Beyond Gear: A 36-Point Planning Checklist for Health, Home, and Finances
It’s easy to think that getting the right gear is the key to a successful thru-hike. Building the ideal kit for your hiking style certainly does make your hike more enjoyable, both on the trail and in camp. But even the best gear can’t hike your hike. That’s up to you.
A great hiking experience requires good health, a positive mind-set, and minimal distractions from home. Getting these items in line can be a lot more difficult than picking the right sleeping bag or cook system, which is probably why so many of us focus on the gear and procrastinate on other aspects of pre-trip planning.
Have you been training like crazy but neglecting big picture elements of your health, like routine screening and vaccinations? Schedule (and go to) doctors appointments well ahead of your start date.
Starting early allows you to address any issues that come up with plenty of time to spare, and it ensures you can get in to see any specialists whose schedules book up months in advance.
You’ll want to:
- Have a physical and let your doctor know about your hiking plans so they can take that into account when assessing your overall health. If you have a condition like diabetes or asthma, discuss how you’ll manage that while hiking.
- See a dermatologist for a proactive skin check and to have any trouble spots treated. Early detection of skin cancers is a lifesaver.
- Depending on your age and gender, get a colonoscopy, mammogram or pelvic exam. These procedures aren’t fun, but they sure beat not knowing you’ve got a problem.
- Renew any prescriptions and make arrangements for refills to be picked up at pharmacies along the trail or shipped to you as needed.
- Get your overdue vaccinations. When was your last tetanus shot? What about chickenpox or shingles? Have you had shots for hepatitis? Do you need any boosters? Ask your physician about these during your checkup, or visit your local health department for low-cost shots.
- Have your teeth cleaned and make sure your X-rays are up-to-date. Bite the bullet and take care of fillings, crowns, etc., ahead of time so you don’t end up needing emergency dental work in an unfamiliar place.
- If you have old injuries or nagging medical problems that may resurface when you’re hiking daily, make a proactive treatment plan to address the problem quickly. For example, if your knees act up sometimes, take a brace or have one ready at home that can be sent to you.
- Check with your health insurance company to see what’s covered if you need medical care outside your home network. It could be dramatically different than going to your local hospital. Carry digital copies of your insurance cards, and leave another copy at home.
There’s nothing like money worries to undermine a carefree adventure. Don’t let concerns about bills and expenses distract (or worse, completely derail) your thru-hiking ambitions.
- Pay off as many bills as you can in advance, especially small, nonrecurring expenses. These one-off bills are easy to overlook when you’re focused on hiking, and you don’t want to get behind.
- Cancel any digital or print subscriptions, clubs, and memberships, or other services that you won’t be using on the trail. If you can’t — or don’t want to — cancel, ask if you can temporarily suspend the account while you’re gone, and reinstate it when you return.
- Set up your regular bills for automatic payments, either with scheduled EFT payments from your checking account (my preference) or by enabling a direct draft on your account (not my favorite idea).
- Protect your identity. Make copies of your credit cards and driver’s license to leave at home in case they get lost or stolen. Take only what you really need on the trail, and store other items for safekeeping.
- If you don’t have someone checking your mail and watching for unexpected bills, switch to paperless billing. Check your email and access your accounts online to schedule and confirm payments when you stop in town.
- Add a trusted partner to your checking and/or credit card accounts (or execute a power of attorney) so they can handle deposits and nonroutine expenses.
- Talk with your insurance agent about any changes to your policies. You may be able to reduce coverage on a stored vehicle, for example.
- If you can, prepay taxes or do early renewals for odds-and-ends like blogs and websites, licenses, car tags, etc. If you can’t prepay, list everything that will come due when you’re gone and make arrangements for timely payment so things don’t lapse.
- How will you get cash on the trail? If you are relying on debit and credit cards, notify your bank in advance so they don’t put a hold on an account for unusual activity. (This happened to me while traveling in Denmark, and could have ruined the trip.)
- If you plan to use PayPal, Venmo or Zelle, be sure your accounts are fully set up and working before you leave. Run some test transactions and leave login instructions with your financial partner in case they need to access an account when you can’t.
