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Objective Setting: What? Why? How?

Defining the Purpose of Your Trip

What?…Why?…and How?

Before I head out on any kind of adventure, I ask myself these three very basic questions. This routine defines my ‘purpose’ for any trip: 

  1. What do I want to experience or accomplish?

Am I trying to climb a mountain? Or ski a line? Or more generally just experience nature and a particular area of the world? 

  1. Why do I want to do it? 

Is it to push my physical boundaries and see how I can persevere in a difficult situation? Or is it just for pure fun? 

  1. How do I want do it?

Does style matter? Is there a particular method that I want to weave into the trip? Light-and-fast? Comfortable and glamorous? 

The ‘What’

The ‘What’ can be easy to focus on, as there are plenty of guidebooks, blogs, trip reports, and social media posts that can serve as a foundation for identifying potential objectives. But from time-to-time, take a step back and think more holistically about the larger ‘what’? For example: 

  • What kinds of memories do you want to have from this trip? 
    • Is it an all-out-sufferfest you’re going for?
    • Do you want to be lounging by the lake, reading your book?
  • What kinds of risks are you willing to take?
    • Is there a particular hazard you’re not willing to accept, for example, rockfall or glacier travel?
  • What kinds of constraints do you have?
    • Time? Money?
    • Are there physical limitations on the trip, for example, in mileage or elevation gain? Difficulty grade?

There are so many more ‘what’ questions to ask yourself than just ‘what to go and do’. Sure…’what to go and do’ is pretty important, otherwise you’ll never end up anywhere. But expand beyond just the simple ‘what to do’ and ask a few more ‘what’ questions when you’re thinking of your trip.

The ‘Why’

The ‘Why’ is perhaps the hardest question to answer. George Mallory, a legendary mountain climber, is famously quoted as responding ‘Because It’s There’, in response to why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest. 

Your answer to the ‘Why’ only needs to be good enough for YOU. You’re the only one that needs to justify your ‘why’. And everyone’s ‘why’ will be different. 

Everyone has their own motivations, whether it’s ‘ticking off lines or routes’ or ‘experiencing the mountains.’ Nobody is right or wrong in their motivations…it just depends. I just find that it’s very beneficial to ask yourself, as well as your adventure partner, why you are setting out to accomplish a particular adventure. Here are a few reflective questions to find ‘your why’:

  • What about this trip is different from previous trips you have done? Is it a new area you are visiting? Or are you combining previous experiences in a new way?
  • If you had to convince someone else to go on this trip with you, what would you say to convince them? Asking yourself this may help you understand what is intriguing about the idea.
  • If you had to explain this trip to your Grandma, who is completely uninterested in the outdoors, how would you describe it? What highlights would you point out? Not only is this quite a fun exercise, but it will also help you understand what you’re most excited for.

The ‘How’

The ‘How’ describes your style…and for some people that doesn’t matter, but for others it’s quite important. How will you go about achieving the goal of your adventure? Does the method matter to you? Or is the end result the only measure of success?

For example, are you going for a light-and-fast mission across ridgelines? Or are you going to base camp and explore an area for a few days?

Here’s a few questions to think about, depending on what kind of trip you are going on: 

  • Overnight Camping
    • Do you want to be more comfortable in camp or on the move? If the answer is camp, then bring the luxuries! If the answer is on the move, then consider sacrificing some luxury to reduce your pack weight. 
  • Backcountry Skiing
    • Are you powder hunting? Or on a more mountaineering focused objective? If you’re lapping powder, you may want to bring goggles, an extra pair of gloves, and maybe a thermos for some hot water. If it’s mountaineering focused, probably pack those crampons and ice axe. 
    • How efficient do you need to be throughout the day? Will you have time to enjoy that sandwich? Or are you likely going to be moving as quickly as possible, in which case might you want to pack more ‘snack’ foods, as opposed to ‘meal’ foods?
  • Trail Running
    • Will you be moving through water? Might want to bring another pair of socks…
    • Are you going to be traversing along ridges the entire day? Consider your water consumption and how much water you bring, since you probably won’t have places to refill. 
    • Any high clouds in the forecast? Or will you need that sunscreen and maybe a buff to protect your head and neck? Sun exposure can change a long run into a sufferfest real quickly if you aren’t prepared.

Ask Yourself Before You Go

The key with all of these questions is leaning into the self-reflective process…thinking about your answers to each of these questions before you head out on a trip. Possibly even writing them down. They may not reveal much that you don’t already know, but thinking intentionally about the purpose of your trip can help in many ways: 

  1. It can help you pack your gear appropriately, tailoring your gear considerations to certain needs. 
  2. You can set your own internal expectations.
  3. You can tailor food requirements, such as what kinds of food you will bring, how much, etc. 
  4. It can expose you to opportunities for further learning and research!
  5. It will help your planning process and prepare you to problem solve in the wild.

About the Gear Tester

Outdoor Prolink Pro
sam-chaneles
Sam Chaneles

Sam Chaneles is an avid mountaineer and backpacker, climbing peaks in the Cascades, Mexico, Ecuador, and Africa, as well as hiking the John Muir Trail and off-trail routes in Colorado. He has climbed peaks such as Aconcagua, Mt. Rainier, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Kilimanjaro, and many more. Sam graduated with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech. During his time there he was a Trip and Expedition Leader for the school’s Outdoor Recreation program (ORGT). He has led expeditions to New Zealand, Alaska, Corsica, France, and throughout the United States. Sam is based in Issaquah, WA just outside of the Cascade Mountains. You can follow Sam and his adventures on Instagram at @engineeredforadventure, or on his website at www.engineeredforadventure.com.

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