Learning to navigate is a life-long learning opportunity. There are always more things you can learn, more tips, tricks, and little know-hows to add to your quiver. I was honored by being asked by Backpacker Magazine for some tips on navigation. We all have to start somewhere when it comes to navigation, and I certainly remember when I first started hiking, I would easily get fooled to believe than an animal trail or water way was “the trail.” Hopefully, you will find these tips useful!
Like many ultralight hikers, I never thought I would carry a potty trowel. It was a piece of gear that seemed heavy and redundant, especially when a shoe, rock, or stick could do the job and serve multiple functions (or not need to be carried at all). However, after I tried my first ultralight potty trowel, I’ve become a strong advocate for potty trowels on trail. I believe carrying a potty trowel can improve the hiking experience, both for you, others, and the ecosystem for a near inconsequential weight penalty.
I first was willing to try carrying a potty trowel when I discovered that potty trowel technology now has multiple options available at less than an ounce. For me, it’s well worth carrying an extra 12 g to improve what was once the worst part of my hiking day.
Carrying a trowel has become even more important because of the increase in number of hikers, especially on the PCT. The damage (and just plain grossness) created by hundreds or thousands of hikers doing a cr@ppy job of burying #2 is mind boggling. Particularly for desert sections of drought-struck Southern California, heat, dryness, and soil-not-conducive-to-bacteria can make it so a turd will take decades to decompose. This means that each year, more and more hikers leave landmines in the sand at a rate faster than they can return to the earth. This is why digging a good hole—and carrying the equipment that can make digging a good hole possible—has become even more important.
Lastly, hikers need to admit to themselves that they are infamously bad at burying poops. Thru-hikers especially. When you’re trying to make miles, have to get to town before the store closes, and have reduced control over your bowels, digging a quality hole in lickity-split time using only a rock becomes nearly impossible. The trowel can dig through all sorts of soils and build a fat cathole in a fraction of the time of many other building materials.
List of ultralight potty trowels
Qi Whiz—the one I use and the lightest on the market! It is pictured throughout this blogpost. The original model comes in at less than 0.4 oz or around 11 grams!
MSR Blizzard Stake is a stake but is as beefy as a trowel. Not sold at REIs, but can be ordered online.
The Deuce of Spades is the least expensive on the market and doubles as as stake!
If you’ve ever thought about switching to Altra Zero Drop trail running shoes for your backpacking season, now is the time to start getting your foot accustomed to the shoe. I find that switching to hiking in the Altra Lone Peaks has increased my stability, reduced my strike impact, provided comfort for hours of hiking, eliminated long term hiker issues like plantar fasciitis, and increased my efficiency. That being said, hitting the trail with a brand new pair of Altras if you’ve never worn them before may not be the best idea because there is a transition time associated with switching over to a Zero drop shoe.
Fear not, though—the benefits of switching over are HUGE for long distance hikers. Zero drop shoes help align the feet, reduce the impact of each foot step, and increase your stability. The foot shaped toe box—increases balance and efficiency, while reducing blisters and chaffing, maximize shock absorption and allows toes to spread out naturally. What this means for hikers is day-long comfort, increased stride efficiency, and less foot pain.
So, why should you start transitioning to Altra shoes now instead of say, a few days before my hike most thru-hikers (myself included) do the bulk of the trip planning? Because we’ve all spent years wearing high-heel like elevated trail runners, our feet have been trained to be lazy (in scientific speak—has neutralized our Achilles and lower calf muscles). If you hit the trail doing 15s, 20s, or 30 milers in a zero drop shoe when you’ve never worn zero drop shoes before, your Achilles and lower calf muscles are going to feel the burn. The muscles in your feet are going to be confused. It’s best to give yourself at least three weeks to strengthen your legs and feet before your hike.
Pre-hike training schedule:
Before you get your shoes (or during week 1): Walk around barefoot in the grass or the beach or your bedroom for 30 seconds, adding a 30 seconds per day.Week 1: Wear Altras around the office and running light errands (they sell a “work appropriate” show called the Instinct Everyday that has many of the same features as the running shoe, but looks like it’d work with a suit). At first, the Toe Shaped footbox may feel too roomy and weird. After a few days, your toes will start relaxing and will start spreading out naturally.
