The Pitfalls of “Hike Your Own Hike”

Hike Your Own Hike is a term beloved by thru hikers. It gives validation to many of our weird little quirks other hikers may not understand. If you want to take 2 zero days a week, do it. If you want to take a blue blaze around a section of trail, do it.  If you want to carry a Katana, do it. It’s a term that helps settle any and all disagreements over these petty differences. No matter the context, it seems as if dropping the term “Hike Your Own Hike” is the cue for both sides to drop it and just enjoy the scenery. In a community where every person has their own opinions of comfort, ruggedness and everything in between, this little catch all has gone far to remind us that we don’t always have to be right.

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Origins of the term are hotly debated among hikers but many agree it came around sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s. Today, as the AT community grows in size with the rising popularity of long distance backpacking, this term has began to see a metamorphosis as well. It is increasingly being referenced not only to justify individual styles of hiking, but also individual styles of treating the Appalachian Trail. When “Hike Your Own Hike” becomes a cop out for proper “Leave No Trace” ethics, we as a community have a problem.

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You know it’s big when they make t-shirts of it!

Leave To Trace is also a widely known term on the AT. It was brought about in the 1960’s by the US Forest Service as the use of and need for management of our public lands grew. Leave No Trace has grown from just a saying with great intentions behind it to a full fledge non-profit that works tirelessly to uphold it’s Seven Principles. In a time when we are fighting to both protect our precious land and introduce people to the wonderful affect of Mother Nature for mental and physical health, it is massively important that we do not allow these two hiker adages to work against one another.

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Hike Your Own Hike never means it’s okay to burn your trash if you don’t feel like packing it out.

Hike Your Own Hike never means you are exempt from digging a 6 inch cat hole if you don’t feel like it. 

Hike Your Own Hike never means you get a pass on being polite and courteous to other hikers. 

The rights given to you by the term Hike Your Own Hike end where they become detrimental to the land you are on and it’s natural inhabitants. When making decisions for yourself on trail, first and foremost, go by the Principles of Leave No Trace. Only secondly, go by Hike Your Own Hike. If you want there to continue to be a Hike worth Hiking, you will gladly do so.

Fix It Man and The Flying Pig Trailer

There are two things that all thru hikers love: Gear and Free Stuff! And while free gear may seem like the pinnacle of thru hiker existence, there is actually something else, something even better than free gear, that all hikers eventually need and always love. A free fix!

When you live out of a pack, or in a tent or inside a jacket on trail, you come to love it so much that when it fails, it nearly breaks your heart. Replacing it is not only financially painful, but emotionally painful, as if you are giving up a good friend. Thankfully, there is a man for this sort of thing and this man has a trailer and a mission. Fix It Man, with his Flying Pig Trailer, aims to repair any piece of gear a hiker may have and do it FOR FREE!

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Fit It Man at work in his Trailer.

Allyn Morton unknowingly began laying the ground work for his lifelong hobby and service of fixing gear when he was only 15 years old. He began working with leather; creating custom pieces and repairing leather goods. Thirty years ago, at the first annual Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, Allyn set up a small operation doing small fixes for hikers like replacing broken buckles and sewing fraying straps back together.

Three decades later, he travels a circuit of trail festivals and fixes gear out of his Flying Pig Trailer that he can both live and work out of. Dubbed Fit It Man by hikers in the late 80’s or early 90’s, Allyn now has a heavy duty industrial sewing machine that can stitch through tough fabrics like they are butter. His current day armory consists of gear parts like buckles and zippers and fabric types for gear such tents, jackets and packs.

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Fit It Man (on the left) with other gear reps at a hiker festival in front of his gear repair station.

When asked why and how he commits so much time and energy to providing s free service like this to hikers, Allyn simply replies that he does it for the hikers, for the dealers/outfitters who host him and for the several gear companies he represents. It’s a gift he realizes he has and enjoys, so why not share the joy and benefit of it?!

Give Fix It Man five minutes to evaluate the damage of your gear and then he will get to work on repairing it, for FREE!  If you don’t have anything that needs mending, just stop by the trailer for a chat. His advice is as free as his sewing skills and he’s got lots of it, having worked for decades in the outdoor industry as a rep for companies like Big Agnes, Helinox, Anti Gravity Gear, Granite Gear, Garmont and Point6 Socks. He has a wealth of knowledge about some of long distance backpacking’s greatest gear companies.

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Fit It Man performing his duties as a gear rep by introducing the latest from Granite Gear and Big Agnes to Mountain Crossings owner, Logan.

