Instead, I’m going to recommend you use something the military uses all the time. In fact, if there is a single difference between my experience wearing the uniform for thirty years, and my time as a civilian, it may be this: the Army’s absolute commitment to the idea of the AAR.
AAR is short for “After Action Review.” It was the never-skipped denouement of every mission of which I was a part, no matter how routine or insignificant. I can remember doing AARs for promotion parties.
A post-hike AAR is simple to do, but some techniques are better than others. Here are a few guidelines:
~ Do it as early as possible after the conclusion of the hike.
~ Include as many people as possible, including the other members of your hiking group, and those who supported your hike in some way (either with resupply, transportation, or something else).
~ Write down the results and ensure you will be able to find the document when you plan your next hike.
~ Before you begin, collect any documents that might help with the discussion, like hiking journals, routes, etc.
Once you’re ready to actually conduct the AAR, here is a format you might consider:
- Refresh everyone’s memory as to what the original hiking objective was. This may seem unnecessary, especially for a trip that went pretty much as planned, but in some cases you might be surprised just how far you were forced to deviate from the original plan.
- Start with the planning phase. What planning did you do that was essential? What was superfluous? What planning DIDN’T you do that you wished you had?
- Look at transportation to and from the trailheads, particularly if there was more to it than getting in your car and driving.
- How did the last 24 hours go before getting on the trail? Were you happy with the accommodations? Did you eat somewhere you would like to return or avoid? Any problems finding the trailhead? How about securing your permit? Was there anyplace in the area to buy gear or supplies in case of emergency?
- Next, start evaluating your hike. This next part is where a good trail journal can be invaluable. I fill one out every night, and at the end I include a bullet list of lessons learned. Consider your gear, your hiking routine (when you got up, went to sleep, took lunch, breaks, etc.), where you camped, where you wished you had time to linger (but didn’t), your food, and each of your resupplies. Obviously, be sure to note what you want to do differently next time, but it’s just as important to note things you definitely want to repeat.
- Lastly, examine what you did after you exited the wilderness. Did the transportation go as planned? Were the accommodations comfortable? Did the town have plenty of ice cream!
You can make this as comprehensive (or as abbreviated) as you like, but more is generally better. One tip: don’t get bogged down in a discussion of one item; instead, move through the trip expeditiously and just write down bullets. You can always come back expand on specific items later.
I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating: none of this will be useful if you can’t find the document when you start planning your next trip!
A good AAR can be formal or informal. It can be held at a dedicated meeting or on the drive home. It can include a dozen people or it can be you, a pad of paper, and a pencil. Regardless, it is the best way I know to ensure that each hiking trip you make is a little better than the last.
One last comment: be like the Army and apply this to everything! Each year Kathleen and I spend a few days at the Disneyland Resort for my birthday. On the airplane ride home we do our AAR, and the following year it’s the first document we pull out when we are planning our next attack on the parks!
Good hiking, Ray