Week 2: Do a very short hikes (whatever that means to you). Start without your backpack and give yourself a rest day to assess how your feet, joints, Achilles, foot muscles, and lower calves feel. If everything seems great, slowly increase the mileage and add weight to your backpack, being sure to build in days in between for rest and recovery. On a thru-hike, it’s near impossible to take zero days every day, so let your body take advantage of rest days between hikes to build muscles and strength. Let your body also take advantage of the muscle building fuels that you can get from living off trail. Building muscles on trail when you’re living on instant mashed potatoes and ramen is going to be a little bit more difficult.
Barefoot Jake.Week 3: Up your mileage slightly, being sure to take days off in between. Take note of any excessive soreness or discomfort and rest up more. Week 4-6: Do a few hikes of the approximate length that you would wish to start a thru-hike. Take some days off between. Assess how you feel. Try doing that distance with a full pack of gear.
With this training system, your feet will get stronger and reduce the chance of getting bone fractures. Your lower calves will be ready to hit the trail (relatively speaking). And you’ll enjoy the natural alignment benefits of wearing a Zero Drop shoes. Wearing Zero Drop shoes is like long distance hiking: once you start doing it, you’ll have a hard time thinking of life the same way. If you’ve ever thought about it, I highly encourage starting now before hiking season gets into full swing so that you can maximize the benefits when you’re on trail. (P.S. I’m not a doctor. Legal says that you should consult with your physician before doing anything physical or changing your life in any way).
Get to the hills! The Colorado hikers are in Ruck! This past weekend, ALDHA-W and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) completed their first Rocky Mountain Ruck attracting 85 people from as far away as Salida, Vail, Portland, and even LA! This all-day event attracted hikers in all stages of experience—from dayhikers to seasoned veterans to the long trails. No matter what level of expertise, everyone walked away having learned a trick or two, and the fellowship, fun, and beer made the event the closest Colorado has gotten to a Gathering yet (besides maybe Lawton “Disco” Grinter and Felicia “POD” Hermosillo’s wedding).
After a break with food and snacks provided by Great Harvest Bakery and Whole Foods Golden, the event jumped into the ever-important ‘Everything that Can Go Wrong on the CDT’—with applications for the Colorado Trail, PCT, and pretty much every other trail. Disco and POD used their humor and wide breadth of hiking experience to present a spectrum of safety techniques for various tribulations of the trail—from grizzlies to giardia.
From here, it transitioned to winter hiking teacher Pete “Czech” Sustr’s hands-on (read: powerpointless) clinic on fords and snow travel. The troop of hikers traveled outside to a park outside to enjoy the four surrounding mountains of Golden, the 70 degree temps, and a little lightning safety position practice.
Czech demonstrated walking on a not-snow-covered hill and then gathered everyone to Clear Creek where he and a lone brave volunteer forded the creek. Passerbys from downtown Golden stopped to witness the crazy.
The morning concluded with backpacking gear presentation by expert and ultralight guru Glen van Peski. Throughout the day, hikers had the opportunity to explore manned booths and touch, try on, and otherwise drool over gear from Montbell, Gossamer Gear, Katabatic Quilts, and the CDTC. Lunch outside transitioned into pack shakedowns with experienced hikers and trail Q&A in breakout groups. Those who brought their backpacking gear for one-on-one consultations were stoked at the level of attention, helpfulness, and insight the hour of gearheading provided.
Corralling people back to the classroom on such a sunny day was a chore, but well worth it. Paul “Mags” Magnanti gave a highly informative presentation on navigation on the CDT with a robust Q&A. Mags proved a hard act to follow, but Allgood and I came on stage to discuss serious business: pooping in the woods. We discussed Leave No Trace trail ethics and Trail Town Etiquette—two very important topics that to-be hikers need to know before stepping foot on trail. The session concluded with a cathole digging competition with participants using their shoe, hiking poles, sticks, tent stakes, rocks and potty trowel to dig the best hole they could in 45 seconds. Needless to say, the trowel got the job done.
