always work that way. We must be open and honest with how we feel, our abilities, and speak of our micro goals. If we do not it can make ourselves or others feel left out, demoralized, exhausted, or just completely unsatisfied.

So what do you do? How do you do this? What questions should we ask? How accommodating should we be? I don’t have the ultimate answer for you but I have a few things that might help make a great trip better and build a stronger bond with your friends along the way.

What activities do you want to pursue? 

On our river trips, Mike is a diehard fisherman, he always wants one more cast no matter how many there were before it. On the other hand, I want to explore as many miles as I can. Don’t get me wrong, I looooove fishing, but not the way Mike loves fishing. I know when we plan a river trip we each take this into consideration. I am typically the logistic guy. I will plan a long hard day (me the mile man) to get to a good camp site that has a big productive fishing area (Mike the die hard). We fish along the way yet keep a pace of our aligned goal. It is a give and take. 

 Little paddle jam session on our 100 mile stand up paddle trip

 Little paddle jam session on our 100 mile stand up paddle trip

Know when to split up

Not in the sense that you leave your buddy unsolisited in the bottom of a canyon, which i am sure people want to do to me sometimes. I mean, split up in a positive and communicated way to pursue each micro goal with the ultimate goal intact. When out paddling I am known to paddle just to paddle, not a problem if you know me, though it could be if you have never been on a trip with me. Mike understands this and he knows I will be waiting at the next hazard staying put until he arrives. He will hang back slowly working his way towards me fishing the nooks and crannies of each passing rock. This works well for us as a team. I stop explore, fish a little, take pictures, and he will fish till we need to move on. If we are behind schedule he will pick up an push on to that next honey hole. This works well in a river where the hazards are done together and flat water are done individually. They are like solo trips with a team. If things seem out of place I will double back with no issue and move on if things are fine.

Luke taking an uncommon spill after entering a large rapid

Luke taking an uncommon spill after entering a large rapid

Hone in on the camp fire chat.

This is where you need to put lots of focus. This is where feelings come into play. If your buddy is sitting at the end of a hard day hike talking about blisters, heart rate, dehydration, or even illness, this is when we scale back tomorrows hard day or utilize a built in rest day to improve our health, scout, or do that thing we wanted to do. There are times and places to push people beyond their limit (future blog post) but for this conversation it’s a time to focus in and listen. 

We were on a 7-day river trip when a fellow team member ran into a series of misfortune. A near miss in a rapid, daily mileage that was hard, bad water, and multiple portages that resulted in a leaky boat. Time was not on our side so we pushed him beyond his limits. In retrospect, an extra day to regroup, a solid repair to the kayak, and time to regain some confidence would have resulted in the same outcome to the common goal but a happier group of campers.

Mike pondering the evening bite on the pesos river

Mike pondering the evening bite on the pesos river

Group Size

More is not always merrier when it comes to wilderness travel. The more people the more hidden dimensions (micro goals.) We sometimes too often invite everyone and their dog for multiple reasons. We do it to bring down cost, don’t want to leave a friend out, share the weight, or just to introduce friends to your passion. Though it is the most fun to share an experience, it is not always fun when goals become misaligned. I personally feel that even numbers are best. This allows for safe travels on a “no man goes alone policy” if there is an emergency. Odd numbers work but the individual micro goal becomes even more important as there could be some things that can’t be pursued such as rock climbing with a bunch of fishermen, Fishing with a bunch of through hikers, lounging around on a time limited mileage pursuit. Though having friends along make for a rich and fun experience It is always an option to leave your buddies at home and take on the underutilized solo trip. 

Daniel on a 5 day Solo SUP Trip down the Devils River

Daniel on a 5 day Solo SUP Trip down the Devils River

In the end, an extended stay in the back country is a fulfilling endeavor that takes knowledge, skill, and a lot of communication. We see the destination as the goal, but deep inside we find our own goals. They are different for each person, the are special, and they our our own. Communicate these in your planning, plan for them as a team, and be okay to set them aside for the ultimate goal.


- Daniel Underbrink