Wildflower Season

Each day I go out for a hike, I find more and more wildflowers blooming. I love this time of year when everything starts to sprout and turn green. This blog post is going to tell you about some of the wildflowers you can see on the trail, and some of the best spots to see them. These are just a few of the main ones on the trail, but there are so many different wildflowers. Get out there and see them for yourself!

Early Bloomers
Bloodroot – This flower seems to be one of the first that pops out of the ground. You can find it almost anywhere on the trail in Georgia. Bloodroot is named for its popular red natural dye used by Native American artists. A break in the surface of the plant, especially the roots, reveals a reddish sap which can be used as a dye.

Violets – The Common Violet is the most popular. It is usually purple and has more of a round leaf. There is also the Halberd Leaf Violet, which has more of a heart shaped leaf, and yellow flowers.

Dwarf Crested Iris – These beautiful purple flowers like to grow in moist areas, maybe near a creek or stream. The sepals of the its blue-violet flowers are distinctly marked with a central yellow or white, purple striped band. Go on a hike from Three Forks to Long Creek Falls on the Appalachian Trail. It follows the stream and you are sure to see this flower.

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Dwarf Crested Iris

Trout Lily – These flowers are known for their “trout like” leaves. They are speckled like a trout and grow in moist areas. The flower is small and yellow. Petals and sepals are bent backwards exposing six brown stamens inside. There are a ton by the Springer Mountain shelter water source. Go for a hike up to the start of the Appalachian Trail and check them out. Or find another wet area, they will likely be there.

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Trout Lily

Star Chickweed – These tiny white flowers bloom in a star like shape and they have brownish-red stamens that come out from the center. I saw some of these just beginning up Blood Mountain and there are more all along the trail.

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Star Chickweed

Mid-Season Bloomers
Mayapple – You will likely see these leaves early in the season, but the flowers don’t bloom till later on. People like to refer to them as “Gnome Umbrellas” because of the leaves. The females have two leaves with a single flower growing in the axil of the leaves. A great spot to see fields of these flowers is on the Approach Trail from Woody Knob to the base of Springer Mountain. They grow mostly in damp, open woods, and along lower ridges.

Foam Flower – Long, slender stamens give spikes of white flowers a frothy appearance. They grow in shady, moist areas. They can be found in many areas along the trail. I’ve noticed them on the section from Neel’s Gap to Tesnatee Gap, as well as going down into Low Gap.

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Foam Flower

Trillium – Trillium is the most well-known flower on the trail. There are many kinds of Trillium. The characteristics of these flowers include three leaves, and three flower petals. These flowers are found everywhere. The pictures below will show you the different kinds so you can properly identify the flowers.

Bluets – These tiny blue flowers grow at higher elevations, usually on the tops of mountains or ridges.

Pink and Yellow Lady Slipper – the Pink Lady Slipper is one of the largest native Orchids and is found both in low, sandy woods and in higher, rocky woods of mountains. A great area to find a bunch is on the Hike Inn Trail in Amicalola Falls State Park. About one mile from the Inn are clusters of them near the creek. The Yellow Lady Slipper is less common in the Appalachians. I saw one close to Chattahoochee Gap on the AT, but they are considered rare. They are beautiful orchids and look like little slippers!

Late Bloomers
Fire Pink – This flower blooms in May or even June down here in Georgia. A common name for members of this genus is Catchfly, which refers to the sticky hairs or exudates which trap insects. It is bright red and has five petals. I saw a bunch hiking from Gooch Gap to Woody Gap.

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Fire Pink

Eastern Red Columbine – This beautiful woodland wildflower has showy, drooping, bell-like flowers equipped with distinctly backward-pointing tubes, similar to the garden Columbines. These tubes, or spurs, contain nectar that attracts long-tongued insects and hummingbirds especially adapted for reaching the sweet secretion. It is reported that Native Americans rubbed the crushed seeds on the hands of men as a love charm. Just two weeks ago, I saw the leaves of these all along Sassafras Mountain, just south of Cooper Gap. They will likely bloom in May and June.

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Eastern Red Columbine

Spiderwort – Spiderwort is a large but dainty perennial with long, bright-green, narrow leaves. The thick clump of slender, branched stalks are topped by groups of blue or purplish, three-petaled flowers. Spiderworts are so named because the angular leaf arrangement suggests a squatting spider. Again, hiking from Gooch Gap to Woody Gap is a great place to find this flower.

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Spiderwort

Jack in the Pulpit – One to two large, glossy leaves, divided into three leaflets, rise on their own stems 1-3 ft. The intriguing blossom of this woodland perennial occurs on a separate stalk at the same height as the leaves. It is a large, cylindrical, hooded flower, green in color with brown stripes. Distinctive Jack-in-the-pulpit formation grows beneath large leaves. I only saw one of these last season on the stretch of trail from Low Gap, to Chattahoochee Gap. The Smoky Mountains have more in abundance.

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Jack in the Pulpit

Galax – You have likely seen this evergreen plant along the side of the trail before. The leaves are round and they turn brown in the winter. The plant is said to have a pungent smell. The flower blooms in early – late summer and is a tall stalk of little white flowers.

Honorable mentions
These flowers are also all around the trail, but I did not have any personal pictures of these. Here is a collage of the flowers. Be sure to look for them on trail!

Rhododendron vs. Mountain Laurel 
Often mistaken for one another, Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron are flowering, evergreen shrubs that share more similarities than differences. These plants are often found growing side-by-side in wooded, mountainous areas throughout the eastern United State. To tell them apart without their flowers, look at the leaves. Rhododendron’s dark bluish-green leaves are thick and leathery and range in size from 4 to 14 inches long. Its oblong-shaped leaves are narrow at the base, wide in the middle and rounded at the end. In cold weather or times of drought, rhododendron’s leaves roll up into tight cylinders. The underside of the leaf is pale green or rusty brown. Mountain laurel has elliptical-shaped leaves with pointed tips. Leaves are glossy yellow-green to dark green and generally smaller than rhododendron’s, about 2 to 5 inches long.

Mountain Laurel flowers are either white or pink flowers, with a red stripe encircling the center. The flower petals are fused together to form small cups. Rhododendron flowers can range from pink, to purple, to white, but in Georgia they will usually be pink. Check out the pictures below to see the differences between the two.

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Rhododendron leaves on the left, Mountain Laurel on the right

There are many other flowers, these are just some of the main ones I’ve seen along the trail in Georgia. If you want to learn more, you should check out the “National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Wildflowers,” which we have in the store. We have several other wildflower guides you can take on your wildflower walk. Wildflower.org is a great resource for checking out wildflowers. Take a lot of pictures while you’re out there, then do the research when you’re off trail. Be sure to look at the flower, leaves, and any other characteristics that can help you identify the flower. Stop by the store to show us your wildflowers pictures, we are always happy to talk about nature!