The evening ended with a killer presentation by Junaid Dawud, who thru-hiked all the Colorado 14ers as a continuous hike. A minor Front Range celebrity, as well as a seasoned thru-hiked himself, Junaid’s photos were jaw dropping and his description of pioneering a trail and the suffering that actually doing it entailed somehow just made me want to hike it even more. Junaid told us during Happy Hour that it was the first time he had given a talk about the 14ers Thru-Hike. Everyone who heard that could not believe it—his talk was so well-polished that we had all assumed he had given it to numerous clubs around the Front Range. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Junaid has an opportunity to give his talk again sometime soon.
It’s the end of Ruckin’ Season. Soon, hikers will hit the trail. But with the help of the Rocky Mountain Ruck, we hope that everyone will set foot on trail—whatever that trail may be—feeling more prepared for the journey ahead.
As we speak, the long distance hiking community is taking over the Outdoor Winter Retailer Show. Many of us are working with trail non-profits and companies like Woolrich, Point6, and Mountainsmith that are sponsoring long National Scenic Trail-centric gear. Others are representatives of outdoor stores and are busy buying gear as part of their job.
I’ve been going to OR back in the days when Trauma was the only other long distance hiker coming. Although I’m far from a veteran at this event, here are a few tips I wish I had known the first time I’d walked in here:
1) The show is huge! There are 21,000 people coming to Winter OR, and Summer OR can get to be as 40,000.
2) But everyone here is here for a purpose greater than just getting free schwag. You have to apply months in advance, and they review to make sure the only attendees are here for business.
3) So if you’re looking to create a sponsorship or help a non-profit, unless you’ve set up a meeting, to expect to stay out of the way until the end of the show when exhibitors have already made their sales.
4) Since business comes first, there’s a hierarchy of badges here. Exhibitors (gear companies) are here to make money, so retailers (gear stores) are getting first dibs for their attention. Media is the next desirable badge, and non-profits are towards the bottom.
5) But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun early in the show. Be sure to use Wednesday to get the lay of the land.
6) It’s a maze in here, so be sure to get your hiking map or to download the app.
7) But all that hiking around the show floor will get up your hunger and thirst. So be sure to stay hydrated.
8) Luckily, there’s lots of food and drink around. Just check the back of the OR Daily magazine for locations. You can usually get a meal for the cost of a donation to a good outdoor cause.
9) Or, if you’re here as media, a sales rep, or a retailer, food and drink can be found in the Press Room, Rep room, or Boy Scout Room.
10) But if you can wait until 4 pm, there’s plenty of drinks to be had a dozens of Happy Hours. We hikers usually like to visit Happy Hours that support the trails.
11) If you’re trying to find your friends at the end of the day, know that running the OR app and just being in the conference center can really drain your phone battery. Bring your charger!
12) And then head out to the infamous Outdoor Retailer parties.
Congratulations! You’ve survived Day One of the four day event. It’s going to be a wild ride!
Do you have any tips for going to big conferences?
In Tina Fey’s Bosspants, the comedian dedicates a chapter to how being a Vogue cover model is nothing like anyone would like to believe. She doesn’t get to keep the clothes, heck, the clothes doesn’t even fit her (she describes how they squeeze her into a too small designer dress and then don’t even zip it up).
Before I’d done a lot of hiking, I thought that the ladies I saw in the outdoor gear catalogs were just rugged looking models, but it turns out (at least if I’m showing up in print) that at least part of the time, the outdoor industry uses real people in their ads.
Yes, a lot of the big companies, especially the ones who make “lifestyle clothing” are hiring real models to look hot in their products. But as a long distance hiker, no one is investing that kind of money in models, and instead, they’re getting real people who really use their gear. As I join a crew of GG ambassadors headed to do a photoshoot in the canyons around Moab this weekend, here are a few things I’ve learned about being (perhaps the most ironic term ever) a hiking model:
1) No one is doing your hair or make up. Bummer. Because I really wanted to look hot in this photoshoot, and instead, I look like I’ve got about a week without a shower (yes, I know that’s true but…)
2) Wear brightly colored clothes-they show up better in the shots
3) Bring a full backpack-because, a partially filled pack looks 20 pounds heavier , extra dumpy on camera
4) Bring an extra change of clothes. When I did the photoshoot for Brooks Range, I brought a couple outfits, and we tried out what l what looked best on camera.
