Last time we talked about which trail you might want to do, and maybe you’ve already decided. Maybe you’ve already gone off and done some shake down hikes
Today we’ll talk about how you’re going to prepare for your ultimate journey on a long trail
The type of things I look into and the type of things I research first
These are just preliminary things I do every time I’m beginning to plan a thru hike, the first steps I take to eventually heading off on a long walk in the woods.
What are the towns like, what’s the resupply situation, historical weather data, gear I may need, training I should possibly do, who else is out there, and past experiences I should read up on
Basically what I’m going to tell you is to do a ton of research, and we’ll talk about what specifically you want to research
The more you know the better!
Later on in this series I’ll have videos on how to train physically, and things to do before you go
This is more along the lines of a first step
Mental preperation in the way of investing yourself in this endeavor. Investing yourself in the knowledge, and the trail you’ll later be hiking
So lets dive right in!
You could do these steps in any order but lets start here,
1. Who else is going to be out there?
I find that it’s a nice thing to follow a bunch of other peoples hikes on the same trail I’m doing
Not only does this give me people to look forward to running into, but if they’re ahead of me I have the added benefit of seeing trail conditions before I get there.
or since you’re doing this before you start you get to see how everyone else prepares, and ask if you should do the same
Is there a bunch of snow? Has the trail not been maintained yet? Is the trail flooded or a river very dangerous? Maybe there’s some trail magic you would hear about in this way, or specific spots you may want to stop
So not only do I essentially have some “friends” out there, I can also gather all sorts of information that may help me in my own journey.
You can find others to follow on youtube by searching the trails name and the year, on facebook in groups by searching the trails name and the year, or on instagram through hashtags
For instance, #at2021 or #pct2021
This all may seem silly to some but more information is always a good thing
2. Look into past trip journals
Similarly I also look into past trip journals, either videos people have posted from past years, or actual trail journals people have written and published online
Trail conditions can change from year to year but generally the trail itself stays the same.
By reading past accounts you can see what’s gone wrong, what’s gone right, places of interest, towns that could be fun to plan a zero day in, potential hazards or things you need to account for, and again all sorts of other information
Before I started the Pacific Northwest Trail I watched videos from the past, and even read a journal from 8 years prior to when I was hiking.
In some ways the videos scared me as to what was to come, but ultimately if I’m scared in some way, it’s better to plan and prepare for why before I go than to find out and be surprised while on trail.
The journals I read on the otherhand were very reasuring, and ultimately I was extremely happy I had read them
If you don’t want to spoil the trail for yourself, I fully understand. Before I did the uinta highline trail I didnt read or watch anything about it, and left all the surprises for actually being out there.
This can work, and can be more exciting, but in the end I did get slammed with some conditions and hardships that I would have been more prepared for had I done more research.
So by not doing this stuff you’ll likely be fine, but I do think you are increasing your chances of success if you do take the time to research in these ways.
As I always say, before the trip begins, I want to do everything in my power to increase my chances of success.
Because once you’re out there all of this becomes a lot harder, and in the end having that extra familiarity with the trail is a very good thing
3. Pay attention to towns & resupply options
So while I’m reading others journals or watching videos I also try and pay attention to the towns they mention, if there’s anything strange like a really long food carry between towns, or if they needed to send themselves a box because it’s a very small town with limited grocery options
This fits into the bigger category of food resupply and we’ll cover this more deeply in a later installment o this series but for now just make a mental note
If it’s a trail that’s very remote and you need to send yourself boxes you’ll want to know that early on in the planning. While a trail like the Appalachian Trail the resupply situation is very easy, and you only really need to be aware of the first couple towns as you can easily figure out the rest while you’re out there.
