Green Beret Appalachian Trail Walk & Fundraiser

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These tips are from Wilderness Bob, a Special Forces veteran who has through-hiked the Appalachian Trail as well as the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide.

Many Thanks, Bob!


Post #1

Instead of coming up with a packing list. We have decided to just try to educate. Thru-hiking, section hiking and the like are nothing like we use to do on the team... Open for discussion and here for your reading pleasure, let's give this a go.

Base weight is anything that you carry in support of your hike. This weight is basically constant. It does not change... theoretically. What I mean by that is, if you swap out your sleeping bag for a lighter one during the Summer months, that changes your base weight. As you decide what to carry, it would be best to weigh each item and record that weight.

Cooking stoves. From the lightest to the heaviest.

Denatured alcohol stoves are by far the most popular light weight stoves. Denatured alcohol is a cleaning solution and can be found at a number of different places. Hardware stores for example. The good news is there are alternatives. A gasoline antifreeze called HEET is one of them. Be sure you utilize the product that comes in a yellow bottle with blue lettering. Also, rubbing alcohol will work as well. Be sure it is no less than 90%. More good news, this can be purchased on the trail by the ounce. The stove and techniques need to be practised. This is a dangerous product at times. There is no off switch. Do not add fuel until the flame is out. At times the flame is near invisible. I have seen and used manufactured stoves, stoves made from soda cans and one as simple as a open topped tuna can. The techniques for how to prepare food vary. For example, Heat your water, pour enough in your coffee cup for coffee, add your dehydrated food and let it soak (with the lid on and wrapped in a cozy) wait a few minutes to allow rehydration.

Wood burning stoves. I have seen them on the trail. Folks say they are time consuming. Fuel needs to be gathered and if it is wet, the issues there are self-explanatory. Some folks gather their fuel along the way and carry it with them in a water proof bag.

Canister fuel stoves. Many out there, some allow simmering. Basically this is a Bic Lighter on steroids. Heats water fast. Containers come in different sizes. Stoves can come is small sizes and extremely light weight.

White gas. Most of us have used them. They are heavy and are not at all popular in the hiking community because of this fact. Fuel availability is not common as well.

Water filtration. From the lightest to the heaviest

Bleach, unscented. Carry a small bottle, Two drops per liter, wait 20 minutes and consume. Three drops if cloudy wait 30 minutes. Wait 30 minutes if cold. You can be hiking along as they clean your water.

Aqua Mira. A two part system that requires you to mix a small amount. A recommendation is to have more than one mixing container. That way you can do more than one liter at a time. When mixed, you have to wait a number of minutes before you add to the water you are cleaning. This all takes time.

Katadyn type water filters, Hand pumped or gravity fed, the weigh the most. They too take time to produce clean water, Filters can clog. Be sure to lubricate and start with a fresh filter. Warning, if they become hard to pump, be careful because they can break in your hands.

Water, the constant variable. How much do you need to carry? A common question asked by many. The answer lies with the next water source. Is it reliable? How far away is it? Dirty water is unfiltered water. Clean water has been treated. Though not a part of your base weight, it is something that affects what you carry and is added to that weight (Your filter and containers would be considered base weight). Have more than one container as a redundancy. Leaks happen, lost bottle tops happen and so on.

First off, leave the Nalgene bottles at home. They are far too heavy to hump. Utilize a Powerade or Gatorade bottle if need be. They are literally half the weight. Where else can you drop a half pound instantly by doing so? Some folks carry sippy tubes and water bladders. Great way to help in your hydration efforts. It is best to sip then to chug your water as you hike along. A recommendation here is to carry a large water bladder (at least 6 liters). Some of the water sources are off trail. Have the ability to gather large volumes if need be. You do not have to take all 6 liters, but you can if you need to. Then, bring your water back to camp and clean it there. The trick is to consume large amounts whenever possible, to "Camel Up" as it is called. Then take just enough to make it to your next reliable water source, sipping as you go. Try to consume your meals at the water source as well. Consider this, it takes about a liter of water per meal. If you can avoid carrying that liter, that's 2.2 pounds off of your back.

Finally, boiling your water. This takes set up time, cook time, cooling time and consumes lots of fuel. If you are in camp and cooking your water fr your meal, no need to filter. Boiling it to the point of seeing fish eyes on the inside of your cooking pot is all that is need. A rolling boil is wasting fuel.

Post #2, Tent, Sleeping Bag, and Back Pack

The Big Three,

Sounding simple but, therein lies the debate. Cost versus everything else. Weight versus function. Section hiking requires the simple truth... what's in your closet?

Tent... The questions all hikers seem to ask: Why carry one at all? Aren't there shelters on the trail? Yes there are shelters. If you intend to stay at one each night, it needs to be planned accordingly. For example, get there early before they fill up. At times, you may end up being the only ones there. Shelters are spaced apart at different intervals. See if it works for you. They are normally three sided, sleep with your head towards the opened area to avoid having the shelter mice run across your face at night. If you intend to carry a tent, try to lighten the load as much as possible. Tent pegs can be replaced with lighter ones. Guide ropes as well. Cut away all tags and useless strapping. You would not believe how much weight you can save. See for yourself, save what you cut away and weigh it when done. Make sure your tent is water resistant. Spray it with any of the waterproof products available if need be. If you intend to sleep on the ground out in the open Cowboy style, keep one thing in mind, Lyme disease. It is prevalent on the AT

Sleeping Bag... There are so many to choose from these days, try to look at it this way. Create a sleep system. Depending on when you are out there, create what works for your time frame. A plus 20 degree bag seems to be the norm here. During the summer months, perhaps a plus 35. If you carry a tent and are out of the wind, it adds to the warming factor by 10 degrees. Carry a ground pad for insulation. Air or foam, whatever works for you. Remember foam is lighter and does not leak. Insulate yourself from heat loss into the earth. Dedicate a pair of socks just to sleep in, a light weight skull cap and perhaps light insulated underwear. Not needed? Don't carry it.

Better yet, mail it forward as a test to the first trail town you come to. If you need it, it will be there for you. Be cognizant of the post office hours. Anything you do mail by the way, mail it Priority Mail with a good return address on it. If you don't need it, call the Post Office and they will send it home for free, if you decide to send it further up the trail, same thing. Call the Post Office and give them the new address. Also, on the box be sure to add an Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) and a simple "Please Hold for Hiker" on the box. They all know the drill. They place them in storage, in alphabetical order mainly, and hold until after your ETA. Then they eventually send it back to the return address. Note: don't show up at the PO and ask for it to be sent forward. If you are there in person they will give it to you, then charge you again for mailing. Phone the request in. Even if you are sitting across the street.

Back Pack... Bring out the Old Alice Pack... It would work out well however, there are better models out there. Some can be costly and always be sure to get yourself measured, the right pack makes all the difference. Carry the load on your hips. When putting it on, bend forward at the waist. Secure your shoulder straps then stand up. The pack should settle on the hips where it needs to be. Secure your waist belt and chest strap. The chest strap brings the shoulder straps in and away from those areas that will pinch and irritate. Remember it needs to be large enough to carry all your fluffy gear and strong enough to hold the weight (water included). In this case, the lightest pack may not be the best pack in the long run. Same as with the tent, remove those tabs and straps not needed.

Post #3 Kitchen and Bathroom

Kitchen: Simply put, Your meals will be either hot or cold, a mixture of both or in other words one or the other. Some hikers like to go stove less but, that ain't me (I like my coffee).

What you choose to bring is totally up to you. What I offer is a simple way to make it happen, based on the bare necessities. A lightweight nested option. Something that takes up as little space as possible but, offers the capability for a hot meal.

From the inside out. I carry a pocket rocket stove, container fuel type that comes with a plastic container for storage. I take that stove plus container and wrap it with a bandana (the commonly found triangle shape type) and place it into a titanium coffee cup with handles that fold. The Bandanna keeps it from rattling and protects both cup and stove case from friction wear. There will be extra material hanging out of the cup, with that I wrap the outside of the cup protecting it and the inside of my cooking pot. This cup by the way also serves as a cup of measurement for preparing certain meals (when full equals one full cup). Since this is now padded and inserted into my cooking pot, I also place a number or other things. A strong plastic spoon (Cut down to fit, trimmed flat on one end to act as a scraper). Also added is a small zip lock plastic bag with a cut down kitchen sponge for cleanup. Finally I add a disposable lighter. Once this is all nested together, I place it into a mesh bag to keep the kitchen tightly together, prevent rattling and all together when placed in or removed from the pack.

I do not have the total weight available, those notes and concerns were lost many thousands of miles ago. I will add that the cooking pot is Teflon coated and made from titanium. I prefer a model that that comes with a lid (one that has the capability to be used as an additional cooking devise).

Personal story: While hiking the CDT, out of water and going through a large old burn (Fire area) I came upon a blown over tree stump along the trail and in the recovery zone. I noticed the grass was green and lush, then and there I heard the sound of dripping water. I discovered that with that lid, I could slide it under the stump, roots and all the mess above and set the lid under that precious drip. With that, I was able to collect enough water to satisfy the need. Funny thing though, once topped off, the dripping stopped. My karma was good that day.

Bathroom: There are better things to talk about, no lie there. All Hikers need to understand the importance of having good sanitary practices. This is what you may find. Imagine an outhouse, so full of human waste that you have to stand over the toilet seat to take a dump. The pile is high and looks like a mountain of waste and paper. Going off into the woods may seem to be a better option but, realize thousands of other people have been doing the same thing, all along the trail, season after season. Yes, it is a shitty situation (pardon the pun). Here are a few recommendations.

