jupiterhikes

Life of the Wanderlust

Tag: backpacking (page 2 of 2)

Backpacking the Suwannee River

I recently asked for, and took the last of my vacations before I quit to go hiking for 6 months (I start in about 11 weeks.) My manager is about as fed up with me going backpacking as you could be with a guy who takes a few days off just about every month. But I played the game, I followed the rules! He can’t legally stop me! Not even his tears, old man tears, could stop me.

This time I decided to do something different. I decided to not hike the 63 mile trail I’ve already done 14 or so times, and head north! I chose the Suwannee River section of the Florida Trail. Arguably one of the most beautiful segments the FT has to offer, although there are very many.

My good friend Longwalker lives up there so I prodded him for information. Before I knew it he took off 5 days, made a plan, and I now had a hiking partner! Before I knew it I now had 3 hiking partners. Chris, from the deep south came for the 5 days, and my friend Madeleine who joined for the first day and night. My original plan was to knock out some 30 mile days and see as much as I could in the 5 days I had off, but with the addition of more happy hikers that was toned down to 20s.

So here it is, a couple weeks late, my trip report straight from the Suwannee River!

This was my final “shake down” hike. A trip specifically for the purpose of testing gear and food, for bigger hikes ahead. In my case, a 5,000 mile walk across a continent. If I didn’t already mention, 5,000 is the new 4,400. I don’t know where Nimble came up up with that number, but I’ve added up all my data from the most recent guidebooks, and the Eastern Continental Trail from Quebec, to Key West is 4,963.5. That last half mile is what really gets people.

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Day 1: Ocean Pond to Madison Shelter – 21.9 miles

The 5 hour drive to north Florida was long and filled with storms so bad I should have gotten off the road, if only I could have seen where the road was. An ominous beginning of sorts. The next morning bright and early we would meet at the trail head in Osceola NF and start making our way north… or west. I don’t know. The first day we started off quite fast. Most of my training hikes are around 30 miles so I guess I was in that mindset. I’ll take a break when I’m finished, kind of mindset. We hiked through a matrix of pine trees, over little boardwalks, dodging water moccasins, and for the only time on the whole trip, through standing water on the trail. Osceola was very pretty, and I had wished it wasn’t overcast so I could see the light shine through all the trees. Everyone was doing well, and we plodded along the trail a rather fast 20 or so miles to the first campsite, making it there around 3pm. This was Randy Madison shelter, or as we later learned, also known as the “love shack.” It is reserved for FTA members only, and yeah there’s a good chance someone will come down to talk with you, and check! It was a beautiful little home along a river with a bridge to get there. A small screened room with a fire place, a table, a bunch of chairs, with animal skulls hanging from the wooden interior. If I were hiking solo I probably would have slept inside, to save myself from setting up camp, but due to the season the floor was bright yellow with a layer of pollen. Not to mention, I really love sleeping under my tarp outside, at least for now, while im just out for a few days. The shelter was complete with a privy. One so fancy it even had toilet paper inside, which is great because I’m constantly forgetting to pack my own, and a window from the thrown viewing the forest outside. We set up camp, ate, talked, and went to bed as a light shower started to fall just after dark. I was safe under my little shelter.

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Best friends.

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Day 2: Randy Madison Shelter to somewhere along the Suwannee River – 20.8 miles

The second day came and Madeleine had to leave us early in the morning. This was her first time backpacking, and she did incredible! Not many could do a 22 mile day out of the gate, with a pack, at my pace! So then there were 3. A short roadwalk was first on the list, a quiet back road lined with old oak trees towering above us, and shielding the suns rays. We were soon met with the trail head at a dead end that would lead us to the Suwannee River. Kind of like magic we turned a corner on the trail and there it was. 50 feet below us this massive river, flowing fast. Very different from the cypress swamps and wetlands I’m used to down south. Very different from Osceola as well. The trail gave us a hint as to what was to come. We would be walking along the banks of the Suwannee for the next 65 miles or so, for the most part. Pink flowers lined the trail and showed the way. The path dipped, and rose up and over hills, I assume created by the river slowly cutting away at the land for thousands of years. Boardwalks, and bridges spared us the need to get our feet wet, and we hiked on. Today taking more breaks, as to not repeat the day before, and get to camp hours before dark. At some point we were greeted at a road crossing to the town of White Springs with a friendly sign that mentioned it being a “Florida Trail Gateway Community.” Very cool! You won’t see that often on the FT I imagine. It was a very beautiful town with a post office on trail(I love that.) We stopped at the gas station so I could get some chips, and high quality beer, King Cobra. A special occasion it was, as I rarely if ever drink. Here and there while backpacking. Continuing on we entered the Suwannee River State Park, and took a break at their amphitheater to rest the toes, charge some batteries, and eat some chips. Soon back to climbing the hills along the river, as a flat lander of the south a much desired change for my muscles. Somewhere along the way Longwalker was contacted by a Florida Trail maintainer named Janie, inviting us to come say hi at their camp site a few miles ahead. What luck! Apparently they were cooking food, and enjoying some time away from the city along the trail. The prospects of real food got the guys moving real quick! Along the way there we walked under massive oak trees, and around some beautiful rivers. Finally arriving at a freshly built bridge over swift creek, with a family swimming in the clear waters below. We took way down a side trail with the scent of food in the air, seeing tents and hammocks in the distance, eventually reaching a very large pavilion like tarp, with people under it. And food! The group was very kind, and we hung out and talked for a while. Me and Chris relaxed down by the creek and soaked our feet in the cold water while their dog dug up rocks to go add to his collection of other river rocks. Janie came down to talk to us and wouldn’t you know it, she met up with my friend Sycamore last year on his ECT thru hike! When he needed some shoes, she had him covered! Legend is, his old pair are on now on display at her home… Just in case he ever needs them again.

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Reminds me of a place I call home.

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Stephen Foster

 

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Thank you for the hospitality!!

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Day 3: Spot along the Suwannee to Holton Creek River Camp – 19.7 miles

We wake up along the river a couple miles beyond the friendly FTA folk. During the night we were greeted with heavy rain and flashes of lightning. My small tarp held up and I stayed dry. I slept on an incline and was somewhat sliding occasionally waking up to move back into place. Oops! Should have gone further for a better spot. This night we planned to camp at Holton Creek. After packing up and getting going the trail provided with some beaches along the river, many creeks, and even a small waterfall. At some point we took a blue blaze to check out disappearing creek which was a very beautiful spot for a lunch break. The water flows right down into and under the rocks, disappearing out of sight. The trail took us up and down, sometimes even requiring stairs, and at points taking us to places 90feet above sea level, and 90ft above the Suwannee. A beautiful sight to look down on from the ridge. This is Florida, that’s actually a rarity. The highest point on the entire 1,400 mile National Scenic Trail is just 270 feet. As we moved on we came across a home, where the owner was kind enough to let the FT pass through his yard. Included were some benches with a view! I sat and ate some asian style noodles I had been soaking in my pack, with some soy and duck sauce. Very delicious! I don’t cook food while backpacking so this was just noodles, dehydrated vegetables, some spices, and sauces that I added some water to and let sit for a good while as I walked. Longwalker hung out with my while I ate, until some rain prompted him to leave. I still wanted to enjoy the view of the river for a bit longer so I stuck around. Maybe too much time had passed since they left because boy did it take much longer than I thought it would to catch back up to them! High tailed it in their direction, and even ran with my pack a little bit to let my lungs know who’s boss. At this point it was now fully raining, me and Chris with our umbrellas out. Longwalker being a man… and getting soaked. Maybe he thought we were closer to shelter than we were because it wasn’t for at least another hour in the rain until we got to Holton Creek River Camp. Wooden screened shelters abound, fans, electrical outlets, bathrooms, and showers included. All for free. You can only get here by river or by trail. What a wonderful place. We were literally the only people there, with something like 6 other shelters the same as ours scattered around the grounds. Chris and Longwalker opted to hang their hammocks inside the building, which actually worked out pretty darn well. They took showers, and I chose to revel in my filth like a true hiker… I mean it’s just 5 days! Not a problem, no chafe, and didn’t sweat much the entire trip. How did I smell? Wonderful as always!!

