Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect our editors’ opinions or evaluations.
Interest in hiking and backpacking trips has climbed significantly since the pandemic because travelers can explore nature’s splendor while social distancing. Whether you’re planning to enjoy the picturesque scenery and fresh air in the Grand Canyon or an immersive experience in Koh Lanta in Thailand, you should assess whether buying travel insurance is a good move for you.
Backpackers who are trekking through remote areas abroad should consider a comprehensive travel insurance plan as a financial safety net for unexpected medical expenses. Your US health plan might not cover you in other countries, so you’d have to pay for medical emergencies yourself if you don’t have travel insurance. Or, if your backpack is lost in transit or stolen, you’ll be without all of your gear and would have to use your own money to replace it.
If you’re a backpacker planning to wander the wilderness stateside, your US health plan likely covers medical costs if you’re injured or become ill. But if you’ve paid a lot of non-refundable money for a flight and guided tours or other activities, you may still want to safeguard your trip investment from unexpected events that could derail your plans.
You generally don’t need travel insurance if you’re not putting down large non-refundable trip deposits, or if your health plan will cover you at your destination.
But for others, it can be smart to purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy with benefits for trip cancellation, delay and interruption, and loss or theft of baggage and belongings, as well as medical expense and medical evacuation coverage.
Featured Travel Insurance Partners
COVID Medical Coverage
COVID Cancellation Coverage
And it is
COVID Medical Coverage
COVID Cancellation Coverage
And it is
Canceling a Backpacking Trip
You likely spent a lot of time, and possibly money, planning your next backpacking adventure. Maybe you booked your flight and perhaps a multi-day tour to enjoy one of the nation’s natural wonders.
Let’s say you decided to pay for a guide to take you through Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, home of Coyote Gulch, boasting geologic gems such as cliffs, canyon walls and natural bridges and arches. You can’t wait to go. But it turns out you’ll have to wait because you broke your ankle playing flag football a few days before your vacation. That’s where trip cancellation travel insurance comes in. Trip cancellation benefits reimburse 100% for non-refundable, prepaid expenses.
You could file a claim to recover your tour deposit, non-refundable airfare and any other deposits that you can’t get back.
In addition to injuries, cancellations due to death, illness, national emergencies, terrorism, family emergencies, a job loss and military deployment are often covered by a travel insurance plan. Make sure to check the list of acceptable reasons for trip cancellation in the policy, because they do vary from company to company.
“If you’re going on a backpacking trip, you should tally up your prepaid expenses—any fees for campgrounds, park entry admission, or wilderness permits, as well as any transportation,” says Lisa Cheng, spokesperson with World Nomads, a travel insurance company. “If you have a lot of trip expenses that you’ve paid for upfront, trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage could come in handy when the unexpected strikes.”
Not all reasons for cancellation are covered by standard trip cancellation insurance. For example, what if your girlfriend threatens to break up with you because she’s upset that your backpacking trip with your buddies means you wo n’t be around to celebrate her birthday de ella? You’re not covered for that cancellation reason.
To shield you from these types of scenarios, you can sometimes add a “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) insurance upgrade to your policy. This extra protection adds an average of 50% to a travel insurance policy’s cost. “Cancel for any reason” coverage literally lets you cancel your trip for any reason and get partial reimbursement—usually 75% of the trip cost. You must cancel at least 48 hours before your departure if you want to make a CFAR claim.
Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” That may be especially true while you’re backpacking, but if you’re stuck in an airport overnight due to a flight delay, you may appreciate reimbursement for a hot meal and a hotel room over literary platitudes.
Travel delay benefits included in a travel insurance plan can reimburse you when there’s a delay in getting where you want to go. For instance, say you’re taking a flight to Arizona for a Grand Canyon trip and you miss your connection because there’s a storm in Chicago. Your travel delay insurance can reimburse you for money you spend for hotels, meals, transportation and other expenses related to the delay.
