This page will grow as the blog progresses. Please check back periodically.
Blogs Posted during the dates specified include:
Deciding which trail, getting there, links
Is this your year to thru hike
Motivation and Timing
Links to get you started:
Maybe you already have a trail in mind.
It could be the Appalachian Trail, a life long dream to hike its entire 2178 miles along the eastern range of mountains in the United States.
is a good place to begin researching.
Perhaps the Pacific Crest Trail, a trail of 2658 miles along the western ranges, from Mexican border to Canada, has captured your imagination. http://pcta.org/ and
offers a whole section of planning pages. This is my favorite trail.
The links page at that website will give you tons of other trails available with corresponding sites for research:
If you're looking for a trail closer to home, one perhaps on your side of the country, check out
You can plug in your zip code and it will bring up suggestions, reviews and maps. This site has subscription, and guides for sale. I haven't spent any money there so far.
Reading journals of other hikers,
or asking questions on a message board, or reading the existing threads at places like
http://whiteblaze.net/ or http://backpacker.com/
are good for inspiration too.
Choosing a trail involves asking yourself some questions:
How far would I like to travel to arrive at the trail head?
Do I want a high elevation hike, a "river" walk, or desert?
How many weeks do I have to spend on the trail?
Am I in condition now, or will I train for this hike?
Is this my year to hike an entire long distance trail?
Which months do I plan to hike?
My trail journals and web pages can be read at:
When you're planning a backpacking trip, transportation is a key issue
If you're driving, you can park at a trail head, a long term parking garage or self storage unit, or inquire via e-mail if there are any members of a local hiking club which would let you park at their home for a fee.
With the economy so poor, more vandalism is being reported. Check with the local police or local ranger stations for information on specific parking issues.
When we hiked the Colorado Trail, we drove to Denver, rented a fully staffed, heated garage, and parked for 40 days. The rent was cheap and we didn't have to worry about the car. We took the local bus to the trail head, and after finishing the trail and walking into nearby Durango, we rented a car, drove to the parking garage and picked up our car. The rental car was then returned to the airport.
When there's more than one hiker, renting a car can be cheaper than each one buying a greyhound ticket, and much more comfortable.
Be sure to have a credit card for this. A debit card doesn't work for car rentals.
Some areas do not offer bus service any longer. The east coast has decent service all the way up the Appalachian Trail. Call or check online at Greyhound
for latest rates and service.
When I took the greyhound up to Vermont to hike, the buses were overbooked, and the stops were not so pleasant. Bring snacks and travel light if you decide that's
the way to go. Once reaching your stop, arrange for a taxi, trail angel, or friend to take you to the trail head.
Many times you can contact the members of the trail club which works on your chosen trail. For instance, if you're hiking north on the AT, starting in Springer, check out http://www.georgia-atclub.org/
the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. They can probably direct you to someone willing to shuttle you to the AT. Things change every year, so up to date information is essential.
the Superior Hiking Trail, has peaked my interest. By looking at the online map, I see that I would plan either an out and back trip, or get the shuttle to my car.
in southern Illinois has many small towns and post offices along the way.
has a hiker review of the trail. Other trail reviews can be found at
The club also has members which can be contacted to aid in transportation questions.
Many Pacific Crest Trail hikers fly into San Diego, then catch a bus to the small town of Camp, 2 miles from the Mexican border. They then hike or get a ride from locals to the border, where the monument is tagged. Check the PCTA website for updates on transportation available.
Hitchhiking is dangerous. Its an issue everyone must decide for themselves. If you chose to do it, or must do it, promise yourself you will turn down rides from people who make you uncomfortable.
Resupplying in town almost always means hitchhiking. If you are unwilling to do this, chose a trail which goes through towns or is short enough to not require a resupply.
The John Muir trail can be accomplished without hitchhiking.
You can also arrange a self shuttle by taking two cars, parking one up the trail at a safe place. Hiking car to car makes resupplying easier, too. Stash non perishable food and water in the trunk.
Check out http://amtrak.com/ if you're interested in traveling by train.
When you have chosen a trail, ask questions on a backpacking website forum. Many times you 'll meet people who know the answers to your transportation questions.
Heading north on the Appalachian Trail has begun as early as January 1st, by Flying Brian in his successful Triple Crown in One Year (2001).