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Too hardcore for a rain jacket.

Day 4: Holton Creek River Camp to Cooper’s Bluff campsite – 17.4 miles

The day before had been incredibly beautiful. It’s no wonder why this is a lot of peoples favorite section of the Florida Trail. This day would be no different. Although something new, poison ivy. Everywhere. Lining the trail and whipping at my ankles. Shoot. No worries, somehow after the trip I was only slightly itchy! Although I really had to choose my bathroom breaks much more wisely. It had rained most of the night prior, but we were safe underneath the wooden roof. The trail was damp but not flooded, and for the first time this entire trip, the sun shown its face, no longer to be obscured by clouds. Chris got a head start on me and Longwalker, I already knew it wouldn’t be so soon until we caught him. It wasn’t until halfway through the day actually. At times the trail would take us away from the river, and then back again. At times we crossed roads. At times a land manager isn’t so cool, and the trail has to be routed around a natural area on a dirt road, instead of the forest adjacent to it. No matter, the woods are consuming and ever present. We passed many sink holes along the way. Some of them small, some of the quite deep. Like a battle field, they littered the landscape. Some point later we catch up to Chris, I make a few wrong turns on a roadwalk, and the peanut gallery quickly put me in place. Com’on! I forgot my guidebook and my phone was dead… How far could I have really gone! Soon we reach the point where there is only 2 miles to go till camp, with promise of french fries and onion rings along the way. Or for Chris, the best damn hamburger you ever got from a gas station. No matter the place, the fries and rings were delicious and welcomed. The store was just down the road from a hen house, the opposite direction from the trail, so employees wearing face masks to protect themselves from what I assume would lead to slow death caused by the farming flooded in for their burgers as well, while I sat and stared aimlessly. Carrying as many fries as I could to the campsite a half mile away, we got there with just enough time to set up camp, and watch the sunset down by the Suwannee.

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Roadwalking, not always a bad thing.

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Passing under the railroad. Very lucky to see a beautiful train pass by. Something I very much love seeing.

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Suwannacoochee Springs, where the Suwannee and the Withlacoochee meet.

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The road to fries.

 

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More high quality beer.

 

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Day 5: Cooper’s Bluff campsite to Winquepin Rd – 11.4 miles

The last day was short. No more 20 miles, just 10 to go with maybe some bonus at the end to get back to where we had a vehicle staged. I got up late, thinking they could get moving and I would catch up. They waited. Oh well. After 4 days and 80 miles my partners were facing some physical pain. I’ve been there, but it’s a process. The next time it’s always easier, you’re always stronger for it. Sometimes you have to endure to really get the most out of an experience. In this case, for Longwalker, a lesson on why Superfeet insoles only work for some people, not most. Chris, maybe a lesson on what best to combat chaffing. Not Desitin. For me it’s always been when I pushed passed what I was used to was where I learned the most. When I stepped out of my comfort zone, and went for something I had never tried before. With each opportunity arose new doors to be opened and eventually what you see here in the way I like to hike, and what I like to carry in my pack. Experience has gotten me there, and now experience has taken me to the Suwannee River. The day had begun, none of us with anywhere to be, we took the last 10 miles slow. Longwalker showed me some super cool stuff, and we talked a lot about backpacking gear. He’s really into the do it yourself crowed, who make their own gear, and I think within the next year he’s going to have himself some really cool home made stuff to take camping. Along the way there was an old cemetery we checked out, graves dating back to the early 1800s. For some reason I really liked seeing this, someone lived their life in that area, we were probably hiking on what was their land. Now 200 years later. Time is precious, and not to be wasted. Something I’m still working on. Later that day he also took me off trail to the site of an old homestead. A house that has been there since before the civil war. It was incredible. The remnants of a chimney, and from what he said just a month before the home was still standing. Apparently the elements finally brought it to its knees. Still magnificent, old turpentine clay pots and all. Pushing on we find Chris hanging out in the back of Longwalkers truck. The trip had gone as quick as it came. Hopefully on my thru hike south I’ll be back in this area again by December.

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My memory is hazy, probably smoked a few to many sandwiches back in the day, must be messing with the short term. So I apologize for leaving a lot out, or messing up parts of the days. I can’t help it! Some things are like a blur. It helps to take a lot of photos 🙂

I hope you enjoyed reading. I certainly enjoyed hiking! Thanks to Longwalker for giving me the grand tour of the area! Thanks to Chris, and Madeleine for joining the fun! I’ll be back soon. In 84 days from now, on July 1st I start walking south from Quebec. For now I continue to amass food, and finalize plans.

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Jup

100 Days

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My original plan for this trip was Maine to Key West. My original plan was to do it with someone else. My original plan was more docile. So it goes.

I don’t think I would have been happy not doing the Canadian portion of the ECT. It would have felt like I missed something. Something I probably wouldn’t go back for as a single trip. Back then I felt the same. Although the original plan to start in Maine would have been easier, it wouldn’t have been what I truly wanted in the end. This trail extends far north beyond that. How could I ignore it? So many trails all so neatly connected to form this grand route down the east coast. How could I break the flow? I couldn’t.
I tried, and I pleaded with myself, “No, this is great, just do it. Canada sucks anyway.” I said, while searching reasons to avoid it. Then a bird, who has flown the distance of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and most recently the Eastern Continental Trail, unknowingly whistled in my direction the wonders of Quebec, and the International Appalachian Trail. Plans change.

Nothing good ever came from within comfort zones.

In 100 days I’ll be stepping outside of mine. Into a world of moose and caribou, a world of steeply graded trail through lush forests, along Canadian beaches and mountains, down country roads and railroad beds, rivers and streams. A world of walking as a way of life.

A world where miles are kilometers. A world where I’ll need a french translation guide, as something tells me, my Haitian friends from work teaching me creole just isn’t going to cut it. Although, the language is similar.

This first section will guide me through Quebec, New Brunswick, and northern Maine to the Appalachian Trail. A very well known, all American, long distance trail. From here the journey will get easier in a way.

I plan on finishing the 750 mile International Appalachian Trail in a months time. The first big section of this long journey down to the Florida Keys, that is dubbed the Eastern Continental Trail.

What happened to doing this with someone else? I messed up, as I often do. Maybe she’ll hike the PCT. I hope she does.

Jup

Ode to Tarp Camping

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Gator bait. Wonderful view of the sunrise the next morning, and all night I got to witness the most fantastic meteor shower from the comfort of my tarp and sleeping bag.

Under a tarp I feel free.

No doors, no walls. Sheltered from the rain in just the right ways. No less, and no more. Free to observe my surroundings even in a down pour. Free to reach out and touch the very thing I came out here to experience.

A tarp allows me to pursue the style of backpacking I prefer most. Light, fast, and efficient. Unburdened by weight, by things, free to do as I wish, and I wish to hike. Carrying only what I need, teetering on the edge of highly prepared, and crazy.

For my 4,700 mile ECT thru hike I’ll be using a tarp as my shelter. A rather small one at that, a 5×9 poncho tarp. Not only is this my house for the night, it is also my rain gear. For this hike I’ll be coupling it with a water resistant bivy, which acts as a shell for myself and my quilt while I sleep. Giving me a little added protection from the elements. In total this setup weighs just slightly over 1lb, and also allows me to forgo a rain jacket.

While a poncho tarp still being the reigning champion of ultralight shelters, some of the larger tarps are an absolute palace. A true wonder to hang out under. With twice or three times the space underneath them that any tent could offer for a fraction of the weight and cost, a tarp is hard to push aside as something you’ll never try. For me, it only took once. I haven’t looked back since!

Here I thought I’d showcase my tarp and bivy a little bit, as this will be my home for 6 months. The cuben fiber Pro Poncho Tarp, and the silnylon Superlight Bivy by Mountain Laurel Designs. My tarp is my space ship, and I am the captain on this journey through the galaxy.

