Guided vs. DIY Arizona Backpacking Trips

So, you're thinking of going backpacking in Arizona.  Yay, our favorite thing!  We'd love to help, but we need to know how.  If you are considering going on a guided tour we'd like to suggest that you consider a DIY trip instead, and here's why:  First, is that a DIY trip is considerably less expensive, by a long shot; second - you'd be doing the same trip only without the interference of a guide or other clients.  True, you would have to cook your own meals & set up your own tent, oh, and you wouldn't get a little chocolate on your pillow before retiring, but the trip would be all yours.

But what about permits, gear, shuttles and such?  Doesn't a guided trip make it way easier?  The answer is "yes" - it's true.  They handle most of the tedious stuff that goes into a backpacking trip, especially when you're talking about going into places that require obtaining hard to get permits, like the Grand Canyon or Paria Canyon.  But there are dozens of other places that don't require a permit and in many cases, these places are way less crowded.

Anyway, there are a few things you'll need to consider before going DIY.  They include, but are not limited to:

1.    Experience
2.    Gear
3.    Area/Route familiarity
4.    Time & Money
5.    Inclination to plan
6.    Adventure preferences

Experience
One of the first things you need to seriously & honestly evaluate is your experience.  How many times have you gone backpacking?  Were they successful or a disaster?  We have a saying “the only difference between an adventure and a disaster is that someone doesn’t come home from a disaster”.  Yes, this is a bit dramatic, but it implies that even a successful adventure includes some challenges.  Anyway, you need to be sincere in your evaluation of your skills.  The last thing you want to do is go on a disaster.

Gear
This is simple to assess – either you have the necessary gear, or you don’t.  An experienced hiker might have some or all the gear necessary, others might not.  An inexperienced hiker might not even know what gear they’ll need and invariably bring things they don’t need or won’t/can’t use (an electric hair dryer, for instance. No joke).  There are lists abound on the internet regarding what to pack for a backpacking trip, but each trip is different and the gear you’ll need will depend on the season and itinerary.

Area & Route Familiarity
Backcountry areas and routes vary greatly.   A weekend hike to Horton Springs is WAY different than a week-long, non-corridor Grand Canyon trek.  The terrain, vegetation, topography and elevation gain/loss require a whole different game plan.  Your familiarity with a particular area will enhance or preclude your ability to get in and out safely.

Time & Money
Planning a backcountry trip takes a significant amount of time.  In some cases, permits are difficult to get and the logistics are always a challenge.  What kind of rides or shuttles will you need, and how about food and fuel considerations?  Another issue to calculate is how much money you have to invest into this adventure.

Inclination to Plan
One of my favorite things to do is plan backpacking trips, but my wife hates it.  This works great for us but you might be different.  Also, you might not have the time to plan a trip so even if you did love it you’d be hard pressed to get it done so that you weren’t in danger.

Adventure Preferences
The biggest difference between a DIY and a guided hike is what we call “the guided experience”.  A guide really does add a certain level of expertise that most people just don’t have, even experienced hikers.  Guides specialize in knowing things that the average person hasn’t even considered like the geology, history or flora & fauna.  Also, a guide provides an additional level of “client care” that wouldn’t otherwise exist.  On the other hand, a guided trip is considerably more structured than a DIY.  If you’re a “play as you go” type, then a guided trip might not be your cup of tea.

In Summary
Whether you prefer a guided trip to a DIY outing really doesn’t matter to us; seriously – as long as you go backpacking and we’re allowed to help or tag along somehow, we’re going to be happy.  It’ll keep us from having to get "real" jobs.
 

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