As a way of life on the trail, we practice a "leave no trace" posture. Yes, leave your waste behind however, carry out the toilet paper and whatever else you use to perform your duties. A simple solution: Start off with a one gallon zip lock bag. Inside of that bag, place three other quart sized zip lock bags. One bag for toilet paper, protecting it from moister. One bag for Butt Wipes, wet naps or whatever you want to call them and one bag for the waste paper. It is as simple as that. Discard the items when you get to town.

Now realize this... happiness is a clean functional privy with a garbage pail nearby. Sometimes this just does not happen on the trail so off to the wood line you go. Urination is nitrogen... give the gift of life but realize this as well... wherever you pee, some critter is going to come along and eat it. Same can be said for defecation. The Coyotes in southern California dig up the cat holes along the trail every night (hence another reason why you carry out your TP). Imagine an area near a water source, dozens of hikers use each night. You get there and TP is all over the place. Put a rock on it you say? Well I can almost guarantee you, any rock along the trail has the possibility of someone else's waste underneath it already. I was once a White Water Rafting guide. We would brief the participants of our boats that if you have to pee, pee in the water. The secret to pollution is dilution. Same applies here. If you can, pee downstream near or in the water. Just be aware if the trail switchbacks below you, you may not want to do such. That and or you could simply pour water on your urination site.

For you who hike the high country, I suggest when you urinate, do so on the trail itself. That or on a flat rock. The Marmots and other critters will eat the vegetation, roots and all after your done. Things that grow that high up take decades to recover. FYI, if you are in Mountain Goat country, you will find tuffs of hair along the trail. If you urinate, walk away from the site and wait. They may come to that place and you can get a great viewing. I have had them walk right up to me me and stare (pictures are posted in my CDT journal).

Finally defecation. No need to carry a trowel in my opinion. Walk off the trail a bit and find a soft piece of earth (this is called Duff). Use your heel, hiking staff or whatever and dig yourself a Cat Hole. (Dump, clean up, cover and go). The earth will appreciate the fertilization.

On a side note, those who hike for longer periods of time will find that the body and the waste products will morph into a form of homeostasis... I have been on the trail for a long time. A total of 2 1/2 years combined. The longest period of time was a continuous 5 plus months, for three periods each and this is what I observed. Urination, if hydrated properly will flow clear and strong. For me, as a rule and habit, I count as I pee. If I can urinate for a period of 19 seconds, that is when I know my body is properly hydrated (cut back if longer, drink more if less). Defecation will change as well. What you will produce is a single piece of stool. Firm and passed fast with hardly any toilet paper needed. The most weight I have loosed on one trail was over 40 pounds (AT05) and that was way too much. As I learned of the better ways to control that loss through proper diet, I now drop around 25 pounds at my finest.

Post #4 Going from the couch to the trail.

I do not mean to be presumptuous. I do not know the level of your personal physical condition. All I can do is go from the basics... as if it were the beginning.

Every seasoned hiker knows that the hardest step is the very first step. What that means to me is all the effort it takes just to get there. The planning, the packing, the training and in some cases even the traveling to get the trailhead. As far as physical conditioning goes, there is no substitute for carrying a backpack and getting out there. That is a fact.

Common sense prevails here. We all have had the experience of humping a heavy ruck but, like many physical tasks, there is a level of preparation that can be met before you set off and on to any trail (it is called developing your Trail Legs).That being said and depending on just how long you are out there, what we do not want to do is burn ourselves out from the get go. We need to avoid injury and avoid whatever may stop you from even going.

As far as those doing the shorter sections of the trail the concerns are minimized once out there. If a non-physical problem pops up, you can deal with it when you get home, no worries. For the ones doing the longer section hikes, there are things that can pull you off the trail that you may never see coming. We are not in our 20's so, things like relationship issues or financial issues may not hinder our hikes however, tooth issues, doctor appointments, medication supply and the like could end your hikes prematurely. Just like getting ready to deploy, put together a checklist of things to accomplish and do them before you get out there.

OK, pep talk over.... Three things now to concentrate on, flexibility, leg strength and your wind.

Flexibility: Get out there and stretch. I personally do a yoga routine here at home. I have even done so on the trail as well. I hiked the PCT and did a memorized yoga routine nearly every day for nearly 4 months straight. I only stopped because it was getting late into the season and as the days got shorter, I needed to make every hour count. I finished just one day prior to a severe snowstorm that forced all the remaining hikers behind me to have to road walk to the end of the trail. Personally I did not want to finish a 2650 mile adventure on a road.

On the plus side of doing yoga, I finished with a killer 6 pack... no lie there. Think about it, when else would you have the opportunity to loose so much body fat? That may have been the outcome but the real reasons for stretching is to prevent injuries and when you fall, and we all fall, you can get back up and continue on. Yoga also stretches out the lower lungs equaling more air capacity... another good thing.

Now that we are discussing the fact that there is a great chance of falling, I want to bring up the subject of Trekking Poles. I highly recommend the use of them, especially while hiking on the AT. I joke and tell hikers that by using them, "it gives this white boy rhythm". That is true, it truly does. They WILL increase your speed. Just like when we ran long distances, we ran to our own rhythm.

What they actually do as well is they become an extension of your hands. When used properly, they give you 4 points of contact with the ground when needed and it is a great place to wrap a few feet of Duct Tape. It also gives you the capability to push off a tree or any rock available if need be. The down side is the fact that they are expensive. A set of Leki poles when new cost over 100 dollars. A solution to that is to hit up a thrift store and buy a used set of Ski Poles and cut them to size. I also recommend you do not use the wrist loops. Keep them attached for additional uses like river crossings (when crossing swift water, face upstream and crab walk sideways). That being said, I cannot tell you how many times my trekking poles saved my ass from injury. Now if you were to fall off of an embankment say, buy having them free at the wrists, you can toss them away. I have known hikers who actually lost teeth because they used the wrist straps and had stumbled...

Leg Strength: Speaks for itself. That lower unit needs to be able to support the upper unit and pack. Leg curls front and back... Squats... Sissy squats... Whatever it takes to strengthen the legs to support the knees. This prevents injury of course but it also allows you to hop around, over the rocks and roots that you will come across. There will be plenty of that on the AT (roots and rocks, rocks and roots). While hiking, there are places that will give you the opportunity to "stretch out the legs" but in some sections those times are far apart.

Your wind: As mentioned before, there is no substitute for carrying your backpack however, I recommend you do not do so at first. If you do insist on humping your ruck, carry a lighter load. Developing your gait and stride is the goal here. Also, the watch you carry will be a valuable tool on your hike so as you develop your wind, stride and gait, you also need to become familiar with what mile per hour you are traveling. If you know what 2 mph feels like, then you know that in a half hour you covered a mile. When looking for water, this becomes important. The AT is marked well however, knowing where you are has a keen psychological value. As far as your gait goes, what I mean by that is to develop the correct foot strike. Like long distance running, consciously develop a good heal to toe strike. A tip here is to find a track somewhere or lay out a known distance. Count your steps in that known distance and do so throughout your training. If you cover 25 meters in so many steps and decrease how many steps it takes, you save on the fatigue factor and it brings up you MPH capability. When going uphill this will be harder to do (if possible at all). On the uphill side, treat it like utilizing a stair stepper. (A shorter stride with rhythm). Pick a spot ahead to stop and get there. Stop in the sun if cold, the shade if hot, to that tree up ahead, at the switch back say and catch your breath (eventually you will not stop at all and thus increases your MPH). On the downhill stride, be careful not to overdo it. Going too fast, stretching it out to far, can led to injury (especially the knees). A recommendation here is to physically control your downhill speed. Slightly duck your body down and tighten your skeletal muscles. Keep the stride under control. Tuck your trekking poles under your arms if need be.

I did a 300 mile section of the PCT a few years back, from the Mexican border north. Though I did not post a journal, I took the opportunity to teach two novice thru-hikers how to hike. The feedback they provided indicates I am on to something here. I hope this helps.

Post #5 Resupply

One of the first of many questions that I have been asked about thru-hiking is, "what do you do for food?" Well the answer isn't as simple as you may think. It is a combined operation to say the least. For those doing the shorter sections, take what you need with you for the duration, but what to take is the question there. Others that are doing the longer hauls, there are a few things to consider there as well.

First off if you are thinking about spending a lot of time on trail. Do some research and find out what guide books are out there. What did the hikers use last season? Is it updated yearly? Most of the information you read in those guide books give you the information you need to formulate and execute a sound resupply plan. Info like, limited resupply options, post office locations, grocery stores and restaurants. Most guide books include strip maps of the town and listing other nice to know places like laundromats.

So let's take it from the basics... Your food bag. The size is up to you. I prefer a Sea to Summit type of waterproof bag, one about the same size as what I place my sleeping bag inside of (always keep your sleeping bag in a waterproof bag) this way the food bag packs nice and neat. As the food supply dwindles down and you eat yourself light, it can be flattened out to still fit in right. This will also become your Bear Bag. The one you hang your food in at night with everything toothpaste to toothbrush along with it.