The Eastern Continental Trail starts in Canada and travels the entire length of the east coast along the Appalachian mountain range, far down into Florida. I’ll be going through just about everything this side of the continent can throw at me, and I’m very confident in this shelter system to not only be extremely light on my back, but also in it’s ability to keep me dry and happy.

Lean-To

Often used as a really fast and efficient pitch. Although not the greatest protection in a storm as rain can blow under on three sides, and you only have protection from the wind on one side. For those nights where you’re camping in a spot with a beautiful view and only need a little bit of insurance this is what I would use. Or similarly for those nights when a big storm isn’t imminent, and I just want to get in and out.

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Pitched up against some shrubs this actually does extremely well in rain, and also offers a quick exit, with an extremely easy setup/take down.

A-Frame

Great in a storm but you have absolutely no head room. If you pitch it higher for more space you are almost asking for rain to splash and blow underneath defeating the purpose. As much as I’ve used my tarp in this configuration for the value of protection, it’s not always ideal for that home-like atmosphere. Still, I love it, and it has always been my go to in the past. Possibly because it was the first pitch I learned. This is also probably the most standard of all tarp configurations.  By pegging the corners to the ground this becomes extremely useful in nasty storms.

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My sun umbrella used to pitch the back end of this a-frame. Could possibly be used better open to block the head end from any rain.

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View of an A-frame from the top.

Half Pyrimid

Some say this doesn’t give you much space, but I have usually been pretty happy, although I don’t deny that its not as roomy as some other pitches. The half pyramid is great for shedding wind coming from a certain direction, while also providing a bit more coverage than a lean-to on the sides. I’ve used this in some nasty conditions and it worked well for me. I always tried pitching the open side up against a tree or in some bushes to keep rain from splashing inside. This was the second pitch I learned, and boy did I over use this one. Extremely easy to setup.

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Obviously you want the elements to be facing the opposite direction from the opening. Perfect for deflecting wind off the back.

 

 

Flying Diamond

I don’t use this very often but it excels at covering you from high wind on one side. I’ve read of a guy who used this pitch exclusively on a thru hike of the PCT. Possibly because it’s easy to do. It does provide good coverage against rain, and plenty of space to store gear being it’s very flat, but very little head room.

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Not my favorite, but also not to shabby if you’re looking for a bit of protection.

Flat Tarp

Much like a lean-to but far more head space, and room to sit up underneath. Potentially a more preferable pitch under the same circumstances. Although this looks very open it truly provides a lot of coverage. A quick change in guyline length in the front or adding some small ones on the back corners makes this great for light rain. Easy and quick to set up, and allows easy access/egress. A small tarp provides the most coverage when it’s pitched as flat as possible, making this(and variations on this) a good option.

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Tying lines off to trees can make this a very worth while pitch.

I am obviously no master, but have found that these basic pitches, with many variations on them, do me right when I need them most.

Why a Tarp?

I think a better question is… why must I be so difficult!!

I used tents for most of my backpacking life, and no, not yet have I tried hammock camping! A tent was safe, it was easy, it was obvious. I had 4 walls to protect me from the boogieman, and keep any prying eyes away from my candy and chips. I had a floor to separate me from any unwanted ground condition. I had space to live in. I had peace of mind. But you know what they say about comfort zones. They need to be broken. Nothing good ever came from someone who never steps outside.

I decided since using a tarp as my shelter would mean my backpack would weigh pounds less, I should give it a try. Who doesn’t want their pack to be lighter? I knew it would require me to learn how to tie a few knots, at least once! So I did. Got myself a tarp, briefly learned, tied, and forgot said knots. Set myself up for my first trip with an a-frame configuration, and would you believe it? I really enjoyed myself.

Everything a tent had, a tarp could do as well. In a few cases a tarp does it even better. I still had my peace of mind, and with every trip I take my confidence in my tarp grows.

In other words, I was now much happier with my $90 tarp than I was with my $400 tent. A fraction of the weight, for a fraction of the cost, with twice the space.

 

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A silnylon BorahGear 10×9 tarp on the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee. This is more than enough room for 2 people to live happily. I still own this one, I call it my party tarp!

Tips & Tricks

  • Bugs: In Florida, we have a lot of mosquitoes during certain times of the year so I’m often asked about what to do. Here’s a few options. Find a spot to camp that allows for good airflow, and pitch accordingly so a breeze can run under your tarp. The moving air often times helps to literally blow them away. Also, look for campsites away from water, as that is the spawning ground of these vile creatures. In times where that’s not enough, and mosquito are so thick I can’t think, I’ve used a bivy bag. It goes under your tarp and shields you from the hoards, as well as providing other benefits like a guard from splashing rain. Sometimes call a “net tent,” you have the choice of taking it with you, or saving the weight in other seasons by leaving it at home. Some earplugs will help to forget about them, as well as Permethrin and deet to keep them away all together. Should go without saying but in the winter, bugs aren’t an issue. In a lot of states, bugs aren’t an issue at all. In most cases I at least carry a small headnet with a hat to prop it off my face, and my quilt keeps the bugs off the rest of my body.
  • Site selection: Look for bushes and trees that will compliment the way you’d like to pitch your tarp. Tree cover or a nearby shrub can really add to the room you can make yourself underneath, covering areas from blowing rain that otherwise would be wide open. Having a canopy above you also greatly helps reduce condensation issues. For more info on that check this out.
  • Setting up in the rain: Don’t wait until it’s already raining! Do the safe thing and find shelter before the storm hits. If that’s not applicable to you, it’s quick and easy to pitch a tarp and stow your pack beneath it in a storm. With tents I found that I’d always get water inside them, some tents you even have to erect it and then put on the rain fly, leaving your bed open to the elements while you fiddle with the second half of your shelter. When it comes to tarps, once you have it pitched, that area underneath is safe to unroll your dry ground sheet, unload your gear, and relax.
  • Bigger is better: The bigger the tarp, the happier you will be. With a small tarp there isn’t much room for error, where as with a large tarp(say an 8×10 or bigger) you have more than enough space for you and someone else to seek refuge away from the weather.
  • Avoid drainage ditches: Rather, don’t set up in a rut, or depression. A tent offers a “bathtub floor” but in a tarp what’s seperating you from the ground is just a sheet of fabric, not raised walls. This is of no issue, and is not to be worried about, if you aren’t going to set up in a dished site. This often means, avoiding campsites that are used over and over, and looking for a spot less worn.
  • Polycro or Tyvek: I think the rule is, use Tyvek for ground that may have lots of pointy things, like rocks or desert flora, because the material is much more durable. Polycro is far lighter but won’t last as long. So for you inflatable mattress users, Tyvek may be the better option to avoid puncture. I use Polycro and haven’t had an issue on my trips to the AT or FT.
  • Mini carabiners: I got the idea from Pepper of using ‘biners as a way to easily change which tie outs my guylines are on. It does add some weight having 8 really small ones(for you gram geeks) but the ability to quickly change how I want to set up my tarp makes it worth it to me.
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Solo camping with a 6 pack. There was a storm that night, and I live to tell the tale. Happily drinking my beer while the rain fell around me.

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt that a tarp takes a bit more thought than a tent. Which often has meant it’s more for a hardcore user, but I don’t think a hardcore backpacker has to be the only one to enjoy the benefits. I certainly wasn’t when I first started using one. With just a little bit of research you can get going. Although, for your tarps maiden voyage I would avoid high bug season. Not needing a bug net while sleeping under a tarp is truly magical. The openness to nature is one of my favorite things about tarp camping. Amplified when bugs aren’t around.

Not all tarps are created equal. The different ways you can set up a tarp are seemingly endless, and they even come in many different shapes and sizes. What you have seen here is a flat tarp with a few panel pull outs. It’s been good to me, but then again a shaped tarp(a mid, or something similar) may even be a better option in a lot of situations. If you’re looking for help on deciding what to get, drop me a line. There is no perfect shelter, but this is what I like.