 

 

 

First Aid Kit

One item people tend to either pack too much of, or not enough, is the first aid kit. You tend to pack your fears, so if you are afraid of getting injured, you will have a bigger first aid kit. Other people have no worries at all and just want to be lightweight so they cut out the kit completely. Having some sort of first aid in your pack is a must. Not only for you, but to help others in need as well. This post will go over some items you most definitely want, some you might want, and the others that you should probably take out. Of course, these are just our recommendations but if you have more specific medical needs then by all means pack what you must!

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Blister Kit
These are the most common items you will find in a first aid kit. Most people will get some sort of a blister at some point during their hike. There are many different bandages made specifically for blisters that usually have some type of gel that prevents further rubbing and helps treat the blister. Most claim to be waterproof but when they are in a shoe or boot all day, they tend to come off. Moleskin is the more popular solution. You can cut it to whatever size you need and stick it right on the blister. These can also come off while hiking all day. The simple solution for both of these bandages is duct tape! Duct tape has many uses on the trail and is a necessity. Whenever I stick moleskin on a blister, I put duct tape around my whole foot and it keeps the moleskin in place and prevents further rubbing. Duct tape is also great for repairing gear and ripped clothing.

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Tape up those blisters!

Here is my method for treating blisters and it hasn’t failed me yet.
-Try to tape up a hot spot once you feel it rubbing. If it is too late and a blister has already formed, go ahead and put moleskin and duct tape on it.
-After arriving at camp, take off the bandage. Use whatever you can to pop the blister and drain the fluid (safety pin, needle, pocket knife, fingernails).
-Once the fluid is drained, use some sort of disinfectant to clean the open sore (neosporin, alcohol wipe, Iodine).
-Keep the wound open and let it dry out and possibly scab overnight.
-The next morning, you will want to bandage up the wound again for the day. Instead of using moleskin because it sticks right to your skin and could cause another wound when ripped off, try using a small piece of gauze or a bandaid if you carry them. Continue to use duct tape around the entire foot to keep the bandage in place.
-Take off bandages and repeat. Usually a new blister could have formed so cleaning the scab should suffice.

You should really only carry one type of disinfectant. I had a small tube of Neosporin that lasted me a long time and I used on all of my wounds. You also only need a few moleskin pads and gauze. Keep in mind you can stop in town every 4-5 days so if you need more supplies, you can get them. Duct tape can be wrapped around trekking poles, trowel, pencil, whatever you have! You definitely don’t need the big cardboard tube or that much duct tape.

Medicines
There are only two medications I brought on the trail but again, if you have specific prescriptions, or use other medication regularly then by all means bring it! I would recommend just one kind of Antihistamine, and one pain reliever.  You may not know your own, or others allergies. I got stung by a wasp on the trail and my hand swelled up to twice its size! Luckily, my friend had a Benadryl that helped with the swelling. Now I always carry at least two small Benadryl tablets just in case. Pain relievers can help with aches and pains and can also be good for your body. Taking some at night before bed will help with swelling and other pains overnight. Be careful to listen to your body and do not try to mask serious pain with pills.

Other medicines that people take on the trail are Antacid tablets, sting and burn relief, eye drops, prescribed Antibiotics, etc. I personally wouldn’t carry any of these as they add weight. If any sickness were bad enough I would just take care of it in town.

Bandages, wraps, wound treatment
A few band aids can be ok for minor cuts, or for open blisters on your feet as long as they are duct taped. Other bandages you should carry are things like gauze for bloody wounds, athletic tape to wrap a sprained ankle or wound, and an elastic wrap. The elastic wrap helped me when I was having shin splints. Wrapping my shins every night helped with some of the swelling. You can use them on feet, legs, knees, etc. Of course you will need alcohol wipes, maybe just a couple, and a pair of rubber gloves is not a bad idea either just in case you need to help a friend with a bloody wound.

If you are afraid of larger cuts, the butterfly closures can be a good thing to carry.They go across a cut so that it forces the skin to come together. Another item people sometimes carry is an irrigation syringe. If you fall and get a big cut with small debris and dirt stuck in it, using the syringe filled with water can help clean out the wound. If you are carrying a Sawyer water filter then you should already be carrying one of the syringes for back flushing your filter. Dual purpose!

Other
Of course there are many items you can bring in your first aid kit. Other items include; tweezers, splints, more assorted bandages, liquid bandage, blood-stopping gauze, glucose tabs, q-tips, thermometer, and CPR mask. I will say the tweezers are necessary for the Appalachian Trail because they will help you remove ticks. Everything else is up to you. Hopefully, you won’t ever have to use anything in your first aid kit, I know I rarely did. It is important though because even though it’s not something you will need everyday, it can make a difference in a dangerous situation.

Here is my total final list for my first aid kit.

  • Moleskin
  • Duct Tape
  • Neosporin
  • Small gauze roll
  • A few alcohol pads
  • Elastic wrap
  • Tweezers
  • Benadryl
  • Advil
  • A few butterfly closures
  • Iodine (I use this as a water treatment backup as well)

Hope this post has helped! Remember, it is easy to get to town so don’t get freaked out if you get an injury while on the trail.

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles are becoming an essential piece of equipment on the trail. They enhance your stability and provide support on all types of terrain. The Appalachian Mountains can be rugged and severe. Having the trekking poles can help prevent injuries and give you support while hiking. It can protect your knees, ankles, feet, just generally, they help take stress off your body. Trekking poles will not decrease your overall energy expenditure since you’ll be using your arms more than you would when walking without poles. They do help distribute your energy usage in a way that can help your hiking endurance. This post will go over some of the features of trekking poles to help you decide which ones you should get.

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You can do anything with trekking poles!

Trekking pole features
Most trekking poles can adjust in length to enhance stability on different terrain. Generally, there should be a 90-degree angle in your elbow while holding your trekking poles. If you are going up a steep hill, you can shorten the poles a little more to help as you are climbing. If you are going down a steep hill, lengthen the poles a little more to provide more stabilization when you are stepping down. There are four types of locking mechanisms for trekking poles so you can adjust them.

-External lever lock – this is a clamp-like mechanism that is easy to adjust.
-Twist lock – This uses an expander and screw setup that is strong and durable
-Push-button lock – Poles with this locking mechanism snap into place and lock with a single pull. Press the push button to release the lock and collapse the poles.
-Combination – some poles are a combination of these listed mechanisms.