A Bear Bag, when used properly, should be suspended by a rope up off of the ground in any way that you can. A tree branch, under a bridge and so on. The rope should be able to handle a good size load so parachute cord works perfectly (do not use white, smart Bears can see it). Try to keep it at least 10 feet of ground and 6 feet from the tree. Dedicate a piece of cord long enough to do the job, on the AT no less than 40 feet. Tie it off to a different tree (Bears may climb the tree to get at your bag and cut the rope with their claws). As a habit, find that suitable spot and hang your rope when first in camp while it is still light out and remember where it is. Hoist your bag up just before turning in. I like to pile a number of "Bear be Cool" rocks near the front of tent at night. Just in case one visits, you have something to throw at it (and yes that has happened to me). When hoisted, take the remaining cord and create an improvised clothes line, great for hanging wet things on.

I digress... For storing food, I recommend a number of one gallon zip lock bags and some rubber bands. Remove all of the products you buy from their shipping cartons and place in the bags, roll them tight and place rubber bands around them. Do this while in town, no sense carrying all that dead weight. This is where the coffee cup comes into play. Knowing how big one cup of measurement is, you can ration your supplies. The exception being items like powdered cheeses, instant oatmeal and the like. Keep those things individually packaged. This ensures the portion size and makes less mess. Save all the bags for re-use. As time and the trail goes on, these bags can be replaced when needed, used in other area like for waste toilet paper or just discarded while in town. Bags within bags within bags in your bag...

Town resupply when on a long haul: To save big money, plan it so you camp a few miles from town the night before. It may save you the cost of two rooms. There are a lot of town chores to do so, at times it is best to start out fresh (by coming in late, the stores may be closed). You can always go to town for a meal and head back to where you got off the trail and sleep nearby (look for a campsite before you leave the trail and make note of it). First thing come morning, hit town for a hot meal. After that, go shopping, do your laundry perhaps and then go find lunch. By this time you have two choices, hit the trail again or get a room. If you hit the trail, first strip your meals and place them into the bags and then inside of your food bag. If you are a lover of the edible plate (Tortillas) put them in first and form them to the side of the bag. Slide in the rest, discard all the residue and hike on. If you want a room, see if they have early check in. Once in the room, hit the shower, turn on the TV and get to work. Pack your food bag, lay out your gear to air out. Hot water is a good thing so, clean your kitchen, empty out your bathroom waste paper (bag and all). Put in one of your used bags to replace that bag, wash out your toothbrush and then do whatever you wish. Come morning, pack your gear, carry what water you need, hit another restaurant and hit the trail.

The term "Town Light" was mentioned before refers to the fact that your pack is light because you are just about out of food. Town Heavy means just the opposite. You're loaded down with food both on your back and in your belly. Counter that weight by carrying just the water you need to get to the next water source. In other words, if according to your guidebook, reliable water is just 3 miles away, carry enough to get there. As far as a heavy food load goes, eat what spoils quickly first, then go from what is the heaviest to the lightest. For example, a zip lock bag with some de-boned leftover Kentucky Fried Chicken in it, a can of soup and then your instant oatmeal. Yup, been there, done that.

That being said, not all towns are the same. The AT is probably one of the better trails, if not the best trail for on-trail resupply. The AT is also supported by an army of volunteers. You may find notes tacked to trees offering rides from folks we call Trail Angels. Coolers full of beer and soda just sitting there along the trail, we call that Trail Magic (please just take one). Hitchhiking is normally an easy thing to do too, and so on and so on. So buying what you need as you go is not usually a problem.

Then there are the Hiker Boxes. These boxes can be found in a number of different places, the Post Office (normally there is a trail register there, sign in and see who is ahead of you, leave notes for those behind you), your Hotel may have both as well and most likely at the Hiker Hostel too(Hiker Hostels are way less expensive than a Hotel). Hiker boxes are a place where you can find what other hikers have discarded. Be sure to check them before you buy groceries if possible. When done packing your food bag and you have things left over that you do not want to carry? Put it the hiker box.

Mailing your food to yourself is an option as well. I find that this can be useful at times. On some parts of the trail it may be a necessity. Read your guide books and develop your plan. Canister fuel can be shipped by ground only. If you do intend to resupply by mail keep in mind, what you think you may need at home may not be true on the trail. Tastes change, locally purchased items will be fresher. The cost of shipping needs to be accounted for in the budget as well.

As far as what food to resupply with, it is all a matter of taste. Things like Spices, Olive Oil and such need to be considered too. I recommend heading into your local grocery store and look around. Single serving packets are so popular these days, from SPAM to Tuna... there are so many options. Buy some different meals and go home and cook them on your camp stove. Use your imagination and be creative. See how you like them. For example, what we at home call sides, may be a big part of your meals out there.

As a planing weight, I figured it in at about 2.5 pounds of food per day (including snacks). That of course is what I carried and your tastes will be different. Also our need for calories will be quite different on day one compared to day 21, especially when that Hiker Hunger kicks in. Hiker Hunger is no trail myth... (Have you ever sat down and ate a large pizza and looked for more?).

As far as how much to bring, I use a simple formula. Let us say that you are going to plan on hiking 50 miles to your next resupply point and you intend to hike 10 miles a day. You would first think well, 3 meals a day times 5, that's 15 meals right? At a planned 2.5 pounds a day, that equals 12.5 pounds of food right? Well that might not be true.

Let us say the guide book indicates that at mile 15 there is a small restaurant that is open from 9-5 (Monday through Friday and there is a phone number listed so you can call to confirm) and a small reliable store that sells sandwiches at mile 40 (open 7 days a week, 7 AM to 7PM). You are leaving on Tuesday morning so there is no problem making the restaurant in time and the store looks doable as well.

Make a short list on paper, mark down 5B, 5L and 5D (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and prepare to do some subtracting. Before you leave town eat breakfast, one less B. Hit the restaurant for lunch on day 2, one less L and then hit the store for dinner on day 4, one less D. Don't forget, if you get into town for resupply on day 5, there will be one less dinner meal needing to be carried (one less D) and because you will be town light you may even be there before that so, a light lunch meal for that day. That's 4 B, 4 L and 3D. Here is the good part. Breakfast meals are light. 2 packets of instant oatmeal a day, 4 portions of dried fruit perhaps and some instant coffee, 2 cups per day (very light). I normally count on one cold meal a day. Normally that consists of Tortilla wraps, pieces of summer sausage, portions of a block of extra sharp cheese and mustard packets I have taken from town, about 8 of them (Let’s say 4 rations worth). Then 3 dinners of whatever I carry. (3 different side meals, some dried three cheese tortellini at a planned 1 cup full per meal and spices). 3 single packets of whatever to add to the meal. Now don't forget snacks at 4 per day minus day one first half of the day and day 5 last half of the day (that's 16 total). I also like to carry some kind of trail mix as well. Something to snack on between snacks.

By stopping into the two places along the way and subtracting the beginning and end meals, 15 meals is now down to 11. 12.5 pounds is now down to under 10 pounds and every day, after a meal or snack, this load gets lighter. Sometimes the cold meal is consumed for lunch, sometimes at night depending upon the availability of water.

Post #6 Footwear and what to wear

Time to put away the heavy boots. The ones we wore once are not what you need to wear here. Short section hikers? Wear what you want. For those in for the long haul, imagine this... there are those who believe that the entire length of the Appalachian Trail requires over 6 million steps to complete. In elevation gain and loss, the estimated equivalent of hiking up and down Mount Everest, from sea level, nearly 18 times if my memory serves me well (I once read this in a guide book called: The Thru-Hikers Handbook, by Dan "Wingfoot" Bruce). Now I am a number cruncher. With all those steps, all that gain and loss and what I was noticing all the other hikers were wearing, I switched to low cut Trail Runners. That and I started wearing Scree Gaiters.

Imagine wearing ankle weights, every day... that is what I related wearing heavy boots to.

The first thing to say about shoes, no matter if the pair cost 25 dollars or 125 dollars, they all seem to come with the worse insoles possible. For hiking long distances, go out there and invest in a good pair of insoles. Personally I use a pair of super feet, the green color and they are costly too. That’s for me though, you find what works for you.

I once wore out a pair of super feet to the point where the front tips were paper thin and when the boy who sold me a new pair (Sierra City, California) he turned and looked at me and said, "quite impressive Bob"... Again, the thing is you need to find what works for you.

The mathematical fact is, and as a general rule, cross country trail running shoes last about 500 miles, that's it. Remember to think training miles into this equation. Sure they may still look like they are in great shape but, after 500 miles of constant pounding, consider them done. The material fatigue factor needs to be applied. Your fatigue factor needs to be recognized as well. What I do personally is find the pair of shoes that I like, buy enough to cover the distance and mail to points I choose on the trail that I am hiking. Talk to the manager at the store, see if you can get a good deal. Perhaps buy them off season, during the winter and pick up less expensive last year's models.

BTW, same rules apply as in mailing food forward (place an ETA on the box, a return address and so on). In that box, put in some fresh sock and anything else you may need. If you have a guide book rip it up into sections or are using maps, put in those as well. For me, mile 1500 new shoes I include a new pair of super feet. The savings is impressive when done. Stores along any trail inflate the prices. To add something to this, if you acquire a trail name, do not use it in the mailing as your name. It is not the name on your identification card. Silly but, "I have seen some things" on my trails...

Scree gaiters: It keeps the trail snot out. Trail snot, as I call it, is whatever is on the trail. Mud, rocks, sticks and such, all seem to get down in your shoes. Depending upon the style of gaiter and how rocky the terrain is, the loop or string below will wear out. Save the shoelaces when you swap out your old shoes... it will come in handy.

