It’s been said that, as far as human-powered feats go, completing any long distance hiking trail is heavy enough. You don’t need anything extra weighing you down—whether that’s excessive gear, or the kind of mental clutter that will get in your way on the trail.
Ultimately, thru hiking the Appalachian trail or the Pacific Crest trail is a simple act. One foot in front of the other, 2000+ times. Of course, that’s once you’re actually out on the trail. Beforehand, there’s a mountain of logistics to sort out and gear to make sense of.
That’s why we’ve turned to experienced thru hikers who’ve gone the distance—in some cases, completing the Triple Crown of Hiking (AT + PCT + CDT)—to pull apart their packs and show us the way to thru hiking nirvana. Hyperlite Mountain Gear is also proud to partner with the PCTA and other conservation organizations to be able to bring you up-to-the-moment information on trail conditions and protect the experience for generations to come.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the designation of the country’s first two National Scenic Trails – the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. It’s impossible to measure how much enjoyment they’ve brought to the millions of people who have sought adventures big and small on them. And likely just as difficult to know how many people have put in countless hours of work into advocacy and maintenance on their behalf. The Pacific Crest Trail Association is one such group that’s done a lot of heavy lifting over the years.
The PCTA is a non-profit of route stewards who monitor, care for and promote this 2,650-mile trail that wanders from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. They tirelessly work to ensure that it’s available for hikers long into the future. That sounds pretty good to us, and we’re happy to have partnered with them again for the third year.
And, just like we did with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, we’ve teamed up to make special PCTA stuff sacks that feature the association’s emblem. Our ultralight Drawstring Stuff Sacks can find a home and use in any pack, and they’ll be available with PCTA memberships and other promotions.
Join the PCTA and ATC for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the designation of our nation’s first two National Scenic Trails: the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. With host Jennifer Pharr-Davis and special guest Cheryl Strayed.
“Trail Magic,” for the uninitiated, is an action that is, in so many ways, precisely what it sounds like. It’s an unexpected gesture that can positively change the dynamic of a thru hiker’s day. It should be positive anyway. I doubt a surprise offer to wrestle would go as far with a weary traveler as food or a free shower, but who knows. These are interesting times.
One of the biggest differences between mainstream brand backpacks and ultralight backpacks is the amount of bells and whistles. Removable brains, sleeping bag compartments, built in rain fly, and trekking pole carry straps might work for some people, but for a lot of backpackers, these features are over-designed and under-used, which in turn becomes unnecessary weight. Each extra zipper adds grams and another weak point for water to enter the pack, which is why a weather-resistant, roll-top style pack is the preferred design for a growing number of hikers. With only one entry point at the top, gear can be a little harder to organize but there are some tricks to make packing easier.
Every year we’re inundated (and frankly honored) with hundreds of requests for supporting someone’s dream thru hike. Unfortunately, it’s simply impossible to hook up everyone with gear, but there are always a few stand-outs that grab our attention for any number of reasons. This year is no different, and we’ve got folks using our Windrider and Southwest packs on every major (and not-so-major) trail this summer. If you’re reading this and currently on-trail somewhere, drop us a line (firstname.lastname@example.org). We’d love to hear from you.
If you’re like us – and you are to some degree – living the trail life vicariously through social media updates, we’ve rounded up a list of our favorite trail characters to keep an eye on this summer.
When our design intentions and your reactions line up, that’s the sweet spot. We don’t always nail it on the first try, though – case and point, the dimensions of the original hip belt pockets on our popular 2400, 3400, and 4400 packs. The common theme in the feedback we received was that they were a tad small for some of the items you wanted easy access to throughout your days. We listened, it was all valid, and we’re pleased to announce a change. Introducing the new hip belt pocket size.
First off, right now, you’re an “Aspiring Thru Hiker.” Until you finish your trail, you’re not yet a Thru-Hiker. You are certainly “thru-hiking”, but stay humble, the trail is hard for more than a few reasons, and you may not finish what you intended to start. Enjoy the journey with it’s challenges, and should you finish, enjoy your new title. You earned it. In the meantime, I’ve compiled a few insights that I found helpful throughout my quest to earning my own title, and that of a Triple Crowner.