However, unless you're prepared for serious cold, snow and ice, starting early March is recommended. Georgia is one of the most difficult states, if only 69 miles. Also, if you get to the Smokies too early you'll be floundering in snow and can easily break a leg or worse.
Head south after the black fly season, in Maine, mid July all the way to end of August. Be careful to be out of the White Mountains by late September.
Most north bounders on the Pacific Crest Trail or Continental Divide Trail begin late April. There are several high mountains early on, and trail angels aren't caching water until spring.
South bounders start early June. You can expect snow any time of the year, but pay especial attention to the High Sierras. In low snow years, you can enjoy lush fields of flowers on the John Muir trail in mid June.
The Colorado Trail is notorious for summer thunderstorms. You'll be hiking in elevations above tree line much of the time. Snow, hail and unpredictable weather make the 468 miles incredibly interesting. Start in June, running through August, some even go into September. Heading south you'll have more time to acclimate to the elevations than if you headed north from Durango.
You can hike the Bartram Trail, Foothills Trail in the Carolinas any time of the year. Water may freeze, but check out the Winter Hiking Page linked with this blog for skills dealing with that.
The Florida Trail is a winter trail. Hiking mid summer can be exhausting in temperature and bugs.
When in doubt, e-mail members of the hiking club associated with the trail you plan to do. Check the average precipitations and temperatures from the Weather Channel page.
I trained for the Pacific Crest Trail by working 12 hour days in a hospital kitchen. Not ideal, but while earning needed cash, I was on my feet most of the time, dealing with stress, and lifting up to 50 pounds daily.
Hiking in the mountains with a pack helps to prepare, but bottom line, if you're short on time, plan your first month on trail to be a slower start until your muscles get hardened and you feel stronger. Let the "trail runners" go ahead. I met several like that, and farther up the trail would read the register where they had to leave due to shin splints or blown out knees.
Start with light pack, resupply in near by towns as needed, and you will get stronger without injury.
If you can, loose those extra pounds and get used to walking where ever you can.
Mental preparation is just as important as physical. Where the body will get stronger, sometimes the resolve to hike gets weaker.
The Why Question
Before I set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail, my hiking partner strongly suggested I write down why I am doing this.
He'd thru hiked the Appalachian Trail, and knew what it meant to face pain, boredom, struggle, and much financial output. "After awhile the fun wears off, then what's going to keep you going?" he asked.
So,I wrote http://trailquest.net/BRwondering.html
to answer the question for myself. While on the trail, I keep remembering the "pushing myself to my outer limits, and then, pushing further". It was my inspiration.
When I hiked the Appalachian Trail, it was extremely important to me to hike the entire thing in one year, and become a thru hiker.
People have asked,"Why be so anal? Even if you miss a chunk, you're still a thru hiker. Even if you do it over two or three years, you're still a thru hiker."
But that is not me. What are words worth if we can change them to suit our egos? A thru hiker completes the Entire Trail in one calendar year. That's why I can not say I have thru hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. I did that trail in 14 months, taking a break between seasons.
A med student can not claim to be a doctor if they haven't completed every necessary step and received their licence.
If the title Thru Hiker means so little that it can be corrupted willy nilly, then why do so many attempt to pass themselves off as one without earning it? It obviously has great meaning, and that's the reason it is so coveted.
Perhaps you are going with a friend or small group. If they leave the trail, will you? It is very good to discuss these possibilities during the planning stages. Your goals may change, their Why may not be the same as yours.
Ask yourself why you are embarking on a long hike. The inspiration will keep you on trail and become your mantra.
Money and time are just the beginning of the cost of a long trail. Your soul will be tested The trail gods see to that.
The months, which accumulated into years, I spent on the trail are among the best and most rewarding of my life. I wouldn't trade them for anything, period.
Thru Hiking Theory
This may be your year to thru hike an entire trail.
One or two companions are good, more will just complicate matters. Be true to yourself, and hold your goals paramount.
It is a little known fact that the more people in your group, the harder it is to move it down the trail, into town for supplies, or maintain the wilderness experience.
A loose confederation of trail friends will naturally occur, people hiking at your speed, people who may not resupply in the same towns you do, yet you will end up camping and meeting over and over.
The saying "hike your own hike" is important because when you meet belligerent people who try to change your vision, talk you into skipping trail, slack packing, or otherwise compromising your dream, you can use this reply.
