Saturday, January 23, 2016

Time Management on the PCT

My site is currently undergoing reconstruction, so I am going to post one of my PCT related articles here for the time being. Enjoy!

Time Management on the PCT

With today's lightweight backpacking gear, it's easier than ever to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail in one season. Snow in the spring and fall put natural boundaries on the window of time available to hike through the mountains, and thru-hikers need to get it done in 5 months or less. This article will cover ways of speeding up your thru-hike to finish in 5, 4, or even 3 months depending on your goals and abilities. The recommendations below are a combination of what I did in 2009 based on previous experience and what I would do differently next time. I hiked the PCT in 131 days and feel I could easily shave off 10 days, probably 20 or more.

Basic time-saving methods

Reducing packweight

With some research and effort just about everyone should be able to get their baseweight (weight of gear carried in pack, not counting food and water) to 10-12 lbs or less. The PCT was "made" for ultralight backpacking, with its dry summers, warm days, and gentle grade. If you're much above 10-12 lbs., I'm sure you can give lots of reasons why you need the gear you're taking, but you could make things easier on yourself by subjecting your gear list to some careful scrutiny and consulting with some UL (ultralight) folks.

Every additional pound on your back translates into a slightly slower pace and increased fatigue at the end of the day. For people with baseweights of 10 lbs. and above a frame pack will be most comfortable; those with baseweights of 8 lbs. or less should consider frameless UL packs. You'll be carrying a lot of food with you, so even with a baseweight of 10 lbs. you'll often find your total packweight at 20 lbs. and over, when a frame starts to make a difference in comfort and efficient load transfer to the hips.

The effect of 100 additional grams of gear in your pack may add up to as much as one more day on the trail to complete the PCT. Cut down the extra gear and save many days of time.

Town stops

Different hikers have different attitudes towards town stops. Some love them, others don't. If you want to cut time off your thru-hike, consider keeping town chores to a minimum. Get in early in the morning and get out by noon when possible. It is often hot in towns, and having to walk around on hot asphalt looking for grocery stores and libraries can be demoralizing. If you get into town late, you may be forced to spend the night, losing many hours of trail time.

If or when I do the PCT again, I will make an even greater effort to limit my time in towns and will plan to always arrive early in the morning and get out as quickly as possible. I have many bad memories of baking to death in hot intermontane towns in northern California.

Food supplies

A good strategy for saving time is to buy food from grocery stores where they are large and easy to get to and to get food in packages when stores are small and/or hard to get to. If you can have packages sent from home rather than preparing them yourself as you hike the trail, you'll save a substantial amount of time.

Esoteric time-saving methods

The points listed above are all obvious enough. Now for some of the less-obvious ones — things you wouldn't tend to think of until you are well into your thru-hike.

Avoid fatigue and super-high-mileage days

This is probably the single most important way to shorten your PCT thru-hike. An analysis of my 2009 hike log reveals that much time was lost as a result of trying to walk too far or too fast in one day. For instance, 37-mile days were followed by 7-mile ones. Why? I just couldn't get started the next day and didn't feel like doing anything. A number of times I really got into rhythm of walking fast and let myself get carried away. The next day, my mileage would drop 10 miles or so.

Basically, any time your heartrate is elevated above a certain level for very long (for me probably about 125 BPM), your body is digging into energy reserves that take longer to replenish. It's better to slow down a bit and sacrifice half a mile today than 8 or 10 miles tomorrow as a result of fatigue. The same can happen as a result of very long hiking days.

When I do the PCT again, I'll try to limit my daily mileage to 30 miles, possibly 32 on the very easiest days. Instead of letting fatigue accumulate to the point that I end up needing to rest a whole day or half a day, I'll give myself a bit of extra time for rest every single day, or walk just a bit slower than I could.

Housecleaning on the trail

All clothing should be quick-drying and easy to clean by rinsing. If it's hard to clean, you'll tend to wait till you get to town, where cleaning becomes a time-consuming chore. I highly recommend washing (rinsing) an item or two of clothing a day on the go instead of letting "housework" accumulate. Forget soap — it doesn't make much difference. Instead of aiming for 100% cleanliness, just shoot for 90%. Hang damp clothes on the back of your pack and let them sun-dry.

