Preparing for a Glacier National Park Backcountry Hike…

As I have mentioned in previous posts, a successful week-long hike is planned several months in advance (maybe even up to a year based upon the demanding logistics).

Planning in Advance

To give you an example, when we arrived at Glacier National Park for our 60+ mile North Circle Route hike the park ranger issuing our backcountry permit exclaimed, “Wow. By looking at your itinerary you guys must have planned way in advance to have such an amazing trip lined up.” He absolutely nailed it. We did plan way in advance. We had the most envious permit in the entire park because our research and planning began almost an entire year before our trip.

After researching and selecting our route a year in advance, we knew that the only way to secure this particular trip and get a permit would be to submit our application as soon as the early submission window opened. The Backcountry Office states that all early registrations are selected randomly… but you can not convince me that there isn’t a benefit for getting the application in at the beginning of the window. The window opened January 1st and I made sure that our application was on their desk on January 1st (which meant I sent it a bit early). We not only got the most sought after loop in Montana but we also got TWO backcountry campsites at each destination. Every single destination that we submitted along the trail was approved “as-is.” Maybe we got the luck of the draw… who knows… but I think that good planning and getting the application in at the beginning of the window got us the spots.

Planning Meetings

We had three planning meetings leading up to our trip to Glacier. I know that some may think that all of the planning is overkill but I can assure you that it isn’t. I wish I could document every story of every knuckle-head that we have encountered on the trails who hasn’t planned well.

On this Glacier hike we had a guy come up to our tent and ask if we knew the signs of hypothermia. His buddy was hiking down the mountainside and was in bad shape. Come to find out that he was from Florida and had not taken elevation into account, had not dressed appropriately, and did not plan for rain and 45 degrees.

Careful and meticulous planning will keep you from being a knuckle-head. Of course accidents can happen to anyone… but set yourself up to eliminate as much risk as you possibly can through careful and meticulous planning. You will thank me for that piece of wisdom.

Go over your route together. Look at the mileage and elevation profiles of the routes. Do research about the the average seasonal temperatures and call the Backcountry Office with questions. Talk about how many calories you will burn per day and how much food you will need to pack. Discuss safety procedures if you encounter wild animals or if someone gets hurt. Put together a recommended list if gear and comb through it together.

Do not think you can go over this stuff too much… because you can’t.


Speaking of gear… only take what you will REALISTICALLY NEED. Once you have an idea about the seasonal temp… only pack what you will minimally need. Pair up with a buddy and share items like water filters and stoves. Break up the components of your tent so that the weight is shared equally. These are some great ways to reduce your pack weight.

For our seven night, eight day hike we were shooting for our total pack weight to be below 35 pounds (without water). If you consider that food weight will be between 10-15 pounds for that duration, your backpack and gear ought to be 20-25 pounds or less. I found this to be realistic, as I shared items and only packed essentials.

The temptation for hiking newbies is to disregard good advice and pack way more than what they will realistically need. Yes… I have stories about this as well. Just trust me. Once you begin lugging around 5-15 extra pounds (that you shouldn’t be carrying) for several days, across many miles, up and down mountainsides… you will have wished you packed minimally.


Packing 8 days of food in which you need at least 3000 calories a day can really add significant weight. I may write a post specific to food in a later post so I will keep this one short.

I have changed my overall approach to eating on extended hiking trips. Rather than plan for three squares per day… I now eat all day long. Sure I still have breakfast, lunch, and supper but in order to maintain my energy level I always have something to eat in my pocket. I am not a big eater so this was difficult for me at first. But as the days passed I found that it was a brilliant strategy and it got easier each day.

I had a nice mix of carbs, protein, and fats. I shot for 3200 calories each day and was able to accomplish that with 9.6 pounds of food. In our group I was definitely on the light side… but I also didn’t come home with any leftover food. Perfect planning!

Spend a significant amount of time researching food and putting together your eating list. Go after foods that have a high calorie to weight ratio (calories per gram). Packing calorie dense foods (in my opinion) is a great way to manage how much food you end up carrying on your hike.

Day by Day Summary

Over the next few weeks I will begin detailing each day of our 7 night, 8 day hike along the North Circle route in Glacier National Park (Montana).

If you have anything to add or if you have any specific questions, feel free to ask.



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