Practical planning considerations

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All the planning in the world will not help a group achieve its objectives safely if those plans are not communicated effectively to those who need to know.  Once the research into the area proposed for the trip has been done, the likely group assembled, their capability assessed, and all of this put together as a trip plan, communication of that plan to the group concerned is the next step.

Obtaining permits

Good trip planning will have matched the size and expectations of the group with the conditions of use and permits required for visiting a proposed area such as national and state parks or indigenous land.

To check if a permit is required for the proposed trip, visit websites of state or territory park offices or phone or email them to ask if a permit is needed, how it is obtained and when bookings open. It is usually possible to book a permit online. While permits and similar controls may appear to be the antithesis of the freedom enjoyed in the outdoors, without such permits and rationing systems, natural areas could quickly become overcrowded and degraded to a level where we may no longer want to visit them.

Permits usually limit the number of people so check limits on group size before committing to a trip. There is usually no problem with groups of eight or less. However, some wilderness areas may have lower limits.

When obtaining permits and making bookings for the trip some information about the trip itinerary and group will be required.

Leaders need to ensure adequate time is allowed to obtain any necessary permits. There are long lead times for popular locations during peak seasons.

Assessing people for trips

The leader should discuss the trip with potential participants including highlights and challenges, e.g. distances, climbs, river crossings, rock scrambles, snow camping and likely weather.

A trip leader may have a good knowledge of potential participants to decide their suitability for the trip.  

If a person is unknown, the leader should seek advice from other leaders or people with whom that person has walked previously. This is essential for multi-day trips, particularly ones in remote areas.

Leaders should not accept someone for a trip if they have doubts about the person’s ability. A person is unlikely to enjoy a trip that is too difficult for them, which may also impact the rest of the group and the success and safety of the trip.

For longer or more challenging trips and also those involving complex travel arrangements, many leaders like to organise a meeting to cover trip expectations and gear requirements a few weeks prior to departure.

When assessing people for trips the following questions may help:

  • What walks or ski trips has the person done recently or ever?
  • Who led that trip? (that person’s opinion may be useful)
  • What were the weather conditions?
  • What gear do they have?
  • How do they maintain fitness?
  • Any relevant allergies or other medical conditions?
  • Do they have specialist skills relevant to the trip?
  • What are their map and compass and/or GPS skills?
  • Do they have first aid skills?

Trip grading

Many outdoor clubs have a system of trip grading, which can provide potential participants with an idea of how challenging the trip is likely to be. However, bear in mind that many members do not properly read the grading definitions, and may come expecting something quite different from what has been planned.

Grading that is ‘medium’ to a leader may be very challenging to an unfit or inexperienced group member.

Communicating trip information

The best method for communicating trip information will be determined by the nature of the group.

For groups organised through a bushwalking or outdoors club there may be a standard way of providing trip information.  A group of friends will communicate informally by email.

Regardless, leaders need to ensure that every group member is aware of all necessary information. Too much information is better than too little.

For extended trips, detailed written information should be sent to group members well in advance.

Key trip information will include:

  • rendezvous date, time and location
  • travel arrangements, including detailed directions and addresses
  • emergency contact details.  See  Trip Emergency Contact for more information.
  • maps used, encouraging group members to bring their own copies
  • equipment list highlighting specialist equipment
  • group equipment and who is bringing it
  • overview of trip plans, including highlights, campsites, and general route
  • references to guidebooks, park notes, online track notes
  • leader contact details
  • contact details of all group members