Each adventure is different, so it’s impossible to write a step-by-step guide but there are fundamentals that will help make your trip go smoothly. Much of this comes down to research. If you know the area, terrain, weather etc then find a way to get there and start planning your gear. I will use our packrafting trips to Gates of the Arctic as an example of the decision making process.
Where are you going?: Gates of the Arctic is very remote so begin by selecting a route that meets your comfort level without taking risks you can’t handle on your own. The Alatna river and John river both suit this well, they are class II rivers offering some excitement (but not too much for our skill level). The Alatna has some great side trips as well into the Arrigetch which we will need to pack for as well. Being remote and sparsely traveled considerations include packing enough food, backup stove, GPS communication, repair kits for the packrafts. It’s way out there, but not all trips are like that, more local trips or those well-traveled can sometimes count on shared resources when plans go awry.
Who are you going with?: Nobody likes to be uncomfortable. Challenged is okay to a point, but continuously scared or miserable makes a trip less fun. There is much debate on the optimal group size; too small and it is more difficult to rescue someone if needed, too large and group dynamics get more difficult. Generally 4-6 people make good company. Consider the level of the group as well, the experience level should always dictate the trip. We found the Alatna challenging but manageable with just 2 people, but comfort level on the John River was tenuous. I personally would not join a group rafting class IV water given my lack of skill and experience, it would not be fair to the others.
What time of year is it?: Interior Alaska is famous for mosquitoes. If you go early enough, you might avoid the first hatch which is really nice. Middle of summer can be brutal. Other places might be too hot, low water etc. This changes where you plan on going and what gear you have to bring. There’s usually a blog post somewhere on your specific trip so spend some time finding the optimal timeframe in which to travel. We found that August in the Arctic was actually quite pleasant but reports of snow especially later in the month could make things more interesting.
How long is the trip?: Shorter trips are generally easier to plan for. Foods don’t need to be quite as balanced and suffering through forgotten items is sometimes okay. Longer trips require more careful packing both so that nothing is forgotten and because the bulk is larger. In theory, the added weight of food is reduced over time as it is eaten but this is often trivial compared to the weight of the other gear, especially on packrafting trips. Trips that are more than about 5 days also need to account for unexpected weather and incorrect weather reports. Just because the radar says the system will pass north of you doesn’t mean it won’t change! Pack your bag ahead of time to balance weight and add/eliminate if needed.
What are the expectations?: Do trip members want a leisurely float or a hard and fast march? Is there time for relaxing at a hot spring? My recommendation is to plan 2 trips, one that gets you from point A to B, and the other with fun side trips as time allows. Scouting the USGS maps for fun mountains to climb or ruins to explore can greatly reduce the urge to push through as hard and fast as possible just to get there. More ambitious members can hike a ridge after getting to the campsite, while others can set up the fire and enjoy their Schnapps. We had ambitious plans on the Alatna to hike the Arrigetch mountains; unfortunately we were slower to get out of the headwaters than anticipated and had to cancel those plans. We did a 20 mile day hike lower down looking for a hot spring that never materialized but it was still fun.