What to wear and carry: Lightweight whatever, so it dries quickly (Cotton Kills).

I suggest one pair of hiking pants with Cargo Pockets, the ones where you can zip off the legs. Be sure you can slip them on and off without having to remove your shoes. Be sure that they do not have a built in belt. Those come with plastic ties and rub the body raw. Pick up an elastic type of belt. As the weight comes off you will need the capability to adjust. Keep in mind, the Mosquitos and other insects on certain parts of the trail are horrible. If you are a shorts wearer like I am, at the end of the day I slip them on to prevent stinging below.

Tee Shirt: Two tee shirts, the Body Armour type. Swap out when need.

Underwear. Two pair. I do not recommend going commando. There is a injury that occurs to the male anatomy, and I have suffered this. One of my testicles retained fluid due to the constant footfalls and inflated to the size of a tennis ball. Supporting the junk rectified the issue. Be sure the material of what you carry is of the same lightweight drying capability.

Shirt, long sleeve. Fluffy and loose fitting. A light color to reflect the sun and to keep from getting sunburned. Most likely you will be traveling under the shades of the trees and in a tee shirt. The AT becomes one long green tunnel over the summer. Hot and muggy. A shirt like this give you the same relief from the Mosquitos.

Headgear, highly advised. The choice is yours. I have tried many and choose to wear a baseball cap style hat. There were many times it came off and was hooked to chest strap however, it did support the use of a mosquito netting.

Bandanna" A signature thing that I personally wore, I tied mine to my chest strap. There are multiple uses, from wash cloth to weapon. If needed, a fist size rock can be placed into it and the result it then became a Blackjack.

Socks: of all the gear you carry, this is the one item that seems to be the most under considered. I use plain simple ankle socks. White in color if I can, it helps to find the ticks during the tick checks. In fact all your clothing should be light in color for that reason alone. Since I wear gaiters, my feet do sweat. Gaiters are wind resistant. I constantly change my socks out and hang the damp ones out to dry on my pack, pinned and secure, turned inside out to quicken the drying time. I also carry medicated powder and use when needed (Infantry Skill level one).

Bear spray: Your call. I carry mine, the case is threaded through my right shoulder strap and it hangs at my hip like a pistol. I practice drawing it like a weapon. Bear attacks happen and normally during a surprise encounter. I have been so close to mountain lions that one I hit with a stick I threw at it (PCT 07). Dog attacks happen as well. The only time I nearly deployed the spray was when a sheep guard dog, A Mastiff no less, came within a few yards of me in the mountains of Colorado. It turned away at the last minute. Things to note, Bear spray when used has issues. Which way is the wind blowing? I have sent out a test shot once. It came out in a powerful spray. I recall it reminded me of the cartoon character Marge Simpson's hair (is you could imagine). Also the trigger system did not retract and I had to manually shut it off by pulling the trigger back. Remember that because, you may have more than one target and do not want to blow your load in one burst.

Wet weather gear: Highly debated. Yes or no, it is up to you. Worthless as you hike unless it is really cold. You sweat more under it then you would get wet from the rain. When crossing an open field where the vegetation "Car Washes" your legs, it may be helpful against the stinging nettle plants. Great for when you are static too. Most of the time though, it is used as your outfit while you do your laundry.

Vest: Recommended, fleece works well and is inexpensive. Down works too.

Coat: Recommended, same as the above.

Place all in a waterproof bag unless you are wearing it. As suggested earlier, insulated underwear, a dedicated pair of sleep socks and a skull cap for your sleep system is recommended. I keep an extra bag, empty and toward the top so when I dress down, the clothing is placed inside for easy access and well as keeping it dry.

Keeping your gear dry is important, we know the value of this. A good pack cover will help. Choose a bright color, it could be used as an emergency signal, worn during hunting season for protection and if you need to walk away from your pack for whatever reason like getting water, it can help with its recovery (people do lose their packs).

Finally, carry a plastic garbage bag. There are times where you will have to pack up a wet tent. Put it inside of that bag to prevent internal items from getting contact wet. If you have to carry a wet tent, pack it towards the top, use your Bear Rope like a clothes line to help dry the tent out later.

#7 Misc things

Hitch Hiking: As common as can be while you are hiking on the AT (or most of the other long trails). The trick here is that you have more success if you stay in the right lane. From trail to town, from town to trail, most of the locals who support hikers know you are out there. Obviously they see your pack so make sure it can be seen. Prep your pack as well, in other words, drop your pack near the road so it can be seen, cinch up your straps, tuck in the loose parts, collapse your trekking poles (be sure not to leave them in the ride you get, it happens). Hitching near the trailhead also may have a place where they can pull over. The chances are also quite good that the person picking you up has done this before and knows where to look for you and knows where to pull over.

Hiking in on a slow day is an option. Beware when road walking though. Be sure to walk with the flow in case someone will pull over. Traffic coming the other way may cause you not to hear what is coming from behind so, when opposite traffic goes by, step off to the side as a habit. Those roads leading up and down from the trail tend to be narrow. If you notice that there is any tree removal going on, beware the big rigs that haul the logs. Branches stick out, chains and cables come loose... A dangerous part of hiking and hikers have been struck and killed by cars.

Refrigerator: Yes, there is a way to refrigerate your food while on the trail. For example, If you carry cold cuts, cheese and the like, place those items in their own re-usable zip lock bag. When they hang up in the air at night, they will chill off nicely. Wrap those items in your coat come morning (or something you are not wearing) and pack them deep in the pack away from the outer part of the pack where the pack's outer temperature increases from the sun. When needed, prepare fast and stow away fast... This sure does open up the options of foods you can carry. Also, we all have seen those insulated bags available on the market, keeps hot things warm and cold things cool. Cut one down to about a 12 inch by 12 inch pocket. Duct tape all but one of the open ends. Stow the perishables in and roll it up. Wrap that in your coat. This keeps a couple of beers cool when leaving town as well. Just saying.

Compass, Not really needed on the trail but If you do, I suggest you carry one with the mirror on the underside of the cover. Unless a buddy check is possible, the mirror helps in regards to a tick check (as well as a emergency signaling device). I have been turned around on this trail and wound up going the "other way". Once you run into someone, ask if you are heading the right way. Keep this in mind, if you leave the trail going left, get back on going left. Any time you leave the trail, off left, on left. Remember that at the end of the day as well. Make a note of it. Fatigue may hinder your memory.

Journal: If you are of the type to keep a journal like I do, you can make a note there as to that left or right. I also came up with my own brevity code of sorts. For example, if I take a special picture, I circle a capital P and make a quick note (example @12 noon, bear on a tree). The time tells me where about I was based on MPH and helps me remember later on. Even the shadows in the photo tell you the cardinal direction if you know when you took the photo. Speaking of pictures, if possible set the date and time on your camera. Take photos of difficult situations like a re-routes on the trail. If you get turned around and wind up back where you started, you may not be able to ID that particular part of the trail. A picture will help. Taking pictures of major intersections and the like help build a post trail journals as well. Try to keep it as short as possible. The journal is a great place to note where you sent your resupply boxes and their ETA.

Packing your pack: Everything will find a place, every place will have a thing. It will become the norm for you and it seems that nearly 90% of the time, things will wind up where they need to be. Sleeping bag down low. tent above that, stove, filter and such next, clothes, refrigerator and then the heavy things on the top. The bathroom in this pocket for easy access, journal in the top flap and the camera in a hip belt pocket if possible for those quick shots. Guide books in a cargo pocket, one pocket left empty for trash (and yes there will be trash). Leave your wallet at home. Take the bare minimum and use a hiker wallet (zip lock bag). Two forms of ID, med cards and credit cards (order new ones before the trail starts, the trail is rough on magnetic strips). Check their expiration dates. Carry cash in small amounts and low denominations.

Fuel: If you go with denatured alcohol, dedicate a bottle for its storage and mark that bottle. I used a small Gatorade bottle and wrapped electrical tape around it. This prevents accidental consumption. I chose a bottle large enough to store a full bottle of HEET plus a little more (about 14 ounces and place that bottle in a sock). The sock became an oven mitt and was something to wipe up spilled fuel. Canister Fuel comes in different sizes, choose the size you need for the section you are doing. On the CDT for example, there were times where you needed to hike a long way before getting more, I carried the largest canister available then and one of the smallest available as a reserve. Yes the AT may be different but, if you find out fuel is not available for quite some distance, same rule applies (the size is determined by the distance, the reserve is constant). If you use any of your reserve fuel, replace it as soon as you can. Also, canisters have a ball valve that stops the fuel from coming out when you remove the stove. I have seen this fail and all the fuel was lost. Another reason why you carry a reserve.

Finally cooking with fire: Yes it can happen. Simple things apply here. Like when you cook with a stove, remove all fuel from the area (branches, leaves and such). Burn the wood down to coals and then cook. If you cook over a flame, chances are your cooking pot will be covered on the outside with a sticky mess (soot residue). Not a good thing to put in your pack and a bitch to clean, even when in town. Place two stones side by side and scoop or push hot coals between them. Be sure it is a solid platform to avoid spillage. Rocks, coals and fire area need to be doused with water when done so, have plenty with you or cook near a water source.

#8 Misc things continued.

