Monday, November 28, 2011

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiking Tips

Datto's Tip -- Clothes
As some of you prepare for the start of your upcoming AT thru-hike I'll bet you might be in the process of cutting pack weight. Clothes are certainly an area to consider when looking to shed those ounces. Pretty much every single AT thru-hiker that I met in Georgia on the AT during Year 2000 was carrying way too many clothes, including me.
Basically, look at it this way -- if it gets so bitter cold that you'd need big heavy clothes just to stay warm, you'll likely be getting off the Trail for a few days to wait out the weather. Getting off the Trail for a day or two to wait out weather is not unusual, particularly during the early spring and during autumn.
On the other hand, you don't want to cut back on weight so much that you never get warm while you're on the Trail. And that's what your sleeping bag is for. If you are out on the Trail and the temps do drop so far that you get very cold, get into your sleeping bag, take a break and get warm.
If you haven't yet had the chance to be backpacking in colder temps then you may not be aware of how much heat your body generates while carrying that thing called a backpack. It's not uncommon to see AT thru-hikers wearing only a t-shirt and shorts in 40-50* temps. So, while you're hiking it's likely you'll be warm -- it's only when you stop hiking to take a break or set up camp does the cold seem apparent.
Raincoat -- something on the order of 18 ounces or less. You can actually find a thru-hiker raincoat for about 13 ounces or less. If you're carrying a raincoat that weighs 30 ounces you have a big opportunity to shed some pack weight. Keep in mind that as an AT thru-hiker, the purpose of the raincoat isn't so much to keep you dry but to keep you warm when it's raining and windy. Right now I'm carrying a Red Ledge Thunderlight raincoat which, for me, would be fine to handle the task on an AT thru-hike. Here's what that raincoat looks like
Insulated Jacket -- Get something at 20 ounces or less with man-made insulation in it (not a down jacket -- a down jacket will be soaked and worthless for insulation). Polarguard 3D insulation or Primaloft -- both are pretty good for insulating when the insulation gets wet. Right now if I was to start a northbound AT thru-hike this spring I'd be taking either my Patagonia Puffball jacket or my Golite Coal jacket. I took the Puffball on my Year 2000 northbound AT thru-hike and it performed admirably. The jacket design from Patagonia for the Puffball isn't the same today though. The Golite Coal jacket has a removable insulating hood and the Puffball doesn't. There were definitely times on the AT in Year 2000 I wished I'd have had that hood. Both of my insulated jackets are insulated with Polarguard 3D, both have DWR finish (either one would be soaked often either due to sweat or by being worn under my raincoat, regardless of the DWR finish). Both are very warm for the ounce weight.
Long-underwear -- one pair at 8 ounces or less (two pair is overkill) -- make sure these are made entirely of man-made materials -- no cotton percentage at all. The one's I wore on my northbound AT Year 2000 thru-hiker were the Ozark brand from Wal-mart and they did well for the weight. I wore one pair for the south end of the AT and then swapped in a new pair for the north end of the AT.
Lightweight Nylon Pants -- one pair, 8-10 ounces (two pairs are overkill) -- these are for warmth and wind resistance. They should have no cotton percentage in them at all. Typically in cold weather if you needed more warmth on your lower body than what you'd have with your long-underwear and outside shorts then wear these nylon pants overtop. If it got colder than that while you're hiking with your backpack, then it's probably too cold to be on the Trail. I only had maybe 4-5 days on the Trail where I'd wished I'd had something warmer on my legs while I was hiking.
Outside Shorts -- one pair (two pairs are overkill) . The liner of these shorts, if you have one, is your underwear -- most men won't need real underwear on the Trail. Some thru-hikers wore bike shorts rather than gym shorts or swim suits. These outside shorts alone are for hiking in warmer weather -- slightly colder temps might have you wearing your long-johns underneath these outside shorts (gives you that chic thru-hiker look). Certainly would be good to have at least one pocket on the outside shorts be a zippered pocket so valuables don't go jangling out of your pockets while you're hiking. Speaking of jangling, some thru-hikers cut out the liner of their shorts and went bo jangles so they didn't get jock rot.
Fleece Balaclava -- definitely the warmest type of hat to have around. I hiked more than a few days on my thru-hike wearing a balaclava during the day.
Baseball Hat -- not only does it keep your head warm and keep the sun out of your eyes (the sun is quite bright in the springtime before the leaves fill the trees) but also, for me anyhow, a way to combat some of the gnats that will be attacking your face while you're hiking (bill down through the gnats -- the gnats are attracted to carbon dioxide from your breathing and the bill of my baseball hat seemed to keep them from getting the full blast of my carbon dioxide).
Gloves -- bring the type of gloves that will keep you warm when your gloves are soaked from being rained on for days on end. For me, the Outdoor Research fleece gloves that I carried on my thru-hike and intended for this purpose were worthless. My hands always seemed to be cold when I wore those OR fleece gloves regardless of whether it was while I was hiking or while I was at the shelter. If I was to go on an AT thru-hike today I'd take my heavier gloves that I know are warm and leave the lightweight fleece gloves at home. Or leave all the gloves at home and just put my hands in my coat pockets if my hands were cold while I was standing around.
Socks -- bring two pair of good hiking socks (and two pairs of man-made fiber liner socks if you're the kind that wears liner socks -- make sure your boots are over-sized if you're going to use thick socks and/or liner socks). On my AT thru-hike I used Smartwool brand Expedition Trekking socks or Thorlo brand Hiker or Light Hiker socks. The Smartwool Expedition Trekking socks definitely held up the best but were also the most expensive. If I was going to start an AT thru-hike this spring I'd probably just get some Smartwool Expedition Trekking socks and swap in a new pair every 400 miles or so.
Insoles -- for me these were very important in making my boots more comfortable. I used several types on my AT thru-hike and eventually settled on Spenco because I thought they were the best value. I'd swap out the insoles about every 500-600 Trail miles or so.
Long sleeve T-shirt -- I carried one of these -- only during the colder months. The shirt was a Duofold Coolmax turtleneck type that had the five rings of the Olympic Games on it. Town folk would see the Olympic rings and joke with me asking if I was training for the Olympics. I told them, "Yeah, I'm a downhill skier. That's why I carry these ski poles with me wherever I go." Then I'd make swooshing sounds and move my hips back and forth while slaloming my Leki hiking poles to the left and right..
Lastly, make sure you cut off all of the tags from the shirts -- otherwise you may get a rubbing spot or skin burn from a tag moving back and forth as you hike.
Short sleeve T-shirt -- for the one's you wear on the Trail while you're hiking, make sure they're made of man-made materials -- no cotton in them at all. Most people wore either the less expensive Duofold Coolmax type T-shirts or the more expensive Patagonia lightweight Capilene or silkweight Capilene T-shirts. I wore the Duofold Coolmax T-shirts and swapped in new ones every 700 miles or so. Note the T-shirts you wear on your thru-hike are likely going to be so skanked up that it's likely they'll stink bad after your thru-hike (at least to the people around you who aren't thru-hikers that is -- Ha, probably most thru-hikers won't notice your skank above their own, which they'll be thinking is the normal way things are supposed to smell). During the hot summer months a few thru-hikers wore cotton T-shirts -- I had a cotton T-shirt that I never wore while I was hiking but wore only in town.

                                                     Information By Datto ( AT Thru-Hiker )

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