You can catch Fix It Man and his Flying Pig Trailer at Mountain Crossings Thru Hiker Kick Off Party on Saturday Feb. 27th and he will be staying until Monday Feb. 29th. Then further up trail at later days at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin, TN and finally at the 30th Annual Trail Days in Damascus, VA!

3 Ways to Avoid Gear Failure

As a gear shop along the Appalachian Trail, we have folks pop in all the time to ask about a failed piece of gear. “Can it be fixed? If it can’t, what can I get that will be more reliable this time?” We always do our best (and a few of us are actually really decent at and enjoy trying) to fix whatever may land in front of us. Trekking poles are common and typically are straight forward. They are either broken for good or most likely just need a deep cleaning to function properly. Packs are common as well and the culprit is usually a faulty buckle or strap. We do our best to come up with a mate for it and have even gone as far as to sew it on for folks.

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Many times, a trekking pole that will no longer lock tight just needs to be taken apart and cleaned of any dust, rust and debris that has collected inside of it.

But if we are realistic, we hate seeing these failures. Sometimes it is the result of overly loved items that are coming by their failure due to honest use. Every now and then the failure is due to misuse of the item, like putting far too much weight into a pack, causing strain and stress on key structural points. Other times it is a result of plain, old, cheap gear. This is the most upsetting sort of gear failure because the owner feels as if they did not get the expected life of the product out of it before it left them hanging out to dry somewhere along the trail.

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Putting too much weight into your backpack can cause certain points of the pack to start taking too much pressure and strain, resulting in a failure of the pack.

Thankfully for avid backpackers everywhere, there are a few ways to easily avoid gear failure. There is nothing worse than when you are days away from your next town stop and a majorly important piece of gear like a pack or tent fails on you. When backpacking, you are so reliant on the gear you carry. Not to mention that fixing items with just what you have in your pack can sometimes be difficult. Here are a few ways to avoid gear failure and be prepared for it if it does arise.

1. Buy High Quality Gear

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The easiest way to avoid unwarranted gear failure is to buy a good product to begin with. The backpacking gear world is full of small businesses creating gear for the love of living an outdoor lifestyle, not for a quick buck. Some of these companies have become mammoths in the eyes of thru hikers and avid backpackers because they make a such good product. Think Big Agnes, the most popular tent on all of the AT; ULA, the second most popular pack on all of the AT, every pack of which is hand sewn in America! (No wonder they hold up so well!) But no one or nothing is absolutely perfect. When one of these companies does have a reported failure, they stand behind that product and act in a timely manner to help out the customer. Working in the outdoor industry and being big time backpackers ourselves, we hear the occasional stories of broken packs and tents or parts from these companies (and several others) where hikers have been mailed replacement parts or replacement gear while on trail! So be smart and help set yourself up for success by investing smartly in your gear. The old adage “You Get What You Pay For!” has never been so true as in a sport where you consistently execute major wear and tear on your gear everyday.

2. Treat Your Gear Well

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Once you have saved your money, done your research and purchased that high quality piece of gear that will become the basis of your survival on trail, you must commit to treating it well. If the fabric of your sleeping bag gets stuck in the zipper, don’t yank it out, gingerly extract it. When setting up your tent, be sure to pick a good area, not a patch of rocky land or a cluster of thistle and briars. Make sure you are aware of the recommended base weight for your backpack and the max load it is meant to carry. Going over this rating becomes more of a recipe for disaster as time passes. Check the floor of a shelter for protruding nails or other sharp debris before placing an inflatable sleeping pad down. Generally speaking, be responsible and think about your gear and what is best for it! Just a little bit of forethought can save you so much grief on trail.

3. Use Preventative Measures

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Over a 6 month, 2,000+ mile trail, things will definitely begin to breakdown a little bit. Replacing or fixing gear is just a part of thru hiking. You will probably go through several pairs of shoes and multiple shirts but you should’t have to go through several packs or tents or pads. These are items that should last you throughout the hike and they will if you take care of them and give them just a little TLC. Carrying a small amount of thread or floss with a few needles means you can reinforce an area of your pack if it begins to show signs of stress or excess strain. Carrying a small amount of Tenacious Tape will assist you in fixing holes in a sleeping bag, down jacket or tent. Some people carry the patch kit to their sleeping pad in hopes of being able to find the hole while on trail to fix the pad. Waterproofing your rain jacket and tarp/rain fly with Seam Sealer before setting out on trail also helps insure their ability to keep you dry. Being able to stop small problems from becoming big problems is the key to keeping your gear functional for longer and extending its life to match the length of your thru hike.