How to Pitch a Tarp – Suluk46

5 Tips for a Successful Tarp Pitch

11 Reasons to Switch to a Tarp

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Tarping on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) with my old Zpacks 7×9 cuben fiber tarp. I figured if I pitched the back end towards the water, the gators would have a much harder time getting to me in the night. Yeah, I really did that. Although more as a joke, not as a real problem. Gators don’t like humans.

 

Remember… practice makes perfect.

Jupiter

One last shake down!

With a 4,700 mile hike looming I sit and reflect on a mindset I held close in trips of the past.

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Much to the dismay of my employer, I’ve taken a whole lot of vacations over the last three years.

With every trip I have a sub goal, beyond enjoying myself and relaxing in the outdoors… of learning something! With every hike I come back more experienced, with the knowledge, and practice that can only come from getting out there. With every hike I take a minute to focus on and think about my gear, or my technique. With every hike I’ve learned from my mistakes. A constant consideration to how I’m walking or handling different situations. A constant consideration as to how I can be a more effective and efficient backpacker.

This is something serious runners do far more than backpackers, from what I’ve noticed. They focus on their stride, foot placement, nutrition, everything beyond, and in between. It’s a mindset to certainly consider and learn from. A mindset I don’t see in many hikers. It’s no wonder why, walking is easy, isn’t it? Not really. Especially not so much when you’re walking 20 to 30 miles a day, everyday.

Train smart not hard, as they say. Or both, whatever suits you.

As someone who is always striving to improve any way I can, this is how I do things. I will mention that thousands of folks don’t do this, and they’re totally fine, and finish that thru hike. Then again a lot don’t.(Only 20-30% complete the AT each year. About 1 in 5.)

This is my last real training run

So here goes! One last serious shake down before my thru hike.

Although I run, hike, and backpack with great frequency this will be the last time I’ll be out with my pack for more than 3 days at a time before I fly to Quebec to begin my long walk back to Florida.

I’m heading up to North Florida to meet up with my good friend Longwalker to get in some much needed time off from work, and to hit one of Florida’s most beautiful sections of trail. The Suwannee River section of the FNST.

We have planned 91 miles over 5 days. A very leisurely pace of 18 miles per day.

I’m very tempted to go further in that time, but I mostly just want to relax and get away from work just once more! So I’ll be using this trip as an opportunity to take out my ECT rig(my backpack fully loaded,) and enjoy north Florida in all its glory.

There’s something special to me about knowing I’ll be at this section again come November, on my journey south to the Keys.

Only 3 and a half months until my thru hike begins.

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Photos of the Suwannee River courtesy of my Florida hiking buddy Longwalker

For more photos and info on this section check out Floridahikes

Jupiter

 

Maps and Guides for the Eastern Continental Trail

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At first I thought, “Wow, this is easy! AWOL’s AT guide has been ordered, Sandra Friends FT Guide, too. 3,500 miles down, only 1,200 more to go!” Then I came across a bad sign… some guidebook for the International Appalachian Trail that’s written in french, a whole slough of broken links to trail resources, and overall next to no solid information. If you find yourself in the same pickle, don’t fret my dear hiker!! This situation will soon pass. I hadn’t yet dug deeply enough! Maybe at first my problem was looking at the ECT as one very long trail, when really I should have been thinking along the lines of planning a thru hike of each connecting trail separately. Which turned out to be easier than it sounds!

So here I hope to make it even easier. A nice list of what I’ll be using in regards to maps and guides, which I hope to update later with notes on how each resource helped.

I will say that this is far from the only resources out there available, and maybe I can include a bit more than even I am using. The rabbit hole goes very deep my friend. My original issue of having to little information became an issue of having way to much information. Not the worst of situations to be in!

Now before I begin…

I’d really like to thank Sycamore, who finished a flip-flop thru hike of the ECT, just months before writing this. He has offered me assistance(or maybe I forced it out of him!) He helped me pair down the research I had done to what is most important. I had a million questions ready to fire, and he has been very kind in answering my emails. Sycamore also unknowingly is the reason I’m doing the whole trail, and not settling for only doing that which is inside the US. I had mentioned I was going to be following in his footsteps the coming year, and what he said ruined me. “You’re going to LOVE Quebec!!” Dammit, I was planning on starting in Maine… not Canada!! Thanks for the push. I needed it. Secretly I was already disappointed to be missing the Canadian portion(and running the risk of not being a true ECT thru hiker.) You can find Sycamores amazing videos from his long journey here: Part 1 (AT+IAT) / Part 2 (BMT+PT+FT) and his journal here: Trailjournals.com

LandOfTheFree

“Land of the Free,” by Nimblewill Nomad. The second person to walk the ECT, and the one to give the route a name. As well as popularize the hike with his book “Ten Million Steps.”

My 4,700 mile journey begins in July. This is a glimpse into the madness that is my planning thus far. Imagine all the stuff I didn’t find worthy of sharing.

Florida

  • The ECT in Florida – An overview
  • Overseas Heritage Trail ebook – Very tempting, but I probably won’t use this. “Contains step-by-step details to the hike, including our top picks for hiker services, motels, campgrounds, nature along the way, a map of how to connect to the mainland, and where to find the tiki bars.”
  • FT Guide – Everything you could ever want in a trail guide book, and more!!
  • FT App – Can be downloaded for your smart phone, and maps purchased through the app.
  • FT Paper Maps – I will not be using these, and just going with the guide + app.
  • Florida Trail Class of *whatever* Facebook page – Search for it. Wonderful resource full of experienced hikers.

Notes for later:

2018 reflections – The app is indeed your best bet, but the guide book will still have much use in planning(though you don’t really need to ‘plan’ too much besides the keys. Speaking of the ECT extension from the FT to Key West is in the guidebook! and you will need that. Don’t bother with the paper maps.

Permits, the Florida Trail has quite a few permits that should be aquired prior to entering certain areas. For the most part… they are easy to get/download/print/whatever. Something worth noting.

The Florida Trail app is awesome! Totally 100% worth getting and using on a thru hike, or even just section hiking, and day hiking.

Alabama / Georgia

  • The Pinhoti Trail Alliance Facebook Group – Great place for asking questions. They helped me decided what maps I would use.
  • Alabama Roadwalk – This not only starts at the Florida Trail, but ends at the Appalachian Trail! That’s right, all the way through to the AT. I’ll probably carry both guides, for good measure, and because I didn’t come across another Benton Mackaye guide. As to the roadwalk  from what I’ve been told there are multiple different routes to take in between the PT and FT. This is just one. Pick your poison.
  • Pinhoti Trail Guide – The official trail guide, and I believe the most up to date.
  • Pinhoti Trail Towns / Water Information
  • Pinhoti Trail GPS Waypoints – Made by Gubbool. For those GPS users out there, this is specifically what Sycamore told me he used. Worked for him! Unfortunately I’m not a GPS user.
  • Alabama Pinhoti Topo Map – This is made by Mr. Parkay.
  • Georgia Pinhoti Topo Map – This is made by Mr. Parkay.
  • Benton Mackaye Trail Topo Map – Guess who… Mr. Parkay! Thank you Mr. Parkay!! I’ll be printing this series of maps myself, and this is what I’ll be using for navigation.
  • Pinhoti Trail Forest Service Maps – I won’t be using these but I did buy one, it’s exceptionally big, water proof, tear proof, and in general really nice. Talladega NFChattahoochee NF

Notes for later:

2018 reflections – The “Alabama Roadwalk” PDF guide above is all you need. Sure find maps or whatever but it’s not necessary I don’t think with some common sense and basic awareness. The entire 175mi roadwalk through southern AL is blazed yellow, and if you plug where you’re going into google maps that gives you almost the same exact route to walk, so yeah. That same guide also includes the PT and BMT all the way to Springer Mtn. It truely is ‘one guide to rule them all.’ I personally needed nothing more, though keep in mind all of these guides are old. Some stores are now closed, some rivers dried, etc. Don’t rely particularly on anything, though it still isn’t much of an issue given all the roads, I sometimes would walk a random one for a couple miles to gas stations. Not the most remote part of the country. The PT is blazed mostly well, as is the BMT sans a couple small intersections, though it is again easy to  deduce the way either through a very small bout of trial and error, or asking yourself, “if I were a trail'” where would I go? Have fun, camping on the AL roadwalk is not to be trusted, be extremely careful, extremely safe, and above all else extremely stealthy. Do not get yourself shot over some roadwalk.