Same goes for your body. Scrub your groin, armpits, feet, and face on a daily basis — again, aiming for 90% cleanliness. Wash your hair once or twice a week when it's warm and sunny. By doing this you'll spend just a few extra minutes a day rather than many hours at once doing chores in town.

Avoid overstuffing yourself

Ah, the memories of all-you-can-eat buffets at Mazama Village, the 7th Day Adventist Camp, and Timberline Lodge... the feast at Drakesbad, the gorging at Subways... Fond memories indeed, but if I'd simply eaten my fill rather than stuffing myself to the gills, I probably could have finished the PCT an entire day earlier. An overstuffed body requires hours to rest and digest food, as I found out several times on the trail.

Avoid blisters and inflammation

A great deal of time can be lost as a result of blisters and various forms of trail inflammation. Reduce the frequency of blisters by cooling and drying your feet, switching socks, and resting during the heat of the day. Take off your shoes during frequent rest stops. Nearly any anti-blister measures you take will save you time compared to having to treat the blisters and walk slower to avoid hurting them. If you change your stride to avoid tenderness, you risk developing inflammation as a result of walking with an unnatural stride.

Inflammation tends to be worst in the first month on the trail when your ligaments are not yet accustomed to such strain. This is a time to slowly build up your hiking speed to avoid overstressing your body. You will probably save time in the long run by artificially limiting your mileage in the beginning to give your body time to adjust. Perhaps start out averaging just 15 miles a day, than 10 days later get up to 20 miles a day, and 10 days after that build up to 25 miles a day. If you haven't trained before your hike, start at 10 or 12 miles a day. In a month you'll be close to your peak cardiovascular form no matter what.

Cut down on zero days

To get rid of zero days, you must develop a sustainable trail life. That is, you need to do things in such a way that unsatisfied needs such as hunger, fatigue, and grime do not build up such that a long town stop becomes the only solution. You'll need to watch your mileage and avoid overdoing it, make sure you're sleeping enough, keep you and your clothes relatively clean, etc.

A good rule of thumb is this: whenever you have two activated needs, do something about it. For instance, it's probably okay to ignore hunger or thirst for a while, but if you need to poop on top of it, then it's time to stop and take care of yourself. Or, if you're a bit cold but otherwise taken care of, you might just walk a bit faster to warm up, but if you're hungry on top of it, then you should stop, put more clothes on, and feed yourself.

Streamline routines

Trail life is full of routines — packing and unpacking, getting ready for bed, getting yourself ready in the morning, making food and eating, going to the bathroom, cleaning yourself, doing laundry, going into town, hitchhiking, etc. To speed up your movement on the trail, get these routines down to a science. Make them as quick and painless as possible without adding more weight to your pack than is necessary. Then walk at a relaxed and sustainable pace as long as you can without getting too tired.

Sleep quality

Poor sleep has to be made up for later, so make sure you're sleeping as soundly as possible. A thicker sleeping pad may well be worth the weight; 150 grams more weight may provide you with 15 more minutes of deep sleep a night. That will allow you to complete the trail quicker than without the 150 grams. If it helps you sleep better, consider also taking a sleeping mask or anything else that helps you sleep just as well on the trail as in your bed at home.

Avoid finicky gear 

Some ultralight gear is finicky — for instance, poncho tarps. You have to figure out a way to store the tie-outs separately from the poncho, or else use thicker and heavier rope so that they don't tangle. But then you'll have to have a way to remove them in case you need to wear the poncho in rain. For this reason I am no longer a fan of poncho tarps. Your shelter should be quick to set up and fool-proof. Extra time spent carefully storing tie-outs or putting up a finicky UL shelter may negate the benefits of its lower weight. Also, having a few thicker and longer stakes will make it easier (and quicker) to set up your shelter in less-than-ideal conditions.