 

NOTE: If you have a piece of gear fail on you, be sure to truthfully note why. Was it something you did? Was it a mistake or misuse of the item? If you are going to ask a gear manufacturer to replace a piece of gear for you, be sure that you are coming by that new gear honestly. Trail Karma is real!

Reinventing the Shake Down!

Mountain Crossings has been well known for the gear shake down for many decades. Each thru hiker season, hundreds, now thousands, of hikers pass through the shop to dump what they have found they don’t want and to pick up what they didn’t know they needed.

Want a tiny pack like this that still has all the gear needed to keep you comfortable, safe and happy on trail?! Get a Virtual Shake Down!

Want a tiny pack like this that still has all the gear needed to keep you comfortable, safe and happy on trail?! Get a Virtual Shake Down!

Traditionally, hikers do this on their thru hike, about the 3rd or 4th day into their extended stroll. In recent years, more and more prospective thru hikers who are relatively local to the shop (Atlanta, Chattanooga, Greenville, Huntsville and even beyond) have been making a trip to Mountain Crossings to have a shake down before hitting the trail. The result makes their first few days on trail radically more comfortable in two major ways. One is physical: their pack is lighter due to not carrying unnecessary items and they also don’t find themselves lacking something important. The second is mental: they have asked all the questions they can and talked with experts about what to expect. The over all experience of the first few days is better. Plus, when they arrive at the shop all they have to do it eat, shower and relax instead of wait in line with tons of other hikers for a much needed shake down.

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A typical day during hiker season at MTX looks like 3 or 4 (way less organized) pack explosions like this one! It can get messy, but it’s fun!

As the shake down becomes more popular, section hikers, weekenders, and even boy scout troops are opting to receive this helpful service. It is beneficial to all backpackers, not only thru hikers!

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A Bit of Info on the Virtual Shake Down

  1. Anyone of any experience level or preparedness can participate in a Virtual Shake Down. (Whether you’re a former thru hiker looking to shed some pack weight or only have three pieces of gear, all are welcome!)
  2. A computer with video chat capabilities (built in or attached video camera and microphone) is needed for a Virtual Shakedown.
  3. Virtual Shake Downs happen over an application called Google Hangout. We will provide you with a dummy G-Mail account for use during the shake down.
  4. A Virtual Shake Down costs $100, but that cost is a 100% (absolutely full and total) rebate!!
  5. During the shake down you will have access to all the entire inventory of Mountain Crossings and we will help you locate the exact items you need to complete or update your gear set.
  6. After you have chosen what you need from that shop, you will have 48 hours to purchase these items and apply your $100 rebate towards your gear.
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Click on this Image to check out the Virtual Shake Down

The Real Hiking Viking Sets Sail Again

It is getting to be that time of year again. It’s the season where we all shut ourselves away indoors and wait until spring to go back out. There are the few hardy ones who brave the elements with the help of the right gear, but most only go out on the best of days, if at all. Thankfully, there are those few hardy ones! One of them is Thomas Gathman.

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Thomas “Tom” Gathman AKA Jabba AKA  The Real Hiking Viking

Besides his given name, Thomas is also know by his trail name, Jabba. But most people know of him not by his trail name, but by another moniker: The Real Hiking Viking. He solidified his love for long distance hiking when he thru hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2013 with other veterans as part of the Warrior Hike Program. Jabba has put down a lot more trail miles since then. In 2014 he thru hiking the Continental Divide Trail and earlier this year, he hiked the Florida Trail, the Arizona Trail and nearly completed the Pacific Crest Trail until fire closures along the trail shut him out.

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A sneak peek of Jabba’s hiking style, which he indeed puts a lot of “style” into.

Its obvious that The Real Hiking Viking is the sort that likes to be out in nature a lot, but thankfully for us, he is also slightly insane and has signed himself up for a trip that will keep our adventurous mountaintop seeking selves satisfied from the warmth of our own homes. All we need to do is tune into The Real Hiking Viking’s Facebook or Instagram.

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A sampling of the beautiful kinds of images found on The Real Hiking Viking’s social media pages.

Starting December 1st, yes, that was yesterday, Jabba will be thru hiking the Appalachian Trail south bound through the winter! It is a trek that is reminiscent of Trauma and Pepper’s Winter Southbound PCT Thru Hike. The elements may not be quite as extreme and with a history as varied as that of the AT, he is surely not the first to take on such a hike, but he is bucking against tradition and traveling by foot over rugged terrain that is inhospitable at best in the winter. Join in with us in following along with his progress, which is sure to be full of gorgeous winter time photographs and fun stories.

The Triple Crown of Long Distance Hiking

In the world of long distance backpacking, the act of triple crowning is seen as the highest achievement in the hiking community. It is often times not the initial intention of most hikers to become a Triple Crowner, but as the bug for thru hiking sets in, it becomes a natural progression for many.