I decided to save myself from the wide world of printing ALLLLL of Mr. Parkays maps, and instead use the Forest Service maps instead. This may be a mistake, as they’re not as good, and somewhat confusing to look at. We will see. (June 25 2016, prior to leaving.)

Appalachian Trail

  • AWOL AT Guide – You shouldn’t need anything else. I had a friend tell me to just use the PDF file instead of the actual book. Could be a good way to save half a pound.

Notes for later:

2018 reflections – Still the best guide for the AT, and the only real resource you need. Beyond that, if you have bonus money the guthooks app is pretty nice.

A lot of people really like the phone apps for the AT. Like Guthooks or something. I’m already sending hella resupply boxes, so paper for me is what I like most. I’m really only carrying a few pages at a time, ditching them as I go.

International Appalachian Trail

  • Maine – This site offers some maps, a guide, and text directions/data. The data and maps for free! I myself will be skipping the guide.
  • New Brunswick – Text directions, and a crude map. From what I hear the trail is well marked and it’s mostly on railroad beds, which makes for easy navigation. More in the way of a map could be needed here.
  • Quebec – Map packet (6 maps), Companion Guide, and membership(support support!) can be found here. I will be using the maps and the guide. You will also need a passport for this section, also found on this website.
  • Newfoundland – This is all I’ve really looked at being I’m not doing the Newfoundland portion of the trail. You’re on your own! Unless some kind soul wants to do the foot work and contribute to this article.

Notes for later:

2018 reflections – You 100% need the guide and the maps for Quebec, and I highly recommend studying the New Brunswick part hard, It isn’t always blazed, and goes from rails to trails, to roadwalk, and back to rails a couple times without warning physically that you needed to leave the original path you’ve been walking. I recommend figuring out a way to print sections of the “crude map” for NB especially surrounding the towns the trail goes through just to have an idea of turns you must make here or there. Or maybe even writing your own little notes “turn here, etc”

There is actually a guidebook for the Maine section, though I don’t specifically know where to get it. I’m sure an email to the org could get you one, or maybe their website. I found one in a shelter and carried it, and very much enjoyed it. It has many maps within, If you can’t get one, no big deal! it has almost the exact same text as the free guide you can find online, and print. Maine was marked mostly well, and I had very little trouble.

The Passporte! Quebec! You NEED to contact the IAT-QC office either by phone or email to aquire a permit to hike through Quebec. Its worth it yo, $350. Seriously, Quebec is fucking incredible, and the gem of this entire trail. The money supports them, and goes towards the use of their 4 walled shelters(that are extremely nice,) all up the trail there. They will ask for your itinerary, which is pretty easy. Once you have the guidebook, make a spreadsheet with all the campsites you plan on staying at, and the dates you think you’ll be there. The Passporte can not be skipped! You will be asked to show it at some point. I think in that price above includes a reservation for one of the parks. If you call ahead(they’re very friendly) they will explain what you need for the crossing of QC.

Maine, prior to leaving I looked up a bunch of trail maps for the IAT in Maine, specifically what is north of Mt. Katahdin directly. There are a few different options, and I felt it worth noting them, and carrying those crude, home printed maps.

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This has been an overview of my maps, and guides for the ECT! It’s been a truly maddening experience finding all of this, but I am stronger for it! The next time around on a more difficult trail will remind me of the joys I’ve had doing this one. Now that this is over I can focus on other things like food, and resupply! 4 months to go, and my to-do list is dwindling fast.

For those interested in extra information I have more saved, feel free to contact me, and maybe I can help. If you’re looking to thru hike any one of these trails maybe this post will be of use to you as well. After all the ECT is simply a combination of multiple different thru hikes that all happen to connect ever so neatly.

I need to stretch my legs! I need to get out and hike!

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Printed trail guides and other useful information.

Jupiter

Final gear list for the ECT

Check out this gear… in video form! Youtube

This is what I’m carrying on the Eastern Continental Trail.

  • I’m starting in Quebec in July, and will probably be done with the first leg of the trip, the International Appalachian Trail, by August. Here I will dance with the caribou, square off with moose, and speak broken French with the locals.
  • Then off to the very strange community that is the Appalachian Trail for 3 months, August through November. Hopefully meeting up with a friend who is yoyoing the AT, and we’ll walk south. We will eat vegan food, enjoy big miles, and witness fall in the Appalachians.
  • I’ll leave him at Springer to tackle a section of the Benton Mackaye Trail, continuing on to hike the Pinhoti Trail, and walk to Florida on roads. This will likely be how I spend early November. Getting lost in Alabama.
  • Finally reaching the Florida Trail, and my home state, celebrating my birthday on the trail, Thanksgiving, and likely Christmas too. What are holidays anyway? Finishing up with this grand adventure in the Florida Keys around new years.

Some 4,800 miles down the east coast.

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This is the time line I’ve laid out to avoid harsh weather in the north, and hike through Florida when it’s not a sauna. Seriously, where else can you hike in January? I only mention this stuff because my gear is chosen wisely based on the conditions I will face on this specific trip, for these specific conditions.

I don’t recommend you follow in my footsteps, or make the same choices in your gear as I have. Get out, use what you own, and change things as you go with the experience you’re gaining. The stuff I use is very dial to how I like to do things. I suggest you find how you like to do things.

Backpack

  •      Backpack – Pa’lante Cuben Simple                                                         7.4 (ounces)
  •      Bag Liner – Mountain Laurel Designs pack liner                                 1.3

Sleep System

  •      Quilt – Mountain Laurel Designs FKT synthetic quilt L                      15
  •      Pad – GossamerGear Thinlight 1/8″ (torso length)                             1.1

Shelter System

  •      Tarp – Mountain Laurel Designs cuben ProPoncho 9×5                    6.4
  •      Guylines – 4 / 6ft, and 4 / 3ft lines w/ mini carabiners                      1.7
  •      Bivy – Mountain Laurel Designs silnylon Superlight                         6.7
  •      Stakes – 6 Titanium shepherds hooks, and 2 titanium V shape      1.9

Water / Kitchen

  •      Water Bottle – 2 SmartWater 34oz                                                         2.8
  •      Food Bowl – Ziploc 2cup 16oz screw top container                           1.4
  •      Food bag – 20 x 12.5 OPsak                                                                      1.2
  •      Spoon – Plastic                                                                                           0.4

Clothing(Carried)

  •      Neck Gaiter – Blaze orange                                                                      1.4
  •      Socks – Injinji Trail 2.0 midweight micro                                           2.2
  •      Hat – Zpacks synthetic micro-fleece beanie                                       1
  •      Rain Jacket – OR Hellium II                                                                     6
  •      Long Underwear – Montbell Zeo-line Tights                                      4.1
  •      Jacket – Montbell Thermawrap                                                               8.4
  •      Glove Liners                                                                                                1.3

Misc.

  •      Flashlight – Fenix LD02 + extra AAA battery                                      1.4
  •      Bug Repellant – 98% Deet, repackaged                                                 0.2
  •      ID, Money, & Credit Card – In a ziploc                                                  0.4
  •      Knife – Swiss Army Knife classic S                                                        0.8
  •      Lighter – Mini Bic                                                                                      0.4
  •      Cell Phone – Samsung Galaxy s5                                                            4.9
  •      Exra Phone Battery                                                                                    2
  •      USB Cord – Charging phone                                                                   0.3
  •      Wall Charger – Single port charger                                                       0.9
  •      Maps & Data – Cut up guidebooks and maps                                      ~0

First Aid Kit

  •      Soap & Toothpaste – Dr. Bronners, repackaged                                 0.2
  •      Toothbrush – Sans handle                                                                       0.1
  •      Advil & Tylenol – Mini ziploc                                                                  0.2
  •      Ziploc Bag – Holds FAK and Misc.                                                         0.2

Total base weight of pack (the weight without food, water, fuel or worn clothing)

  •      < 6 lbs~

Worn on my body: Altra Lone Peak 2.5s, ball cap, long sleeve button up shirt, running shorts, Injinji toe socks, LED flashlight necklace, and sunglasses.