How you spend your time on the PCT is a personal thing, and there is no "right way" to hike your hike. I am fairly certain that most hikers could do the whole thing in under 3.5 months if they followed all the recommendations here to the best of their abilities. Their bodies are capable of it. However, if you actually hiked the trail at this pace, you would end up leaving nearly everyone behind because most people take over 4 months to complete the PCT. If you're in front of everyone, loneliness may start getting to you. That's one reason why thru-hikers usually don't push themselves to their limits. Furthermore, "smelling the roses" along the way, including town stops, is part of the PCT experience for many hikers. Nonetheless, to finish the hike comfortably within the annual window of 5 months or so, you'll probably need to apply at least some of the principles explained here.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Minimalist Footware for the PCT

If I were to get a pair of minimalist shoes for the PCT, my first recommendation would be a huarache-type sandal, such as the Leadville Luna Sandal. This sandal design has a long and illustrious history and has become popular since the publication of Christopher McDougall's bestseller Born To Run.

The materials used in the Luna Sandal are top-quality, and the sandals should be durable enough for many hundreds of miles. Walking in them will require a somewhat different stride that you are used to in trail runners. There will be less of a heel strike and your foot placement will not be so far in front of you. There will be other adjustments to get used to, and some stabilizing muscles may become sore.

Here's another variant on the huarache style: the Unshoe.

The advantages of such a shoe on the PCT, or parts of the PCT, are:
  • very light weight
  • almost negligible drying time (great for stream crossings)
  • better ventilation for hot conditions (blister prevention)
I hope to get a pair of these before my summer thru-hike in Europe and try them out a bit.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Frame or Frameless Backpack for the PCT?

These new conclusions supersede advice I've given about choosing backpacks before now.

Here's the rundown. Frameless packs are generally comfortable to about 20 lbs. Ultralight thru-hikers on the PCT can get their baseweight down to between 7 and 10 lbs. You're going to be carrying varying amounts of food and water. How do you decide whether to opt for a frame or frameless backpack on the PCT?

Basically, we need to estimate the amount of time we'll be carrying over 20 lbs. and decide whether it's worth it or not to get a frame pack that weighs somewhat more, but is more comfortable. Let's put the threshold at 25%. If your packweight is going to be above 20 lbs. more than 25% of the time, then get a frame pack.

Let's do a bit of math.

We'll assume that:
  • one day of food weighs 2.5 lbs and provides near 5000 calories
  • you're among the faster hikers and finish in roughly 130 days (like I did)
  • you're carrying an average of 2 lbs of water at any given moment
  • you're carrying an average of 0.5 lbs of packaging and garbage at any given moment
  • you choose the same town stops I did, in particular dropping down to Independence to resupply in the High Sierra
We'll then look at three scenarios:

1. The SUL thru-hiker with a 7.5 lbs. baseweight.
2. The UL thru-hiker with 10 lbs.
3. The lightweight thru-hiker with 12.5 lbs.

In the first case, to be over 20 lbs. the hiker will need to have over 4 days of food (7.5 + 0.5 + 2 + 4 x 2.5 = 20). In the second case, over 3 days of food (10 + 0.5 + 2 + 3 x 2.5 = 20). In the third, over 2 days.

1. SUL thru-hiker: using my calendar, he'll be carrying more than 4 days of food roughly 15% of the time. Conclusion: use a frameless pack.

2. UL thru-hiker: he'll be carrying more than 3 days of food roughly 27% of the time. Conclusion: use a frame pack.

3. Lightweight thru-hiker: he'll be carrying more than 2 days of food roughly 45% of the time. Conclusion: definitely use a frame pack.

As you can see, the cutoff for comfortable use of a frameless pack for the PCT is a baseweight of roughly 9.5 to 10 lbs, assuming a fast pace (finishing in 130 days or less). You can get down to this baseweight only if you practice classical UL principles and shave down all excess weight.

Remember that you'll also be carrying maps and spare batteries and things like that. Oh — and a heavy bear canister for much of the Sierra. If you're using a frameless pack and not dropping down to Independence, your first week or more in the High Sierra could be pretty uncomfortable.

Recommended packs


If doing the math shows that you can comfortably use a frameless pack, then I'd go for one of the really light ones (under 12 oz.), such as the Zpacks Blast series. I'd probably get the highest-volume one and store my sleeping bag/quilt semi-compressed to preserve it's insulating capacity.