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A hiker made this image displaying the markers for each trail and also the years they hiked them!

A Triple Crown in reference to long distance backpacking includes a thru hike of all three major National Scenic Trails in America, the Appalachian Trail (2,184 miles) the Pacific Crest Trail (2,654 miles) and the Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles). Collectively the average mileage for a Triple Crowner is roughly 7,900 miles.
It is no wonder that these unique hikers are far and few between in the hiking community. Walking a rugged stretch of mountains up America is the achievement of a life time for most, but these die hard thru hiking lovers do it three times over and with a revolving door of new terrain and unknown hurdles. They are truly the wizards of thru hiking knowledge!

The idea of Triple Crowning for backpacking first came into being in the early 1970’s. A hiker named Eric Ryback thru hiked the AT in 1969, the PCT in 1970 and the CDT in 1972. In the decades since Rybsck’s completion, just shy of 200 other people have registered as Triple Crowners, though more may have thru hiked all three trails.

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To many folks, the idea of backpacking almost 8,000 miles is unfathomable, but it very possible. Even a hiker as young as 13 has completed a Triple Crown along with her father. Our very own Squarl who has been working at Mountain Crossings for many years is now a Triple Crowner!

 

A Thru Hiker’s Gear: In Photographs

Prospective thru hikers are always asking us what sort of gear we suggest, what we would bring and what we would leave behind. We have a little document sitting on the computer desktop at work which we can print out and it explains a lot of it. But not everyone is able to make it to the shop before their hike and sometimes its just so much more helpful to see an actual, visual example of a piece of gear rather than read about it. So this is intended to be a visual guide to assist you in being able to spy a good piece of gear that will serve you well on your thru hike.

BIG FOUR

Sleeping Bag: Western Mountaineering : 20°
A Western Bag is a big investment but it is one that will last you decades if you take care of it. Some of the lightest, smallest compressing, most accurately rated bags out there.WM ALP-2

Sleeping Pad: Therm-A-Rest NeoAir
The absolute happy medium between comfort and weight. At 2.5 inches thick but only 12 oz. in weight, this is a piece of gear that makes everyone happy.CD-NAXL-2

Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1
Big Agnes makes some of the most popular tents used on the AT. The Fly Creek UL 1 is the lightest of them all. The footprint, fly and tent body all compress down to the size of a football. It can be pitched in a “fast fly” manner that allows for getting out of the rain quicker when pitching and staying in the sleeping bag longer when breaking down.

Don’t Forget Your Rain FlyFly Creek UL 1 Tent with Fly 2-zm

Backpack: ULA Catalyst
At approximately 70 liters, the Catalyst is on the upper end of desired capacity for a thru hiking pack but it is still incredibly lightweight. With two water bottle pockets, a joey pocket, a shock cord attachment, trekking pole holders, a comfortable hip belt with pockets and load lifters, this pack is very “everything you need and nothing you don’t”.catalyst-300x300

CLOTHING

Rain Jacket: Mountain Hardwear Super Light Plasmic
Lightweight rain shell. All of them will have you sweating in no time but that is favorable over hypothermia, so just find the lightest, most comfortable one you can.OM5957_015_f

Down Jacket: Mont Bell UL Down Parka
Very lightweight and compressible down jacket. Not recommended for wearing while hiking, mostly for wearing around camp. Always wear a rain shell over it in rain or snow. Down jackets second wonderfully as a pillow.z_2301237_rbl

Gloves & Hat: North Face Power Stretch Gloves, Mouse Works Rolled Beanie
Make sure not to go overboard on the thickness of the gloves because you still want dexterity in your hands. Windproof gloves end up being the most worm. For hats, don’t over think it, just get a warm hat.COMBO

Nylon Hiking Pant: Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, MontBell and many others
Lightweight, comfortable, nylon hiking pants are a must in Winter and early Spring unless you carry rain pants. Hiking pants are quick drying, seconding well enough as a rain pant, but can also be converted in to shorts, making them three times over multi-use.B69300_7203_w_lobo_cnvtpnt 0011

Midweight Pullover: Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, Patagonia, and others
Wether it is fleece, wool, or some synthetic material, having a long sleeve pull over as an extra layer is nice when its cold. It also gives you a long sleeve layer to hike in with out fear of sweating though it and damaging the warming qualities like down.B83310_4336_alpinist_hlfzp 0001

Light Weight Base Layer: Patagonia Daily (Capilene 1)
Lightweight, synthetic layer to pull on over shorts to wear under pants. Makes an excellent sleep layer.download

