Backpacking safely during the COVID pandemic?

These days I see a lot of people interested in backpacking in the United States during the COVID pandemic. Normally, this would be an awesome development. Due to the pandemic, however, this gives me pause.

Backpacking can be done safely during the COVID pandemic. However, people are unnecessarily adding additional risks that expose others to possible points of infection. With a few simple steps, you can substantially reduce COVID-related risks.

In general, there are 4 things to consider before heading out on a backpacking trip during the pandemic. To this end, I created the PIPP guideline to help facilitate safer backpacking trips:

The PIPP Guideline for Backpacking

  1. Purchase — how can you purchase food and supplies in the safest manner possible?
    • Use a mask and purchase items sufficiently in advance of your trip (14 days)
  2. Isolate — how long do you need to isolate yourself to limit the risks of infecting others after a potential exposure event before your trip?
    • The CDC recommends isolation for 14 days after potential exposure.
    • If you cannot isolate for 14 days (e.g., you are on a thru-hike), you should wait at least 6 days between interaction with other people (e.g. food shopping/resupplies).
    • 6 days is the point by which most people start to show COVID symptoms. Infectiousness tends to be lower by day 6, and you’re more likely to know if you were exposed.
    • Remember: any interaction with people outside of your quarantine bubble is a potential exposure event (e.g. purchasing supplies)
  3. Plan — what does your plan look like for getting to and from a trailhead? What can you do to mitigate exposing others and yourself?
    • Do not hitchhike or ride with others inside a vehicle if they are not part of your isolation group.
    • Have a consensual contact that can help evacuate you if you suffer an injury or medical condition while on the trail.
    • Relying on emergency services during COVID can add considerable risks and costs in the event of a wilderness evacuation
  4. Protect — what steps can you take to protect the communities you visit, and yourself, while backpacking during a pandemic?
    • Wear and carry masks and hand sanitizer/soap.
    • Use these frequently, and properly.
    • Do not take on additional backpacking risks: now is not the time to do a lot of off-trail explorations, or to push yourself to the limits.
    • Limit the time spent in indoor spaces. Do not share indoor spaces (e.g. shelters) that can be used by individuals not in your quarantine group.
    • Practice social distancing, and avoid close interactions with individuals not in your quarantine group

Sharing information on Social Media?

I created this sharable summary graphic for social media. This graphic outlines the PIPP strategy to minimize COVID-related risks. A more nuanced discussion is available from my companion blog post.

The PIPP Strategy for Backpacking. Feel free to share/use. Download from here

My blog post covers considerations for thru-hiking, as well as a more nuanced discussion on backpacking risks. Thru-hiking has additional and different risks compared to shorter backpacking trips. Taking proper precautions allows backpacking to be done safely, even during the COVID pandemic. If you do go backpacking, there are several things to do that can substantially mitigate risks of exposure for yourself and the communities around you. Just as responsible backpacking requires proper Leave-No-Trace etiquette, it also means taking into consideration reasonable COVID risks, and practicing strategies to reduce these risks.