On the Pacific Crest Trail: Determination is the name of the game.
I got home tonight around 1AM, and after a long day of fake smiling and clearing dirty plates, I was ecstatic to take off my grease stained work clothes and seclude myself from the outside world. I open my bedroom door, set my backpack down, take my work clothes off and immediately put on my short, black Nike hiking shorts and my new Hawaiian button up which I will wear on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Most of the expeditions I have been on during my 35 years as an alpinist have involved trudging up from the foothills into the mountains under a massive pack. I was often loaded down with 75+ pounds of climbing gear, camping supplies and food for up to two weeks. However, from a basecamp or road head I had also experienced going fast and light in the mountains, especially in the Winds. And after setting the FKT speed ascent of Mt. Gannett, my eyes started looking out across the range for a bigger objective. Why not try and traverse the entire Wind River Range in a single push?
I stood at the Northern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail, amid the acrid haze of the wildfires that had filled my lungs for the better part of a month. My dirt stained fingertips hesitantly touched the cold, coarse granite monument that gave my Triple Crown a sense of finality after three years of life on the trail(s). While the moment was both powerful and precious, I felt suffocated by the question of what now?
“I don’t think a thru-hiker would much enjoy the Greater Patagonian Trail,” Neon, a Triple Crowner and my hiking partner in tackling the length of the Andes, mused. We were taking a yerba mate break about a month after hiking the Greater Patagonian Trail over the course of two seasons. “Thru-hiking is a balance between total suckage and astounding beauty and there are some long, sucky sections,” she completed the thought around long draws on the metal straw.
The Greater Patagonian Trail is a succession of routes created to enable distance hikers to immerse themselves in Patagonian landscape and culture. You can’t fully appreciate one without the other. This means you have to know how to handle yourself on long, remote distances AND communicate in Spanish while being able to adapt to Patagonian social standards. Any combination of these and you will enjoy large segments of the various routes but a straight thru-hike kinda sucks.
Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge is awe inspiring- it is big, wild, remote country. Mountains are stacked upon mountains, interspersed with free flowing rivers. The Refuge stretches from the south side of the Brooks Range, over the glaciated high peaks of the range, and across the coastal plain to the Arctic Ocean. I often marveled at the remoteness, as I realized how far we were from the nearest village or road.
Each spring, the global hiking community converges on a tiny town in southwestern Virginia. Day hikers, section hikers, thru hikers past and present crash like a wave on Damascus—seemingly all at once.
Overnight, the population of “Trail Town, USA” multiplies many times over. Tents appear, mini, mobile gear shops interspersed among them, with enough food carts slinging enough high-calorie grub to cure all the hiker hunger in a hundred miles.
Trail Days, like the Appalachian Trail itself, is a celebration of humanity in its many forms. There’s a how and why and reason for everyone who hikes, a story behind every pack. It’s joyous and solemn, wholesome and debaucherous, entirely sane and yet a little bit out there.
As much as possible, we tried to grab time with people who stopped by the Hyperlite Mountain Gear booth–especially when they were carrying our gear. Learning a little bit about them and their hike helps us all complete the circle on why we do what we do, in turn.
Here’s what we gathered from a random assortment of thru hikers (a lot of whom ended up being from our home state of Maine):
York, ME—On the trail since April 4th
AT Highlights? Pretty much all of it. That’s why I’m here; living it, adventuring it.
Whether your objective is to lighten your load for more comfortable hiking, reduce your pack weight for a long distance hike, or prepare for the most challenging alpine climb of your life, a lightweight approach can have tremendous long-term benefits. With good information, skill and high-quality gear, you can engage in more enjoyable and more rewarding outdoor adventures. We compiled our best big-picture long distance hiking tips here in one convenient package to help you build your own ultralight philosophy and methodology.
April 1 Snow Pack Update: Thru Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Isn’t Getting Any Less Interesting
It’s not like hiking the trail, it’s more of a winter ice endurance event. It doesn’t relate to thru hiking.