Wind screen: Works well with a low profile stove and will assist in the concentration of heat in regards to heating your water/meal. They can be purchase or you can make your own. Take a string and wrap it around your cooking pot for measurement and add another 4 inches or so. Take a sheet of aluminum foil and cut it to the length you need. Fold it over on itself lengthwise in increments large enough to fit the need (from the ground up). When not needed, store it by wrapping it around the outside of your cooking pot, secure with a rubber band. When used, clip the ends together with a paper clip or alligator clip makes a nice secure wind resistant fire circle.

Trail markers: Each trail is marked differently, get to know your trail's markings and get familiar with them. The AT is marked by a simple white marker or Blaze as it is called. Approximately the size of a dollar bill, painted vertically. Hikers can find these markers just about anywhere you can imagine (on trees, telephone poles, rocks, roads, signs and so on). There are plenty of them and are maintained nicely. In some areas though, they are not (Smoky Mountain National Park for example). If you ever hike out west, the designated Wilderness Areas are not marked at all. Be sure to note that you are on the right trail before you enter these sections of the trail. If you find yourself lost, go back to the last known point and continue on. It is never a good idea to just hike on. Remember this, the trail is also marked for hikers going the other way so, turn around to look for a blaze. Also in the rocky areas like northern Pennsylvania where your eyes are on the ground picking your route, keep in mind that the markers are on the trees, not the ground, look up once in a while. You will eventually notice that there are double blazes at times, one over the other. Designed to get your attention, if the top one is off to the left, a left turn is coming up. Right for right turn and one directly over the other means pay attention, it may not turn but it may be a confusing route (through town say).

Personally when I enter a trail town, I hike on through that town if feasible. Same thing applies to the grassy areas of low lying towns. Once back into the trees say, then I go back into town for whatever. This way no matter where you end up after your visit, you know where to go and can go there directly. By going through the grassy areas, you avoid the potential of getting soaked by morning dew and this helps to keep your feet dry. A trick for drying out your shoes is to pin them at night to a tree with your trekking poles. (Pole tip down in the ground, handle in the shoe, the bottom of the shoe against the tree, shoe pointing down). Gravity drains the shoe, the wind helps dry them out.

Just to cover the colors of some of the blazes you will encounter, White Blaze normally is just the AT, beware though, other trails like the Long Trail in Vermont is white as well. I have noticed yellow blazes were used for alternate routes. Blue Blazes were side trails, guiding hikers to points of interest. Honestly, you never know what you will find along the way. When the trail is rerouted for whatever reason, the markers are removed however, not all of them. The older route still exists, if you see someone has scratched or altered a marker, stop and confirm where you are.

Here are a few bits of nice to to know trail terms: White Blazing means you are hiking the AT, Blue Blazing means you are floating on water, Yellow Blazing means you are road walking, Pink Blazing means you are hiking with a female of interest (true), To follow the Green Blaze, that means you enjoy the use of mind altering substances. There are many others, leave that to the imagination.

Psychological effects: A subject that must be addressed. Thru-hiking a long trail will change you, no doubt there. Ask any thru-hiker that question and they will tell you that this statement is true. Shorter trails, section hiking and the like may or may not so called "change you", primarily do to the amount time away from the real world but, you will walk away a different person. Perhaps you will hike a long trail one day as a result of your section hike. Your love of being "in the woods" may be rekindled. I am not the same person I was when I took my first step off of Springer Mountain, the southern terminus and headed north. Be that good or bad, I find the longer one is out there, the greater the change. For example, you can bring out all the skeletons in your closet. You can brain storm those skeletons and possibly come to grips with it or be at peace with it. The problem there is, how do you turn off your mind? Being is this state of solitude can bring out that problem. Listen to music, read a book on breaks, sing out loud (no one will care), play word games with other hikers or simply just count to yourself, out loud perhaps.

Physiological effects: Weight loss and muscle mass loss are two of the most obvious physical changes. When you put your body through such a stressful environment there are ramifications for this effort. Injuries happen that is a given. I have some that keep rearing their ugly head and have affectionately named them. A stone bruise received from the rocks of northern Pennsylvania I affectionately call Steve (when it hurts I talk to it, "hello Steve" I say). Again, this is where and why I stress the preparation of the body and to increase your flexibility, to try to prevent others from having any Steves in their post hike world. There is another issue that needs to be addressed, it is what I call "Rebound weight gain". On the trail you can basically eat what you wish. You are going to burn off calories faster than you can consume calories. Once off the trail you need to consciously break that habit. The weight will come back, control it the best you can. Also I noticed my body has changed, that I keep a reserve of body fat above my buttocks in a place I never have had before (no they are not love handles). Much like a woman who has given birth, whereas her body may develop the ability to store body fat as if preparing to put her body through that trauma again (ask any woman this, her body is not the same after giving birth). It is as if the rapid weight loss triggered something in me to ready myself for another thru-hike. Since I have done this three times, these things I have noticed.

#9 Weapons (why and why not) plus Wildlife.

A touchy subject. A confusing subject too.

I have thought on the subject long and hard. To carry a pistol or not. For a short trip maybe but for a longer hauls no (Unless I was doing something in the Alaskan Bush line).
When you carry, you may have the right to do so in your home state however, you will be possibly traveling through multiple states and thus be breaking the law. Do the research, see if you are legally allowed to do so, if there is reciprocity.

If you do carry, where are you going to place the weapon. I have hiked with a hiker who wore a drop down holster. I could only imagine the chaffing and discomfort after a day of hiking. Wherever you carry, consider the weight of the pistol, ammunition, holster and cleaning kit (your call).

Most who carry believe the protection the weapon affords you is worth the weight. Consider this, are you fast enough, accurate enough and is your weapon powerful enough to do the job. Does it have the ability to, in a worse case scenario, penetrate deep enough for a frontal oblique shot that the largest animal out there provides in order to hit the vitals. The three things that end life, by themselves or in any combination is to stop the capability to draw air (lungs), to pump or contain the flow of blood (heart) and to stop the capability to electricity (spinal cord). The animal may not be killed immediately, imagine now the animal is only wounded, a bad situation made even worse.

When an animal is sprayed with pepper spray or bear spray they become disorientated. Temporary blindness may even occur. If you deploy the spray first, it may give the opportunity for a more accurate shot or shots. Perhaps a flank shot or neck shot will be made possible, the animal if not already gone, may be thrashing about. Take the time to look up video coverage of bear attacks online, especially note when the spray is deployed. Quite impressive.

As a form of practicing firing upon a charging animal try this technique. Find a safe flat place to fire your weapon of choice. Take a one gallon milk container and place it out some 25 feet or more. Put a few inches of water in the container and tie a cord through the handle, run that cord back to your firing position and between your legs. Have someone either run with the cord or better yet, tie it to a vehicle and pull the cord causing the milk container to come towards you and try to shoot it. The water causes the container to move about simulating an incoming animal. You will discover that hitting it, even just once, is quite difficult.

Most bear versus against hiker attacks happen as a result of the bear either being surprised or the hiker unfortunately comes in between a mother bear and her young. The bear comes in fast I have been told and simply eliminates the threat (you). To try to eliminate that possibility, make noise when you hike, especially the heavily wooded area, low lying areas thick with brush and so on. If carrying a bear bell works for you then do so. I am here to tell you that the bell becomes annoying after many miles of ringing. There is a model available that has a magnet sewed in to the cloth, allowing you to silence the bell. Personally I clack my trekking poles together when going through a thicket and call out "Yo Bear" as I walk along.

Knife: I carry a knife but not for defense. I carry a small Swiss army knife with scissors, toothpick, small blade, nail file and tweezers. Utilized for opening packages, trimming nails (careful here, the trimmings fly and at one time went into my eye), slicing meats and cheeses, pulling splinters and such.

Dog attack: There are plenty out there on the trail. Most owners do not control with a leach. Spray would work well here too. Even you trekking poles can be utilized (as a spear). I tend to plant the poles like a set of jail bars, between myself and the dog. Most are friendly and just want to say hello. Until it can be determined that the animal is friendly then I pull away the poles. I always ask the dog as a way of settling down the situation, "Is this your human?". This also starts up a quick conversation with the owner as well.

Moose attack: Moose have poor eyesight. That being said, they too can be surprised. They too protect their young. I have been so close to one, I could have reached out and touched it with my trekking poles (I could count the flies on its butt). Moose will browse along the trail. Look for bare areas void of vegetation upwards to 8 feet off of the ground. Also look for scat, tracks and other evidence of their presence. I discovered this about moose. If you ever wonder how a bull moose can work a set of large shovels (antlers) through the woods? They just simply run over anything in their way.

Snakes: They are there, beware that they lie on the trail to soak up the sun. When the vegetation is thick, the sun may only shine on the trail (for many miles). A trick to shoo them away is to quickly kick dirt into their face. I noticed a small animal do this once and have put it to practice. Also you can physically move them as well. A strike distance is less than the length of their body. In the morning they are prone to be more lethargic because they are cold. One time I literally flipped a coiled rattlesnake off the AT like flipping a pancake, with my trekking poles. Funny thing was, it landed upside down and just stayed there.

#10 Big Cats, lights and whistles,

Big Cats: Primarily Mountain Lions. The first thing to understand is that they are all along the AT. There are too many eye witness accounts to say they are not. Their numbers however is what is questionable. How to identify one at a distance? Look for the tail, it is as long as their body. The tail is used like a rudder of a boat when running. Their gait is off set meaning their footfalls are not one in the other when running, the tail keeps the body straight. When walking, much like the common house cat, the foot falls are nearly one upon the other. At times the track appears to resemble some larger dogs but there is a difference. The main thing to look for is for evidence of claw marks (Big paws, no claws). Cats can retract their claws and do so when not needed. There will be claw evidence if needed, for traction and the like.