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Even with such a small backpack, I am still learning how to, and wanting to lighten up further.

Jupiter

To trekking pole, or not to trekking pole

If my trekking poles were to break, I wouldn’t replace them. I would leave them behind. This was the unpopular answer to a question about using trekking poles on my upcoming thru hike. Unpopular because a whole lot of people seem to be absolutely enamored by the aluminum or carbon walking sticks that tie up their hands while they walk. Why? I know why, I’m just not yet sure I myself care.

The more I got to thinking about this subject, the less I want to use them. Not only that but the less I remember using them during the past 2 years of hiking. When you see photos of me, I often have them in hand but it’s a farce. If you’ve actually hiked with me, I am almost always just carrying them! Not often, actually using them.

Not to mention I’m constantly forgetting them places. These are some expensive ass sticks to be forgetting! I guess I’m so far removed from being wed to them that regardless of the retarded price tag, I still can’t remember to put them in my car after a trip. So if you’re ever at a trail head, and find 180 dollars laying on the ground, that’s mine, I can pick it up from you whenever.

So why am I such a hater? Maybe I can point out some pros, why I don’t care, and some cons. I will say I was totally going to carry them on my ECT thru hike, and then someone unknowingly made me rethink that decision! Now, I’m unsure if I’ll be starting with them anymore.

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One trekking pole? Two trekking poles? None? The use of them is obvious is certain situations, but they aren’t so necessary in every situation! Just another burden to be carried.

So why do people like trekking poles so much anyhow? Is it simply to look like some 4 legged spider human, cruising up and down mountains? Although an appealing look, I gather there’s much more to this.

When I cut the hipbelt off of my backpack, if I had asked the opinions of some of my hiking friends prior about that decision, I certainly would have been flamed. Look at me now, I love the freedom of not having a hipbelt, and frankly I feel I’m missing nothing. This only works because I carry so very little weight on my back. My baseweight (all the contents of my backpack not counting food or water) for summer hiking has been 5 pounds and under. Now my thru hike approaches and I’ll be starting out with something in the 6 and a half pound range. Much like the hipbelt, I think trekking poles are more useful to those who have heavier loads. Those who may need more support. As folks shave weight from their pack, and reach lower baseweights, they may discover that trekking poles are no longer a necessity. Although this is obviously still very much a personal preference thing.

Back when I carried a heavy pack, hiking poles were a true gift. As my pack got smaller, it seems like naturally I just stopped carrying them, stopped using them, or maybe stopped needing them. For those who may be a little unstable under the weight of their pack, or who are looking for extra knee support. The poles truly are worth every ounce, and then some.

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Here I thought they would help me navigate the swamp, really they just got in my way. As seen in my hand, where they stayed just like that.

I’m young, I’m fit, and my pack is really light. What are trekking poles supposed to be doing for me? Aside from the obvious answers some simply say, “they make you go faster.” Which is funny, because people already tell me I’m going too fast! Apparently, I could be going faster even. Less time on my feet during the day is appealing, but personally I don’t particularly see this as much of a positive virtue of using poles. I’ve argued this before but I think your body wants to go at one speed. By propelling it faster and further than its internal pace dictates aren’t you potentially opening yourself up to injury? Maybe not. It’s just a thought. Although I will not argue that poles can save your knees on downhills, but I will argue that for someone in my situation I may not need that. I don’t already have any knee pain while I hike, and aside from a short recovery period from a running injury, my ankles have never caused me problems either. So for me, maybe they aren’t worth the weight.

Or maybe the hassle. On a hike that’s going to last upwards of 5 to 6 months, things are going to break. Obviously for the sake of your wallet, and sanity, hopefully nothing breaks! In a perfect world… one pair of Altra’s would last me 5,000 miles. Alas, I’ll be replacing my shoes at least 6 times. Other folks often have to replace not just shoes, but backpacks, inflatable sleeping pads, pillows, and… you guessed it, trekking poles. A friend told me that one of his buddies on the AT snapped his poles twice, and another friend broke them 3 times! No wonder so very many people go to Leki, maybe it’s not because they’re amazing poles. They are blinded by the warranty. (Another company comes to mind for the same reason.) How about I avoid this all together, and not use any.

Poles may be smart but I’m just not convinced that they’re for me. I have 4 more months to decide before I fly to Canada to begin my long walk home.

There’s a small group of hikers that choose to go stick-less, some of these hikers being among the best in the world. Joe Kisner, Scott Williamson, Lint, Francis Tapon… to name a few. Just something to think about. The question arrises, if they do it why not I? I had the same question about thru hiking in general. Rarely if ever do you hear about a seasoned thru hiker getting off trail to quit, yet at the same time you hear numbers like so many people quit within the first so many miles of this trail. It begs the question, why can these hikers do this year after year, flawlessly, when so many others quit? Hmmmmm. Maybe these top hikers are the ones we should learn from(exclusively) instead of Joeschmoe on youtube. Although a dangerous game, I think for the most part they set a wonderful example. More of them use poles than not, but then again that group who goes without does just as well.

Now I’m not saying hiking without poles is the answer to all of lifes problems(on the trail) as they are a godsend to most, but the more I have thought about it the less I want to carry mine. Try it sometime yourself, it’s liberating. Bring oranges to peal while you walk. Might as well.

Asking someone if you should remove your hipbelt is like asking someone if you should go without trekking poles. Just don’t.

“I’m not arguing that people should ditch their trekking poles or any other piece of gear. Hike your own hike. Many backpackers couldn’t hike at all without trekking poles, so it’s wonderful that they exist. I’ve made some comments about trekking poles because they are an easy target and many people don’t fully consider the implications of carrying them.

Also, I’m not so sure that most new hikers have even tried hiking without poles. They go to an outfitter who convinces them that they will be miserable without poles. And that’s probably true, because most backpackers start off with massive loads that are hard to carry without poles. However, soon they lighten up, but then they forget to ditch the poles along with the other useless gear they tossed. I’ve known some backpackers who have revisited the idea of hiking pole-less and they’re surprised that it’s as easy as… walking! I prefer having my hands free, but someday I may use them because I can see their utility.”

– Francis Tapon, triple crowner and the first person to yo-yo the CDT

Sometimes two are nice, sometimes one, other times none.

Maybe I’m just a hater.

 

Jupiter

The wonders of no cook meals and going stoveless

If you’ve ever been backpacking you more than likely carried a portable stove, but have you ever thought about leaving that at home? 2 years ago I did, and since then never looked back. The benefits of not carrying a camping stove in this guys opinion outweigh the cons, especially for those who like to travel fast, light, and free.

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Circa 2012 somewhere on the AT, going cross eyed waiting for water to boil.

While looking for ways to lose weight from my backpacking set up I tried all kinds of different stoves, and just as many different pots. Much like everyone else I started with a very bulky canister stove, although it was the least hassle of the bunch the sheer amount of space it took up in my pack, and the overall weight led me looking for something smaller, and lighter. I tried a cat food can alcohol stove, and I enjoyed the small size, but after a few accidents involving setting things on fire that shouldn’t be on fire, and crushing the stove itself on more than one occasion, I was still longing for something more fool proof. Even if you’re very careful with an alcohol stove, as many are, the weight of the fuel you need for an extended trip, and the hassle of finding the fuel in towns(much like canister stoves,) leaves much to be desired. The fuel was now my biggest problem, as an alcohol stove by itself is very light. So I bought a wood burning stove, and I won’t lie I love that thing. Its more or less a titanium cone that you feed little sticks into, making a small very concentrated fire underneath your cook pot. This is a great novelty, and I would love to use it on a much longer backpacking trip like a thru hike, but the unreliability becomes an issue quick. Having to make a fire in the rain, or in an area without much material to ignite would be a real bummer, not to mention fire bans, and leave no trace ethics.

