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.

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