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Various locking mechanisms

Trekking pole materials
Trekking poles can come in two different materials, either aluminum or carbon fiber. The aluminum poles are the most standard. They are more durable but tend to weigh a little more. They weigh between 18 and 22 ounces per pair but they can withstand rougher terrain without bending or breaking. Carbon fiber poles are for lightweight backpackers that are trying to cut corners. They weigh between 12 and 18 ounces but they can bend and break easier if you are not careful. Look at the terrain you will be hiking in to help determine which poles will suit your needs.

Another aspect of poles to consider are the grips, where you hold the poles. They can come in three different materials; cork, foam, and rubber. The rubber is best for winter hiking because it can insulate your hands and still absorb shock and vibration. If you are not wearing gloves and you are sweating, the rubber grips can cause chaffing. If you plan to hike in warmer climates, the cork and foam grips will be best. The cork will resist moisture while the foam absorbs it. The foam is softer to the touch but the cork can decrease vibrations and conforms to the shape of your hands.

Other key features
One great feature is the wrist straps. Most poles come with these but some do not. They go around your wrists so if you need to take out a snack, you can just let them dangle from your wrists. Carbide or steel tips are commonly used to provide traction, even on ice. Rubber tip protectors extend the life of the tips and protect your gear when poles are stowed in your pack. They are also good for use in sensitive areas to reduce impact to the ground. Angled rubber walking tips (usually sold separately) are for use on asphalt or other hard surfaces. Shock absorbing poles have internal springs that absorb shock when walking downhill. This feature can help protect weak knees and ankles. The shock absorption feature can be turned off.

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Various trekking pole features

Recommendations
Black Diamond Alpine Ergo
These poles are made of both aluminum and carbon. The top of the pole shaft is aluminum and the bottom part is carbon. The grip is made of cork. The design of this pole makes it fairly lightweight but also durable. The cork grips are comfortable and the angled, ergonomic shape allows your hands to fall naturally into place. The poles weigh 20 oz for the pair and cost $150.

Helinox Ridgeline
These aluminum alloy trekking poles are manufactured by DAC, the
leading maker of lightweight tentpoles and tent stakes. The three
sections of this pair of trekking poles collapses down using a flip
lock mechanism. They have carbide tips and comfortable foam grips,
weighing in at a total of 16 oz and cost $169.

Leki Corklite
This aluminum pole has the best cork grip. Leki is known for their comfortable grips and the confidence-inspiring setup will be well worth the extra bucks for folks that really rely on their poles for downhill assistance. The lever lock is easy to use and adjust. These poles weigh 17.6 oz and cost $140.

The best thing to do when it comes to trekking poles is go check them out. You want to pick the right pair for you so feeling, and holding the poles helps with your decision making. Here at Mountain Crossings, we have a bunch of test drive poles you can borrow to hike up Blood Mountain. Come check them out and see how you like them!

 

Bears!

One common fear among hikers is encountering a bear. I can’t tell you how many bear sprays I’ve pulled out of people’s packs during a pack shakedown. On the Appalachian Trail, bears are not threatening. This post will tell you a little bit about the bears that reside in these mountains and how you can protect yourself, and the bears while on the trail.

Black-Bear

Black Bears
The Black Bear is the only bear found in the Appalachian Mountains. The American black bear is the smallest of the three bears species found in North America, and are found only in North America. Black bears have short, non-retractable claws that give them an excellent tree-climbing ability. They are omnivorous: plants, fruits, nuts, insects, honey, salmon, small mammals and carrion. They are extremely adaptable and show a great variation in habitat types, though they are primarily found in forested areas with thick ground vegetation and an abundance of fruits, nuts, and vegetation. Black bears tend to be solitary animals, with the exception of mothers and cubs. The bears usually forage alone, but will tolerate each other and forage in groups if there is an abundance of food in one area. Black bears are not aggressive. If you see them approaching, it is merely out of curiosity or to see if you have food. Another common fear is getting between a mother and her cubs. There is no record of anyone being killed by a mother black bear defending her cubs, and attacks are very rare. Startled black bears run away, often to a tree. By contrast, a startled Grizzly may charge and occasionally attack, making grizzlies over 20 times more dangerous than black bears.

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Human interaction on the trail
I have personally seen around twenty bears while on the trail. For the  majority of these sightings I was by myself and saw them from a distance. Most would run off when they heard me. There were a few that were engrossed in their eating, or they were by their cubs, and would not run off right away. To let them know you are nearby, clap your hands and call out, “Hey bear!” or just talk loudly to them. When they hear you, they will then run off. If they start to approach you, stand your ground and make yourself look large. You can even throw rocks or sticks towards them. Do not run away from the bear or turn your back
on it, but maybe change your direction. Some bears have become more accustomed to people because they know they have food. This is where the issues lie. There are some areas on the trail where bears are becoming more frequent, and sometimes even aggressive. This is the direct result of improper food storage, and carelessness by hikers. Eating in shelters and other camping areas causes bears to approach those areas searching for crumbs and bigger scraps. While sleeping, food storage is super important. If you have even a granola bar wrapper, or scented lotion in your tent or pack, the bear can smell it. A bear’s sense of smell is 7 times better than a blood hound’s or 2,100 times better than a human. So yeah, they can smell whatever you have. There have been incidents with bears throughout the trail. The most common examples are the bears in the Smoky Mountains. The Smokies have a high concentration of bears, but also a large amount of humans in the park each year. Shelters have been closed down at times because a bear was frequenting the area and dragging hikers packs from the walls in search for food. Even when the humans tried to shoo it away, it just came back later. One bear bit a man through his tent because it could smell scented lotion he was keeping in his tent. The man had a big wound but was ok. The bear responsible for this was euthanized.

This is threatening to the bears. Rules are put in place in certain areas to avoid these incidents from occurring. In the Smokies, hikers must have a permit and stay in the shelter or at least really close. The man who was bit, was not close to the shelter despite the rules. He could have had help from fellow hikers to get the bear away if he was by the shelter. Bears are not trying to harm humans they just want to eat! Respecting the rules in certain areas will help regulate the bear encounters. There is a five-mile section South of Mountain Crossings from Jarrard Gap, to Neel Gap where a bear canister is required for camping. This is not meant to be an inconvenience to hikers, but to protect them, and the bears from more encounters.