Cats also are primarily nocturnal, the time to be most aware is at dusk (what I call Mountain Lion time). Check your back trail from time to time. If you think one may be in the area they may just be following you. If you round a corner, stop, wait and look back.

I have had two serious mountain lion encounters out west (the first was when I was night hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail up North, Oregon if I recall correctly). I carry two light sources, a head lamp and a small push button light, like you may have on a set of keys. Instead of keys, I attach a shrill whistle. My headlamp was weak and I needed to replace the batteries but was adequate enough to pick my way along the trail and when needed, I would use the brighter light for the tricky areas. Off to my right I noticed the animal's eyes, I first thought it was someone's tent (some tents have reflective tape at the entrance, great for finding your way back to your tent at night). When I turned on my brighter light, there it was, a smaller mountain lion but a mountain lion nonetheless. Its ears were pinned back, coiled and it looked like it was ready to pounce. It was very close, close enough that I hit it with the stick I threw at it. I blew hard into that whistle and yelled, "Kitty Cat don't F**K with me or I will bust you up!"... With that it looked right and left, quickly bounded away and was gone (three bounds, I can still hear the footfalls to this day). I also checked my back trail well into the morning.

A thing to note about whistles. It is well worth carrying one. They last a lot longer then you will last if you are the one calling for help. If lost or in need of help, it is well known that three short blasts mean someone is in distress. If you are the one needing help, listen for a response of two short blasts, it is also well known to respond that way. If you are on the move, stop when you hear those two blasts. Let the rescue party come to you. Another thing to note, if you hike with others and they have whistles, have them blow into their whistle so you can ID the sound.

Things to note about a light source, be redundant, carry two. Consider this as well, AAA batteries or AA batteries may be heavier than lithium 2032 batteries however, they are more likely to be found in the back country stores. Less expensive as well.

My second Mountain Lion encounter happened while hiking on the CDT (Continental Divide Trail). It was during the night and the stars were out by the millions. I got out of my tent to answer the call of nature (to pee). It was so bright that I did not need my light (I keep my light in the same spot in my tent, each and every night). Once finished, I returned to my tent, entered, zipped up the tent fly, closed the main entrance and was sliding into my sleeping bag when the cat let its presence be known. It screamed so loud, again and again, right outside of my tent. I said out loud, "I know what the hell you are". I grabbed the same shrill whistle and light combo. I turned the light on and blew into the whistle. (I imagine my green tent must have glowed in the night). The Cat screamed again so I opened the top of the tent and shined the light out into the darkness. It went silent for about 10 minutes and then I could distinctly hear something walking outside and repeated what I did before.

As a result of the second encounter, I carry Bear spray. It too has a dedicated place in my tent and I now carry it if I leave my tent or walk away from my backpack. Also there is something I do before settling in for the night. When I get close to that time to pitch camp and choose a location to do so, I hold my urine and wait until I drop my pack. Then I walk up trail a short distance and pee a line across the trail. Then walk back down trail and do the same. If there are points along my camp area where I think an animal may approach from, I pee there too. Once the tent is up, the need to urinate occurs again, I pee a circle around my tent. I have been doing this since day one, mainly in the backcountry. No I do not piss around my tent when camping in a public area. Realize this, the larger animals use the trail, it is easier for them to follow along. Some areas, like the hill tops covered with the Boreal Forest up north on the AT, are thickly covered. This is a proven fact, the urine will turn an animal on the trail. The last thing one needs is a Moose walking through your camp. I have read that testosterone is the reason why it works (sorry ladies, this does not work for you).

The next morning, after the second cat encounter, I looked around my camp for any sign. That cat had stopped at my up trail urine line. It had dug up the ground and left scratch marks in the dirt. Much like a house cat would do in a litter box. I believe it marked the trail too.

#11 Medical Kits and Blisters

Medical Kits: What to bring and what to prepare for. A hard question but, I find the simplicity of it all is based on common sense. Enough to get by, the theme to how I pack my medical kit. Getting by means to get by until you get into town for a more definitive form of treatment.

Ailments common on the trail: Diarrhea, the Flu, a common cold, constipation, body rash, blisters, mosquito itch relieve, mosquito repellent, anti bacterial cream, band-aids , sunscreen and so on... Think travel size, think individually packaged pills and take enough to treat for a day or two on trail. Once in town hit the local pharmacy to meet the greater need. Most of these items you may already have in your home so, wrap and label what you think you need and put them into a small zip lock baggie. Place somewhere where it will be prone to friction wear. Loose pills tend to crumble with the miles. Add any moister prevention items you may have in you prescription bottles to that baggie.

Medication: If you re like I am, planning out how to resupply your medication needs to be addressed. For those doing shorter sections, take enough to travel to and from the trail, while on the trail and a little more. The trail may just entice you to keep on going. Perhaps pre-pack a resupply package and have someone at home standing by to mail it forward for you. If you are on the trail for an extended period of time, carry enough to get to the town you choose to have it sent to (plus a little more). If you are like I am and have a new set of trail shoes planned for, place a prescription re-supply along with those shoes. Yes you can fill a prescription at some pharmacies, but that means time off trail, coordinating the times that the pharmacy is open, traveling to the pharmacy and back. A situation ripe with problems. Finally, make sure to contact your doctor to insure there are refills available. I personally ask my physician for a 6 month amount with refill capabilities. Once he understands the need for such an amount, there should not be a problem.

Sunscreen: whatever you choose, be sure it is powerful enough and kept where you can get at it easy. Once the leaves are on the trees, you may not have to apply it as much. The area to be most concerned with, especially if you are wearing shorts and traveling north bound (other wise called going NOBO), are the back of the knees. An extremely painful area to get sun burn. A hiker tan as it is called is much like a farmers tan. From the short sleeve ends down the arm and from the short pants end to the sock line. Be sure to cover these areas well. Don't forget the back of the neck and face. By the way, sunglasses are all but useless if going north bound, the sun is most likely to be behind you throughout the day, your call.

Blisters: We all have our own way of working this issue. Here are a few ideas. First of all, keep the nails trimmed. I joke and tell folks who do not do so that we are here to hike a trail, not climb trees. Keeping them trimmed prevents black nail and nail loss, thus preventing possible infection. In regards to prevention, we each hove our own techniques. Some use Duct Tape, I prefer wearing nylons until my feet toughen up. Then as I hike I take breaks, take my shoes off and air out my feet (powder as needed). I also constantly do a sock change. Treat hot spots as they happen and have learned a few things about lacing. For example, skip lacing over hot spots on top of the shoe under the tongue. If heal of the foot is prone to blisters, there are techniques there as well. Look up this site for more information.
( ) Finally, if the blisters do happen, address them accordingly. Bring along a saftey pin to drain and treat like an open wound if need be.

Sick while on the trail: I have been there, I have done that and it is no fun. I was hiking along the Arizona Trail, with nearly 200 miles done and came down with Guardia. It did not start with that, I also came down with a Tick Born Encephalitis. I remember the bad water, I followed a butterfly in flight down a dry creek bed and found a pool of water surrounded by thousands of Bees. Here is where I must have cross contaminated myself. What I thought was a major score turned into a disaster. I made it to the next town and rented a hotel room, took a shower and when drying off I looked in the mirror and noticed the tell tale "Bulls eye" tick bite. It hit me when I got back on the trail. Explosive diarrhea, fatigue and dehydration. I was down to just one mile per hour in travel speed. I had to leave the trail and self medicated until I returned home (Manudu Butter and Milk Thistle). I was put on a broad spectrum antibiotic treatment.

Now what I wrote was surely a worse case scenario. Lesser ailments though, need to be considered differently. Contact your insurance provider and inform them of your intent. If need be, seek help at an emergency room. If self medicating, go rent a room for a few days. Save the town chores until you are rested and feel better. If you want to save money, set up your tent near town and take what we call a "Zero day". A zero day means that you have hiked no miles. A "Nero day" means you have hiked nearly zero miles. Buy a book, go to a library and catch up on your e-mails. Just let the ailment pass and hike on.

#12 Travel on the trail

"What, it's just walking"... I heard this one day, while camping below a bridge one night. There was a group of four or five people, non-hikers, talking as they walked over the bridge above.

Yes it is "Just walking" however, if you are in it for the longer haul, there is so much more to it than that. If you average 15 miles a day, it is more like hiking a half marathon plus, each and every day, for nearly 6 months. If you are hiking out west on the PCT or CDT, those trails require an average of 25 miles a day (nearly a full marathon distance). All of your support is carried of your back. You lack adequate food, clean clothes and eventually your body smells awful. The distance is just one factor to contend with, if you want to make it to the end of the trail before you are forced off trail due to bad weather (the parks close on the northern terminus). To do so you have to hike in any weather, some of the worst weather imaginable.

Being wet: If not from the rain, then from sweat. Heat and humidity will make you hope for rain. Still though, you have to move. As mentioned before, it is imperative that you keep your sleeping system dry. When you stop for a quick break, do not go into your dry clothing because by the end of the day, that too will be wet. Set up your camp, take the bear rope as previously advised and make a clothes line. Strip down and hang your wet clothes out for the night. Dry off however you can (I carry a small dish towel) and slip into your sleep system. Come morning, do the reverse. Slip on those wet, cold hiking clothes and hike them warm.

