Ask Me About my Spreadsheet… Please.

Watch out – I have the confidence of a nerd armed with a spreadsheet.

An engineer in her element.

Which is… like an average person’s amount of confidence.

Like many before me, and I am sure many to come after me, my safety blanket for this trip (you know, other than the literal foil emergency blanket I will be carrying in my first aid kit) is a spreadsheet. That’s right. A spreadsheet. Nothing is more satisfying for an anxiety-ridden, Type A personality than a bunch of fancy lists linked together in a single document. Especially one that can generate pie charts… be still my beating heart!

Look – I would love to be a “free-spirit”, and I try to be in a lot of ways, but it is very much not in my nature. I am probably the most uptight, “free-spirit”-adjacent person that exists.

It was challenging for me to wrap my head around how I was going to plan – mentally and logistically – for this trek. The idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail had been this abstract concept in the back of my mind for so long and declaring that I would do it this year made it concrete. However, that granted me no clarity on how to make this kind of adventure a true reality. So I took “the way you eat an elephant approach” … one bite at a time.

Books and resources I have read and relied on since starting to plan my thru-hike.

I decided to tackle different aspects of my trip in groups to make the whole process a bit more manageable. This also meant reading as many resources as I could find about various topics and putting down a lot of ideas onto “paper” (or onto the 1s and 0s in this day and age).  This resulted in a 7 tab spreadsheet that I am very proud of and have probably talked to my friends and family about far more than any person should ever talk about a spreadsheet. 

So here I am, sharing it with the general public on the internet. I figure that most people create their own cobbled together spreadsheets like this one, but since I had gone through the trouble of creating this, I thought it might be helpful to someone out there who is trying to figure out how to eat this elephant. If it can help you, here is a link to a template version of my masterpiece and the remainder of this piece discusses the contents of each beautiful tab. And if it is not helpful to you, but you just are curious about how neurotic this chick actually is, read on dear friend!

Dema’s Completely Not Unhinged Planning Spreadsheet

I’m ok. I promise.

Stuff I Should Probably do Before I Try to Hike for Months (aka Planning Milestones)

This is the control center of the whole operation which is honestly just a complex to-do list. As much as the rest of this spreadsheet is very handy, this tab gave me a sense of progress in my planning efforts. The other tabs, while exceptionally useful, are ever-growing resources where I was continuously adding content, and this made it really challenging for me to track my progress. In the Planning Milestones tab, I listed out the many things I needed/wanted to accomplish between the start of planning in August 2023 to stepping onto the trail in the spring of 2024. It helped me feel less like I was on an endless hamster wheel of gathering information, and it had the side benefit of providing the satisfying headrush of crossing things OFF a list.  

Where Am I Going and When? (aka Itinerary and Route Planning)

A glimpse of the Itinerary and Route Planning tab template.

This is a desperate attempt to feel some sense of control over my schedule, understanding that this will likely get thrown out of the window within the first week of actually hiking. For now though, it is nice to have a sense of roughly how much I need to hike every day to finish in my scheduled timeframe. I am pretty tied to starting and ending on set dates, so having a sense of what pace I need to maintain to reach that goal is important to me. I also have some friends and family up and down the East Coast who I would like to meet up with at various points, so this gives a very loose ballpark of when I will roughly be in the area. And at the very least, it gives a place to continuously update my plans for my support network as I go.

Weight of the World on My Shoulders (aka On-Trail Gear List – Base Weight)

This is my very basic version of LighterPack that I threw together to try and gauge my base weight (and before I knew that LighterPack existed). It was a quick way to sanity check as I built out my list of gear. I wanted to keep my base weight around 15 lbs, so this little tool was used to test out combinations of gear while I was trying to determine what I wanted to invest in in terms of lightweight equipment.

How Mad Will My Wallet Be? (aka Trail Budget & Purchases Tracker)

Let me start by saying, I feel very fortunate to have the flexibility in my life to take half a year off of work to go off into the wilderness. That in mind, I don’t take the pause on income for granted, so another important step of planning was to set a budget – both for pre-trail and on-trail spending. From the start of planning on, I used this tab to log all of my purchases related to this trip and also to try to predict how much funding I need to support resupplies, gear replacements and a little bit of fun (i.e. the occasional real food and warm bed) along the way.

Life Goes On (aka Holding Down the Fort Budget)

Unfortunately, I am an adult with adult responsibilities. Fun. Stuff. Which means, not only is it crucial to account for the budget needed to make the thru-hike a possibility, but also a budget to keep everything running on the homefront while I run off to the woods. This involved planning for the monthly expenses of my regular life (i.e. mortgage, utilities, etc.)  and also setting money aside for my pets’ care. This budget helped guide roughly how much money I needed set aside in savings before I leave.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THESE TWO SLEEPING PADS!? (aka Gear Comparison)

Me. Very excited about my haul from REI.

Delving into the world of gear is a whole elephant to eat in itself. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on gear selection whatsoever, and I tried to absorb as much as I could from what I was finding in books and online. That being said, I suspect that I only barely scraped the surface. I was so overwhelmed by all of the different makes and models of equipment out there from sleep systems to shelters. I used this tab to try to make some comparisons between different types of equipment before making the plunge to invest in a particular item. This was one of the first tabs I built-out in the spreadsheet. Doing so early on gave me time to research as much as I could and then wait to make actual purchases until the equipment that I had my eye on went on sale. It also helped me build an inventory of the equipment I have on hand.

This Might Be Useful (aka Resources)

Last but not least – a catchall for everything I found that seemed like it could come in handy someday, but I didn’t exactly know where to put it or what utility it would have, but I couldn’t throw it out either. It is pretty much “that one kitchen drawer” of my spreadsheet. If you don’t know what I am talking about: 1) your house is probably way more organized than mine and 2) I have included a photo of my own “that one kitchen drawer” for reference.

Actual image of my kitchen junk drawer… you never know when that light bulb that doesn’t belong to anything will come in handy.

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Comments 4

  • Shocktop : Feb 12th

    You had me at pie charts! My nerd self loooves the planning stage of a hike, then hands it off to my hiking self, who says ‘Yes ma’am, I’ll give it a shot!’ Thanks and happy trails!

    Reply
  • Chris Harpham : Feb 12th

    I also have a monster spreadsheet that requires some optimisation (to say the least) and a LighterPack list I’m working on.

    I found it quite useful to have three categorised sets of columns for gear decisions: expensive, balanced and cheap (or already own).

    I’m also working on a calculator for weight saving by cost. That way I could see, for example, whether it is better value to spend £200 on a new sleeping bag or that £200 on multiple lighter items (like a lighter pot, stove, pillow, sleeping clothes).

    Another function is for budgeting, so I know how much to save each month until I go. Ideal balance to start / Start date – Today, then put that into months and add in the remaining budget I intend to spend on gear and first supply, I know how much I need to save out of my current pay. I will also add to this money to tide things over at home

    I’m an automotive data analyst so I’m in a similar position to you; data and planning is our friend!

    Reply
  • Jeff Cheesman : Feb 12th

    I like what you have done can I get some other ideas on what to add/subtract in this?

    Reply
  • Krysia Caldwell : Feb 15th

    I felt your wise words on a spiritual level. Great planning strategies! I’m so copying your template. You made me laugh out loud. Thanks and happy trails!

    Reply

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