Adaptation pathways is an approach to identify, assess, and sequence climate change adaptation options over time, linking decisions to critical signals and triggers derived from scenarios of future conditions. However, conceptual differences in their development can hinder methodological advance and create a disconnect between those applying pathways approaches and the wider community of practitioners undertaking vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation assessments. Here, we contribute to close these gaps, advancing principles, and processes that may be used to guide the trajectory for adaptation pathways, without having to rely on data-rich or resource-intensive methods. To achieve this, concepts and practices from the broad pathways literature is combined with our own experience in developing adaptation pathways for primary industries facing the combined impacts of climate change and other, nonclimatic stressors. Each stage is guided by a goal and tools to facilitate discussions and produce feasible pathways. We illustrate the process with a case study from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, involving multiple data sources and methods in two catchments. Resulting guidelines and empirical examples are consistent with principles of adaptive management and planning and can provide a template for developing local-, regional- or issue-specific pathways elsewhere and enrich the diversity of vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation assessment practice.