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Proper food storage
I talked a little bit about food storage in the last blog post, but it is super important not only to protect you and your food, but the animals that could get a hold of it. Once an animal tastes human food, they want more. It is the official recommendation of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to carry a bear canister from Springer Mountain to Damascus, Virginia. I have personally used a bear canister while I was Ridge Running and I will say it is pretty convenient. I didn’t have to worry about hanging my food I just had to stick the canister away from my camping area. A bear got to my canister once and rolled it down the hill a bit, but the canister was not penetrated and both my food, and the bear were safe. I understand that bear canisters are heavier and bulky, so hanging your food is another great option. Hang food from tree limbs 12 feet off the ground, 6 feet from the tree’s trunk, and 6 feet below the supporting limb. It does take practice to hang the line, but it is an important skill and you know your food, and the animals will be safe. Some people have a small bag at the end of their line that they put a rock or handful of heavier material in so they can throw the line with ease. I tie a rock to the end to throw it over the limb. Don’t be embarrassed if it takes you a few tries because it is tricky! Not only food goes in the food bag. Hang your toiletries and any smelly items such as hand sanitizer and lotion.

Let’s do our best to protect the Black Bear so we can continue to enjoy them in the wild!

What’s in my food bag?

The item you will find the most in any hiker box is food! People tend to pack their fears and a fear most people have is not having enough food. This process of figuring out food gets easier as you keep hiking because you can see what you have been eating and what you like. There are so many different delicious options out there you just need to figure out which ones you like! This post has food recommendations that can help you decide what food to put in your food bag.

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Food bag!

Breakfast

  • Pop tarts
  • Oatmeal
  • Cold cereal with powdered milk
  • Clif Bars or other power bars
  • Add dehydrated fruit to cereal
  • Tortilla with almond butter, honey, raisins and date (one I discovered while on the trail and loved it)

Snacks

  • Trail Mix!
  • Mixed nuts
  • Fritos
  • Snyders pretzel bits – honey mustard and onion or hot buffalo wing were my favorite flavors
  • Any chips or crackers, just don;t expect them to hold together very well.
  • Clif bars or other power bars
  • Dried fruit
  • Candy bars
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Trail mix is a common backpacker snack

Lunch

  • Packaged tuna
  • Tortillas
  • Peanut butter
  • Nutella
  • Cheese and summer sausage
  • Crackers
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Tuna Tuna Tuna

Dinner

  • Ramen
  • Knorr rice or pasta sides
  • Packaged tuna
  • Dehydrated meals (Mountain House, Alpine, etc.)
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Knorr Sides

Dehydrated vs making your own
The prepackaged dehydrated meals are popular, and easy on the trail. All you do is add boiling water to the pouch, wait around 10 minutes, then eat straight out of the bag! There are many interesting meals such as lasagna, chicken teriyaki, and beef stroganoff and they are all pretty yummy. The downsides is the weight, and cost of the meals. They can be between 6-12 dollars per meal and they are bulky and weight a little more than say Ramen. They are fairly caloric but you can get your calories in other ways than these meals.

Making your own meals can be simple as well. You can add packaged tuna to Knorr sides or Ramen as well as some extra spices to make them delicious. To add more calories you can always carry some olive or coconut oil to add to your meals. A small spice kit can be beneficial to flavoring meals and making them interesting. Repackaging spices in smaller bags or bottles can help save weight in your pack.

Another way people make their own meals, is dehydrating all the food and assembling the meals ahead of time. This process is tedious and time consuming but if you have special diets, or like making your own food, then it is awesome. Everything you dehydrate needs to be cooked beforehand, and chopped up fairly small. If certain fruits, veggies, or meats aren’t dehydrated fully, they can come out chewy. There are many online resources for tips on dehydrating your own food, and assembling tasty recipes for backpacking. Make a few and test them out to discover your favorites. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not so bad and it can be much healthier than other store bought items!

Nutrition
Eating healthy while on the trail is difficult, but not impossible. One great way to get some fruits and veggies on the trail is to bring some! If you’ve just left town, bring a banana and an apple to eat as snacks that day. You can always bring some veggies to throw in whatever meal you want to make that night. Of course, all the scraps will need to be packed out, but at least you got something wholesome in your diet. If this seems too cumbersome, get dried fruits and veggies. Make sure to get the ones not coated in sugar.

Try not to worry about eating healthy. You will need those carbs and fats and you won’t be eating like you’re on the trail forever so embrace it while you can.

Having a special diet can also be tough. This is not my area of expertise as I will eat anything! Do some research to figure out how you can accommodate your diet while on the trail.

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Bring dried veggies on the trail

Food bag vs. can
Storing food is very important because you don’t want critters getting in your food! Hanging your food on a tree limb at least 10 ft up and 6 ft from the tree trunk is the most popular method. A waterproof sack such as the ones here are great for staying out in the rain all night. They are cheaper and lighter than the other option which is a bear canister. Canisters are usually 2 – 3 pounds but they are foolproof. They just need to sit on the ground 200 yards from your tent. They are indestructible so you know your food will be safe. Most people don’t like to carry the extra weight if it’s not necessary. There are areas of the country that require bear canisters. One area here is from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap and that area requires a bear canister from March 1 – June 1. This is a five mile section right before our store over Blood Mountain and it is easy to hike in a day so you don’t need the canister. Incidents in the past with bears is what caused this regulation to be put in place. Be careful along the trail so more of these rules won’t have to be enforced.

Check out our YouTube video that shows what one of our employees, Carlie, would have in her food bag!

 

Baxter State Park

If you are thru hiking this year, you probably heard about the new regulations at Baxter State Park in Maine. There is a limited amount of permits for thru hikers this year. I have gotten several questions about why there are permits and what can be done if you don’t get a permit in time. This post is hopefully going to help answer some of your questions about what is going on up in Maine.

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Baxter State Park

History of Baxter State Park
Percival Baxter is the man responsible for the creation of the park. He first gazed upon Katahdin on a fishing trip with his father in 1903. In 1909 he began a political career and started advocating for the creation of Mountain Katahdin State Park and also summited the mountain for the first time with a group of politicians. When his father passed in 1921 it really spurred Percival’s intentions of creating the park. In a speech he gave he said,

“Mountain Katahdin Park will be the state’s crowning glory, a worthy
memorial to commemorate the end of the first and the beginning of the
second century of Maine’s statehood.”

The state did not decide to purchase the area surrounding Katahdin so Percival took it in to his own hands and decided to purchase the area himself. The Great Northern Paper Company owned the land, and after the economic crash in 1929 they were willing to sell the land for cheap. Percival bought 6,000 acres for $25,000 and immediately gifted the park to the people of Maine. In 1931, the park was created and named Baxter State Park. Baxter did not trust the federal government so he put many provisions on the park to prevent it from becoming a national park. The Baxter State Park Authority is a separate governing body that oversees the administration and maintenance of the park. When Baxter died in 1969 his ashes were scattered in the park and he donated 28 deeds and $7 million dollars to the park.