If you see that you're going to need a frame for added comfort but are going to be under 25 lbs. at least 75% of the time, then consider frame packs from Gossamer Gear (Gorilla and Mariposa Plus). These are completely comfortable to about 25 lbs. The ULA Ohm is totally comfortable to about 28 lbs. These packs are among the lightest frame packs out there and weigh in at under 24 oz. (680 grams).

If your baseweight is 15 lbs. or higher, you're most definitely going to want a pack with a heftier frame capable of carrying 30+ lbs. comfortably. There are many more relatively lightweight commercial options in this category that weigh 2 lbs. or more.

Monday, January 31, 2011

New Articles about Hiking the PCT

I have posted some new, useful articles about hiking the PCT at my site, "Buckwheat's PCT Pages":

The first contains a unique analysis of temperatures on the PCT and should be very useful for those who are planning a thru-hike.

The second article contains inside tips on finishing the PCT as quickly as possible -- should you set yourself such a goal. Use these recommendations to comfortably finish the trail in less time than you would otherwise.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gear for a PCT Repeat: What I'd change

Here are some things I've learned from the last two years of hiking that would influence my ideal gear choices if I were to do the PCT again.

1. The real goal for selecting gear is to maximize speed, not minimize packweight.
The addition of 100 grams of weight to your pack translates into less distance traveled per day -- roughly what you'd cover in 5 minutes of walking. So, if the addition of 100 additional grams of gear saves you 10 minutes (in cooking, getting ready in the mornings, setting up camp, sleeping better, etc.), then you are in effect adding 5 more minutes to your walking day.

Using this logic and a bit of personal experience, you might decide to switch some ultralight options for somewhat heavier, but quicker and easier to use options. For instance:

  • A separate rain poncho (~200 g) and tarp instead of a poncho-tarp (I have become deeply disappointed in poncho tarps) or simply using an umbrella alone and quickly setting up camp if hard slanted rain or extended drizzling hits. Considering the summer weather of the coastal ranges, it might be better to set up camp and wait through the 10 cumulative hours of such weather during your PCT thru-hike rather than carry a 200 g poncho that translates into 2 x 5 minutes x 120 hiking days = 1200 minutes or 20 hours lost.
  • Wind pants made of a slightly heavier fabric than Momentum (keep the light stuff for your wind shirt which is less prone to tearing on rocks, snow, and branches).
  • Dedicated tarp pole/s if you don't carry trekking poles (save time looking for branches or trees spaced correctly), but only if you will need to set up your shelter most nights (otherwise the weight may not be justified).
  • Just a down quilt instead of a "wearable" down quilt (e.g. the Jacks R Better quilts). The cost in weight (velcro, fabric, cord, etc.) of the extra functionality is about 100 g. The conversion time between quilt and serape is too long to do often, so you'll wear it about 1-3 times the whole hike. But you can also wrap a quilt around you and get a similar, if not perfect, result.
  • A large stuff sack for your sleeping bag/quilt instead of a small one. You lose time stuffing it in and taking it out, are much less prone to do so during the day if it takes time, AND you progressively lose loft in your quilt, meaning that it does a poorer job of keeping you warm. Instead of getting an 800 g quilt, stuffing it into a 20 g stuff sack and storing it at the bottom of your pack, consider a 600 g quilt stored loosely in a 60 g stuff sack on top of your heavy stuff. Here you save both weight and time (both in storage and in lost sleep/lost warmth)!
  • A thicker sleeping pad instead of a thinner one. Instead of one 100 g Gossamer Gear pad, how about 2 or 3? Trust me, you'll get more than 5-10 additional minutes of deep sleep, so it's worth its weight. You may be tempted to get the NeoAir and will surely love it and reduce time lost on low-quality sleep... UNTIL it gets a micropuncture that you are unable to locate. Then you'll curse it. That's the only thing holding me back from getting one. That and the time spent inflating and deflating it (5 minutes per day? How about getting yet another Gossamer Gear pad for the same time/weight?).
In addition, you might want to choose a packing style that allows you to set up camp and go to sleep without taking everything out of your pack. This could save you 5 or more minutes a day. Using a shelter option that doesn't require you to set up a full-blown tent every night is also wise, since the vast majority of the time you'll only need bug protection, if any. Something like the A16 Bug Bivy might be well justified due to the high speed of use, even though it weighs more than something like the minimalist Gossamer Gear bugnet.