In my travels, I've met many people who for one reason or another missed sections of trail. Sometimes, I encounter them because they have decided to return to the place and hike those missed miles, the trail gods nagging them to close the breach.
I've encountered hikers who blame their dogs for forgoing the deserts of the Pacific Crest Trail or must skip the Smokies because no dogs are allowed. This negates a thru hike.
I've met folks who skipped trail due to fires ahead. Instead of finding alternate routes, even if this means a road walk, they take a bus. A reroute is sometimes necessary due to wash outs, missing bridges, forest fires. Being a purist is sometimes not possible, but being a continuest nearly always is.
My main objective of this essay is not to tell you how to hike your hike. I want to encourage you to stay true to yourself, and refuse to be co opted into a lesser vision, one you will regret when its over.
There are always ways to overcome obstacles.
My mentor told me early on,"the more complete your hike, the more complete your joy".
How much will it cost?
It used to be figured at $2 a mile for hiking a long trail, like the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail.
I always found that amusing.
Does it include transportation?
Does it include gear? Post office, motels?
There are so many variables that quoting a dollar amount is very difficult.
Lets address some of those variables.
First, if you live on the same side of the country, and can get a ride, or take a bus, the transportation is cheap. Stay on the trail, without taking breaks into nearby tourist centers and you'll keep costs down. I met some guys from N.Carolina who rented a car when they got up north just to sight see Washington D.C. Another couple had never been to New York, so took a week off to tour that.
If you're flying across the country to San Diego, then getting a bus to the Mexican Border, that's going to add up.
So, lets not add the price of transportation into these final estimated figures.
Then, there's buying gear. If you already have a good selection of backpacking gear, can make or modify existing equipment, will utilize suggestions from the alternative gear section, or can beg, borrow or be gifted good stuff, gear will not cost too much. We'll talk about gear in the week ahead, but for now, lets take gear out of the equation as well.
What is left? Food, housing, laundry and drop boxes/bounce boxes. You may also have some medical issues, but that's fairly rare if you take care of yourself and do some preventative work.
Logically, we know that hiking ten miles a day, or twenty miles a day will cost nearly the same amount. You'll wake up, eat breakfast, hike, eat a snack, some lunch, a snack, supper and then maybe bedtime munchies. You may be a bit hungrier with more miles, but the bottom line is you'll spend about the same.
Once you hit town, you'll eat a decent meal. The cost there depends on what is available in restaurants, deli style food, or cooking in the local park. Most people will buy a good meal. We were eating in a nice restaurant when the scroungy looking guy sitting at the next table ordered a second complete meal. I glanced over to see a trail guide of the Pacific Crest Trail. He was another long distance hiker.
Buffets are good for long distance hikers in town. For one price you can really fill up the nearly bottomless pit.
I've met hikers on budgets who never spent a night in a motel. They'd simply buy a large pizza and coke, shop for the next resupply, visit the post office, and head out of town.
Check the post office before resupplying in case there is a hiker box, filled with stuff abandoned or donated by other hikers. The freebies help you save money, too.
Shipping is getting so expensive, many experienced hikers forgo the drop box filled with food and necessities and opt for either a bounce box (parcel post to trail towns 300-400 miles up trail, insured) or buying local. More about that later, for now, we're just talking about money.
You can not count on ATM machines, being able to use a check or credit card in small trail towns. Having cash is essential. I started with $400 to begin a trail. Whenever possible, I used the credit card, and paid once a month by phone. Keeping the cash for those times when nothing else works is important.
If you go bare bones, you can get by on about $7 a day. A five month hike, 150 days would add up to $1050. This is food, laundry and stove fuel. If you plan on a motel night once a week, add $50 per night, to start. Some trails have hostels, sometimes you can split the cost of a motel room with a trail friend. The longer you stay in town, the more money you'll spend. A movie, a couple restaurant meals, laundry, sightseeing, it all adds up.
Wear flip flops when taking a shower at hostels or public bathrooms. Save yourself a doctors visit with a bad case of foot fungus. Go to the dentist and get your teeth checked, and save an expensive dentist bill while on the trail. Watch out for shared gorp bags which may harbor Giardia. Exposure to Lyme disease can be reduced by sitting on a tarp or rock at rest stops, using bug repellent, and checking for ticks daily. All of these incidents happened to trail friends of mine. Prevention is cheap, the cure is costly.