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Percival Baxter

Baxter State Park Today
Baxter State Park is over 200,000 acres of wilderness and public forest. The park remains in a rustic state to preserve the forest. There are a few campgrounds but the roads are unpaved, there are a few outhouses, and no running water. Many people come here to enjoy the wilderness and get away from society. Vacationers mainly visit this park but there is a fair amount of thru hikers. What we know the park for is Mount Katahdin. Mount Katahdin serves as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Just two years after the park was made, Myron Avery established the summit of Katahdin to be the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Each day, there is a limited amount of day hiking permits for Mount Katahdin. While this can be regulated, the thru hikers have not been regulated. The increasing amount of thru hikers has caused more people to climb Katahdin every day. Baxter State Park decided to regulated this by making a thru hiker permit for the park.

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Mount Katahdin

Thru hiker permits in Baxter
Use of the Park by AT long-distance hikers has increased an average of 9% annually over the past 25 years. In 1991, the total number of recorded AT long-distance hikers in Baxter State Park was 359. In 2016, 2,733 AT long-distance hikers registered in the Park, an increase of more than 700% from 1991. Even in the last year (2016), 23% more AT hikers registered in the Park than in 2015. Since there have been no limitations placed on thru hikers in the past, the Baxter State Authority decided it was time to include the thru hikers in the same model respected by all Katahdin hikers. The permits will need to be acquired at Katahdin Steam Campground in person when they arrive to climb Katahdin. The permits are free and they have arranged numbers of permits for each thru hikers category as follows:

1. NOBO – 1,350
2. SOBO – 610
3. Section – 840
4. Flip Flop – 350

This is a total of 3,150 permits total, this is 417 more permits than were issued last year for expected increase of hikers.

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Thru hikers on Katahdin

What do I do if I don’t get a permit?
Do not fret! It is still possible to hike the mountain without a thru hiker permit. The numbers were inflated by over 20% to hopefully ensure that all thru hikers can obtain a permit. If there are more hikers than expected this year and you do not get there in time to get a permit of your own, you can still hike the mountain. The Long Distance Hiking Campsite will be closed, but you can go to town and follow the same protocols as a day hiker would.

Katahdin is a strenuous hike and Baxter State Park has done an excellent job providing Rangers to monitor who is on the trail. I would not suggest trying to hike the mountain without a permit as there will be fines and you will likely get caught by one of these rangers.

These rules were not made to punish thru hikers, but to help protect the park and the visitor experience. Please respect these rules and do not worry, there should be plenty of permits and if not, you can still hike Katahdin!

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Summit of Katahdin

Leave No Trace Ethics

In the previous blog,  you heard me mention Leave No Trace quit a bit. Leave No Trace refers to a set of outdoor ethics promoting conservation in the outdoors. This description comes straight from www.lnt.org.

Leave No Trace is built on seven core principles that are used to communicate the best available minimum impact guidance for enjoying the outdoors responsibly. The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace were developed to help educate and guide recreationists in sustainable minimum impact practices that mitigate or avoid recreation-related impacts. These Principles are the most robust and widely utilized minimum impact outdoor practices. Although Leave No Trace has its roots in backcountry and wilderness, the practices have been adapted so that they can be applied anywhere – from the backcountry, to local parks, to your backyard – and for any recreational activity. Each Principle covers a specific topic and provides detailed information for minimizing impacts.

It is important for hikers to learn about these ethics before they set foot on the trail. While some of the principles are more obvious (don’t throw trash on the trail), other principles people might not realize they should be doing. Below we give details and examples of each of the principles.

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1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
This ethic is vital to being in the outdoors. Planning can deter you from dangerous encounters on the trail. Here are examples of planning ahead.

  • Plan out your route as well as alternate routes in case of emergencies. Also take the map with you to refer you if you need it.
  • Check the weather. This will help you decide what clothing and gear to bring. Even if there is a slight chance of rain, packing rain gear will be important. Also remember that for every 1000 ft elevation gain, you will lose between 3-5 degrees in temperature.
  • Look at the regulations for the area you are planning on hiking and camping.
  • Plan according to your group. If others aren’t in very good shape, consider an easier hike.
  • Bring appropriate gear and a first aid kit
  • Bring enough food and water, but don’t go overboard!
  • Lastly, check Leave No Trace ethics so you can be sure you are minimizing your impact in the outdoors.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Trails and campsites exist for a reason, to concentrate people in certain areas and to preserve most of the land and vegetation. Here are some examples of traveling and camping on durable surfaces.

  • Hike on the trail! The trail is built a certain way to make the hike easier for you and scenic! Switchbacks exist to prevent erosion, when you cut a switchback it causes rocks and soil to tumble down the hill, and it destroys vegetation. Be sure to follow blazes or cairns to make sure you are following the right trail
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Camp in existing campsites. Planning ahead can help you figure out where you will want to camp. Check where established campsites are and camp on designated sites or tent pads. If the vegetation is cleared and the area is flattened, it can be safe to say that it is a campsite.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • If the area you are camping allows you to camp wherever you want, it’s ok to camp off trail as long as you are at least 200 yds off the trail, and you scatter your your camping area when you are finished. When camping, disperse tents and cooking activities. Avoid places where impacts are just beginning to show.
  • Always choose the most durable surfaces available: rock, gravel, sand, compacted soil, dry grasses, or snow.

3. Dispose of waste properly
This is probably the most well known ethic because people usually hear “pack it in, pack it out” which refers to trash and other items you carry. There are other forms of waste this principle encompasses. Here are some examples.

  • Pack it in, pack it out! Do not leave your trash anywhere in the outdoors. Carry wrappers, unwanted food, wipes, and anything else you plan to throw in the trash with you till you get to civilization that has garbage cans. Check campsites and break areas for accidental garbage.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. The AT has privies along the trail that act as outhouses. only human waste and toilet paper should be in these privies. Read signage at privies to know if you should throw in a handful of mulch to help the decomposition process.
  • Pack out wipes and feminine hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater. Another great method to clean dishes is to pour clean water into the dish and wipe around with your finger. When finished, drink the leftover water. This prevents you from having to use soap and from packing out small food scraps.

4. Leave What You Find
We want to keep the outdoors in the state we experienced so others can enjoy it and it helps preserve it in its natural state.

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
  • Don’t graffiti the shelters or any other rocks or trees.

5. Minimize Campfire Impact
Campfires cause a lasting impact in the backcountry. Wherever a fire is build, the vegetation will never be the same in that spot. Fires serve three purposes; heat, cooking food, and bringing people together. If you planned ahead and prepared, you should not get cold and you should be carrying a stove for cooking. The social aspects of a fire are the main reasons fires are built. Some people don’t want to go camping unless they can have a fire. Follow these tips for minimizing your campfire impact.