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My Vargo wood stove

I burned through a few different iterations of the above mentioned stoves, and in the end I was still not pleased. Somewhere in the midst of researching I came across the idea of no cook meals, and an article talking about the method of stove-less cooking, a soaking, and re-hydrating of sorts. All that is required is a small plastic bowl with a lid that screws on securely, your spoon, and some water. No fuel, no heavy metals, no bulk, and extremely light weight! Now this is something I could finally get down with.

Stove-less coking is also known as the soaking method. To re-hydrate my food I add it to a container with a screw top, put in a little bit of water, and let it soak for an hour or two while I hike. When I’m ready to eat my meal it has absorbed all of the water, and is at the ambient  temperature of my surroundings. These screw top containers can be found anywhere, I use one made by Ziploc but I’ve also seen powdered sport drink, and gelato containers used, as well as simply re-hydrating meals in gallon Ziploc bags. That’s right, a ziploc bag. You don’t even have to carry a pot if you don’t want to.

When hiking with local groups people get the impression that I don’t enjoy food, or happiness, or that maybe I’m a masochist. In reality I’m eating better now than I ever was when I used any sort of stove. That’s mostly due in part to the research I’ve done since, but I truly believe that there isn’t much left to be desired with a stove-less setup. Contrary to what you may think.

Without further delay here are some pros, and cons to the stove-less lifestyle. Keep in mind that back in the day of thru hiking this was probably more popular in regards to the percentage of people using this cooking method due to the weight of camping stoves at the time. Although stoves are now lighter they are still not necessary.

Weight Savings

First and foremost this began for me in an effort to reduce my backpacks overall weight. Instead of carrying fuel, stove, windscreen, and a titanium cook pot. Now all you’re carrying is a small plastic container. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist… but lets break that down with a canister stove for example, being more people use these than anything else. Specifically the most popular stove, the MSR Pocket Rocket.

Typical lightweight Cookset

  • Pocket Rocket Stove: 3oz
  • Fuel Canister: 8.2oz
  • Windscreen: 0.2oz
  • Titanium Cook-pot: 5oz
  • Titanium Spoon: 0.6oz

Total: 17oz

Stove-less Cookset

  • Plastic Bowl: 1.4oz
  • Titanium Spoon: 0.6oz

Total: 2oz

TOTAL SAVINGS: 15oz

This demonstration is using a fairly light weight stove system already, not considering some of the heavier cooking setups(like the JetBoil) where the savings would be far more pronounced, potentially 2 or even 3 pounds off the top.When it comes to the ability to drop 1-2 pounds from your backpack you won’t find an easier way to lose a considerable amount of weight on the cheap than going stove-less.

Now a lot of people say that no cook systems are actually heavier because the required food for such a cooking method is heavier by default. I’ve found this to be untrue, and probably a justification for not trying it. I use the same food you do, but in a different way. Most backpacking foods that have to be cooked, can also be served in this manner.

Simplicity

In addition to being extremely light weight you probably noticed a stove-less setup is far simpler than its brethren, requiring only a quarter of the gear. That’s less you have to lug around, less space used in your bag, and less overall clutter. Personally I like less clutter while backpacking, even more so than I like ultralight gear. There’s something magical about picking up your things in the morning, or setting up at night, and not having a whole mess of gear to organize, and sort through. The less stuff I am carrying the happier I am, not only for the comfort of a lighter pack, but also the efficiency of having less to deal with. Not having an entire cook kit that I need to set up, clean up, and keep organized is a very big positive for me.

The experience as a whole is very hassle free, and I very much like that. After a long day on my feet, rolling into camp, the last thing I want to do is sit there and wait another 10+ minutes for food to cook. I just want to eat! After some time of using a stove while hiking I found the whole process to feel much like a chore. I enjoyed the food of course, but the act of preparing it lost it’s touch very quickly. I’m sure a lot of you have witnessed the look of despair on someones face when it comes to not-so-patiently waiting for water to boil and food to reconstitute while backpacking. Especially on longer trips where you’re so hungry others watch you go cross eyed while staring at your stove.

The shorter the trip the less noticeable this is, but while on a thru hike or backpacking trips of excess of 2 weeks hiker hunger kicks in. Suddenly you are helpless to your stomachs need to consume food, you want it, and you want it now. Maybe you too will find that on an extended trip cooking no longer has the allure it once did. If you find yourself dreaming about a simpler life… why not try stove-less cooking!

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Time Savings

Cooking takes time, twice or three times a day heating up, and tending to a meal is time that could be spent doing other things. With a no cook system on the other hand I roll into camp at the end of the day my food has already been soaking, and is ready to eat immediately, or whenever I so please. Leaving me time to do the things that are either important for the morning and next day, or things that I want to do for entertainment. Freedom to do some bird watching, exploring, setting up camp, taking care of my feet, collecting water, reading or blogging on my phone, watching the sunset, tending to personal hygiene, and most importantly… sleeping! I’m not tied to my stove for 20 minutes, and thus that time is now open for more rewarding tasks.

While hiking solo I often don’t eat at camp, I’ll soak my food while I walk, and a few miles before camp is when I’ll have my dinner. This reduces the smell of food at the campsite I eventually do pick, and allows me to use that extra energy from my meal to get in a few more bonus miles. With a stove-less setup this process is super quick, and easy. Food is ready, and I can be in, and out without any extra chores to tend to. Just eat and go go go.

By having some extra time around camp there’s the added incentive of collecting wood, and making a relaxing fire to sit around while you eat your no cook creation. Maybe you even packed in some vegetables wrapped in tinfoil, a luxury very much worth having on occasion. Now the fire is a necessity to cook your delicious meal, and you didn’t even need a stove!

Less Accident Prone

You don’t want to be the one setting that campsite table, wooden shelter, or forest ablaze. Same goes for cooking inside your tent, I think the dangers of burning all of your camping gear should go without saying. Yet a lot of people still do it. Maybe to stay warm, if only for a very brief fiery second.

Next time you’re on the AT go in one of the shelters, and take a closer look at the flooring, or the skinny tables some of them have. You’ll notice black rings burned into the wood, probably in every single shelter up and down the AT. This is from stoves setting fire to those shelters, most likely alcohol stoves. Don’t be that guy. Knocking over a canister stove wouldn’t be that big of deal in a lot of cases, but it is like a miniature torch, with boiling hot water sitting vicariously atop. Take it from me you don’t want boiling water falling in your lap, and although I don’t have experience with a stove falling on my crotch you probably don’t want that either. An alcohol stove in comparison to a canister stove is much more dangerous. When tipped over accidentally you then have fiery liquid spreading on the ground, on you, or your gear. Forest fires have been started in this way.

When it comes to alcohol stoves, I’ve crushed mine, rendering it useless, and I’ve had others crush it for me, as if I couldn’t do it myself. Left with food that must be cooked, and no means to cook it. In otherwords, stoves can fail. Even if you’re careful there may be a systems failure. I’ve been there, and yes I still tried eating the extremely crunchy meal that refused to reconstitute in water. It was less than enjoyable.

I’ve heard a story from a trail I frequent where I’m not sure if the canister of fuel wasn’t screwed on fully, or the seal was really old, but the end result of this was the canister more or less exploding, flying through the air, hitting some poor man in the crotch! I don’t often hear or read stories of this nature, but that did happen. Probably not something to worry about, but remember that for some folks their first time using a backpacking stove is on the first night of their 2,000 mile backpacking trip.

I don’t mean to scare you as these dangers can mostly be avoided, but what if your stove breaks or malfunctions? Problems that the stove-less hiker doesn’t ever have to think about. What can fail in regards to a plastic cup?