There's no accounting for the huge outlay of cash by those who go ill prepared. Many trail towns and online or catalogue outfitters make a lot of money from hikers replacing heavy or ill performing gear. Hikers will notice new friends with ultralight sleeping bags, new stoves, hiking poles, and vow to buy some asap. Research at home, gear up with the best you can afford, and save this huge expense as well.
How many miles can you plan on hiking?
You should never expect to hit the trail "running".
If you're a young athlete there are still knee issues. Georgia and Maine are two very challenging states on the Appalachian Trail. Heading north or south, its easy to blow out a knee.
Hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail is considered easier because some of it is "graded" for horses. You'll find this true in the first sections, and because of water concerns, twenty mile days will happen pretty early on.
If you're on a trail which requires much navigation (not well marked like the AT) you will require more time and hence achieve less miles in difficult sections. When you feel lost, sit down and figure it out. Wandering around aimlessly only makes things worse. There were times in the Bob Marshall Wilderness on the Continental Divide Trail where we had to head up trail just to check a marker or cross a stream. The guide books being old and sketchy, this is a common occurance. Buying forest service maps, the Delorme Atlas, and up to date information is crutial.
A light pack is going to help your knees and ankles even more than your back. Visit http://trailquest.net/ultralight.html
to read my page on ultralight gear, techniques, theory, and partnering.
The first week you're on trail, ten-twelve mile days are fine. Don't worry, or let someone nag you into over extending yourself. If you wake up refreshed, with only minor aches and pains, you can up the mileage.
Averaging 100 miles a week should be very doable with in two weeks, including the resupply in town. With 100 miles a week, you can complete the Appalachian Trail in 5 months, the Colorado Trail in 5 weeks, the Pacific Crest Trail in 6 months.
Generally, a young man or woman would have greater mileage days than an older retired person. But, you'll find exceptions to this. I met a guy named Dell on the PCT. He was an ultra marathon runner whose hiking style differed so much its worth noting here. He was 60 years old.
He ate cold food, hiked a steady pace until he got sleepy. Pulled out the tarp, slept on trail for perhaps 4 hours. Then, he'd get up and go again.
Sometimes you'll meet young hikers who party all the way up the trail, and never finish. Getting "hung up" in a trail town can waste valuable time and money and end up costing you your thru hike. The movie you're dying to see will be there when you finish your thru hike, don't be side tracked.
Some portions of a long trail are "easier" than others. That's a good time to "bank " your miles, and put in some twenty mile days. By the time we reached Pennsylvania, anything less than a twenty mile day seemed wimpy. Doing twenty miles daily on the Pacific Crest was considered very reasonable, especially where towns are few and far between. The choice of hiking long, or carrying days more food is something to consider each time you're stocking up.
Shorter trails, like the Bartram or Foothills in the south east are much like the Appalachian Trail in terrain. Yet, you really don't have the length to get in shape for huge miles. Be content to do 12-15 miles, and enjoy it.
When planning your itinerary, having some idea of expected mileage can help you plan post office drops, how much food to carry between towns, when your family can expect you to call in and touch base, and give you a way to plan gear swaps.
As you progress up the trail, you get into a rhythm of waking, eating, hiking, and making camp. Until you actually do it, its hard to tell what that rhythm or style might be.
When I'm solo, I rise with dawn, pack up, and while hiking greet the sun while munching a pop tart or a snickers bar. If I have a trail partner, usually we make coffee and get on trail a little later. There are different styles of long distance hiking which affect mileage.
Tricks for Budget Long Distance Hiking
These blogs are pretty lengthy, so please read them from January 11-13 at the blog site.
Post Office and Bounce Boxes
The other day I bought a beautiful pair of 100% UVA/UVB Protection , wrap around Sunglasses.
The perfect item to put in the all important Bounce Box.
Many new hikers use drop boxes. I tried that myself. Take several small boxes, fill them with assorted items,including basic food supplies, and enlist a friend to ship them to pre addressed post offices up the trail.
Problem with this, you're never really sure what you'll need in that town. You don't know if there will be a Walmart or Dollar Store where everything is cheap, if you'll have run out of deet by then, if you need that extra silk shirt, if you'll hate all the food stashed in it, there by forcing you to donate all to a hiker box. You'll save a lot of money if you do a bounce box instead.
My best friend and trail mentor taught me the value of a Bounce Box.