5) Be prepared to walk back and forth A LOT. When Kevin Steele got his first page shot for the article in Backpacker, I walked an LA downtown crosswalk at least ten times. Meanwhile, he laid down in the center of traffic to get the angle on the shot he wanted. It was worth it—the photo turned out awesome—but there were certainly some extra miles made that day.
6) Know a lot of shots that were taken will never see the light of day: Sometimes, you’ll take 100 shots from 15 different angles of that one mountain—and it will never make it to print or the web. I have yet to have a photographer get an awesome portrait shot of me, but a lot have tried.
7) After the shoot, be sure to credit the photographer and use photos only with permission: People taking photos are artists, which means that a lot of them are starving and struggling. Be sure to send them some future customers by acknowledging and recognizing their work.
Are you a photographer or have you taken a lot of outdoors photos from people? What tips would you have for hiking “models”?
Whether you’re a hiker, hiker to-be, or friend or family of a hiker, there’s no more fun place to get all the information you need than from the people at the Trail Show. TTS is a podcast that’s been around for over two years with a well-respected repository of all news, tips, and tricks related to hiking.
After numerous requests, TTS finally put together a women’s issue show, the Red Tent Show (yeah, they really did call it that). Instead of the usual hosts, the Red Tent show utilizes the wisdom of 5 accomplished female long distance hikers with more than 50,000 miles of experience. I was lucky enough to be part of that crew (along with Angelhair, Trainwreck, Salamander, and our host, Princess of Darkness) so can give you a sneak peak at some of the topics we covered:
-Safety on Trail
-Women’s Outdoor Gear
-Women’s Hygiene (including dealing with “that” time of the month while on trail and sex in the woods)
– How Men can act better on trail
-Could birth control lead to hiking injuries?
Even though I’ve been hiking-while-woman for 29 years now, I honestly can say I learned a lot of tricks and tips from talking with these other accomplished lady-hikers.
I went into the Red Tent show expecting that we would all have the same advice, and was blown away by how different hikers have developed different ways of addressing the same issues.
Long distance hikers have to go into town and get new supplies every few days, but after being in the woods, sometimes going into a grocery store can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips to make the most of your town time and make the resupply process a bit easier.
Plan out your attack first: I usually start planning out my resupply on trail a few days before hitting town. This not only gives me something to think about while I’m hiking, but also gives me time to be strategic about my nutrition. Walking into a grocery store from the woods can be overwhelming, so know what you’re looking for beforehand—make a shopping list. It helps qualm the surrounded-by-food-lots-of-people-and-noise anxiety that plague a just-to-town hiker.
Wash your hands: You just got out of the woods. You’re gross. Go do it before you start pawing at your snack.
Don’t resupply on an empty stomach: How many times have I let my starving belly dictate a resupply only to either a) end up with waaaay too much food for the next resupply b) discover on trail that my entire resupply is cookies and chocolate? A snack before you shop can calm your belly and prepare your mind for the difficult decision of what food is worth carrying on the next leg of your trip. Favorite simple satiaters are: a yogurt, a few pieces of fruit, chocolate milk, Ben & Jerry’s, a couple pieces of fried chicken, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, a slice of pizza (but NOT a whole pizza!)
Grab a drink: Sure, you’ve spent the last few days thinking of nothing but how you’re going to eat the entire grocery store, but unfortunately, your budget isn’t going to allow that (your stomach also will prove to have limitations). 80% of people can’t tell the difference between whether they are hungry or thirsty and I’m willing to say 80% of hikers are dehydrated coming into town. A drink will fill you and help rehydrate you for peak performance on some important decision making: what to eat!
Use your time indoors to warm up/cool down: Take advantage of the heating/cooling system to get your body temps back to normal before hitting the trail again. If your rain gear needs some drying, this may be a time to get creative…
Weigh your food on a produce scale: Now that you’ve loaded half the grocery store into your cart, it’s time to check whether you really need all that food to make it to the next town.Head back to the fruit and veggie area and weigh what you’ve got on a produce scale. You’ll probably want around 2 pounds of food per day until your next resupply. Account a little for the weight of the packaging, but be honest. If you carry 20 pounds of food for the two days until your next resupply, you’ll be hurting!
