I’ve been off the trails for two months now, my body slowly recuperating from walking 3,500 miles. In the meantime, Pat and I have settled in Ashland. We moved into an apartment and transitioned into working life, home-cooked meals, and (almost) daily showers.
My pack is empty now and sits dejectedly in our closet. The tent, stakes, sleeping pad, and trekking poles are clustered nearby. My hiking clothes are washed and join other gym clothes. Pat happily threw my tattered hiking shoes away, and I got new ones. We still have a hiking food surplus, stuff I couldn’t eat when Pat got off the trail, which now make up his lunches. I have not touched a energy bar since leaving the PCT.
The love and yearning I feel for long distance hiking is tucked away in my heart for now. Sometimes this life, the one with utility bills and endless paperwork and roads without sidewalks, feels like a big joke. It is certainly simpler, and cheaper, to live outdoors in a tent, to walk all day, to carry very little. But it is a seasonal life.
I can’t help but dream and scheme new adventures. There are so many trails, so many mountains, so much coastline! And imagine if I was to bike, or kayak, or run. What I really need is a winter sport. I’m open to suggestions.
Before I get ahead of myself, I want to look back at this hiking season to see what worked and what didn’t.
The Zpacks Hexamid Twin held up well in all conditions. It weathered snow in northern Arizona and in the Sierra, high winds in Southern California, torrential rain in Washington. The only hole in its mesh was from a hungry mouse in Northern California. Luckily, I covered the hole with my ground cloth and kept the voracious Oregon mosquitos out. The Hexamid Twin was cozy for Pat and I, and it was downright luxurious as a one-person. Perhaps the only benefit of hiking without Pat was being able to spread out at night.
The rest of my sleep system: Tyvek ground cloth (cut to fit the Hexamid), torso-length Thermarest foam sleeping pad, and Western Mountaineering Versalite sleeping bag. This set up was great. I used my backpack as insulation for my legs and feet, and I usually put my food bag in my pack to elevate my feet at night. The foam pad, a relic from our AT thru-hike, held up nicely and will probably join me on future hikes. My sleeping bag is my absolute favorite piece of gear. I looked forward to curling up in it every night. It got wet occasionally from condensation, but I was able to dry it out the next day almost always. It got drenched for three days during one nasty rainstorm in Washington. That was miserable.
I used two pairs of trekking poles. I started with Lekis and they lasted until I broke one in half the morning that I hiked into Sisters, OR. The timing was fortunate, since I needed them to set up my tent and could replace them at REI in Bend before getting back onto the trail. I hiked out with Black Diamond poles, also telescoping. I didn’t notice much difference between brands. I liked using poles to take the strain off my knees and move my upper body a little. I didn’t use them in 2013 on the AT, but I will probably use them on my next hike.
I went through three pairs of shoes. The first two were New Balance Leadvilles in an obnoxious pink color. They were OK, probably too narrow in hindsight. I wore them until they were in pieces. Pat and I bet on who would have to replace their shoes first. We both lost, giving up in Aqua Dulce and suffering from foot problems later. I found my final pair of shoes in the hiker box at Callahan’s, a used pair of Altras. I switched because they looked less worn than my beat-to-shit New Balance. I wore the Altras all the way to Canada. I had to throw away in insoles when they got so shredded that they bunched up under my feet and gave me hot spots. I definitely wore them too long. Though I was diligent about stretching and tried to eat well, my negligent foot care definitely contributed to the foot injury that I am still recovering from.
Clothing: I used a versatile layering system. I always hiked in spandex shorts and a hooded long sleeve sun shirt (the shorts were standard athletic shorts, the shirt was Patagonia Sunshade and frayed a little at the wrists but otherwise held up well). If it was cold, I put on long underwear bottoms and top (I liked a mid-weight shirt in a large size. I had a fleece lined spandex legging that I liked but sadly left at Papa Smurf’s in Big Bear, then a small pair of wool leggings that fell to mid-calf for the Sierra. When Pat got off trail I took his ripped lightweight bottoms, and they got me to Canada). If it was very cold, I wore my nano-puff synthetic down jacket. If it was windy or raining, I wore my rain jacket (Frogg Toggs to Oregon, replaced by lightweight Houdini found on sale. Frogg Toggs are cheap and plastic and I recommend them. The Houdini jacket is very lightweight but got soaked in the rainstorm in Washington). I always wore the trucker hat that Pat gave me for Christmas (Big Foot on the home stretch). I carried a lightweight fleece hat and wool gloves for cold weather through the Sierra. I wore one hiking bra the whole 3,500 miles. I went through many pairs of socks, starting with Darn Toughs, then Pat’s socks, then hiker box wool socks, then thin athletic socks, then a gifted pair of woolies that I wore the last 300 miles. I liked to carry two lightweight pairs for hiking and one heavyweight wool pair for sleeping.