This box is a sturdy container which is shipped parcel post, insured up the trail by yourself. Every few hundred miles you can take out or put in items as needed.
For instance, your Pacific Crest Trail Guide, a 400 page book just for California alone, can be split into sections and accessed as needed. I only met one thru hiker carrying the whole book early on. Don't know if he ever cut into that book, but as an ultralighter, I burnt or threw away the pages in town once they were done. Paper is heavy.
Even the data book for the Appalachian Trail becomes unnecessary weight once the pages are used. Throw them in the bounce box for souvenirs, if you like.
The bounce box is best sent to small trail towns which have few stores. Bottles of 100% deet (bug repellent), sunscreen, hexamine fuel tablets, a head net for bug season, spare gloves or socks, dental floss, and anything else you would like to throw in are all good examples of items which may be totally unavailable in that small town just when you need it.
In Sierra City, on the PCT, I ended up with a spray can containing only 20% active ingredient Deet. Bulky, expensive and only 1/5 Th as effective, I learned to buy on sale all these essentials and make them available to myself on regular, self regulated basis.
By shipping the bounce box parcel post, you assure yourself about 7-10 days arrival time. Within a couple weeks, you'll get to that post office, open it up, sort through and take what you need. By shipping it insured, you can bounce it all ahead if you don't make it into that particular town, without ever opening it.
United Postal Service rules may have changed sense I used these services last, so check before you do this.
I used a yellow tool box which was large enough to accommodate my ice ax. I received it in Kennedy Meadows, then shipped it ahead to Tuolumne Meadows, in Yosemite, where I could replace it.
Sometimes shipping stuff home is not worth the money. On the Appalachian Trail I wore some extra layers going through the White Mountains in New Hampshire. These layers were all items I planned to throw away once I finished that section so they were all chosen with that in mind. With temps above 80, the I could strip away the extra clothing for my last month on the AT.
If you are able to research your intended trail towns, and determine which ones are small and desirable bounce box stops, write it down for your friends and family. If they wish to send a little, little! care package, have them address it Your Name, General Delivery, Town, State. And then, additionally, Please hold for Thru Hiker.
I say little packages because more than once I was the recipient of another hikers generous disbursement of goods simply because the loving family had shipped 20 pounds of food. No way will anyone eat or carry that much out of town. Thank you for loving us.
I recommend buying the bulk of your food, fuel and hygiene supplies at shops along the way. Shipping is expensive, food craving change, and you may decide to skip a town and not use that post office at all, leaving an abandoned food box.
Every hiker has his/her favorite foods. The things we crave while on the trail, the things we splurge on once we hit town. I used to love a quart of full fat chocolate milk. A good Veggie Supreme Pizza. Lots of guys wanted a couple Burgers and Fries.
Once you fulfill those cravings, its time to head to the super market.
Hopefully, there are rows of shelves with affordable stuff. Not always.
Here is a list of basic foods, usually found even in convenience stores. If you can avoid hitchhiking a long ways into town, not only will you save money, but time and frustration. Unless I hitched alone, getting a ride can take awhile especially in the recession climate where more fear leads to more distrust. I hate hitchhiking. There, I said it.
Oatmeal can be sweetened with brown sugar or eaten raw. A great all around food for any meal or snack, full of fiber and protein. I buy the cylinder, not the preflavored prepackaged sweet stuff. Much better value for the money, and you can have it unsweetened if you get sick of too much sugar. Buy a one pound box of brown sugar, split it with a buddy, or eat on saltine crackers too.
Ramen Noodles get a lot of bad press. Lots of calories, can be solar cooked, used to fill out a skimpy Lipton Meal, or eaten raw like pretzels. We usually planned two per meal, saving the seasoning packages for broths which can be enhanced with pretzels, or odds and ends from the cracker sack. All you need is very hot water to cook them, very little fuel. A good thrifty buy. Use a gallon zip lock bag to repackage them and eliminate trail garbage.
Cheap On the Fly Gorp can be any combination of pretzels, Frito's, chocolate chips, raisins, m&ms, Captain Crunch, Gold Fish crackers, candy corn, hiker box finds. Put it all in a gallon zip lock bag. Love this for lunches, p.m snacks, dessert. I always have a quart bag that has the days allotment so I don't eat too much and short myself for the rest of the week.