If your travel delay causes you to miss a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, you can file a claim for that kind of expense as well.
Note that many policies have a required waiting period of three to 12 hours before benefits kick in, so read your policy carefully.
The last thing on your mind as you’re enjoying high-altitude climbing in Colorado would be rushing home because of a sudden family emergency—for example, a house flood—but unexpected events do happen.
A travel insurance policy’s trip interruption coverage can pay for a last-minute, one-way flight home. It can also cover unused, prepaid and non-refundable outlays for entertainment and activities that you miss.
Pay Careful Attention to Medical Expense Coverage
Backpackers, by nature, are generally bold explorers who love the exhilaration of experiencing the path less traveled. This involves a certain degree of risk if you’re, say, traversing Kathmandu Valley in Nepal or the Inca Trail in Peru. That’s why travel medical insurance is important if you’re backpacking abroad where your own health plan may have limited or no global coverage.
“Nature can be awe-inspiring but also unpredictable,” observes Cheng at World Nomads. “When you are out in the wilderness on a backpacking trip, anything can happen, from a sprained ankle to dehydration to an encounter with animals.”
A comprehensive travel insurance policy will include medical expense coverage that can pay for medical emergency costs such as hospital bills, prescription medicine, and diagnostic and lab tests. You can find travel insurance plans with a generous $500,000 for medical coverage, but you can buy less if you feel you don’t need that much.
Getting a Medevac in an Emergency
Having a serious accident that requires you to be airlifted to a hospital for treatment is not only a medical emergency, it could also be a financial crisis if you have to pay for it yourself. Medevac services can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the location.
Fortunately, a travel insurance company’s emergency assistance team can arrange for the medevac transportation and pay the bill, up to the medical evacuation limits in your policy. Consider high limits for this coverage if you’re a backpacker who’s going to be in a remote, hard-to-reach location. Some plans have $1 million in coverage, but there are other plans with lower limits for evacuation.
“It shouldn’t matter where you are—whether that be on the peak of a mountain or a remote trail—your travel insurance company should be able to get you to a suitable hospital when you’re in a crisis,” says Cheng.
Before your travel, make sure you and your travel companions have your travel insurance company’s emergency assistance hotline programmed in your phones.
There are exclusions you should be aware of as well. “Many travel insurance companies won’t cover search-and-rescue missions, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the trails, bring a compass or GPS and maps, and let your friends and family know where you’re going in case of an emergency,” advises Cheng.
Losing Your Gear
Unlike a suitcase full of clothes, your backpack likely also holds your tent or shelter and the gear you need for campfire meals and perhaps GPS devices, so it’s worth protecting it with a travel insurance policy.
If you’re taking a series of flights and can’t carry your backpack on board, you’ll have to check it as baggage and pray it shows up at your destination. A travel insurance plan’s baggage benefits can reimburse you up to your policy amount if your backpack is lost or delayed in transit, or if it’s stolen during your trip.
Coverage also extends to your personal belongings, so you can be compensated for the contents of your backpack as well.
When you’re shopping around for a policy, Cheng advises that you take note of the per-article and maximum baggage benefit limits to make sure that you are adequately covered.
You also want to be aware of other limitations if you file a claim. “Travel insurance companies won’t cover any equipment that’s damaged by use or wear and tear, and they’ll take into account the current value of your items as opposed to the original purchase price when paying out claims,” she says.
Baggage coverage might also be “secondary,” meaning you first have to make a claim on any other applicable coverage, such as homeowners insurance.
You May Need an “Adventure” Upgrade
Not all travel insurance plans cover “adventure” activities, so before you buy a travel insurance plan, find out whether it covers your planned activities, if you need an upgrade, or if it’s simply not the right plan for your trip.
Many travel insurance companies offer adventure upgrades with higher limits for medical expenses and evacuation coverage and that don’t exclude “extreme” activities, like rafting and mountain climbing.
For example, World Nomads’ plans include coverage for more than 150 activities and adventure sports including camping and hiking.