Being hot: Most of the time you may have tree and leave cover. Still though, there are times you may have to cross open fields. When the temperature is high, it may be best to set this up. Stop before you hike this, wait until later on in the evening. Or perhaps, camp before the area and hike through the open areas at first light. If you are fortunate to have partial cloud cover, hike through it in spurts, hit the shade spots if possible, when the sun comes out again. Finally, much like traveling through the deserts out west, take a siesta, near or with lots of water and re hydrate.

Being cold. There is an acronym that I like to use, COLD. Stay clean, do not overheat, dress in layers and stay dry. As mentioned earlier, I like to keep a large waterproof bag at the top of my pack for just this reason. Dress up and dress down, put it on and take it off, as need be. Staying clean is a problem however, there are solutions. The wet naps you carry in your bathroom can help with cleanliness. At night, wipe the hands and face first. Then concentrate on your feet, especially in between the toes, finally the private areas, front then back. You will notice the wipe goes from clean to dirty rater fast, use enough to do the job. To add to this, if you carry a larger water blivet, you can dump bag after bag over your head, away from the source, especially if you use soap and hair shampoo (once again travel size). This water could be used to dilute your urine location (cat hole for piss only). If soaps are used, especially in the high country, avoid allowing this water to flow into streams. The lakes and other bodies of water along our trails are in danger because of this collective pollution.

I personally carry a small deodorant, the travel type. There are times that I cannot even stand my own smell. The stinky clothes I can get used too. When applicable, there is a great product you can purchase called Oxy clean, it helps remove the "Hiker Funk" (as it is called). Just add that to your laundry soap, at some laundromats it can be found in single serving sizes. There may be other products out there but, this I know works. If you need to clean your tent, backpack or any other pieces of equipment, add oxy clean to this process. A great idea here is to rent a room with a bathtub. Fill the tub with hot water and soak the item well. I swear the things that came out of my pack at one cleaning, some of them still had a pulse. Cleaning your gear will also make the gear last longer. Salt crystals from sweat, dirt and other objects tear apart the fibers microscopically. Cleaning your tent will also make the sleeping environment more pleasant, unclog any screening but more importantly, assist in keeping the zippers from failing. Another great idea is to purchase a Tyvek type material and create a ground cloth. Set the tent up and cut the piece to custom fit. Beware of shingling water beneath your tent and if your tent has a vestibule, cut the piece large enough to cover that area as well. This little extra piece is a great place to lay your shoes at night (amongst other things), up and out of the dirt.

#13 Hazards and concerns.

There are obvious hazards to be concerned with. The terrain can be incredibly difficult to hike along at times. Magnified by conditions, when wet made worse. Ice and snow turn hidden hazards into trail-enders. Roots entangle and twist the body. I suggest to learn to look forward and not directly down at your feet when hiking. See the objects and hazards ahead of you. You will find eventually that the mind realizes what is ahead and your feet seem to glide along however, be cognizant of the risks. Remember to slow down when necessary.

One bit of advice here is that if you use trekking poles, be sure to purchase and cover the tips with rubber end covers. The metal tips can easily slip and slide on rock. The tips can be removed if need be, for example when ice and snow travel require that extra traction. Beware when going through muddy ground as well, the tips can pop off in the mud (the same applies to rocky areas and when crossing man made wooden objects). The poles can also get jammed in these objects as well. A plus to not utilizing the straps as previously discussed, you can just let the jammed pole go. If the straps are wrapped around your wrists, you can damage the poles by your combined pack and body weights forward momentum.

Lightning: I suggest you do a quick review in regards to how lightning works. Get familiar with this deadly hazard. If you spend enough time on any trail, there will be a time where you will be out there and you will find yourself in a lightning storm. It seems the wind predominantly should come in from the west. Here are some observations. While heading north on the AT, you would think that means bad weather should come in from your left, right? Not true, the weather can come in from anywhere and everywhere. Keep in mind unlike the more direct northerly routes of the PCT and CDT, the AT follows more of a northeasterly direction. Consider this as well, the topography of the Appalachian Mountain Range is made up of ripples on the surface of earth, creating long valleys. Imagine taking a blanket and placing it on a slippery floor. Push the blanket and create small ripples, the range resembles this simple example. This was the result of plate tectonics, the continent of Africa has collided twice with North America. (The northern part of the trail, from the Mid-Atlantic States north is quite different). In other words, keep your eye on the sky. Out west you keep your eye on the horizon.

When hiking and you decide to continue on through one of these storms, keep this in mind. If you are with another hiker, separate yourselves. Put a distance between folks, just in case there is a strike. If struck, that person's heart may stop. Just like someone who flips an electrical switch or like a breaker that has popped, the heart needs to be flipped back on (re-started). A few rescue breaths may be all that is needed to revive that person. Make sure the person you are hiking with knows this as well, in case you are struck. Now the trail is quite narrow, side by side assisted walking may be near impossible at times. If this person can walk at all, they will most likely need assistance and need to be rescued. A suggestion here is to place one hiker in front and one to the rear of the injured hiker. Since the trail is popular, someone will most likely show up. The goal is to support that hiker by obtaining two long poles and place them under the arms of that hiker. Run those poles through the two helping hiker’s shoulder straps. If possible, they could even carry their own pack.

High winds: Hikers have perished under the weight of falling branches and trees. Called "Widow Makers", they may look stable but gravity and time will make them fall. Areas that have had wind damage from previous storms, burned trees and even dead trees, can be dangerous.

Thieves and predators: Both are out there, becoming a victim should always be a concern. Many hikers fall into a false sense of security while on the trail and unfortunately that complacency is dangerous. Some have lost their lives. Realize this, you carry thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment on your backs. You carry cash and credit cards as well. There are those out there who want it. Beware of trailheads and when you are near populated areas. Some shelters need to be avoided completely. Turn on your spidey senses, if you go to get into a car when hitch hiking for example and have a bad feeling about it, just don't get in. If offered the ride and you decide against it once the door opens, simply refuse it. Just say thank you and that you are waiting on a fellow hiker. I recall one time where a fellow hiker was hitch hiking, a man in a pickup truck stopped. Thinking nothing of it, that hiker threw his pack in the bed of the truck and this person just drove off with it.

Predators and even stalkers exist as well. Be careful if you post your adventures online. Perhaps stay a week behind what has been happening to you and where on the trail you are. The road system on the AT can be used against you. A technique I use is just a simple listening halt before hiking into a trailhead. Stop and listen for anything that may give you alarm. If I rent a room and intend to clean and hang my wet gear out to dry, I try to rent anywhere but the ground floor. Hikers have had their gear stolen simply because it was so easy to get to when unattended.

Cold and heat related injuries: Get familiar with the signs and symptoms of each. Stay hydrated to prevent both from happening. The range between temperatures can be dramatic, even on the same day. Wind steals the body warmth, learn to stay out of it when need be (if wet and cold, hypothermia can be deadly). If you are shaking uncontrollably, do something about it. The same applies to heat injuries. When out in the elements, things tend to domino rather quickly. Hike with a partner who knows the importance of keeping an eye out for one another. Use the buddy system.

#14 Technology, a chair and the "Why am I here?" question...

Technology: (a double edged sword). Some like to totally get off the grid. There are both good and bad things to consider there. I personally like it when I get back to the world and notice all the movies available (like found in the red box). Also, the re-runs of my favorite programs are all new to me. It seems the news does pass by word of mouth or, when you find yourself in front of a TV in a room you rent. This is when you basically catch up on what has been happening "out there in the real world" (even the commercials are new to you when you get home).

If you bring technology with you, the extra weight can add up, there is no doubt there. For shorter section hikes, that may not be a problem. For a longer sections or thru-hike, there are things to consider. If you want to be able to check your email and stay in touch with friends and family, what should you carry? What photo taking capabilities do you want? Are you going to be maintaining an electronic journal as you go? If so, how? Do you want to listen to music as you hike? Realize if you do, listening to music has its inherent risks. Finally, how are you going to power it up as you go?

Dangers of hiking with music are twofold; 1) You cannot hear any concerns immediately at and around your feet. 2) You cannot hear what may come at you out of nowhere.

Rattlesnakes give warnings however, a smaller rattlesnake sounds more like a buzz than anything else and may be even harder to hear. The larger snakes sound exactly how most would imagine the sound would be. You may not be able to hear that either. Also, Bee hives and nests come to life when you walk nearby with their own buzzing sound. Yes you may see either before you step on them but, imagine if you don't?

If you have music on, you cannot hear any warning shouts that may be directed at you. As you hike on and jam away, you will become lost in your music and it shuts off your sense of hearing anything else but that music. Especially when it comes to any incoming mountain bikes or while hiking on the road, any incoming vehicles. Mountain bikes and other off road vehicles are not allowed on most trails however, there are those who ride them anyway. They come in fast and clanking. If you encounter one, turn your body so you face the trails edge, this puts the pack away from the rider so they may go by unimpeded. If you run into any illegal riders, take their picture and a picture of what they ride. Then when you get to the next trailhead, take pictures of all the license plates you see and turn all into the authorities. It has proven effective in the past.