Breads and Fixings can be anything from loaf bread, tortillas, bagels, buns, rolls and muffins paired with peanut butter, honey, cheese, cream cheese, hard sausages, jelly, frosting. Find stuff thats not in glass jars, though, and be careful heading into heavy bear country. Beef sticks are particularily odorous, even the wrappers causing trouble. I decided they were not worth the hassel after several sleepless nights. These combinations can form the basis of any meal. No fuel needed unless you want to make some instant soup with a good sandwhich for supper.
Instant Potatoes, Rice, or Stuffing Mixes sometimes available, can add varitey. Try to pick up those already seasoned. Instant potatoes can be served as a soup, just thin it down. Rice can be paired with tortillas. Stuffing Bread crumbs are good in soups, as a main dish, eaten by the handful. None of these items take much fuel.
Cornmeal and Instant Grits are great with beef jerky.
Pop tarts, Candy Bars, Grandma Cookies, or any cookies are obvious choices. Sometimes bagged candy will be cheaper per ounce. Always buy the frosted pop tarts, especially if you are stuck with generic. I love telling the resupply of my friends the Honeymooners, on the Pacific Crest Trail. For the last 89 miles to Canada, they bought 52 candy bars and one package of Ramen.
As you can see, having a supply of gallon zip lock bags for repackaging and flexibility in food selections will go a long ways in staying on budget. If people are gifting you with stuff, always sort and put it in your food stuff sack before shopping. You may not need much to supplement it.
In really small stores, I walk through first to get an impression of availability before buying. There may be boxed cereal on sale, or chips. Don't forget the beverages. Bulk instant coffee or tea, not individual dunkers will save you a ton of money.
You may have enough clothing in your closet to avoid any purchases. The following can help you identify them.
I love silk, not everyone does.
I've used it on all my hikes, long and short, but others say it breaks down too fast. True. But, you can buy long sleeve button down shirts at thrift stores for a buck and throw them away when you are done with it.
I've used the silk long underwear that Sierra Trading Post sells for $15 bucks. I still have ultralight silk tops from them. Love them.
Everyone knows to stay away from 100% cotton. Cotton is heavy, holds water, but feels great. Unless you're hiking the desert, cotton should just be avoided.
A guy once posted he used his cotton tee shirt to get through the desert by stripping it off at water sources, soaking it, and staying cool while it dried.
Don't forget, drying cotton at the laundromat takes time and money. Time you'd probably rather spend at the buffet or on trail.
This may work, but high deserts can still get rain and snow. I used a polyester blend sleeveless shirt in the desert, soaking it at streams when possible. Feels great. The northern California portion of the Pacific Crest Trail is a good place to use this technique as well. Not recommended for any portion of the Appalachian Trail. Its just too humid, even when its hot to bother with cotton.
In my opinion, this goes for socks as well. Yet, I met a guy on the PCT who swore by his white cotton socks. Your mileage will vary.
Check the labels at thrift stores before you buy something. You can shorten sleeves and pant legs, but fabric content is forever.
Some good blends are composed of nylon, spandex, Lycra, polyester, silk and wool. If you find a piece that is excellent, and has less than half cotton content, you might consider it. Price, length of trail to be used on, weight and color all come into play.
Of course, if you come across brand name fleece, get it unless its too small. Too big can be modified. Cut sleeves shorter, but remember longer sleeves keep hands warm. Heat seal edges of cut down nylons and fleece to prevent running or over stretching. Then, if you can sew, even hand sew, hem it .
I made a fleece headband just to use in the Whites and heat sealed the edges. Once those were done , I threw it away without any regrets or pack weight
My Criteria for long distance backpacking clothing
Good fabric composition-nylon, polyester, spandex, Lycra,silk, wool, fleece, without holes or showing signs of wear in critical spots (knees, elbows, seat) Warm layers should be compact with tight weaves or composition.
Fits well- Don't even be enticed by something too small. You might loose weight, you might gain muscle. If it doesn't fit right, you can't hike or sleep comfortably. As an ultra lighter, I've made my own gear and found when the sleepwear didn't cover the small of my back adequately, that became a cold spot. If the sleeves are too short, those two grams in weight are meaningless when your wrists are cold.
If the item is too big, and you can't or won't sew, it will take up extra pack space. Thin layers like silk and ripstop aren't big issues. Fleece wear and wool are.
