If you Fail to Prepare, Then you Should Prepare to Fail

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

An old saying, rooted in British military history states that Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.   The 6 P’s. In more recent times an additional P has been included so that it reads “Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance, for added emphasis.

If we make no plans and fail to prepare in any way, we will likely encounter difficulties that result in us failing to meet our objectives but most likely enduring undue suffering.

Be it a day in the woods, a weekend climbing trip or a multi week expedition, there is a process to follow that helps you to identify common problem before they arise so that they do not ruin your trip.

I will at some point develop these ideas into a step by step planning template but I am short on time so this will have to do for now 🙂

Some points about preparation

  • Identify your goals
  • Split these goals into must do (primary) and might do if all is well (secondary).
  • Identify a number of easy wins by breaking the trip down into stages
  • Quantify how much time is needed vs how much time is available
  • Assess the fitness and ability of your group to determine if the goals are realistic and achievable.
  • Work out how much food and water is needed
  • Are there any specialist items of equipment needed?
  • Produce a template equipment list of critical items that you must take
  • Procure topographic maps
  • Produce route plan
  • Consult satellite imagery, looking for anything that might affect your route? Eg; Dams, bridges, fences
  • Ask the locals.  Always take opportunities to tap into local knowledge but be cautious about accepting it all as fact.
  • Communications, can you call for help?
  • Are there emergency services in the area, e.g. mountain rescue
  • Personal fitness, make sure it is up to scratch
  • Essential medication, separate in different packs
  • Finance, do you have the funds?  Is any money needed during the expedition?, cash talks in remote places, do not depend on debit and credit cards
  • Is a local guide necessary.  In some places where there are factors that can be dangerous to consider, it is often worth employing a local guide but remember to scrutinise their every move.
  • Group dynamics, try to make sure everyone gets along and that groups do not form which gang up on one another.  Keeping everyone busy helps a lot with this but good leadership is key
  • Be conservative when estimating how much distance you can achieve
  • Plan rest days and early finishes so that it is not a hard slog from start to finish and that there is time to enjoy the surroundings and experience.
  • Leave your route plan with a responsible person who can report you missing if you do not return on time.  Remember the climber  / canyoneer who had to cut his own arm off because he was trapped and nobody was looking for him.
  • Check all of your equipment for signs of wear and tear or damage.
  • Pack your bag with plenty of time to spare before setting out.  Invariably you will discover that there is too much weight and you must sort through it to find things to leave behind.  It also helps to pack and repack to determine the best layout / best order in which things go into the pack.  E.g. heavy stuff at top or bottom or close to back?
  • Very often you might find that new ideas pop into your head while you are doing these things.  This is a result of thoroughly thinking things through and new ideas should be explored
  • Make use of collaboration tools online that people in your group can all use while in different locations before the expedition, skype, whatsapp, telegram, google docs are all useful and do not cost money.

Remember that we are not trying to plan the fun out of everything and we should remember that adventure usually means that something unforeseen has happened but we must be careful to find a balance between reckless adventure and clinical organisation.



It is not always possible to carry everything that you need from A to B.  For example, you may be undertaking a canoe trip that is expected to take more than 3 or 4 weeks.  Most of us will struggle under the weight of all that food.  Water can be sourced from the river or lake that you are using but food, at least guaranteed food can not.  I’ll talk more about hunting, fishing and living off the land later but suffice to say, on a trip that involves travel from a to b, these are not usually considered reliable food sources and so it is prudent to take food with us.

We might place food caches along the route that can be picked up and consumed along the way.  This of course requires easy access before the expedition begins and may not be possible.  If time or access is limited? We can use modern civilisation to our advantage and mail ourselves care packages to towns and villages along the route, if there are any.

In some parts of the world, it can be economical to air drop food or have a bush pilot set up food caches in remote places for you.  This is something that can only be achieved by proper planning and preparation.