Synthetic Running Shorts: Department stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, Wal-Mart and Target have cheap active wear
Any synthetic, quick drying material will do. Some hikers prefer a built in liner over underwear. Make sure to be conscious of the waist band because it has the most potential to cause problems. Wear them with a fully loaded pack before leaving to truly test out the band.umbro-printed-double-layer-track-workout-shorts-womens-size-large-pink

Quick Drying T-Shirt: Department stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, Wal-Mart and Target have cheap active wear
Any synthetic, quick drying t-shirt will do. You’re just trying to avoid cotton. Lighter colors will become dirtier than you ever expected but you will probably throw it away due to smell long before you need a new shirt.317xg6R+VZL._UX466_

FOOTWEAR

Shoes: Brooks (Cascadia 9 depicted), Montrail, Salomon, all good brands.
Trail Runners have taken the lead over boots as the most popular style of footwear on long distance trails today. They are way lighter weight, they let your foot bend and move in a more fluid, natural way, and they dry more quickly that any boots if they are not waterproof coated.120181_485_a_ZM

Socks: Darn Tough (depicted) and Point 6
Darn Tough Socks are made in Vermont and boast one of the most unbelievable guarantees in the outdoor industry with a product that is so good most people never have to use it. Point6 Socks are made in Chattanooga, TN and hold one of the higher wool counts found in wool socks. Because of this, it takes them longer to begin to smell. Unavoidable on a thru hike, but cool for the rest of us.41lfRcv5jtL._SY355_

Gaiters: Dirty Girl Gaiters
Gaiters are just one extra thing to carry that you can absolutely live with out. If you are going to get some, make them a pair of Dirty Girl’s. They are cheap, they are insanely light and they come in a million awesome patterns.images

COOKING/WATER TREATMENT

Cook Pot: Snow Peak Trek 700ml Titanium Pot
Small, lightweight pot that holds approximately 3 cups of water, an excellent size when cooking many meals that require 2 cups or less. Can store small canister of fuel and small stove inside. Also will double as a cup or a mug when needed.
440Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket
A small lightweight canister stove with varying flame intensities. Connects up with any brand of fuel canister. Along with the canister needed to fuel it, this stove can fit into a pot the size of the Snow Peak mentioned above.msr_pocket_rocket_1 (1)

Canister Fuel: MSR Canister Fuel
Any brand of canister is compatible with a canister stove. The smaller canisters will last approximately an hour but it is good to pay attention to your cooking habits and learn how much fuel you are using so you can estimate when to purchase a new canister. The smaller canisters are also able to fit in a pot the size of the Snow Peak mentioned above along with an MSR Pocket Rocket.imgres

Water Filter: Sawyer Classic Water Filter
The perfect meld between lightest and fastest flowing water filter. Takes more effort and time than larger, heavier pump water filters.images-1Chemical Treatment: AquaMira Chemical Treatment
A lightweight, lazy way to treat water. Two parts, mixed together, 7 drops of each per liter of water. Won’t freeze like a ceramic filter.url

MISCELLANEOUS

Pocket Knife: Voctorynox Classic Swiss Army Knife
A tiny pocket knife that is all you need! Blade will slice cheese and summer sausage. Scissors will open packages. Comes with tweezers built in.url-1
Bandana: Regular ole bandana.
One, maybe two, is all  you need. Serves as a hankie when sweating, a towel when showering, a mop when you track mud and water into your tent.bandana

Data Book: Awol’s AT Guide
The most favored and detailed of all the guide books for thru hikers. Most end up cutting it in half, mailing the second half ahead, and taping the spine so that it does not fall apart. ATG-2013NOBOFront-Cover-MARKETING-ONLY

Pack Cover: Etowah Gear Pack Cover
Very light weight sil nylon pack cover designed to keep the water out of your pack. They come in sizes ranging from XS to L that are made for packs of varying liter capacity.1408653904_110157

Water Bladder: Playpus Big Zip 3L Water Bladder
If you choose to use a bladder over multiple water bottles, a 3 liter is recommended just so that you have the ability to carry large amounts of water, even if you only use it a few times while on trail. These are great because they offer hands free drinking while hiking. If you find you have problems keeping track of how much water you have left, store it in an external side pocket so you can periodically check your supply. Doing this also makes refilling the bladder more simple as it is easier to get to.url-2

Water Bottles: 1L Smart Water Bottle
Super light and inexpensive. Can be found at almost any gas station along the trial.url-3

Couple Lighters: Bic Lighter
One for everyday use and one for back up. Don’t go over board. You can always pickup another at a gas station.url-4

