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.
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.
Most people don’t know New Zealand for its backpacking. Native New Zealander Greig Caigou explains how to make the most out of your time visiting.
Text & Photos by Greig Caigou
Far flung from Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s home in Maine, my Southwest 3400 pack travelled via CB postage (cabin baggage) to the land ‘Downunder’, to the bottom of the world . . . to New Zealand!
I’m a NZ’er by birth – 60 years young, and an outdoor educator by profession and a wilderness hunter by passion.
Named after our iconic native bird, we ‘Kiwis’ (New Zealanders) are an adventurous lot, with many like myself having had a rural or ‘outdoorsy’ upbringing. As such, we’ve prided ourselves on a rugged lifestyle birthed by pioneering forefathers who just 175 years ago travelled tenaciously half-way round the globe to settle amongst the impressive and varied landscapes of these islands at 41 degrees South.
That not-so-old legacy of past pioneers meant I grew up with a bold spirit, always keen for expeditions into the wild unknown, well beyond the back fence. In addition it meant I was raised on country fare . . . home grown vegetables matched with wild meats hunted from the local hills, and resided in a generous community where such produce could occasionally be exchanged for a fat mutton (sheepmeat) or some homebrew with a kick!
My new pack has been an integral part of my recent adventures, helping me stay ‘ultralight’ during my work and in my Kiwi-style hunting. Maintaining that simpler and stripped down approach resonates better with a wild experience for me, in touch with the rhythms of nature, but which has been somewhat counter–culture for many who take on the rigors of traversing the backcountry of New Zealand.
There are thousands of kilometers of formed trails here, many more established ‘routes’ and perhaps unquestionably the best network of public accommodation ‘trampers’ huts in the world. Let’s say you are planning on heading to this country with your very own Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack and hoping to walk one of our Great Walks or the ‘Long Pathway’ – Te Araroa (TA).
So what are some tips for the trail and how could you add some extra pizzaz and design your adventure for something differently wild and uniquely ‘Kiwi’?
Ambassador Bethany Hughes Raises Awareness for Women’s Issues on major America-to-America Thru Hike
When the rainy/winter season came, the two-woman hiking team of Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Bethany Hughes (aka “Fidgit”) and Lauren Reed (aka “Neon”) completed the first stretch of a 20,000-mile hike from the tip of South America to the top of Alaska. They finished the hiking season in Bariloche, Argentina after walking an estimated 1553 miles from November 23, 2015 to April 19, 2016, covering 13 degrees of latitude since starting in Ushuaia, Argentina.
“Taking a break will give us a chance to structure the next leg of our journey, which will run longer as we should, by next winter, be far enough north to hike through the winter season,” Hughes says. “Plus, it means I can put more time and effort into writing.”
“We are particularly interested in highlighting the abilities and accomplishments of women we meet by featuring their stories,” Hughes explained. As well, she stated, with domestic violence recently becoming a more prominent topic of conversation in South America, their trek offers the opportunity for fostering discussion.
“Taboos are being broken just by having these conversations, especially with an outsider,” Hughes added.
Hughes began planning this trek, dubbed “Her Odyssey,” five years ago after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and subsequently learning that it formed part of the longest contiguous chain of mountains in the world. Reed, a “Triple Crowner,” is accompanying her on the South American portion of the journey.
Philip Werner never wanted to be a thru hiker. While he respects thru hikers and their achievement(s), he prefers to hike his own hike, which, to him, means hiking and backpacking both on and off-trail on journeys of his own design. People often equate hiking and backpacking with thru hiking. However, the vast majority of hikers and backpackers don’t hike on National Scenic Trails. Werner estimates there are probably 10,000 or more non-thru hikers for every Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru hiker. We recently chatted with this influential hiking blogger and owner of SectionHiker.com about what “hike your own hike” means to him.
Hiking new routes, to new places and in new ways. My favorite mountain is the mountain I have yet to climb. To find new routes, I look at maps a lot and work off trail lists and peak lists. For off-trail routes, I mainly use caltopo.com to plan my bushwhacks and a map and compass to hike the routes. I really enjoy planning unique trips to places I want to visit. I can’t think of a time where I’ve used someone else’s route on a trip on purpose.