Grab a luxurious treat (or two!): I often do my resupply by sending boxes of pre-packaged food to myself, but when I resupply from a grocery store, I go out of my way to buy things the post office would rather not keep in the back mouldering until I pick up my box. When resupplying, I like to grab cheese, a sandwich, baked goods (cinnamon rolls are my favorite), ice cream, or a few fresh fruits and veggies to bring on trail. Garlic is lightweight and feels like a real luxury in camp. Ice cream doesn’t pack out that well (I’ve done it before…), but man, does it feel great to eat a tub of Ben & Jerry’s a few miles in!
Charge your phone quickly: This is my best discovery ever. Most supermarkets have washing-machine style plugs outside for their vending machines. You can usually find one that is unoccupied. These plugs charge super fast so you can sometimes get your phone up and running in the time it takes to eat snacks and sort food.
Don’t forget water: I never leave town without getting more food, but I often forget to resupply on water, only to find the next water source is really far away. Fill up your bottles and top off your Platy, even if it means having to buy a bottle of water to do it. You’ll thank yourself several hot miles later.
Be respectful: Remember: you look and smell like a hobo, so having good manners is especially important. Try to get in and out of the store quickly and to not scare the other customers. If management asks you to stop cooling yourself in the walk-in freezer, you best not argue. Your actions not only affect you, but also impact all future hikers who walk in that store for resupply. Think of yourself as an ambassador for all hikers. A really smelly, hungry ambassador.
Although walking thousands of miles and living in the woods for weeks on end doesn’t rack up the bills like a six month trip to Paris, in my six consecutive summers of doing nothing but hiking, I’ve found that stops in town to resupply, feeding hiker hunger, and sleep on a mattress add up over time. Prospective hikers frequently ask me for tips on keeping the money flow low and the fun times high while on a thru-hike. These are a few cost saving tips that will keep the cash in your Tyvek wallet and still keep a smile on your face.
1) Start the trail with the right gear I keep an expense journal for all my hikes and discovered that I spent almost $1000 on gear during my first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail—in addition to the thousand I spent gearing up to start the trail! During my hike, I decided what I was carrying was no good, and then replaced it with new gear—essentially buying two of everything. If you start the trail with gear you love, you will be less inclined to buy something else. Do your research and ask other hikers what they’ve brought—it can pay off big time when you’re deciding between getting dinner or new socks.
2) Share hotel rooms with other hikers It is almost inevitable to become friends with other long distance hikers during a thru-hike—so why not get a room together when you’re in town? Some trailside hotels will let you pack several hikers into a hotel room, allowing you to split the costs among many people. Make sure you check with hotel management and pay for all your extra people—failure to do so is considered stealing from an innkeeper and can get you kicked out of your room—and worse—give the hiking community a bad name to the small towns along the trail. But ifyou do it right, sharing a room with all your best trail friends can be a highlight of your hike.
3) Or don’t get a hotel room at all Many hikers like to hit town in the evening, catch a motel room, and spend the night partying, eating, and spending money senselessly. Yet, a night like this can lead a hiker to blow through more than $100. My friend Gantz who I met on the Pacific Crest Trail gave me the great money saving advice to avoid the hiker’s town night binge: arrive in town early. By walking into civilization in the morning, hikers are less tempted to get a hotel room or hit up the bar. I like to take care of chores in town (resupplying on food for the next leg of the trip, shower and laundry), and then find my way back to the trail for a few more miles before camping time.
4) Eat grocery store food before restaurant food After a week in the woods, hikers hallucinate about food. Yet, not all town food costs the same. My friend Lint, a backpacker with more than 15,000 miles on his tattooed legs, suggests eating a grocery store can of beans before going to the burger joint. Those 79 cent beans help meet the immediate hiker need for calories while telling the brain not to order a second $20 entrée when you get to the restaurant.
5) Never grocery shop hungry Just like at home, when you buy groceries while hungry, you’re likely to come back with more than you need. To avoid buying too much food for the next leg of the trail, I tend to eat first, and then make a second trip to the grocery store.
6) Know hunger from thirst Many hikers can’t tell whether they are hungry or thirsty—and this misinterpretation leads to getting a second dish of pasta at the restaurant. I will often get a $1.79 electrolyte drink before going to a restaurant. If you’re still hungry after the can of beans and the expensive alfredo, ask the waiter/waitress for a refill of water. Sometimes, a belly full of water can save you the cost of ordering another entrée.