  • Only use existing fire rings. If there is no fire ring, do not build one but maybe find a site that has one nearby you can share with other campers.
  • Follow the four D’s – dead, dinky, down, and distant. You don’t want to gather all the wood right around your site but try to spread out. Make sure the wood is dead and down, don’t go picking stuff off the trees. It should also be small. I say if you can break it easily over your knee, then that is a good size.
  • The reason the wood should be small is you want to keep the fire small. There is no reason to have a roaring fire burning all night long.  Letting a fire burn up all the way to ash is the best. The fire should be cold to the touch before you go to sleep. If there are a lot of ashes in the ring, consider spreading those into the forest to keep from building up.
  • If you’ve gathered extra wood, scatter it in the woods before you leave to discourage others from building a fire.
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Small fire in designated fire ring

 

6. Respect Wildlife
Nature doesn’t exist just for humans. When we are in the backcountry,  we are entering other creatures homes. We need to respect the habitats of these animals  so we don’t alter their lives. Animals can get distressed from humans or  become dependent on them. We want to keep what’s wild, wild. Here are some tips for respecting wildlife.

  • Do not feed any animals! Don’t make the animals dependent on human food. Even one or two occasions can habituate animals. Some attention animals receive during the summer will dwindle in the winter and animals could die from starvation.
  • Use the rule of thumb. If you stick out your thumb straight in front of you, it should completely cover up the animal. If you can still see the animal, you are too close.
  • Be sure to hang your food on a tree limb at least 10 ft off the ground and 6 ft from the trunk. Storing your food in bear canisters is also convenient. The canister can be placed on the ground away from camp. Store all food, trash, and any other smelly items such as lotions or sprays.
  • Keep dogs on leashes. Even if the dog is well behaved, if they see an animal they could run off. Other hikers may also be afraid of dogs so it helps mitigate encounters.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

7. Be Considerate of Others
This encompasses everything on the trail. Treat others with respect and everyone can enjoy the trail! Use your best judgment. Here are some examples of treating others with respect.

  • Uphill has the right of way. If you’re coming downhill, step aside for those who have their momentum going uphill. If they say to come on by because they need a break then go for it, but give them the option to go first.
  • Try to keep your group size down. Larger groups can take over a camping area or be loud on the trail.
  • Use earbuds. If you want to listen to music, don’t play it on your speaker phone. Not everyone wants to listen to your music.
  • Keep your pets on leashes. This was addressed in respect wildlife but it is respecting other hikers as well.
  • Keep quiet hours from when the sun goes down till it comes up. Most hikers sleep during this time so if you like to stay up late with your friends, keep the noise level down.

If everyone is friendly and courteous of others, we can all have a great time on the trail! For more information, visit http://www.lnt.org. You can also come by the store this Saturday February 25th an hear a talk about Leave No Trace from one of our certified employees.

Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors

We are gearing up for thru hiker season, and so is everyone else! Georgia definitely sees some of the most impact on the Appalachian Trail. There are many who attempt a thru hike, but do not make it out of Georgia. There are also many section hikers who start here in Georgia in the Spring but they may not make it farther North in the coming years. All in all, it is the mission of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club to try to help improve the AT hiking experience and lessen the impact on the trail. On trail resources are the main method to help others on the trail. This is in the form of five full time Ridge Runners, and volunteer Trail Ambassadors to fill in for the Ridge Runners on their days off. Last year was the first year there were this many Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors and it definitely made a difference. This post will cover what the goals of these positions are as well as the importance of partnership between other organizations here in Georgia, including Mountain Crossings.

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Ridge Running has its perks

Ridge Runners
Ridge Runners are hired by the ATC and serve as an on trail resource for hikers. They aim to educate hikers on Leave No Trace ethics and help them in any way they can. They provide information about the A.T. and its intended primitive experience, its location, regulations, and traditions. They work to encourage the best behavior on the part of hikers, to facilitate a positive Trail experience (particularly for those who are poorly prepared). They discourage and mitigate misuse of the Appalachian Trail and its environment.

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Ridge Runner Bill talking with hikers

In Georgia, there are five Ridge Runners total. Four are stationed at particular sites but also hike during the day, and one changes locations every night. This proved to be a good method as the sites and shelters the Ridge Runners stayed at were the most heavily used. One Ridge Runner stayed at Amicalola Falls and would check in thru hikers and offer pack shakedowns for those with heavier packs. This helped lessen the amount of items left on the Approach Trail and other shelters.

I was a Ridge Runner last year and was stationed at Springer Mountain for the majority of my patrols. Slightly more people seemed to start solely at Springer Mountain rather than the Approach Trail. Although you take a Forest Service Road to get to Springer Mountain, many more people are becoming aware of it and skipping the Approach Trail.  One of my tasks was to count how many thru hikers, section hikers, and day hikers I came in contact with each day. This was beneficial to me because it forced me to have conversations with most people and it was beneficial for the ATC to learn the amount of people on the trail. There were some Saturdays where I saw between 200-300 people total! I was mostly interested in talking with the thru and section hikers because I wanted to make sure they were prepared and they also knew how to respect the trail. All in all, most hikers were fairly aware of Leave No Trace methods and I had faith they would carry them out throughout the trail. It was usually just a few people each day who had no idea what they were doing that would cause a mess.

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Trash found at a shelter

Each day I would hike between 4-8 miles depending on where I felt I should go. I would clean up Stover Creek and Black Gap Shelters regularly while also interacting with hikers along the way. Having a clean shelter to begin with helps discourage others to leave their gear and trash there. I would also bury any toilet paper I saw, dismantle extra fire rings, and just let people know who I was and why I was out there! It was fun getting to hike and meet interesting people every day. At night, I would make sure to meet and talk with all the campers at the shelter and I would hang out with them. Being a former thru hiker, I could help answer their questions, while also slipping in Leave No Trace facts. People respond better to someone who they see as their friend rather than authority. I didn’t lecture people, I just had conversations with them. There were many other things I did whether I was working with GATC volunteers, the Forest Service, or local EMT. It was truly a great experience being able to help others and the trail.

I attended the Workshop for AT Partners where I was able to meet all the new Georgia Ridge Runners. They are a great group of people and I have no doubt they are going to be awesome!