Good color in my opinion is something earthy, stealth or green. When you get to town, it will all get thrown in the same washing machine, so light colors usually end up looking pretty bad. Flying Pussy wore a bright patterned skirt his girlfriend made him. Hike Your Own Hike always holds true.
Other considerations include
Zippers: which can wear out, or become stuck. Avoid this problem by avoiding zippers, or using chap stick on the teeth or coil to keep them tracking smoothly. Don't let zippers lay in the dirt or sand.
I do not use zip off/ convertible pants. I tried them, but they were heavier than nylon shorts with pockets and long underwear combination, which is a much more versatile layering system.
Draw cords: be sure they are anchored at the half way point. You'll know by testing this. Gently pull on one end of cord. If the other end becomes very short, you know there is no mid point secure stitching. Using an over hand stitch, anchor the cord by sewing through it and the fabric. On trail, you could get in a hurry and pull that cord too far where one end gets lost in the casing. Not fun.
Snaps and Fasteners: Check to be sure they are solid, hold well, and are not rusting. Some things get abandoned or donated because the snaps on the pockets no longer hold.
Campmor, Sierra Trading Post and REI have good stuff, but if you need to buy a sleeping bag and are limited in cash, finding clothing at bargain prices will allow you to drop that serious cash on a quality sleeping bag. I've used shorts bought at Walmart, bandanna from the Dollar Store. But when it came to my sleeping bag, I willingly spent the $269, and that was in 2002. I still have it.
All about gear choices for your trail
Each category discussed, ultralight and mid weight gear
Alternative gear, gear management on long trails (over 2 months)
You can find gear lists for ultralighters, light weights and various sports by googling.
I have my various gear lists, with before and after notes linked to my home page at:
The stuff I started my thru hikes with was adapted and refined until by the end of the Appalachian Trail I was carrying just 8 pounds base weight.
But, I don't want to focus on weight. The more experienced you are the less you will carry.
Or if you are a big strong male, you may bring stuff just for the hell of it.
If you are a small cold-sleeping female, you'll need more in the way of clothing layers and decent sleep pad.
The sleeping pad is important in high elevations and cold weather. I've used a short trimmed pad, and you can get away with it if you're primarily sleeping in AT shelters, hiking late spring, summer and early fall, or carry a heavier pack which can be placed under the foot area to insulate against the cold ground.
Silnylon ruck sacks don't work for insulating under sleeping bags. Use it instead for a vapor barrier in side the sleeping bag in emergency. That of course is presuming its both dry and clean.
I believe in Hiking Poles. If you've ever done cross country skiing, you are well aware of the advantages here. Its like getting an extra two legs, and the upper body strength can be utilized to propel one up steep inclines, balance on narrow tread way, used when crossing fallen logs over raging streams (especially on the Pacific Crest Trail).
They are often used for supports in tarp and ultralight shelter configurations, as weapons for self defense against aggressive dogs, for digging cat holes.
You can use one or two. I've tried using one on the Colorado Trail. Had to keep switching off between hands. Using a pole keeps the blood flowing nicely to the hands. Otherwise, you will find yourself with numb hands, or holding the shoulder straps of the pack to maintain flow.
Adjustable poles are preferred(telescoping) because when it comes time to hitchhike, the long ski poles are more difficult to get into a small car,sometimes already crowded. Have a place on your pack where you can reduce and fully collapse the pole and secure it to the pack. Loop a cinching cord through the handle straps for added securing, especially when climbing hand over hand, taking the bus, or road walking.
You can buy them on the trail if you don't start out with a set. However, they will be much more expensive and you won't end up with the brand you like.
There are "shock" absorbing poles, with springs to cushion the striking of said pole upon the ground. I find them noisy and see no advantage. Also, you'll meet people who put an end on them to prevent the point from going into the dirt. They claim it prevents erosion. I like the points for traction, and feel it aerates the soil. The tiny holes make very little impact, if any, in my experience.
For clothing, I go with four layers top and bottom. The outer layer should be water proof. This can be a poncho which serves as your shelter. But, beware. If its cold and you must strip off the poncho to set it up, do so quickly and securely before you become chilled and hypothermia.
Having been hailed on in Colorado, during the heat of summer, I recognized the importance of vital gear pieces not serving multitude of purposes simultaneously.
Of course, your opinions and experience will vary from mine.