Waterproof Stuff Sacks: Sea to Summit or Granite Gear
Good for organizing your gear based off of colored bags and helps keep everything dry.stuff sack

FIRST AID

Band-Aids: Not too many! Most injuries are tiny scratches and don’t even require a bandaid. 22698611_xl-bandaidsChap Stick: You will regret not having it if you are starting early.url-5

Mole Skin/Blister Treatment: Blisters are pretty common injuries on trail. Best to be prepared!url-6

Body Glide/Anti-Chaffing Product: Some people need it, other don’t. It’s good to have starting off if you’re not sure which your are. url-7

Duct Tape: Just a little, wrapped around a water bottle, trekking pole or lighter.duct-tape

This is a fairly comprehensive gear list for the beginning thru hiker. Some folks want to carry more, some folks want to carry less. We strongly encourage hikers to gather their gear with ample time to go out on practice hikes in order to learn how gear works and what may or may not be of use to you. Nearly all the items you see on this list (or something very comparable) are available at Mountain Crossings. 

Choosing the Right Map for Your Hike

One would think that something as simple as maps would be self explanatory. Just grab one depicting the area you’re in and go, right? It would seems so… until you see how many options you have! By choosing the correct map for your particular hike, you will be able to maximize the utility of your map and get the proper amount of information from it.

Blood Mountain Day Hike Map

This is a inexpensive little map we had made up of the Blood Mountain Day Hike. It is one of the more famous day hikes in Georgia and we decided it would be nice to have a map that depicted the Blood Mountain area for day hikers who only needed a small amount of information for a hike they may only do once. Drop into the shop before your hike to pick up one of these guys or order off the website in advance.

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This topographic map of Blood Mountain offers information on several different trails up the Mountain as well as tips for this particular hike.

North Georgia Area Day Hiking Map

Some folks are looking to do a lot of consecutive day hikes in the area or are local enough that they want a map that will cover a greater range of land for future return trips. National Geographic makes some excellent maps with a bit more detail that depict most well marked trails in the North Georgia area. Everything from large trails like the Appalachian Trail, the Benton MacKaye Trail and the Pinhoti Trail are marked along with many smaller spur trails. For the entirety of North Georgia, you can purchase the National Geographic Chattahoochee Map Pack.

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A very detailed map of the entire North Georgia area.

Section Hiking Map

Anti Gravity Gear makes very light weight Strip Maps that give you all the information you need for a longer Section Hike on the AT without having to carry the weight of a full data book. These waterproof strip maps give you the milage at major points along the trail, the location of water resources and shelters, as well as major road crossings and an elevation profile. They are sold by state so you can pick up which ever section you are looking to hike.  There is also a set of more detailed maps made by the ATC that are excellent for both section hiking and can be used for thru hiking.

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Lightweight, waterproof maps that give you just enough information for a long haul hike.

Thru Hiking Map

The most popular map used by thru hikers along the AT is AWOL’s Guide. This book is used mostly by thru hikers because it offers step by step milage points that include water resources, shelters, views, road crossings and much more. An elevation profile integrated into the data points makes it easy to collect all your needed information from one page. Each town along the AT is mapped out in detail with all the needs of hikers carefully noted and written out along side the town map. Many hikers use the guide book to take notes as they hike and often only carry one half at a time, sending the second half ahead to a point further down the trail. The second most popular maps for thru hikers are the ATC Maps. Hikers must purchase the set of maps before hand and send them ahead to set points. These maps also do not have town maps, though a data book is available to accompany the maps.

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AWOL is a former thru hiker whose Guide book has become the most popular and all inclusive guidebook on the trail.

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Along with the ATC Databook, the ATC Maps couple up to be a comprehensive, though heavier alternative to AWOL’s Guide.

New Speed Record of Appalachian Trail Thru Hike

About a month and a half ago we spotted a really cool van out in our parking lot. It was one of the Dodge Sprinters with the high ceilings and it had the decals of several well known companies on the side of it; Clif Bar, Brooks, Pro-Tec… and the name that was about to take over the interest of the Appalachian Trail Community: Scott Jurek.

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Jurek’s van in our parking lot on May 27th.

Scott Jurek is an ultramarathoner and the New York Times best selling author of the book Eat & Run. He has won more ultramarathons than one can count and, in 2010, he set the record for the longest distance run by an American in 24 hours; 165.7 miles. Scott has a string of unimaginable feats and now he’s really outdone himself.

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A typical set up for what Scott carried during a day of hiking.

On July 12th, Scott Jurek broke the speed record for assisted thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, toppling Jennifer Pharr Davis’ record by 3 hours. It was 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes of exhilaration, torture, triumph, despair, beauty and pain followed by a sense of accomplishment so extraordinary that many of us will never know the half of it.