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Hanging out hikers at Springer Mountain shelter

Trail Ambassadors
Trail Ambassadors serve as volunteers for Ridge Runners on their days off. Their responsibilities are the same. The difference is, they are volunteers and are not getting paid! Trail volunteers are what make the Appalachian Trail possible. The GATC in my opinion has some of the best volunteers on the Appalachian Trail. They do so much work on the trail to help improve the trail for others and lessen the impact. While I was stationed at Springer last year, the trail maintainer for the Springer Mountain Shelter came out every single week. He was always in great spirits, even if he had to clean out the privies! I saw numerous other maintainers throughout Georgia and they were always happy to help the trail. Trail Ambassadors volunteer two or three of their days a week to be out on the trail and they receive the same training as Ridge Runners.

Partnership
While the Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors stay on the trail, there are other organizations and people who help in many ways. The Forest Service has a Wilderness Technician who keeps track of the Ridge Runners and helps enforce some of the regulations in place on the trail, such as the bear canister requirement from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap. Law enforcement is also very aware of the trail and available to help with any legal matters on the trail.

Local businesses such as hostels, outfitters, and shuttle drivers are also apart of this coalition. We want to help improve the trail and help hikers have a great experience. All the business that came to the Workshop this past week are willing to help the Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors and also help the ATC by also educating hikers on the trail and Leave No Trace Ethics. I know here at Mountain Crossings we try to inform hikers of the regulations on Blood Mountain (no fires and bear canister requirement from March – June) and we also slip in Leave No Trace ethics while giving pack shakedowns.

If you plan to go for a hike this Spring, keep an eye out for these Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors and be sure to say hey! Check the blog next week to learn about these Leave No Trace ethics I talked so much about!

Stoves!

Sometimes there is nothing better than getting to camp and eating a hot meal. While some people prefer to go stoveless and eat cold meals, the majority will carry some type of stove to make hot food and drinks. There are several kinds of stoves out there so which one should you get? This post is all about stoves so hopefully you can get some idea of what sounds good for you to use.

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Hot meal after a long day!

What kind of stove do you want?
Here are some questions you should ask yourself when looking for a stove.
-How easy do you want your stove to be?
-How many people do you plan to cook for?
-Do you want something that boils quickly or one that can simmer?
-How lightweight do you want it to be?
These are just a few but you should also consider what environments you will be using your stove and how easily you can get fuel.

The four main types of stoves to look for are; canister, denatured alcohol, liquid fuel, and alternative stoves. The canister method is the most popular. The canisters screw onto the stove and it is really easy to light. Denatured alcohol is designed so you can light the alcohol and place your pot on the top. Liquid fuel stoves connect to refillable fuel bottles. While most liquid-fuel stoves run on white gas, you do have other options available, which can be a particular benefit if you’re traveling internationally. The alternative stoves can be used solely as wood burning stoves or fuel pellets.

Canister stoves
Stoves designed for canisters are the most popular on the trail. They are the easiest to use and are still lightweight. The canister screws onto the stove, you turn on the gas and then light it with either you own lighter or some come with a lighting mechanism. They are designed to boil water quickly but can be harder to simmer. Most will also require a windscreen to protect the flame from going out when the weather is rough. The problem with canister stoves is the fuel will wind up costing more than regular white gas or denatured alcohol, and it is wasteful to throw away the canisters after use. It can also be difficult to determine how much fuel you have left and most people will end up carrying an extra canister just in case. But, for new backpackers, canister stoves will definitely be the easiest to use. Here are a few types of the canister stoves and our recommendations.

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Various canister stoves

JetBoil Flash Cooking Systems – This is an integrated stove system that is easy to use and has a built in windscreen. It is designed to fit the stove and canister inside the pot. This stove boils water super fast and is great if you just need to add boiling water to a dehydrated meal. You can cook in them as well but it is difficult to turn down the flame to simmer. The JetBoil pots have an insulated sleeve with a fabric handle so they are easy to hold and eat out of. Without the canister, the stove and pot system weighs 14 oz for a 1 liter pot. Boil time for 16 oz of water is 2 minutes, 30 seconds. This stove is pricey, but I used mine for my entire thru hike and my time as a Ridge Runner and I still use it today.

MSR PocketRocket 2 – This is a newer version of the original PocketRocket. It is ultralight weighing only 2.6 oz, can boil water in 3 minutes, 30 seconds, can fold up into whatever cup or mug you carry, and has a wind protection and focused burner which pushes a persistent, solid flame. This does not come with a pot so you will need to find that separately and you may also look into a small windscreen. This stove is definitely one of the more popular stoves because it is versatile and can boil water fast, but also simmer. We just got a bunch here in the store so come by for a stove demo!

Denatured alcohol stoves
This type of stove appeals the most to ultralight backpackers. It usually weighs just one or two ounces and you can carry the appropriate amount of alcohol for your trip. You carry the alcohol in your own container and have it refilled along the way. The stoves can be tricky because you need to figure out how much fuel you will need to use and pour it in the stove each time you cook. It can also spill so it’s best to do it away from others. Once you pour the correct amount of fuel into the stove, you simply use a lighter to light the fuel and either let it burn out, or cover it to put out the flame when you are done.

Toaks Alcohol Stove – This titanium alcohol stove made by Toaks weighs in at only .7oz, can hold up to 2.7oz of fuel. One ounce of fuel boils two cups of water in about five and half minutes. This stove comes with a wire pot stand.

Etowah Alcohol Stove – The Etowah Stove is the first stove to use dual burner technology. By designing a stove with a burner inside a larger burner we created the ability to achieve the maximum boil time with extended burn time using the least amount of fuel possible. It doesn’t just boil water, you can actually cookup to 35 minutes using two ounces of denatured alcohol.

Liquid fuels stoves
All liquid-fuel stoves run on white gas, which is highly refined to have few or no impurities. It burns hot and clean, performs well in below-freezing temperatures and, compared to the per-ounce cost of canister fuel, is much less expensive. These stoves are becoming less popular because they are bulkier and heavier. They are better for larger groups of 4 or more people because the fuel can last longer and boil larger amounts of water in bigger pots. The problem with liquid fuel stoves is they require priming, which involves igniting a few drips of fuel in a cup below the burner, creating a small flame that preheats the fuel line. You will need to pump your fuel bottle, too, to increase pressure.They also require periodic maintenance, such as cleaning the fuel hose or replacing O-rings (in the stove and on fuel bottles). There may be many little parts and pieces to keep track of.

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MSR Whisperlite stove

Alternative stoves
There are a few other types of stoves you can use. Wood burning stoves are for those who like doing their cooking in an old fashioned way. It’s like making a small fire in a smaller container. You just need to gather enough small sticks and make sure The fire keeps going. A popular one now is the BioLite CampStove. This wood burning stove also charges your electronics when it gets to a certain temperature. The stove is fairly heavy and you need to keep feeding the fire in order for it to charge your devices. It can be fun to use for shorter trips but is not practical for a thru hike.

