Kelty April 9, 2019

The powder season is winding down and our thoughts are turning to counting down the weeks it is ‘til shorts season. So allow us to remind you that there are important things to think about this time of year: backcountry camping permits!

In fact, this is the perfect time to start your fair-weather wilderness permit planning. Here’s how to get a backpacking permit for your favorite destinations while it’s still somewhat sweater weather.

PLAN AHEAD. Listen, you can be a world-class procrastinator and still slay the day when it comes to wilderness permits. You just have to start NOW. Why? Every national park has a separate backpacking permit system, with unique procedures and different deadlines. Some have permit lotteries; some are first-come, first-served. And THEY’RE. ALL. DIFFERENT.

It’s not ideal, right? That’s why your friends here at Kelty (who have incidentally done more than our fair share of tracking down wilderness permits) strongly recommend that you get with your camping buddies NOW to determine where you want to go this year, and when. Then, divide and conquer! Give each person a date and destination—and turn ‘em loose.

WORK THE SHOULDERS. Do some research on peak travel times and popular sites within your designated park. If your group’s schedule can accommodate it, you may want to consider seeking your backcountry camping permit for dates that bump up against the park’s opening and closing dates. You may have to sacrifice summer’s “sure-thing” weather, but let’s face it—when is ANY wilderness weather a sure thing? On the upside, though: iffy weather means a better chance at your backpacking permit, and fewer crowds when you finally get there.

BE OPEN-MINDED. Once you and your crew rough out some approximate dates and destinations, we also recommend that you try to be as flexible as possible about both. Many backpacking permit applications allow you to list backup dates as well as alternative locations. If you have your heart set on a well-traveled route, consider looking into lesser-known trips; you’ll have a better chance of getting these permits, and they’re often just as scenic. One other tip: it’s often easier to get a backcountry camping permit for two people than three or more.

AVOID PROBLEM PERMITS. Hopefully, your research will reveal whether or not your chosen wilderness permit falls into this category. One great example are Grand Canyon wilderness permits; about 75% of applications for major trails are denied, so it’s best to try your hand at securing a backpacking permit for a lesser (but still completely BREATHTAKING) route like Grandview Point or Hermit’s Rest. Yosemite is another problem child; even if you get a permit, you’re not guaranteed a specific camping spot—and may find yourself jostling for space.

JUST WING IT. Of course, another option remains for those of us (no judgment) who just really, REALLY aren’t advance planners. As it turns out, the National Park Service sets aside a certain number (often a large number) of wilderness permits for folks just like you! Mount Rainier, Grand Teton and many other National Parks offer day-before and day-of wilderness permits on a first-come, first served basis. Some parks, like Denali National Park, ONLY offer this kind of wilderness permit. Just show up at the Visitor Center 100% ready to rock.

UPGRADE YOUR GEAR. Know what else you can get handled NOW, while it’s too chilly to sleep under the stars? Your 2019 backpacking gear upgrades, that’s what! Start with your humble outdoor abode; for this, we recommend our premier backpacking tent, the All Inn. It’s spacious enough to accommodate your starfish sleeping needs, and as light as the alpine air. The Sine 35 sleeping bag will further lighten your load, with equal parts comfort and flexibility. And our Origami Trekking Poles keep you as surefooted as a mountain goat, then fold down for easy packing. Permits first, gear next—and dreams from now until summer.

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Photos @twm_photo