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Scott started his journey on May 27th, passing through Mountain Crossings a little over half way through his first day. At Neel Gap (mile 37.1) he checked in with his wife, Jenny, who was manning the van and surely crushed a few protein bars and bottles of water before heading on for Unicoi Gap (mile 52.9). This was his routine for a month and a half. He essentially ran an ultramarathon every day in order to complete his goal!

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Fans and friends run with Scott in support as he crosses the Hudson River in New York.

It wasn’t easy. He had a few minor injuries that put him behind schedule a time or two. Even as he was closing in on Katahdin, the record seemed elusive. On Sunday afternoon, Twitter was ablaze with folks awaiting the big news. Under the hashtag #SJAT15, there were innumerable posts per minute cheering him on and begging for updates. By 2:15pm, the deed was done. Scott Jurek was the new record holder for the fastest time thru hiking the Appalachian Trail!

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Scott and his wife Jenny on a mountain top in Maine.

 

Inside the Mind of Trauma

Justin "Trauma" Lichter

Justin “Trauma” Lichter

Justin “Trauma” Lichter is most recently famous for completing the first ever winter south bound thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail with his long time hiking buddy Shawn “Pepper” Forry. They began at Manning Park in Canada on October 21st, 2014 and reached the border with Mexico on March 1st, 2015. But this is just a small percentage of the long distance hiking Trauma has been racking up since 2002. Over the past 13 years, he has hiked over 35,000 miles, or “equal to nearly and a half times around the Earth.” This includes two Triple Crowns and hiking expeditions all around the world in places such as Iceland, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Kenya and Ethiopia.

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Trauma (grey in both photos) and Pepper (green in both photos) at the beginning of their journey and the end.

Trauma has been interviewed extensively and if you do any amount of Google searching, you will find evidence of this easily. There are videos on YouTube and Vimeo; multiple backpacking centered websites and blogs have asked him a round of questions; there are even news and radio stations clamoring for a bit of Trauma’s insight into his journeys. Look here for an interview of Trauma and Pepper on their PCT winter SoBo hike. Check out Backpacker Magazine’s interview on Trauma’s Africa journey.

Below are a few questions that I haven’t seen asked as many times as some others. I tried to delve into a variety of random topics with Trauma to get a more well rounded sense of his hiking style and experiences as a whole.

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Trauma leaning against the marker at the end of his PCT SoBo winter hike.

MTX: I know your trail name is a result of several traumatic experiences during your first long outdoor trip. Do you mind going into more depth about those experiences?

Trauma: I took an outdoor education class in college and the class would spend 12 to 15 days out at a time. These trips in southern Utah were my first experiences with backpacking and within the first few days I had suffered from several traumatic experiences. The first was on a day when I was hiking ahead of the group by a bit. They were about thirty minutes behind me and suddenly there were ravens dive bombing me from above. I tried to run away from them, first one way then another, but they followed me. Finally I found a boulder to tuck away under and wait them out until my group arrived. As they came down the canyon, the ravens let up and then I had to explain why I was hiding behind a rock. On the same trip, a few days later, I was running low on food. Thankfully, I found some MRE’s stashed away but they were in cans. The military stopped making MRE’s in cans in the 1960’s or 1970’s, but I was hungry so I took the risk. There was a can of cheese and a can of chocolate, both of which were in rusted over cans but I opened them up and ate them. There was a third can containing jalapeño cheese and when I opened it, the contents were glowing a bright green color. My hiking partners were convinced they were going to have to carry me out from severe food poisoning but I ended up being fine.

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This is probably more or less what Trauma was dealing with, but maybe with a bit more rust.

MTX: The transition from first being introduced to long distance hiking to putting down several major trails and their extensions seemed very quick. Can you tell me about what got you hooked so hard?

Trauma: I hiked with a few buddies from the Utah trips in college the year before. Those trips birthed the idea of thru hiking the AT. When we started out we had the same mindset as when we were in Utah. We were carrying about ten days of food, not thinking that we had so many resupply options long the AT. It also took us a while to get used to picking up camp and moving every day. In Utah we could afford to bring some luxury items like a big knife for making a bow drill or lines and hooks for fishing because we only moved camp every few days. On the AT, we realized that we didn’t have as much time for those sorts of things.

MTX: When you first began hiking, did you have any inclination that your life would pan out the way it has with so many trails, expeditions and miles under your belt?