For the Sierra, I carried an extra layer (fleece jacket), the rain pants that came with my Frogg Toggs (used only in the snowstorm we hiked through to get over Kearsarge Pass), and Kahtoola micro spikes, which I used many times to get over icy snow in the Sierra, on the Mt. Whitney side trip, and over snow north of Sonora Pass. I sent these home in South Lake Tahoe, along with the regulation bear canister that we each picked up in Kennedy Meadows.
Water treatment: On the AZT, we used a Sawyer Squeeze. We almost certainly let it freeze and probably broke it early in our hike, then continued to rely on it as we drank from fetid stock ponds and tanks. Hence the giardia we both got. Even if it hadn’t made us sick, we were happy to switch to a Steripen when we hit the REI in Flagstaff. Squeeze filters are tedious and ours was always clogged. The steripen worked beautifully for the whole PCT, never running low on battery (I charged it in towns every week or two).
Some miscellaneous items:
- Headlamp: an old Petzel, I think, that broke in Oregon. I didn’t night hike much anyway, and relied on the moon or my cell phone for night light needs.
- Food bag: a cuben fiber sack. Any plastic shopping bag will do, though.
- Water bottle: 1-2 1-liter Gatorade bottle. For the AZT and Southern California, Pat and I also had empty platypus bladders that we used for very long dry stretches. Max capacity: 5 liters each.
- Pat and I used the cold soak method to rehydrate meals in a Talenti plastic jar during the AZT and on the PCT in Southern California. In the cold Sierra, we hated eating cold mush and mostly ate snacks or went without. When Pat got off trail, I switched to bars and snacks entirely and threw away the Talenti container.
- Anker external battery (3-4 charges), USB cord, iPhone cord, IQ fast charger. Great for 3-8 day resupplies. Only ran out of battery once, when we tried using a smaller external battery. Essential for using GPS/maps on my phone.
- Guthook guides for AZT and PCT. Downloaded maps from the AZTA and Halfmile, respectively. I downloaded Halfmile’s app in Oregon when I took the Skyline Trail. It isn’t as nice as Guthook’s app in my opinion, but it is free and is great for alternates that Guthook doesn’t include.
- Mini Swiss Army knife: a great help for cutting salami, opening stubborn plastic packaging, clipping fingernails, etc.
- Two bandanas: one as a pee rag, one for bathing/filtering water/blowing my nose/whatever else you need a bandana for.
- Gaitors: Dirty girls for the AZT and on the PCT until the Sierra. After that, my shoes had so many holes in them that gaitors weren’t effective at keeping sand and rocks and snow out of my shoes. The gaitors were torn and mended many times, then finally thrown away in Northern California.
- Sunglasses: cheap gas station sunglasses. Often scratched, replaced twice.
- Dop kit: mini toothbrush, floss, seldom-used toothpaste, mini sunscreen, lip balm, toilet paper, Deuce of Spades trowel (0.6 oz!), extra plastic Ziplock baggies for packing out TP. ID card, credit card, small amount of cash ($5 and $10 are best for gas/small donations. $20 good for trail angel donations. I never carried coins).
I think that’s everything. Things I did not carry: camp shoes, town clothes, soap/shampoo, mini towel, a stove, pots and pans, a book, a notepad, a lighter, a camp chair, etc.
How did I decide what to carry? By trying it out on other hiking trips. I had an idea what to start with from hiking the AT in 2010 and 2013. I knew what I wanted to experiment with this year (going stoveless, a new tent). And there were some simple/cheap upgrades/replacements I used along the way (like wearing a bright, flowery XL skirt when my spandex shorts got indecently holey). My advice is to try things, see where you feel comfortable saving money, see what you can’t live without, etc. Pat and I made a ground cloth from a discarded piece of Tyvek instead of coughing up $100 for a cuben fiber one, which makes sense for our budget. I probably could have saved more money buying Goodwill synthetic shirts. An overnight or weekend trek will help you figure out what gear works for you.
I would use a lot of this set up on my next hike, depending on where and when I go. One thing I did not like was cold-soaking in cold weather. I hate hiking food in general, but hot food in big mountains on cold mornings and nights sure makes you feel like royalty. Or, bars and other easy to eat snacks are good for getting calories on the move.
I can’t wait for the next hike and experimenting with this set up on new adventures!