–“Don’t Panic,” 2011 PCT thru hiker
Five weeks ago we published a Pacific Crest Trail 2017 preview, and it turns out that we’re not alone in having a mean case of trail brain right now. The post caused quite a stir simply (we think) because it accurately related the insane reality of the Sierra snow pack at the end of February. A quick summary: if you’re thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year, be prepared for snow. Lots of it.
Now for the update: As of April 1, the snow pack for the entire Sierra region of California is at 164% of normal. Break that down regionally and the numbers get even more staggering. We’re talking 147%, 175% and 164% for north, central and south, respectively.
My body trembled with equal portions of determination and uncertainty. My feet tingled with hot spots and fleshy sores across my lower back and shoulders stung with fresh sweat. Step, step, trip, ankle twist. I clumsily danced to the repetitive tune while navigating the bulging tree roots that I came to know as Maine.
The forest was alive with vibrant green moss dripping down the cedar trees, spider webs glittering like sun catchers, and the song birds’ sweet chorus tangled amongst it all, but I was too consumed by discomfort to appreciate any of it. My pack felt like a small child clinging haphazardly to my back, two “absolutely necessary” bandanas hanging lifelessly off a strap in the still, sticky air.
It’s not necessarily news that it has been dumping snow this winter. Much to the delight of skiers and snowboarders everywhere, mountains across the country are up to their armpits. You can gloat all you want about sidling up to the all-you-can-eat powder gorge, but if you also happen to be planning on thru hiking the PCT this year, you might to want to change your tune.
(Spoiler Alert) Both trails require the essentials.
Word & Photos by Robin Standish
I finished the Appalachian Trail (AT) in mid December, 2015. Hoarfrost glazed the landscape, icicles lined the slick, frosty trail, and a damp, east coast chill seeped through ever layer I wore. It was time to be done, though it wouldn’t be for long. A few months later, when the feeling in my toes had returned, and my hiker hobble lessened, I headed for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I was confident in the hiking part, but was uncertain about how my gear setup would have to be altered.
The Brooks Range has always intimidated me as a logistical challenge: expensive, remote, cold in the winter and buggy in the summer. But it is the largest swath of Alaska I haven’t seen, and with a lot of planning, we were able to do a long and remote Gates of the Arctic backpacking trip within my budget. We had to have the route, logistics, and pace, dialed-in to pull off this ambitious trip. Our route evolved to be: fly to Anaktuvuk, float southwest on the John River, hike west to the Alatna River, float southeast on the Alatna to access the Arrigetch, cross the Arrigetch, float northwest on the Noatak River, hike southwest to the Ambler River, and float west to Ambler.
SNAP! The sound of a baseball bat hitting my shins was a pain I will never forget. Except there was no baseball bat, I was a month into my Appalachian Trail thru hike and dealing with shin splints that made every step a nightmare. I remember it so well because it was the week of my 26th birthday, and my only wish was for the pain to go away.
To set the story straight I know the problem was my pack weight, which was largely due to my camera gear. I was quite new to backpacking and surely wasn’t the type of guy to brag about my knowledge when it came to the great outdoors. I was determined to keep going and willing to do anything to help ease the pain I had put my body through, but was I ready to take the steps to become an UL hiker?
Bushcrafters Love “Classic” (aka Heavy) Gear: Brian Trubshaw Wants To Change That
Words & Photos by Brian Trubshaw
I started my outdoor life with Bushcraft. A naturalist at heart, I don’t just enjoy being in nature; I believe in being one with nature. Bushcraft is the art of being able to spend time outdoors with very few items because you have a better understanding of the natural world. In other words, you have excellent “wilderness skills.” Englishman Ray Mears popularized the term “Bushcraft” here in the United Kingdom in his TV show, “Wild Tracks.” His show brought his survival research across the world to the big screen and left a lasting impression on my seven-year-old self.
Like Mears, when I walk in my woodlands, I don’t just see trees and plants, I see food I can eat and resources that I can use to do tasks. For example I very rarely carry tent stakes with me, as I know that I can just use branches with a carved point on the end. However, I also have a set of tent takes I have carved out of Hazel straights for when I’m in mossy areas. Wood work, fire lighting, shelter building—with the right knowledge the possibilities are endless.