Trauma: It was an organic progression. The days in Utah brought on the idea of the AT; thru hiking the AT was so enjoyable I decided to stay out as long a possible and continue on the International AT up to the tip of Quebec. After finishing up, I knew I wanted to do more, so I saved money and thru hiked the PCT the next year. It’s just continued on from there.

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Though Trauma didn’t tack on the southern half of the IAT through Florida and Alabama the first time he did thru hiked the AT, he did come back around and hike the entire length again at second time.

MTX: After so much time out on trails, what keeps you coming back for more and looking for new treks?

Trauma: You get comfortable with one thing and you want to step it up a bit. I look for new goals within each journey and new trials. I like to gain a new skill set either out on a hike or before I leave in order to take on the hike properly. Seeing new places is always a big pull. That and learning new things keeps it fresh.

MTX: What do you do during the toughest moments on trail that helps you get to through them?

Trauma: Some things on trail you can prepare for and some things you have to rely on experience. When it comes to gear, you can and should prepare for it. For example, during our winter hike, we had multiple ways of traveling. Sometimes we were just hiking but many times we were snow shoeing or skiing down a pass to get to a road that was open. We spent a lot of time testing out different styles with those modes of travel to see what would work best. There are several different kinds of skis and ski boots; some are heavy and bulky and other are made of lighter materials so we measured the pros and cons of each of our options before setting out on trail. We just found what worked best for us even though they weren’t made for what we were using them for. When you know your gear really well, you can wing it on trail really well if you have to. Being able to get your shelter set up really quickly in a winter storm, for example, is very important. If you can’t do that then other gear gets wet and the entire experiences becomes more of a struggle and more dangerous as well.

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Trauma’s hiking partner Pepper sporting their ski set up latched on the back of their packs.

MTX: What is your favorite piece of gear in your pack?

Trauma: My gear set up changes so much from one hike to another but I always enjoy my sleeping bag. I have a MontBell Down Hugger and it is the best feeling to climb into your sleeping bag at the end of a good day of hiking.

MTX: What do you think it is that makes you different from most other long distance hikers?

Trauma: Maybe my foundation. I really enjoyed thru hiking the AT and enjoying it is a big part. The most important thing is having fun. Each trip is different and that keeps it new for me. I just really enjoy walking, particularly in the early morning or in the evening. You see more wildlife and the lighting is beautiful.

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A typical day on the PCT in winter.


MTX:
This is definitely off topic but I am just really interested to know: what are the reactions people have when they find out that you’ve hike over 35,000 miles?

Trauma: Most are in awe but I don’t think they fully understand. It’s hard to really grasp the real idea of long distance hiking with out a reference point of having done it yourself. People are impressed but they don’t quite get the ins and outs of hiking.

MTX: Of all your trips thus far, is there one that you would count as the most impacting or your favorite?

Trauma: I definitely pull lessons from each trip I go on but I would probably say that my first AT thru hike was the most influential. It kind of started it all.

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Between big trips, Trauma often goes out for a week or so at a time with one of his favorite hiking buddies depicted here!

MTX: As far as trips go, what’s next? And how do you come up with your trip ideas?

Trauma: There is nothing on the horizon now but I am pretty creative in coming up with things. I find inspiration for future hikes while on a current hike. Like the winter PCT hike, I remember thinking on the first time thru hiking the PCT, “I wonder if this could be done in Winter?” Other times I will see pictures and be inspired to go explore that place.

MTX: I hear you have two more books coming out in the near future. Can you tell me a bit about each one?

Trauma: The first is a book of short stories; just experiences from the trail over the years. That one should be coming out just before Outdoor Retailer, so August-ish. The second is geared towards long distance bike packing.

MTX: Tell me a bit more about your bike packing experience.

Trauma: I’ve done on and off road bike packing but I prefer off road. Biking is just faster than hiking. You can cover more ground and it has all sorts of new gear set up possibilities. There is a lot out there about light weight backpacking gear but I want to look more into lightweight biking gear for long distance bike packing.

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A couple pages out of Trauma’s Ultralight Survival Kit.

For more info about Justin Lichter, aka, Trauma, go to his website and for more insight into his wealth of backpacking knowledge, grab a copy of either one of his books .

Trail Tested is an excellent beginners guide to all things backpacking related. Trauma goes through every type of gear you could imagine and thoughtfully breaks them down into pros and cons. He covers nearly all possible trail situations and best of all there are tons of photos to help explain everything.

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Ultralight Survival Kit is Trauma’s second book. It goes into detail about how to be prepared for any and every situation and still maintain a light pack weight. He covers worst case scenarios, the biggest noted fears among most hikers such as bears, lightening and injury and covers backcountry first aid for the ultralight hiker.

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