Touch-free Travel & Trip Expectations for COVID-19

The first priority of every SYMG trip is safety. To help ensure the safety of every SYMG guest we work with, we have consulted with experts across the industry to develop a comprehensive plan to address concerns and mitigate risks related to coronavirus (COVID-19). In collaboration with county officials, land agencies such as the National Forest and National Park Service, the Center for Disease Control, and our partners, we have developed conservative guidelines for the safe operation of our hiking and backpacking groups this coming summer. 

We understand that there are many different recommendations from state and local authorities and not everyone will feel comfortable with travel right away, and we respect this decision. For those that do feel comfortable, and are considering traveling with us, we have developed standards for Touch-free Travel that we follow throughout our time together in the backcountry. We are committed to providing as much information as possible on how to travel in the backcountry can be done in a safe manner by minimizing and limiting the possibility of exposure to any health risks. Beyond what is included below, we will discuss the additional procedures and trip expectations related to coronavirus (COVID-19) during our pre-trip orientation. 

Some of the sanitation protocols we have implemented include the following:

  1. Guides & Staff: Before each trip, our guides will participate in a pre-trip health check related to signs and symptoms of coronavirus.
  2. Guests: Each traveler that joins us this summer will receive additional communication related to expectations prior to traveling. Each guest will be required to sign a Declaration of Health and Exposure. If any symptoms related to coronavirus (COVID-19) are present we will work with them to reschedule their trip to another time without a transfer fee. 
  3. Personal Sanitization: Each guest (and guide) will travel with an individualized sanitation kit including hand sanitizer and a bathroom kit.
  4. Accommodations: If your trips include lodging we recommend reserving a single occupancy room.
  5. Food & Meals: Snacks and lunches will be portioned for individual consumption. Equipment such as eating utensils will be individualized for each traveler and not shared between group members. We will have a sterilization process for items like this that takes place daily. All SYMG Guides hold a CA Food Handler’s certification and will be practicing increased precautions during meal preparation throughout the summer. Food will be prepared and served by one or two guides with others avoiding meal prep areas. Guides will wear face coverings during meal preparation. 
  6. Equipment: Travelers will use individualized personal equipment as much as possible, whether their own or provided by SYMG. Personal gear such as trekking poles, sleeping bags, tents, backpacks will be labeled and assigned to each guest. These are available without a fee or charge. We are recommending that travellers bring their own sleeping bags this season but we can also provide these upon request. All sleeping bags will be washed and dried between each use using the Hot setting.
  7. Water purification: Each person on the trip will be responsible for their own water purification.  
  8. Social Distancing: Throughout each trip, social distancing will be practiced (<6’). During any shuttle transfer or whenever social distancing is not possible, masks will be required.
  9. Post Gear Sterilization: SYMG will follow manufacturers’ recommendations related to the cleaning and sterilization of gear and equipment following each trip. This process will be closely monitored to ensure that each piece of gear and equipment receives the same procedure and is ready to return to the field after each trip.


We are tracking questions from guests and developing a FAQ specifically to speak to the concerns that have been mentioned during recent calls to our office and we wanted to share this information with other travelers who are considering a trip with us into the backcountry this summer.

Are the National Parks and National Forest open to visitors and wilderness travel?

Yes, each National Park and National Forest that we operate in have communicated re-opening dates that are specific to that area. Sequoia-Kings Canyon will reopen to visitors on June 4th. Yosemite National Park will reopen on June 5th. The Sierra National Forest is currently open to visitors as is the Inyo National Forest. Each of these land agencies has its own plans for implementing different phases so feel free to call our office for the latest information. 

Is there any additional gear or equipment I will need this summer?

Yes, we will send each guest and traveler a revised gear and equipment list that contains a few items that we will recommend this summer. If a couple or group is traveling together they can share these items. These items include: 

  • Personal water filtration or treatment method 
  • Personal sleeping bag liner
  • Personal hand sanitizer 
  • Personal trowel for bathroom necessities
  • Personal masks (e.g. Buff, bandana)

Do I need to wear a mask during the trip?

We recommend that each traveler on an SYMG trip carries a mask on their person throughout their trip. This can include a Buff or other type of synthetic barrier. Your need to wear this mask will be minimal during the trip. Your risk of infection (or spreading it) depends on many factors, but, simplified, it depends on the time you spend in contact with the infected person and the viral load delivered (e.g., a cough spreads more than just breathing).  You are highly unlikely to catch the virus from simply walking past someone at a 6-foot distance (even if the person gets closer to you for a second) — you’re not in contact with the person for long enough.  So there’s not necessarily any need to wear a mask when hiking if you stay 6 feet from people and aren’t stopping to chat with folks. 

What if my location has a shelter-in-place rule?

We encourage each traveler to know and follow the guidelines of their local County and State.

What are the counties that I will be traveling in with SYMG?

SYMG operates in four counties in the State of California: Mariposa, Madera, Fresno & Inyo Counties. For the specific guidance of each county find this resource website here. If you wondering which county your trip takes place in, do not hesitate to email or call our office.

What if I experience symptoms before the trip?

If you experience any signs and symptoms prior to your trip please communicate with our office and seek medical assistance. 

Do you have more questions? Please comment below and we will respond!

Graham Ottley
Born and raised in the Midwest (Iowa & Illinois), I always held a fascination for the outdoors and mountain landscapes as some “distant place” on maps. That fascination continues today but I am fortunate to have now lived and worked in the mountains for 15+ years. My first job as a guide was leading sea-kayak trips in coastal Ketchikan Alaska. After that season, I attended undergrad in the Southeast (Montreat College) studying Outdoor Education and Environmental Studies and went on to pursue my MBA. I first visited the Yosemite area during a spring break climbing trip with some buddies. I can vividly recall driving in and being completely awestruck by the beauty of The Valley, well as all the great climbing : ) After college I worked as a Guide with Summit Adventure in Yosemite as well as internationally in the Ecuadorian Andes and mountains of Mexico. I enjoyed teaching outdoor education in Santa Cruz and Yosemite Valley during my off-seasons. I also worked with Outward Bound California leading youth trips and eventually worked as Program Director at their Midpines and Joshua Tree locations. In 2016, I transitioned to SYMG and appreciated the thoughtful approach to the work of guiding. I enjoy spending time with the great crew of guides that come here to work, live and play. Beyond work in the outdoors, I am a proud father of two children, Owen & Eleanor. I enjoy adventures with them and my wife Sarah not quite as far afield. While we still return regularly to visit family in the midwest, we are happy to call Southern Yosemite home.