As far as powering up your choices of electronics you wish to carry, there are many things on the market that could do just that. It does add to the weight of your pack. There are things you can do to help lighten the load. Look for redundant cables and eliminate them. In fact you can cut them down if you have the skills or even hire someone to do so. Any wrist straps or any attachments not needed, leave them at home. As far as solar devices go, the issue here is, "how long does it take to charge?" The Appalachian Trail is, once again, called "The Long Green Tunnel" for a reason. There is limited direct sunlight for long distances. Either you have to go off trail to find the sun or you must wait for the occasional breaks in the tunnel. It may take a long time for your charger to charge. Areas that do break out into open spaces are things like viewing points, roadways and perhaps, where high power tension lines are cut into the hillside and go up and over the ridge lines. You can plan on those areas to power up your solar capabilities (this is also a great place to dry out wet gear).

If you have the type of power source that needs re-charging electrically, be courteous to those who own the locations where you intend to "plug in". Ask permission at restaurants, laundromats and the like. Most know and may even have a charging station. Some may require a small fee. If you rent a room, that of course this would not be a problem. Remember while on the trail you are the ambassador of the trail. Respect gets respect.

A chair to hike with: I have carried one (until it broke) and have not carried one since. Those in the SF Brotherhood know the value of a good chair. In the hiking community I was ridiculed for doing so (all in good fun). I have since broke the habit and just sit on my ground pad when needed. There were times I wish I had it though. It purely had been a blessing but, it turned out to be a weight issue. I carried a tripod form of chair for around 1800 miles while hiking the Appalachian Trail. I found the only real disadvantage was that when used off trail, it sunk into the softer dirt at times. Solution there was to sit directly upon the packed trail. My choice of chair weighed 19 ounces, without its case. When carried, it slid in through the side straps on the pack with one leg placed into the water bottle pocket to keep it secure. Just Google "Folding Tripod Stool" and research your options. One of my favorite lines when approached as to why I carried a chair was, "have a seat in the mud if you would like, or grab a rock (if you can find one)". Most folks said they wish they had a chair when they saw me using mine...

Why am I here? : There will be a time that you will ask yourself "why am I on the trail?". This is one of those questions that all hikers ask themselves at one time or another.

For those who hike for charity, that may be your motivator. The problem with a long charity hike is that there are most likely schedules to be met. I hiked with a hiker who had hiked for a charity. In doing so, she had to be at this place at this time to meet with folks who supported her hike. She was to give a presentation, show pictures and the pressure to keep up with that schedule was difficult. It took away from her hiking experience. She had to hike longer days than most and it too proved to be extremely taxing.

It seems that there are many reasons why someone hikes a long trail. I have noted that there exists some "basic groups" of hikers that, though not hard to imagine, seem to fall into these groups. These groups can be put into a chronological order of sorts, based simply on age. Age discrimination is something that in my opinion, hardly exists on a trail. That person, no matter who it is, no matter what the age, are doing the same thing that you are. With that comes a respect. In fact, if you are 18 or 80 years old and hiking the AT, you are respected more than if you were off trail. Hardships kindle that respect.

First and foremost, there are young folks out there on the trail (pre-teens and teenagers). Their parents home school these amazing younger people as they hike along. The experience is one I wish I could have done in my youth but, who knew? Perhaps personally, I could hike with a future Grandchild one day.

Then there are the "just out of High school folks" Most are taking time off before college starts. A planned event of sorts. Some do not know what to do next in life and they hope to find the answers along the trail. Some become what we in the Hiker Community call "Hiker Trash" and go from adventure to adventure, trail after trail. Some work over the winter months seasonally and hike as long as the seasons allow the next year (some even winter hike).

Note that this form of life can hit you at any time, at any age. Those who follow that Wander Lust follow it willingly and would not change any of it for gold.

Another main group of hikers are those right out of college. Some celebrate the graduation by hiking a long trail, and then go on with their lives. Perhaps they join the workforce or they enter the next level of their education after the hike. These seem to be the above average group as far as numbers go in my opinion.

The next group seems to be the retired military group or those ending a career at midlife. Some go on to other careers, some convert into Hiker Trash as mentioned before. Of course there are those who hike at any time during their lives. For simple reasons like losing their job, going through a divorce and the like. I call it, "a timing of life"

Then there is the 65 plus group. Those who had been dreaming of hiking a long trail and waited patiently for the time after retirement. This I would consider to be a popular group in numbers as well. The oldest person I have ever hiked with was 84 years young. I asked him once on how he was able to do so such a thing. He told me that he was lucky and that he did not suffer any disabling injuries during his lifetime. He also told me that he and his wife had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail together at the young age of 77.

Finally we have a saying in the hiker community, "one or three, never just two". Meaning once you decided to hike a second long trail, you are determined to do all three and obtain the "Triple Crown".

#15 Company on the trail and Bear Canisters,

Company: If you are hiking a short section doing low miles, the issues here are quite different. Still though, in order to make the adventure more pleasurable, schedule lots of breaks throughout the day. Try to get to the shelter or area you want to camp in before the thing fill up with other hikers. Share equipment to lighten the loads (tents, stoves and the like). Take plenty of photos... try to take the one photo that will be framed and held dear for a lifetime.

If you are hiking a longer trail, there are issues you need to be aware of. Normally what happens in the planning stages, or even while you are on the trail, there will always be someone who wants to join you for a few days. That is all well and good but, realize this. When they do show up, consider them as a new hiker, without the trail legs needed to do the miles you can do by then and at the speed you can hike at. Here is a simple plan and solution that I came up with and have relayed this to other hikers while along the trail.

Choose a location that will be advantageous to you. Where will YOU be when they decide what days they intend to hike with you? The gift you give of allowing them to join you on the trail comes with the gift that they can provide you, they have a vehicle. Have them park at a predesignated area and secure their car properly (nothing left inside, all things needed to be secured are secured out of sight). Because they are traveling in a car and you are on foot, it is easier for them to change the location on where they enter the trail than it would be for you to push the miles to meet them. Have more than one location picked out for them to do this. Once this is determined, have them hike in the opposite direction that you are and once you link up with them, stop for the night (I recommend 10 miles maximum on their part). Then the next day, hike together back to their car. Once there, head to town, do your resupply and town chores. Let them drive you around to get things done. Spend the night in a hotel perhaps. Give them the complete experience. Then once back on the trail where you got off, hike together for another ten miles or so in the direction you need to go and then set up for the night. The next morning, they hike back to their car by themselves and you hike on. The experience may well be enough to satisfy the need. Repeat if applicable.

For those who want to join you for a longer period of time there are a few things to note as well. Ask them to train up for quite some time before joining you. Make them commit to it. Have them hike many training miles, develop their trail legs and practice in their backyard with the equipment they intend to carry. Realize this, say you and your friends on the trail are hiking 20 miles a day. This is a great group and it hurts you to leave them. Your guest shows up as promised and this slows you down to say 10 miles a day. In ten days’ worth of hiking your trail friends will be 100 miles ahead of you. You may never see that group again.

There are ways to make up the miles though. It is not easy but it can be done. Simply put, you have to do more miles than they do daily. Also, if you know how they hike, you can use this to make up miles. Say you know they leave camp at daylight, you need to get up earlier. If they hike until dark, you need to hike longer. If they are prone to take one hour lunch breaks, you take less time than that. If they are planning a zero day in town up trail then, you don't. If they are the type not to hike in bad weather and perhaps will most likely stay later at a shelter or in town, you hike through that bad weather. If you average just 5 miles more than they do per day, it will take 20 hiking days to make up the distance. If you can convince them to take an extra zero day in town or to just slow down a bit (less daily miles), that distance will go by faster. Finally if need be you can simply skip that section of trail and join them where they are (using your guests car perhaps) and then you come back to that skipped section at the end of the trail to complete your through hike. This is not out of the ordinary on a long trail, to skip sections that is. Sometimes it is unavoidable, forest fires for example will by law, force you to do so. Though not as popular on the Appalachian Trail, forest fires are an issue out west (on the AT, heavy snowfall has forced hikers to skip the Smoky Mountain National Park and make it up later in the season).

Bear Canisters: If required, before you buy, rent or borrow anything, make sure it is approved for your trail (those will be listed in your guide books). At this time I do not know if there is a Bear Canister requirement along the Appalachian Trail. There will most likely be one someday, especially in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where bear to human contact as well as fatalities, are on the rise. Though there are precautions along the trail there, like designated sites called Bear Poles, it is only recommended and not required. Canisters are an effective deterrent, this is a proven fact. Bears scavenge the shelters along the trail for food. Hikers need to be aware that the goal here is to not introduce the idea to the animal that a hiker, or his pack, equals food. Take precautions.

When hiking an area where the canister is required, like the Pacific Crest Trail at the Sierra Nevada Range, be sure the canister you choose to hike with will fit inside of the pack you carry (or design a way to carry it). There are a few modifications to the canister as well that if done, it may make life a bit easier. Check for the ease of opening. Though they are designed to deter the bear, you obviously need to be able to get at your own food when needed. I placed friction tape on my container lid to help with the ease of opening. I also trimmed part of the containers securing device as well. A good idea also is to attach reflector tape somewhere on the container. If a bear smacks it around, tries to open it and then abandons the thing, at night the tape may be able to help you find the canister by flashlight. Also, do not place your container near a flowing water source. Your food may get knocked into the water by the bear and end up floating away, downstream and may become lost. Finally, as I do with my tent and after placing the container in front of my opening so I can see it from inside of the tent, I urinate a circle around it as well.

One night, after a long day's hike in the Sierra Nevada, I had done so (as I normally do in bear country). The next morning I discovered a set of bear prints that lead up to my container. The bear had turned away at the urine line.

As far as mailing a bear canister, you do not need to box it up. Just put the shipping label on the lid and away it goes.