If you’re not ditching your apartment or selling your house to hike, taking care of your home can be a major concern. Will your home be empty during your months on the trail?
- Arrange for a friend or neighbor to stop by once a week to be sure things are safe and secure. Ask them to walk around outside and inside to check for leaks, damage, squatters, or break-ins. (Yep, it happens).
- Have your bushes trimmed, papers picked up, and landscaping attended to on a regular basis. Use timers to switch lights on at random and keep that lived-in look.
- Empty your fridge and discard any perishables before you go. This will discourage bugs and prevent you from coming home to discover petrified carrots in the crisper drawer. A local food pantry will welcome any donations of unopened food, letting you do a major pantry clean-out in one easy trip.
- Set your thermostats to an appropriate midrange temp for your climate, and have your caretaker adjust it when seasons change. That not only saves money, it helps protect your furnishings from too much cold, heat, or humidity.
- Secure any valuables (guns, jewelry, important papers) in a safe or safe deposit box. Don’t rely on memory. Make a list of what’s stored where, including any photos or serial numbers in case of loss.
- Be sure your caretaker knows how to reach you in the event of a household emergency, like a fire or storm damage. Leave the name of a backup contact who is familiar with your hiking plans—someone who knows how to track you down if a phone call doesn’t do the trick.
Do you have a resident house sitter or a family member staying in your home? It’s nice to know someone will be there, but they probably don’t know your home as well as you do.
- Show them where the emergency shutoff is for the water and how to find the fuse box. Discuss any regular maintenance patterns, like air filter changes, when to change the smoke alarm batteries, and other household quirks like how to get the sticky back door shut.
- Talk about any special considerations such as when service providers are expected to come (if you have a bug guy, pool cleaner, lawn service, etc.) and how they are paid.
- If your house sitter is watching your mail, review what items you need to know about (an IRS notice would qualify) and what can be handled or discarded (credit card solicitations, an invitation to your high school reunion).
- Is your mail is stopped? If so, for how long? What should be done with any packages or unexpected deliveries?
- Are you leaving pets at home? Provide contact information for your vet and any guidelines for dealing with emergencies. Are those fur babies microchipped? Do they tend to escape, eat things they shouldn’t, or tear up the house? When that happens, what should be done?
Everyone is different, and what helps you stay upbeat and positive, even on down days, may be different from what other hikers need. Spend a little time thinking about what type of support you need to help you complete your hike, and what will make the process more enjoyable and satisfying.
- Who can you depend on for moral support? Make a list of friends to call instead of relying on just one support partner. Sometimes calling mom is exactly what you need, but you might prefer to talk to that friend who tells you to “embrace the suck” instead.
- Plan ahead for when you want to quit (there will be those days). Talk with friends and family about how you’d like them to handle the “I can’t take it anymore!” call. Do you prefer empathy, encouragement, advice, or simply someone to hear you vent?
- You’ll need downtime eventually. When you do, will you chill with yoga, meditation, a good book, or a podcast? Download apps in advance if they’re not already on your smartphone. Some good ones are Headspace (meditation) and Overdrive (ebooks and audiobooks from your library).
- If a big event like a wedding, graduation, or the birth of a grandchild, niece, or nephew will happen during your hike, what will you do? Plan to get off the trail for a time if you must be there, and if not find a way to share in the celebration long distance.
- What about the unexpected? Hopefully, nothing bad will happen, but if it does, it helps to have a contingency plan in place. Who’s your, “Get me out, now!” contact for a family emergency or if you get sick or injured? Discuss possible exit logistics (which of course will vary greatly depending on where you are) and what to do if your go-to person is unavailable.
- What’s nagging you? Address any lingering issues before you hit the trail. That could be unresolved friction with a family member, or a project you don’t want to leave half-finished. Whatever it is, don’t bring it to the trail unless you are hiking with the aim of working through the problem.
- Make memories. Will you be journaling, taking pictures, sending postcards, or vlogging? Don’t risk losing those precious moments. Set up digital backups through the cloud, or photograph your journal entries and any special cards or letters you get while on the trail.
There you have it. Plenty of tips to get you ready for a happy, healthy thru-hike. If I forgot something on this planning checklist (and I’m sure I did) please share your tips in the comments below.
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