On average, Men require 2 – 4 liters of water per day, Women about half a liter less.  This only takes drinking into consideration and not cooking or washing so you must factor this in too.  In all but desert environments, water is abundant if you know where to look and how to make it safe.  Do not assume that a water source is safe to drink and take precautions to filter and purify it before consuming.

If you need to resupply en route, check in advance of the likelihood of finding water and do not rely on maps which can often not account for seasonal changes such as rivers and ponds drying up in summer.


On average, at rest, a Male needs about 2500 calories per day, a Woman 2000.  IN practice, while working hard and exerting ourselves, this is not enough and depending on how hard you work physically, this number can rise to very high levels approaching the maximum that you body can actually process in a day ~ 12000 or more I have read but have not found a definitive answer on this yet.

The trick is to eat little and often, to keep putting that fuel in throughout the day with 3 main meals and snacks in between.

Food also affects morale so for goodness sake plan variety and taste into the menu but keep it simple and try to avoid food that makes a massive mess to clean up afterwards.

Medical Kit

You can see some detail on medical kits here and here.  You should, after reading those, have a pretty good idea on what you need to take with you but in addition to that you have to make sure that you have the appropriate items for the environment that you are in, eg; antibiotics, anti-malerials, anti-venom and so on.

Also make sure that your kit matches the size of your group.  You should be able to cope with more than one incident.

Tools and Spare Parts

If on foot, take with you the means to repair your clothing and equipment.  This can be as simple as a small sewing kit (a few needles and some thread) and some Gaffer tape (Duct tape).  To save size and weight, do not take the entire massive roll of gaffer tape, you can just wrap 1 or 2 meters of it around something like your water bottle or other clean flat plastic or metal surface.  It will stay good on there for years.

If you are traveling by vehicle in remote places where help is not available, consider taking the spare parts that you may need to repair your vehicle and the tools that you might need to install them.

Think about common parts that fail most often, the nuts and bolts that hole canoe seats in for example and a screw driver / spanner (wrench) to install them.  For a car, you may need much more and we will go into this in some depth in a later blog post.

Passes, Permits, Visa´s, ID, Other Documentation

Make sure that everybody has the necessary documentation, Driving licenses for example if cars will be involves.  In many countries, it is the law that you must have ID with you, usually a national identity card or passport.

Make copies of all of these docs and ensure that these are stored separately from your original documents so that they can be used if you loose the originals.

Comfort Items

I take 3 comfort items on all trips, things that are nice to have but are not essential.  Usually, 1 or 2 of these items are food or drink related.  Haribo or chocolate are excellent choices that will perk you up but I also take a book with me, the rule is that the book must have nothing to do with the expedition and is a means to switch myself off to the environment that i am in.  If you are in a punishing area such as a wet jungle or a windy, rainswept mountain side, reading about some adventure in which the protagonists are doing battle with the same conditions may not do your moral any favours.
It might be better to read something that will take your mind off the situation that you are in.


I am guilty of not always having insurance.  I tend to weigh up the risks of where I am going vs the activity that I am doing.  If it seems fairly low risk then I do not usually have insurance because it can be expensive as our expedition activities often fall outside of the standard tourist traveler insurance.

However, there are many exceptions to this rule, on a trip to Borneo where we sent several weeks in the interior jungle, to self extract ourselves in an emergency would have involved walking for at least a day, then spending a day in motor canoes to go to an airstrip, then flying for a couple of hours and then a road journey of a few more hours to get to a hospital which was not actually a very good hospital anyway.  In doing so, the casualty would probably not make it and we may have incurred further casualties in doing so.

In that case, we organised a helicopter and satphone.  A large deposit had to be left with the heli pilot which we would get back if we did not use him.  If we did use him then we would have to pay more for fuel.  The plan was to get our position for the GPS on the phone then make a call to the pilot and he would set off to come and pick our casualty and medic then take then across the border to the much better hospital in Brunei.

Thankfully, planning an expedition is not very difficult usually and I hope that this rather unstructured and chaotic blog post helps.

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