When it comes to gear, long distance backpackers will talk for hours upon hours. We love all aspects of gear, and love seeing what others are carrying and why. It’s important for us, because we use it everyday.
So now that everyone has taken all the extra stuff out of their pack, lets put some things in that they’ll want for various reasons.
- Extra zip-lock bags. You can never have enough of these (especially the larger ones) and they weigh nothing. Use them for food storage, waterproofing electronics and maps, putting books or clothes into – even a pillow or waterproof booties over your socks when you’ve got wet shoes. There are few things zip-lock doesn’t solve.
- Make sure your headlamp has a red or green light on it. You don’t want to be “that guy/girl” in the shelter at night waking everyone up to go pee. Plus, red lights are a much lower power and draw less battery, making your headlamp last longer. It’s much easier to read with that red light at night without disturbing EVERYONE ELSE. If you don’t have a red light on your already purchased headlamp, some colored cellophane and a pair of binder clips can work. There are also very low cost red light only lights that are sold as clip ons, or aftermarket cheap lenses that snap one. But seriously – don’t be “that person” in the shelter.
- Watches are a controversial thing out on the trail, but I find they come in handy. There will be a few times when you’ll want to get up early to see a sunrise, or you have to leave in order to get to a post office before closing. Sure you could turn your phone on to check – but why waste that batter power? Snag yourself a cheap waterproof watch. Get a kids one if you can – they are always more colorful and fun.
- Pen or pencil. In fact bring two. There are some shelter logs where the pens are dead or have wandered off, and you’ll want to leave an entry. Shelter logs are one of the best things about the AT – you get to hear from people you’ve never met and you’ll learn to love them from their entries. The pen is also helpful if you want to leave a note along the trail for someone behind you – you’re going into town and are staying at XYZ hotel. So use an old guidebook page that you’ve already walked over, write a note on that, put it in a zip-lock (you ARE carrying extras right?) if it’s raining and head to town.
- Needle and thread. Or needle and dental floss. I prefer the later, but it’s up to you. You’ll need to sew something back together guaranteed, whether it’s your pants that blew out in the knee, the shirt that got ripped from a low hanging branch, or an attempt to make your shoes go just a few more miles to town before they die a terrible terrible death. Needle and thread will help.
- A good eating utensil. This is one of these things that for some reason people decide that they have to have “ultralight” which baffles me. This is a piece of equipment that you’ll use everyday, takes a lot of abuse and is pretty important. Get a metal one and don’t look back. The number of plastic/lexan ones I saw broken out on the trail was staggering. I think the $15 I spent in Delaware Water Gap getting a titanium spoon/fork was the best purchase ever.
- Multiple USB outlet plug. There is nothing worse than jockeying for outlets because everyone has their stuff plugged in. If you’re part of the growing number of hikers with more than one thing to charge, get yourself a plug that has more than one socket to it. If you have two things to charge in town (phone and say, steripen) then get a dual plug wall charger. Get a small square one if possible, so you’ll be able to fit it in anywhere. Long cords also help – the weight is negligible.
- Sunscreen for the first two weeks. You never would think you’d burn in early April, but you will. The leaves aren’t out on the trees yet, but you’re hiking enough that you’ll be in short sleeves. and you’re exposed. You. Will. Burn. So bring along a small sunscreen and use it. If you ignore this warning, be prepared to buy the smallest thing of aloe that have (usually 8-12 ozs). Which sounds like a better use of weight?
- You don’t need a big knife or a multitool. Seriously, when are you going to use that screwdriver? All you need is one blade. I got by with a 2 inch blade that cost me $3. Plastic handle. Simple.
- Bring an extra lighter or a small book of matches and keep them dry. When it rains and you spring a leak and your lighter gets wet, there is nothing worse than trying to dry that flint out. Or sometimes your lighter will walk away. It happens. Bring a backup.
- I like athletic tape over duct tape when it comes to wounds/first aid. Peeling duct tape off your body is pretty terrible – athletic tape flexes better and I find it doesn’t rub badly when wet. A little athletic tape (the cloth kind) is cheap and light. Consider it for blisters.
- Bug headnet. Mail it ahead to yourself for PA. You’ll want it there, and by the time you get to a place that sells them in PA, they’ll be sold out
- Bring the camp shoes. You’re probably on the fence about them because you’ve heard so many different things… But the truth is you’ll want them the first day it rains. Why? Because your shoes/boot will be soaked and you want to put dry socks on. But then.. you’ve got to go to the bathroom at 3am. Shove your clean fresh dry socks into wet shoes? NO. Camp shoes! Worth the weight!
- Extra candy. Seriously. You’ll want it. Chocolate. Hard candy. Bring the sugar! Put it in your morning coffee if you drink that, your complete breakfast powder or your protein shake. It’ll help with the flavor.
Fun things. I can’t stress this one enough. You’re going out on an adventure and you should enjoy yourself. By that I mean you want to have good memories, and you want to be a good memory to others.
What do I mean by that exactly?
The people you’ll remember far longer than others are the ones that stand out. Carry interesting and fun things – things that aren’t necessarily useful. I can still remember each and every person who carried silly things.