2. Pack needs to be higher volume and comfortable above 20 lbs.
Higher volume in order to make packing quicker (see point #1), and also to store quilt/sleeping bag loosely. Very rarely are PCT thru-hikers able to consistently keep their packweight under 20 lbs. including food. Let's say on a typical day you've got a 9 lbs. baseweight, 2.5 days of food at 3 lbs. a day, and water weighing 2 lbs. That adds up to 18.5 lbs. Probably 40% of the time your pack will be over 20 lbs, meaning some discomfort if you're using a frameless pack. Discomfort can also translate into lost time. Therefore, the ideal PCT pack might be something with a frame of some type that makes it comfortable to 30 lbs, a volume of maybe 60 liters to allow for looser packing, and as light a weight as is reasonable. Such a pack might conceivably weigh 600 grams.

I could compensate for the increased weight of such a pack simply by switching to an ultralight camera.

Monday, August 23, 2010

If I Did the PCT Again...

I think I'd try going south.

If I walked fast enough and started late enough, I could eliminate most of the particular seasonal challenges of the PCT: excessive heat, snow, full creeks, and mosquitos.

The other day I did an analysis of my mileage on the PCT. I took 131 days and had 13 zeros (all but two in the first half of the hike). It took about 3 weeks to build up my mileage to an average of about 22 miles a day, then it took a drop to about 15 in the Sierra before rising to nearly 24 through northern California and Oregon. It dropped slightly to 23 miles/day in Washington.

What I think I can do

If I repeat the PCT, I don't think I can expect to do far better than my last hike. I was already pretty lightweight and may be able to shave off 1-2 lbs from my pack. My food was close to optimal as well. What I could improve, however, is time management.

High-mileage days (>32 miles) tended to be followed by days with under 10 miles due to exhaustion and loss of energy. Instead, I should stay within a comfortable range of 25-30 miles a day whenever possible and avoid overworking my body.

Town stops were not optimal. In the hot season, I really should try more to reach towns early in the morning and get out as quickly as possible. Town stops were draining on my morale.

I could get rid of most or even all zeros by not staying in town with relatives and friends (yes, I know, that's part of the adventure), by entering towns earlier in the day, by keeping my mileage to under 33 miles per day, and by starting my hike doing 15 miles a day instead of 20.

My plan for a PCT Sobo hike

So, here's my plan:

July 10: Manning Park
August 3: Cascade Locks
August 23: CA-OR border
September 10: Sierra City
September 30: Kennedy Meadows
October 21: San Jacinto Peak
October 28: Mexican border

Social needs are not to be underestimated. Walking in complete solitude for more than 2 days at a time is not for me! According to this plan, I figure I would meet Nobos roughly Aug. 5-23 and Sobos during the months of September and October. Most Sobos would start a lot earlier than I, so it would take some time to catch up.

With a schedule like this, I think I would probably get enough social interaction to keep me going. In the early part of the hike I would not be so early in Washington that the seasonal backpackers would not be out, so I'd have them to talk to. In Oregon I'd have numerous but -- unfortunately -- brief conversations with all the Nobos. In California I might have caught up with the Sobos (which seem to clump into just a couple groups because there are so few of them) and would probably be able to spend a lot of time with them. If I eventually passed them by southern California, I would probably still meet backpackers hiking along the PCT and nearby trails since that's perfect hiking season there.

Mosquito season
Is roughly from June 15 to August 7, with isolated pockets hanging on for a couple more weeks. By starting on July 10, I'd miss half the season and would also have little snow to cross in the Washington Cascades.

My plan involves starting at 15 miles per day and gradually building up to 25 miles per day by day 20. From there on I could expect to average 25 miles a day regardless of the location, because:
  • by the time I got to the Sierras there would be no snow and no rushing creeks to cross, just beautiful empty terrain, fall colors, and almost no backpackers
  • by the time I got to the southern California semidesert, it would be October, with much lower temperatures and more tolerable sun
I'm pretty certain I can reach 25 miles per day just by being slightly more efficient with town stops and avoiding 33+ mile days. On my Nobo hike in 2009, 24 miles a day was a sustainable pace for me, with zeros and town stops included.