Most trails you can easily buy food from grocery or convenience stores so it’s not much of a concern, but being aware of how far it is in between towns is still important
The backpack you use, and how much weight you’re going to carry will vary wildly if the trail hits a town every 60 miles vs a trail that hits towns every 200 miles
Hikes like the AT and PCT have great resources online for this type of information, but pretty much every long distance trail out there has some kind of guidebook which you can learn this type of info from as well
I often go through a guidebook before I leave, and highlight all the towns I plan on stopping in, and again checking out the distance between them
So this brings up another great thing you can do at this point
4. Buy Guidebooks, Maps, & Guthook
Go online and see if you can buy maps and a guidebook for the trail you’re going to hike
Not only is mail sometimes slow, but you’ll want these early on to start flipping through and gaining a familiarity
You don’t have to go nuts, but every once in a while look through it
For most trails these days there are also gps apps, you can sometimes get gps tracks for free online and sometimes this is your only option but most of the time you can download the app Guthook
Guthook has many trails loaded onto it, is pretty affordable considering what you get, and also comes with the added benefits of having town info, food establishments, water sources, pretty views, hostels, and pretty much everything you would ever find in a guidebook, but in an easy to read application for your phone.
It is an invaluable tool
I personally prefer to plan using maps and a guidebook, then while I’m on trail to switch over and use guthook exclusively
I cannot recommend getting this app enough, and 99% of the people you see out there will also be using it for navigating and information
One word of caution about Guthook: Dont get lost in it. I see so many people looking at the app, and agonizing over the climb they’re about to do, or agonizing over the distance to the next town when if they had just kept walking they would likely be done with it already
A really incredible tool, but try not to lose yourself in the details, and instead enjoy the trail
5. Look into the gear others used
So lets talk about gear!
At this point you may not want to dive into spending a bunch of money on gear just yet
We will have a few episodes coming up on gear itself, but what you can do now is start looking at the gear others brought, what worked for them, and take some notes.
Maybe they did reviews and you can see what they liked. Just be sure to find people that did the trail you’re doing, and started around the same time you are
Say they started a month earlier, or a month later, the gear they needed is possibly different from what you’ll need. Still a good exercise to look into what worked for others.
I do this a lot!
Say you’re going northbound on the PCT starting in April, you’ll likely learn from seeing gear lists that you’ll want a 20 or 30 degree quilt, you’ll want to start with about 6 liters of water, and that bugs aren’t an issue until the sierra. Among many other things you may notice
Fortunately we all have this amazing resource in the internet, and we can learn from others who have been successful and stand on their shoulders
I personally try to upload a gear video for every trail that I’m doing because I know how valuable that information can be, like my girlfriend Lotus’ gear list from the Florida Trail that I recently posted
6. Look into historical weather data
Something else that may influence your choices in gear is looking into historical weather data. Another trick I use before every trip I take.
Am I hiking the sheltowee trace trail in April? By looking up historical weather patterns I can learn and prepare for what temperatures and rain I will likely see later
I would find that in april in kentucky temperatures can still get down into freezing, and that rain is something to concern myself with. I can then buy the gear that will keep me warm, and dry
VS if I were hiking the Arizona Trail in October I no longer have to worry about rain, but I’m in for a lot of cold, and I better pack for that
You can also do this type of searching regarding bugs but generally I find the spring and summer is typically the worst for bugs unless you’re in the desert, and the fall is always the best as a rule o thumb
So basically the point of this episode is that information is power.
You have that power, and it will aid you in your journey, and can exponentially increase your chances of having a better time and a more successful time later when you’re on trail
If you can do this now while you’re at home, why not?
So I encourage you to take some time, watch some videos, buy some guide books, and immerse yourself in the trail you have chosen to hike
Many don’t do this type of research but when you’ve quit your job and have been dreaming of doing this for years, I personally would want the best chances possible at success when unfortunately so many don’t make it
I will say that many do go the distance without any of this, but it does make things harder
Just as well some trails are a lot easier than others
How much of this you choose to do is up to you! I think the planning is fun, but can see it from both sides
So for now that concludes todays episode! I hope it has been helpful, and a good window into some of the pre trail planning that goes on
As always I look forward to what type of adventures you find youself in, and I look forward to seeing you for the next installment of the how to thru hike series