Things I’ve seen on the trail include: Kites. Pinatas. Wiffle ball bats (with returning wiffle ball). Foam swords. Real swords. Crazy hats. Water guns. Flasks of alcohol. Whole bottles of alcohol. Musical instruments. Plastic figures and toys (dinosaurs, alligators, birds, bears). A platoon of Green Army Men. Bricks. 2 pound mushroom paper-weights. Etch-a-sketches. Crayons. Paints. Chalk.
I could go on and on with this list. But bring fun things. Bring something that makes you stand out in the crowd. Don’t afraid to be a little crazy. You’re out in the woods already!
And don’t forget your sense of adventure!
Talker always holds a special place in my heart.
I met him in passing just north of Erwin, TN while I was hanging out with Rob Bird, but I never actually talked to him until Kincora Hostel. He had been hiking with Johnny Thunder, Burgundee, Saga, Delorean, Skittles and Rambo. They are all pretty awesome people, but Talker is special.
Talker is a wonder person: intelligent, witty, mature and incredibly funny. But he does have a tendency to get involved with silly silly bets. Bets that no one has a chance of winning.
One of those took place in Damascus, at Trail Days.
Our medium of exchange was slap bets and ice cream novelty bets. You could bet on anything and we routinely did. Everything from how many nutri-grain bars one could eat (Saga got to 12 out of her 25 she thought she could do) to where you would end up that day.
At Trail Days, Talker tried the impossible.
Talker took a slap bet, thinking he could eat a 100 pop-tarts.
To be fair, he probably wasn’t in a sober state of mind when this bet was proposed, but he took it without a second thought. The bet was as follows: 100 poptarts before 10pm. He could get up at anytime and start eating, there would be a mix of flavors and they didn’t have to stay in his body for longer than it took to swallow them. He could purge himself anytime.
All this for the opportunity to slap Johnny Thunder.
Talker got up around 8am and decided to make an honest effort to start. He started with fruit flavored toaster pastries around 9am. He didn’t have any water to start, which was the beginning of his downfall.
“These feel like rocks in my stomach. Like a giant brick of awful”
After only 5 pop-tarts, I think Talker started to realize that this might be a bad idea. At 7 he decided it was time to pound some water.
“I need to drink like a gallon of water. Something. Because this is terrible”
At pop-tart 11 he decided he need to puke. He tried. He really did. But he just couldn’t.
“It feels like they are all glued together in there.”
He had consumed strawberry, blueberry, confetti cake and found that he couldn’t get rid of them. This didn’t bring any hope for finishing. He shrugged his shoulders however and decided to press on. Right on into a new box. Of Cinamon.
3 more pop-tarts, more water and another attempt to remove pop-tarts from his system yielded no results. Pop-tart 14 seemed like a terrible idea to have tried to eat.
“If I stand on my head, maybe that’ll help with the puking right? Gravity will help…”
It’s worth a shot right? He got up against a tree, had two people hold his legs and tried to shove his fingers in so he could puke. No joy. No option but to keep going.
He opened a box of fudge pop-tarts.This was a mistake.
Talker somehow managed to eat 17 pop-tarts. We later figured out that if he had eaten all 100, he would have consumed something in the neighborhood of 22,000 calories, enough sugar to put himself into diabetic shock and acquire type 3 diabetes and probably would have been the most miserable human being on the face of the earth.
All this to slap Johnny Thunder
“I’ll never eat pop-tarts again”
5 months later, Talker was again eating pop-tarts in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. He had found the strength to eat those deliciously terrible toaster pastries again. I don’t envy him them.
Johnny Thunder redeemed his slap in a most wonderful way, but that’s a story for another day.
All hikers ever really talk about is food right? It’s top 5 for us (the others being poop, weather, miles and sex) and is without a doubt, the most important of those five. Napoleon is credited with saying that “An army moves on it’s stomach” and that holds just as much truth for hikers as it does for soldiers.
So how did Invictus come to the point where she hated eating instant mash? Pretty much the same way I came to hate eating chicken flavored pasta, pop-tarts, oatmeal, banana chips and several other things. We ate it everyday without fail.
Seriously. I’ll never eat oatmeal again in my life. Ever.
Limited choices on the trail in a fact of life, and you can get tired of anything. Bison got tired of eating Mountain Houses by the end of the trail, and was more than willing to trade delicious chicken tetrazzini for mac and cheese! So when you’re surviving on mail drops, hiker boxes and goodwill in order to finish, you just get tired of eating.
Food is the most important thing in the world. Without it, you’re angry (hangry, it’s a thing – go look it up) and depressed, no energy and you can’t do a thing. That’s why it’s important to vary your food and find things you like to eat.
Hiking a long distance trail is probably the only time in your life that you can eat anything you want. So we take advantage of that: eat all the bacon you want, cake, pie, triple patty bacon cheeseburgers, everything off the Wendy’s dollar menu… you get what I mean.
So go eat! Everything and anything. Enjoy your food on the trail and keep it varied. Pack out a cake, some Admiral Crunch (I’ve decided the Captain needs a promotion) or even a couple of steaks. There is nothing more delicious than eating a steak you’ve cooked on the fire after hiking out of town.
Pro Tip: Carry spices with you. There is a reason I’m called Doc Spice and hint hint, it’s because I carried things like Montreal Steak seasoning all the time.
Food is wonderful. It still makes me happy.
This pie? This pie was like heaven. It would have been good anywhere, but after hiking 10 miles to it? Heaven.