An obvious partnership is the married couple, the engaged couple, the college romantic couple.
If you're planning a long hike with them, its good to sit down and get all issues out in the open.
My mentor claims for every person you add to the group, the difficulty is doubled.
Meaning, one person on a scale of 1-10 would be like one. Two people, its doubled, or two. Three people, its 4. Four people would be an 8.
The reason for this is difference in body strength, more risk of someone getting sick, differences in passion and expectations, and general life events.
There was a couple who starting having relationship problems when she decided her load was too heavy. He kept carrying more and more of it, leaving her with just a light pack.
Another couple would debate each town stop, whether to get a motel, rent a car, what foods to buy for a resupply.
Hiking a long trail together doesn't usually mend relationships, but will put it to the test. If yours survives, you have a true life partner. You will have memories, good bad and ugly for the rest of your lives.
If your partner gets injured, bored, or leaves for any reason, you have to figure out if you'll continue. I've met people from both camps. Usually its the woman who ends up having to leave, sometimes for family emergencies, sometimes injury.
Hikers can meet their loved ones at intervals, especially on the Appalachian Trail because there are so many roads, and towns close enough to enjoy together. Phone calls and post offices make staying in touch easy, if you must separate.
Some will find loose partnerships of like minded hikers while on the trail.
We never even know their real names, so that getting to a motel and asking for a trail friend becomes very hilarious.
One time, I asked if Foxtrot had registered yet, the lady behind the desk looked at me, and asked for a real name. I described his appearance, and backpack. She just shook her head and exclaimed, "They all look like that!"
Partnerships can be beneficial, someone to look out for you, for company on long trails, share loads of specialty items.
I wrote a lot about this at http://trailquest.net/ultralight.html
Read an essay on safety see January 31 blog.
February, there are two hand sewing videos on gear repair.
First, a disclaimer. I'm not a doctor, nurse or even CNA. I've taken some first aid courses, been through various emergencies, and developed strategies for coping while out for months at a time.
As a minimalist, my pack contains basic supplies. Treating cuts, burns, bruises, sprains, diarrhea, various aches and pains are just normal stuff. When you head out alone, having these skills will make life easier.
Keeping your pack light allows you to carry the necessary food and water. That weight changes each resupply, and lessons. But if you're overloaded with fluff, those stress fractures and knee sprains will slow you down, depress your spirit until, seeking medical attention becomes an issue. Lighten up before heading out, both in pack weight and body weight. Muscle, not fat, is your friend.
Still, if you're out long enough somethings going to happen.
Treating the pains by taking Ibuprofen on an empty stomach can cause bleeding. Too much Tylenol will wreck your liver. Putting ointment on a fresh burn before cooling it down can deepen the damage to tissue. If at all possible, cool the burn in a running stream. If no stream is close, cool the burn with water you're carrying. Prevention, and attendance to all cooking will prevent this. Never use a wet bandanna to move a hot pot. I use my gloves as pot holders cause they're always dry.
When ever treating an open wound, cut, blister, or burn, keep things clean and sterile. Use antibiotic ointment after all debris is removed from scrapes, and the wound is air dried. Infection can be a killer, take this seriously, even that tiny blister on the heel. I never remove the skin, just drain the puss with a sterile needle. The skin protects the wound.
Its easy to over estimate your abilities and underestimate nature. Caution, and realistic expectations will keep you on trail. Watching for snakes in shady places, near logs, under rock ledges is important as soon as the first leaves appear in early spring.
Before pitching tarp or tent, check for ant hills. Don't pitch on the down hill side of a slope. If it starts to rain, you can become flooded.
It doesn't matter what type of tent or hammock you're carrying, the brand of your pack, the make of your sleeping bag. Whether you have a cat stove, a Pepsi can stove, or a whisper light, bottom line : you get the gear to Katahdin, the gear doesn't get you there.
You get the gear to Canada, the gear doesn't make or break the hike. The one thing thru hikers have in common is the burning desire to do the entire trail.
Giardia, West Nile, and Lyme Disease is on the rise. If you loose all energy, suffer vomiting and diarrhea for several days, get help. Go to the
nearest town, get to a clinic. If you don't have health insurance, ask for help anyways.
I was told, if you can stand the pain you can stay on the trail. That works up to a point. Be wise, and live to hike another day.
This is my final thru hiking planning post. Please e-mail with anything else, or comment.