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BioLite CampStove

Fuel pellets are another alternative stove method.  All you do is light the pellet, then have a stand you either make yourself, or buy to set your pot over the pellet. The pellet will take longer for water to boil, but they are lightweight and cheaper because you can make the stand yourself.

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Esbit fuel tabs

Tips and tricks for stove cooking
The easiest cooking method is to boil water, and add it to a dehydrated meal such as a Mountain House, or even a homemade meal. That way, you don’t need to worry about cleanup and you can eat straight out of the bag. These meals can be expensive and I know you can get sick of them and want something different. Cooking in your pot is a good option too. Ramen or Knorr Sides are very popular and cook fairly quickly. I made my food in my pot and when I was done scraping the sides, I would add some clean water to the pot, clean around it with my finger, and then drink the leftover water. It didn’t always taste great, but I didn’t waste the water, and I was practicing the best Leave No Trace method for food cleanup.

Bring a small spice kit! Even just a little bit of salt or black pepper can make a difference for a bland meal. Garlic powder, onion powder, and curry powder are other spices I enjoyed on the trail. I even carried a small bottle of hot sauce at some times! Anything to make the food taste a little better is definitely worth the extra weight.

Do not cook in or near your sleeping area. Even if you are careful and don’t spill, food smells can linger and attract animals. If you have leftover food, pack it out. Burying it does not practice Leave No Trace and will attract animals.

In the winter, denatured alcohol will hold up the best but if you use a canister stove, be sure to throw the canister in your sleeping bag to keep it warm. This way, it will not take as long for the water to boil.

Hope this post helped answer any stove questions you had! Give us a call or stop by the store if you have any other questions!

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Hikers enjoying dinner at the Springer Mountain shelter

Water Treatment Options

One of the biggest necessities on the trail is water. Along the Appalachian Trail, water is fairly plentiful so you usually do not need to worry about carrying vast amounts on your back. Be sure to carry a guidebook or map that shows water sources so you can plan accordingly. I personally never carried more than two liters while on the trail and most people won’t carry much more or less. Another great resource for water sources is the AT Guthook App. This app shows the reliability of water sources and comments people have made about the source.

To filter water or not to filter water?
Honestly, this should not even be a debate. Filtering water is a must! There are many mountain springs where the water could be clean coming straight from the ground, but humans and animals over time have made these unclean. Animal and human waste could be nearby, and humans also stomp, bathe, and dump dirty things into water sources. It is important to read about the Leave No Trace practices to know how far you should be from water sources and how to dispose of waste properly. Sicknesses, such as Ghiarrdea, have occurred from drinking unfiltered water and the sickness can ruin a trip and have lasting effects on the body.

So which purification method are you going to use? There are really two types to choose from, water filters and water purifiers.The difference between a water filter and a water purifier is the size of the microorganism each combats. Water filters work by physically straining out protozoan cysts and bacteria. These biological pathogens are the main water concerns if you’re traveling in the U.S. and Canada. Water purifiers work by using chemicals to kill the viruses that may be too small for filters to extract. If traveling abroad, you may need to look into water concerns for that particular country, but in the US, you would be fine with either type of method. Below are some different types of filters a purifiers and what we recommend.

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Water source on the Appalachian Trail

Pump filters
These filters are going out of style. They filter out larger particles and can really help if you are in a dire situation and need to draw water from a puddle, but they are large and bulky and can take forever to filter! If you’re looking for a good arm workout, this filter can be perfect for you but the lighter weight filters and purifiers will definitely work on the Appalachian Trail.

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Using a pump filter at a lake

Gravity filters
These do the work for you. All you do is fill up the reservoir, and the water falls through the filter and through the hose to your own water bottle or bladder. You just need to find a tree to hang it on and then you can walk away. If a water source is shallow, you can always use your pot to gather the water and fill up the reservoir. This can be time consuming but once it is in the reservoir, you don’t need to do anymore!

Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter – 2 Liter kit – This filter is lightweight and filters two liters of water at a time. Perfect for when you are setting up camp.

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Squeeze filters
These are by far the most popular on the trail. They screw onto a bottle and you can then drink straight from the bottle by squeezing it. You will have to let the air out occasionally but it is easy and lightweight. Many people also squeeze it into another bottle and then also drink out of the bottle with the filter.

Sawyer squeeze and mini – This is a favorite on the trail. These can screw on to the Sawyer bags that come with the filter, Smart water bottles, or you can put them inline with a hose and bladder. They are versatile and easy to use. Not expensive either! As long as you backwash then fairly regularly, they should last you a long time. There is a slight weight difference between the squeeze and the mini, they both do the same work but the squeeze filters water faster and is easier to drink from.

 

Chemicals
This is another popular water treatment. The chemicals can kill some of those viruses that a regular filter might not be able to. They will not filter out larger particles so if you as at a shallow water source, or it has been disturbed recently, you could have larger particles in the water. You can easily filter these out through a small mesh bag, or even with your hands. Most of the chemical treatments nowadays are made so they do not contain a lingering taste in your water. Some of the more traditional methods such as straight Iodine will contain a taste and might not be good for your digestive system if you use it for too long. Here is what we recommend.

Aquamira – This treatment is lightweight and easy. You mix the two solutions together and let them sit for five minutes. Depending on how much water you’re treating, the amount of drops will vary. You then pour them into your water and let that sit for twenty minutes. I usually go ahead and start hiking after adding it to my water and keep an eye out on my watch so I know when I can drink. I never had a funny taste in my mouth and didn’t need to clean the chemicals or work to filter my water.

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Aquamira Drops

Boiling water
Most people know that boiling water is a method of water purification. Getting the water to heat to 212 degrees and letting it stay there for a few minutes will kill germs and bacteria in the water. If your water treatment has failed, this is a great alternative because most hikers carry a stove. Some people only boil water to purify it but this can be time consuming and requires a good amount of fuel. When I cook, I use untreated water and boil it for a minute before I add it to my meal and that is a safe way to cook, and it saves my filter or purifier from an extra use.

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Boiling water

Key tips for water treatment

  • Separate and clearly designate dirty and clean water containers.
  • Pay close attention to directions because every product has detailed steps to avoid cross contamination.
  • Seek out clean water because sediment impairs treatment effectiveness. If only murky sources are available, use a prefilter or allow sediment to settle from gathered water.
  • Keep your hands clean by packing hand sanitizer and using it often.
  • Keep camp, toilet and dishwashing areas at least 200 feet from any water source.
 Everyone prefers different water treatment methods. I would suggest testing some of them out ahead of time to see which works for you. We can show you how some of them work in the store and are happy to help answer any of your water treatment questions!