I recently watched “Darwin onthetrail” and his “Training for a Long Distance Trail” youtube video:
When I was prepping for my Appalachian trail hike, there were plenty of people offering me advice. Some of it was great advice, a few people made claims how they were able to bring their food weight down but when pressed for details, they often shied away from actually giving me details. Well intentioned people but sometimes you have to figure things out for yourself.
Training: One of the great pieces of advice Darwin gave was to Hike! I totally agree with this, you need to get some mileage on your legs! I know one Appalachian Trail section hiker who scoffed at my training, suggesting that I would get all the training I would need on the trail. That being said, I didn’t want to hit the trail without some sort of base training. I’m getting old, lol, and I wanted trail legs before I hit the trail.
I’m in Northern Indiana and it’s pretty flat here. It’s not like I could train for the terrain I anticipated on the trail. I think Darwin kind of scoffed at hitting the gym but that was one of the first places I trained at. I hit the treadmill, I hit the stair master and I hit the elliptical to get some basic training. Some people suggested the Knobstone trail in southern Indiana but that was a 3+ hour drive and I would rather stay close and try to find another way to train. Luckily, Indiana Dunes, Warren Dunes and Grand Mere State Park are within an hour from home. If you have never hiked up a sand dune with a 25-30 pound backpack, that my friend is a heart pounding workout.
The bottom line is: Get out there and hike. Get some miles on your legs.
Equipment: When you are doing your training hikes, start off with some weight. As you get into better shape, increase that weight. I know towards the end of my training, I had about 30 pounds in my backpack. (I ended up going with less but it was good for training). Wear your foot ware! You don’t want to find out a day or two into your hike that your foot ware is causing calluses on your feet. I learned the hard way! (PS I recommend Trail runners over boots). Go out in your backyard, practice setting up your tent, practice setting up your air mattress and sleeping system. Practice setting up your cooking gear and eat the food that you anticipate eating on the trail. Filter water from a stream. Take a crap in the woods! Lol. You want to become familiar with the equipment you use before you hit a long distance hike!
Embrace the Suck: Darwin is right, you are going to be hiking in adverse conditions! Its going to be wet, it may be cold, it might be freezing, it may be hot… and you will smell! There have been a few times I looked outside and had a foot of snow on my vehicle but I knew I had to drive the 40 minutes to the state park to put in 6 to 12 miles of hiking. This afforded me the chance to wear my wet gear and see how well it stood up to the weather. There are days you will hike in the rain and feel miserable! This is a great opportunity, again, to setup your gear in adverse conditions.
There was one time a low pressure system was hitting Lake Michigan, it was pouring rain and it really helped me to evaluate my gear and allowed me to come up with some ideas to keep a little extra dry. I went with a Frog Togg jacket, flipped up the rain fly on my backpack and I kept pretty dry.
On the Trail: I am not as experienced as Darwin. My first section hike it was up Mount Greylock in Massachusetts. It snowed the first day we went up the mountain and it wasn’t too bad. The second day, I found my hiking boots were killing my feet. I muddled through but as I mentioned above, I went with a trail running on my next hike.
My second section hike continuing in Massachusetts. The first day it was drizzling and as we got to camp, it poured rain. I was familiar enough with my tent that I was able to put the rain fly over my head to keep dry as I setup my tent. That is how well I knew my tent! The second day… ugh, the second day! Lol. When we walked through town, I thought it was HOT. I walked into a store and found out the temperature was near 95 degrees and the heat index was around 120. I stocked up with two 1 liter smart water bottles (yeah, I know, weight!) and kept hydrated. When I got to camp, I thoroughly enjoyed the nearby stream that was not too far from our shelter. I filtered more water for cooking and to fill up those two bottles I had. That night it poured again and it was a combination of frightening and awesomeness as a thunder and lightning storm passed not too far away.
The next day was still hot but much of my gear was drying out. I hung everything up as we hit the shelter we were staying at. Although it was not suppose to rain, it did! But it wasn’t too bad. The following days were nice. At the conclusion of the hike, my cousin picked me up. We kind of joked about “smell”.. and I didn’t think any of us smelled, lol, but my cousin cared to differ.
My third section hike through Connecticut and finishing up the portion of Massachusetts was great. The weather was cool and perfect. It rained one night and we had a heads up that one of the mountains we planned to head down as a waterfall, so other AT hikers gave us a side trail we could take instead. I kind of felt that it wasn’t “official” but I figured it is better to be safe than sorry.
What I Learned: There are definitely items I brought and didn’t need. Outside of food, my pack was pretty light. One of the dilemmas of going light is cost. You can get some of the best equipment out there but sometimes it’s going to cost you a little more money. I ended up budgeting my expenses over the course of my three section hikes. As time went on, I was able to get some better and lighter equipment.
Food seemed to be my biggest weight concern. I started bringing tortillas and peanut butter. Because I brought Tortillas, I picked up Tuna packs. For Hand Warmers, lol, I picked up instant mash potatoes that I kept in zip lock bags. Pop Tarts were pretty cool but they crumbed in my pack. I think I had some Mountain House Freeze dried food, the packs were kind of bulky but in hindsight, it could have been less bulky if I poured multiple packages in one smaller ziplock and then just divided the portions. My friend had a stick of salami or pepperoni that he just cut with a knife as needed. I probably mentioned a ton of carbs above but throughout my three hikes, my thoughts always evolved.
Bottom line: Hike your own hike! Train! You can also learn a great deal from the people who hiked before you. If you trained with a heavy pack, it is certainly a benefit to come up with ideas to pack lighter. On the other hand, I think there is always room for some luxuries. …and yeah, I brought bear spray with me all three hikes and never used it! The only bear I saw was road kill on the side of the road. Enjoy your hike!
The more I read this, the more I notice my spelling or grammar mistakes. I’m going to keep them for now as I think you know what I’m talking about.