Make a realistic estimate of how long it will take to get to your overnight campsite or back to your vehicle. Plan the timeframe for each leg of the trip. Generally, on flat terrain during normal hiking conditions, the average person can expect to cover 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) every 30 minutes -- but you can use an online hiking calculator to make estimates based on different elevations [source: Hiking New England].
Allow yourself ample time for unscheduled delays and take note of sunrise and sunset schedules. Plan each stopping point with plenty of daylight left to set up camp and prepare for nightfall: Trying to build a fire and put up a tent in the dark won't be a relaxing cap on your day.
Knowing how long you plan to be in certain locations will allow you to adapt your plans if something unexpected happens, such as a change in weather that slows your hiking speed. Mark overnight camping stops on your trip itinerary route map before you go -- that way, you'll have check-in points in the event of an emergency. When you give someone your agenda (which you definitely should do -- more about that on the next page), they'll have a general idea of where you'll be and where to search if you miss your return time.
Before leaving, the last thing you should do is check the weather. Consult up-to-date weather predictions and online radar tracking for the area, but remember that forecast models can change quickly. A rudimentary knowledge of cloud types, frontal zones and weather patterns will help you react to changing weather conditions [source: NOAA].