Weight benefits
No ice-axe would be needed for mid July in Washington. No trekking poles would be needed for crossing Sierra streams. And no bear canister either, since the bears and the rangers would have (I think!) moved lower by the time I got there. With a faster pace through the Sierras, I wouldn't have to restock in Independence and could carry fewer days of food between town stops.

But there are some slight weight penalties. I would need a warmer sleeping bag (quilt) starting in the northern Sierras, as well as a base layer, jacket, gloves, etc. This could add 2 lbs. of weight (less than what I save by not taking a bear canister).

Gear choices
Most of my gear would be the same or very similar. I'd probably get a new pack for the trip, though. I'd probably consider a Zpacks Blast 32 with stiffening rods and other accessories.

Final words
This schedule, I think, would allow me to avoid much of the most unpleasant aspects of my Nobo hike: the heat (esp. during town stops down below) and mosquitos (northern Sierra and southern Oregon).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

General Advice for a Beginner for a 40-Day Hike

Here's a letter I got and my response below:

1. im going backpacking for a month or so by myself, and you are one of
the people that i know that has done similar things to this and i need
advice. ill be on foot for the most part, sleeping outside, and in the
U.S. i need to know what to pack, and what kind of gear i need to buy,
and what kind of clothes are good for this sort of thing. ill be
walking south, i think, starting sept 7 or 8th. ive neve done anything
like this before, so any advice you can give me would be great.
again, ANYTHING you can think of that a new backpacker should know, i
would like to know. i know that might be a tall order, but i would
greatly appreciate your help.

2. this is what im thinking.

as this is my first trip, and ill be gone for so long, im thinking
pack size up to 60 pounds. a friend of mine is letting me use his
external frame pack, and if i had to guess without measuring it i
would guess it weighs 6 pounds on it own, 12 pounds with the
stove/plates/silverware/canteen that came w it. ill give you a better
weight tomorrow when i weigh it for real. ill be starting in MI, but
heading south. i want to put down a lot of ground, but im not sure
what is a realistic amount to walk in a day. right now im thinking
that i can cover 20 miles a day without to much trouble... does that
sound realistic? could i do more and not be crazy?
like i said, ill be heading south but dont have any plan as to were i
want to go. i just wana walk and dont care where i end up.
my budget is 2,000. the less i can spend the happier i will be, but i
would be willing to spend at least that much. the pack itself is
already acquired, but the things that i know ill be needing are:

bed roll/bag
rain gear
butane (thats what my stove runs on)
back pack cover
appropriate clothing (i dont know what is good and what is not)

thats what i can think of right now. what otehr things will i be
needing? i plan on picking up food along the way as i go, and in that
regard lots of rice, beans, potatoes, oatmeal, and fruit. im a
vegetarian, otherwise i would go for some jerky as well, but thats
out. any suggestions in the food depo?

in general, im lacking most in practical advice about backpacking, like...
-how far can i expect to go in a month and a half?
-is it safe to walk on major highways on the shoulder, or should i
stick to side roads more, or should i avoid roads all together?
-if i go off road, are rivers and such a common obstacle that will
give me trouble, or are they easily overcome?
-is the threat of people mugging me something to worry about? (ive
talked to 2 people who have done traveling somewhat like this, and
both of them had mugging attempts. :/ is this something that happens a

wew! thats just a few of the questions i have. thanks a lot for your help with this. :)

3.ok, ive done some reading on your page and feel a little
more prepared to tell you what im thinking.

like i said earlier, i will be doing this by myself without any
re-supply "points" on my trip, other than walmarts. i think this would
effect my pack size and type, right? im not opposed to buying a new
pack for myself if you think the external i am carrying is a bad idea,
but for what im doing i think it will be ok.

after reading about the PCT, im thinking that doing a trail like that
might better than trying to walk off roads and the like. im not doing
the trip for any one reason, just to see the world from a different
perspective, so completeing a trail wasnt vital to my goals for the
trip, but from some of the reading ive been doing is sounds like i
might cover more ground this way. what do you think? im still
undecided, esspecially as i dont know of any trails in michigan. i
want to go south were it is a little warmer, and the north country
trail ive read about doesnt go that direction.