In a lot of western states there are frequent fire bans, in which case no cook meals may become one of the few options you have.

Some of these are very extreme situations, and you may likely never experience any of them, but it’s something to be mindful of. Even if you’re very careful accidents happen. Be safe, and don’t leave your things unattended. Or go stove-less, and feel free to kick around your plastic cup all you’d like.

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An alcohol stove kit. Not shown is the table I set on fire, or my crotch after I spilled boiling water on it while trying to put the fire out.

More Pros

  • The logistics are really easy as you won’t have to find fuel in town.
  • No cook meals often use a little bit less water to reconstitute, making the option of camping away from a water source more appealing.
  • No worrying about your stove not working in the cold, or fiddling with it in the wind.
  • It’s better for the environment!!!
  • Less odors are produced when you don’t have a flame to disperse the smell while cooking at your campsite. You’re “cooking” while you walk dispersing any smell in small amounts over a great deal of time.
  • You save money! That cash you were going to put towards a stove, and the never ending need to buy fuel for it, can now go to a nice hostel, or a few big meals in town.

Regardless of how much I like it, there are downsides. In an effort to be objective I’ll mention some things that not everyone can get down with. Sometimes, a stove is easier.

Research

It’s no secret that I research the crap out of everything. It’s in my bones to do so. Stove-less meals, and recipes are no different. Unfortunately this is a downside as the information isn’t readily available as to whats possible. The options are truly endless, but not many present the information forward, and those that do often haven’t been doing this for a long time. This leads to a lot of trial and error, as well as uncomfortable amounts of searching through other peoples food choices. That is, if you really want to explore the depths of the soaking method.

I’m not sure if I love to research or hate it, being very obsessive about learning every facet of backpacking, it is still something I must do. On the other hand I know quite a lot of people who downright refuse to do any research at all regarding thru hiking. They can still be just as successful without all the hair pulling, mind numbing, reading about various topics. It’s certainly not for everyone, and if you don’t want to explore no cook meals beyond what I will provide then maybe this isn’t the best option for you.

There is a plethora of food that can be prepared with a stove without any prior thought, this is not the case with stove-less cooking. The advantage of carrying a stove comes in the form of ease. Walking into a grocery store and knowing that almost nothing is off limits as to what you can make. This is similar for no cook meals but it definitely takes much more thought, research, or experience. Then again it’s often not very easy finding fuel for your stove.

No Hot Meals

There’s no denying that a hot meal while hiking can be a huge moral booster. Giving this up for most is difficult. After a very long day hiking sometimes what you want is a warm meal, and I won’t deny this.

When Pepper set the Colorado Trail unsupported speed record his base pack weight was stupid low. Yet he still carried a stove. Why? He had all the lightest gear and only the bare essentials, and then a stove. He figured if he was doing 40-50 miles a day, day after day, a big moral booster for him to keep going would be a hot meal at the end of the day. His luxury item was a stove. For him the extra weight and hassle was worth it on that particular trip.

For a lot of people not having hot coffee in the morning is a big deal, and would prevent them from going stove-less. Did you know both Folgers, and Starbucks makes instant coffee? No heat required. Yeah, you can have your cake, and eat it too. For those that think it’s not strong enough, double up a package! Add sugar, add cream. I don’t care, it’s super delish. Starbucks happens to have many different flavors to boot. It’s still not hot, but it is coffee.

There’s this myth that circulates everywhere during winter or on cold days. That hot food helps to warm you up and possibly prevent hypothermia. This is not true. It is the act of your body digesting the fuel, the calories, that warms you up. Not the temperature of the meal. So please don’t tell me that’s why you need hot food.

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Sometimes a hot meal is just what you want.

More Cons

  • There’s no lying that this style of cooking most benefits a more go go go attitude. Some very much enjoy the time spent cooking, and this would be a con.
  • The food isn’t always lighter. People who are new to stove-less cooking often wind up carry heavier foods, like canned food, and instead of having real meals just snack all day long.
  • As mentioned above you can’t cook everything that you want. Some items, without a dehydrator, are off limits.
  • Sometimes your stove-less creations come out less favorable than planned, vs meals you know right off the bat will be great.
  • You may be an outcast during dinner time being you don’t have anything to cook along with the others. Assuming you haven’t packed out something to cook in the fire.
  • Not everyone gives a damn about how much their backpack weighs. That’s cool too!

 

Now that we’ve gone over some pros and cons here are some tips, and two simple meals that are thru hiker friendly. As in you can buy these ingredients at a grocery store.

Tips and Tricks

  • Keep everything clean. Boiling water kills any bacteria growing in your cook pot, since you won’t be doing this you need to make sure you wash your plastic cup frequently.
  • Add less water than you think you need until you know what works best for you. You can always add more later! A soupy, watery creation is not always desirable.
  • Don’t want to be an outcast at camp without anything to cook? Pack in some veggies in tinfoil, and cook it over the fire! Now you’ll be envied by all of those eating their one thousandth packet of Ramen. I do this all the time, and it’s wonderful
  • Re-hydrate your food as you walk. A few miles before camp or an hour before when you want to be eating dinner add your food and water to your bowl.  When it comes to be dinner time your food will be ready to eat! Same goes for breakfast. Have a snack when you wake up, and prepare your breakfast in your plastic container for a few miles up the trail.
  • Check out stores with bulk bins like Whole Foods, as these stores often have dehydrated foods ready for your no-cook meals.
  • Pack out fresh produce from the store. You’ll be happy you did. Not only for the nutrients but for the enjoyment of fresh food. Instead of that second(or third) package of cookies try bananas, or a couple avocados, your body will thank you. Often you can add these fresh foods to your stove-less creations
  • Try your recipes at home before you try them on the trail if possible.
  • If you can get your hands on a dehydrator, anything that can be dehydrated can be re-hydrated by simply adding water.
  • Get creative, and have fun!!!!!

Sample Recipes

There will be more of these to come but here are two that you can give a go on your next backpacking trip! Here’s two really simple options to try. These are the first two recipes I   In the near future I’ll do separate posts for more elaborate meals.

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Put it all in your pot and add water!

Breakfast – A tasty cereal of sorts

What you need:

  • Granola of your choosing. I like the ones that aren’t doused in sugar. Sometimes the ones with dehydrated fruit already in them.
  • Dehydrated coconut milk is my favorite and I encourage you to try it, but any dehydrated milk will do.
  • Cranberries and dried blueberries!
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Couscous is love.

 

Dinner – Couscous with everything

What you need:

  • Near East brand couscous(it re-hydrates the best) I always seem to go for the “toasted pine nut” flavoring. Usually I only use half the box for one meal.
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pine nuts
  • Raisins, you can never add to many raisins.
  • At some grocery stores you can find dehydrated vegetables in the produce section(sometimes called dried veggie chips, but not always.) Also in the soup section there are often dehydrated veggies made to be added to soups.
  • Olive oil!! The fuel of thru hikers.
  • Spice of your choice, but it’s still good without! I frequently go without. Curry powder, garlic powder, etc.
  • Tuna packet on top. I went vegan 8 months ago, but this is another option for the carnivores out there.

Final Thoughts

If this isn’t for you, it isn’t for you. That’s totally fine, but I encourage you to try it sometime. Hopefully after reading through this post you’ll be more inclined to try it on your next trip, and maybe even embrace it yourself!

I hope that this was informative, and serves as a solid resource for those interested in stove-less cooking.

In the coming months I’ll do a big posts containing more of my meal recipes in detail. I’ll link to it here when completed.

If you have any comments or concerns about this that maybe I could address, feel free to leave them below in the comments. This may not be the end all be all of eating on the trail for most, but it is for me.

Do I sound bias? Maybe so! I’ve tried all options, and this is what has been the most enjoyable for me.

If you’re looking to go lighter, be more efficient, and live simpler while on trail this is for you.

food

I no longer eat meat but this is from my first stoveless backpacking trip

 

Jupiter

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