What are some of the “new ways” you have hiked over the years?
Winter backpacking, mountaineering, bushwhacking, peak bagging, waterfall climbing, day hiking and nature viewing. There are lots of styles of hiking and combinations of these styles.
Plus, I’m constantly learning new backcountry skills and folding them into my adventures, adding endless new facets to my experiences. I’ve incorporated backcountry (cross-country) skiing, Tenkara fly fishing and traditional Flycasting with a reel into my adventures lately. This summer, for example, I’m doing a series of backpacking trips to remote alpine ponds in New Hampshire and Maine to fly fish from a packraft. That’s just one example of a trip that includes numerous activities—backpacking, fly fishing and packrafting. And this coming winter I plan to combine winter backpacking and backcountry skiing on some trips into the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
Adaptability is one of the most important skills for a hiker to learn. Find out how it affects all stages of your hike.
The only thing you have control over is yourself, your perspective and your actions. The elements couldn’t care less about your first ascent, your time record or your worthy cause. In thru hiking, as with all adventure sports, adaptability can determine whether you live or die. It means backtracking when you fought hard to get there. It means swallowing your ego.
Adventure athletes are a bull headed breed. We are out there to whet our mettle, pushing forward into new territory, testing limits–this all takes determination. Yet sometimes we have to turn around 300 feet from the summit. It means not dropping in if the snowpack is weak. It means not shooting that sick Go Pro video. Because before all else, Mother Nature demands humility.
Have I made the point about baseline safety, yet? Okay, now let’s talk about how adaptability comes into play at every stage, from planning to after-action review. Find out more about adaptability
The vast Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument is arguably best true wilderness in the lower 48. The beauty of the desert canyons and the mesas in the Monument is breathtaking—challenging the the best the planet has to offer. It is the perfect setting for a bona fide adventure filled with jaw dropping beauty.
The Escalante was the last river of its size to be discovered in the lower 48 states and the area was the last to be mapped in the lower 48. In the vast expanse below Highway 12 there are no trails (actually there is only one trail in the entire park). Many of the side canyons are so remote and inaccessible that only a few people every 10 years reaches them, if ever. Only a few canyons see regular use.
A light tarp is usually all you need in the desert. Note: While I could have camped higher up on the canyon wall on a slickrock shelf with better views… I discreetly camped out of sight, away from the trail and in the cottonwood trees as a favor to others sharing the canyon with me. It is also a warmer and more protected location than exposed on the slickrock. And this is far from a bad view!
Alan Dixon runs the popular website, AdventureAlan.com. He regularly uses our 3400 Southwest Pack. Stay tuned for Dixon’s future blog posts, including the second in our series of, “Why You Won’t Freeze or Starve Going Ultralight” blog posts, in which he discusses good camping skills, utilizing gear that’s appropriate for the conditions, and being prepared in terms of weather and calories needed. “I’ll wager that with my 5-6 pounds of ultralight gear I’m more comfortable, sleep better, and eat as well or better than most campers carrying 20 to 30 pounds of conventional/heavier backpacking gear,” Dixon says.
The Triple Crown of hiking is an almost mythical endeavor. These three trails take thru hikers and backpackers to some of the most scenic, remote and illustrious landscapes of the United States. The Appalachian Trail is full of history, tradition and lore. The moss-covered New England rocks and gnarly roots are emblematic of the long and deep culture of this famous footpath. And the Pacific Crest Trail winds its way through desert, climbs its way to the High Sierra and John Muir’s fabled “Range of Light” and onward to the volcanic peaks of the Pacific Northwest. It is a land of biodiversity and enchantment. Anyone attempting all three will find something completely different hiking the CDT (Continental Divide National Scenic Trail). Read on.
One-Quarter of Aspiring Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hikes Succeed: These Tips Can Make The Difference
The Westernmost trail in the infamous “Triple Crown” of hiking, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) stretches from the US-Mexico border to the US-Canada border, running through California, Oregon and Washington. According to the 2013 statistics from the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, out of the 1041 people that attempted the PCT, only 273 of them reported completing the trail (26% completion). We talked to Trail Information Specialist Jack Haskel of the PCTA who gave us nine critical PCT tips to help you on your thru hike. Find out how to thru hike the PCT.