And my response:

1. I would strongly recommend hiking not along roads, but on established long-distance hiking paths. It is much more scenic and pleasant, you don't have to worry about cars and riff-raff, and you will be part of a trail culture and will meet other people like yourself. Hiking completely alone for more than 2 days is tiresome for most people psychologically, and you may lose interest in not-very-scenic road walking without companions. Also, you'll have the satisfaction of completing a route or a specific segment of a route, which you won't get from road walking. You'll see the most scenic areas in the region and will have bridges to cross creeks and good trail markings to avoid getting lost. Some areas even have pit toilets. That's a lot more hiking infrastructure than you'd get on a road walk.

There are 4 awesome long-distance trails in your region:

Here's a complete list of long-distance trails in the U.S. if you want to find something further south (see the Buckeye Trail, for instance):

2. With a 60-pound pack you will be limited to about 10 miles per day and will be at high risk of knee and ankle injuries unless you have been training extensively. For comparison, in the Rockies Kim was able to hike nearly 20 miles a day with a 20-pound pack and might have been able to work up to 25 miles. I could average between 25 and 28 miles a day on the PCT carrying a pack that typically weighed about 20 pounds. You will literally be able to cover twice as much territory (and thus be able to resupply twice as often and carry twice as little food between town stops) if you can get your loaded (with food) pack weight at least to 30 lbs. After that you'll still be thinking after your trip how you could have shaved off more pounds, because the weight of your pack will really come to weigh on you during your hike. 60 lbs means limited mobility even in towns because you simply don't feel like running around on errands with the pack on. It means fewer detours to campsites to use showers and restrooms, because the extra half-mile just isn't worth it. And when it rains, you'll feel even less mobile with a heavy pack because it's so much effort to take if off and get out raingear and then put it back on. You can take a 6-lbs pack on your hike, but I guarantee you you'll remember my words with regret :)

3. Count on your calorie needs doubling during your hike. I needed 5000 cal a day. Food will cost you at least $10/day if you buy along the way and eat the cheapest foods available. If you're picky and like to eat nutritiously, it could be as much as $20/day. Rice may be a pain to cook. It'll use a lot of fuel (i.e. add more weight) and takes time to cook. Consider taking food that can be cooked by just bringing water to a boil once, and also bringing more food that doesn't need to be cooked at all. Some days you just won't feel like going to the effort of cooking (meanwhile you freeze as your rice is slowly cooking) and will just want to eat as quickly as possible.

4. It will be hard in the remaining time to learn about lightweight gear options, especially since you have little previous backpacking experience. But it's not impossible. Anyone with any experience hiking long distance literally weighs every item they are considering taking and makes spreadsheets showing the separate and total weights. First-timers tend to skip this step and either get discouraged and quit or mail home a huge chunk of stuff from the first town stop. That's why such a large percentage of people who set out to hike the Appalachian Trail quit (something like 3/4).

5. If I had 40 days and a budget of $2000 and no equipment, here's what I'd do:

a. dedicate $15/day for food, or $600
b. put aside maybe $200 for unforeseen expenditures (and whatever else you might have left over after gear purchases)
c. join the excellent forum and tell people in the "G-spot" forum that you've got $1000 and want to spend 40 days hiking in the Midwest with as light of a backpack as possible. You'll get tons of responses and good ideas. I would aim for a base pack weight (everything minus food and water) of no more than 15 lbs, even 10 lbs if possible. Then you can go to the used gear forum and look for the gear on sale. A rough budget might look like this (assuming you buy lightly used, but good gear):

1. $275 - down sleeping back to 20 degrees
2. $100 - lightweight pack
3. $125 - lightweight shelter
4. $20 - sleeping pads
5. $75 - trail running shoes
6. $30 - sturdy hiking umbrella
7. $25 - cheap raingear (frogg toggs or something + pack cover, or even a poncho)
8. $250 - other clothing (baselayer + breathable but windproof nylon layer + socks + gloves + warm hat + lightweight jacket)
9. $100 - odds and ends: small flashlight, pot, alcohol stove, spoon, etc.

I think that comes to $1000. The folks at can give you more specific options. I'd follow their advice, which tends to be very good. There are a lot of experienced hikers there, and they know all the lightweight gear options available.