It’s been said that, as far as human-powered feats go, completing any long distance hiking trail is heavy enough. You don’t need anything extra weighing you down—whether that’s excessive gear, or the kind of mental clutter that will get in your way on the trail.
Ultimately, thru hiking the Appalachian trail or the Pacific Crest trail is a simple act. One foot in front of the other, 2000+ times. Of course, that’s once you’re actually out on the trail. Beforehand, there’s a mountain of logistics to sort out and gear to make sense of.
That’s why we’ve turned to experienced thru hikers who’ve gone the distance—in some cases, completing the Triple Crown of Hiking (AT + PCT + CDT)—to pull apart their packs and show us the way to thru hiking nirvana. Hyperlite Mountain Gear is also proud to partner with the PCTA and other conservation organizations to be able to bring you up-to-the-moment information on trail conditions and protect the experience for generations to come.
Each spring, the global hiking community converges on a tiny town in southwestern Virginia. Day hikers, section hikers, thru hikers past and present crash like a wave on Damascus—seemingly all at once.
Overnight, the population of “Trail Town, USA” multiplies many times over. Tents appear, mini, mobile gear shops interspersed among them, with enough food carts slinging enough high-calorie grub to cure all the hiker hunger in a hundred miles.
Trail Days, like the Appalachian Trail itself, is a celebration of humanity in its many forms. There’s a how and why and reason for everyone who hikes, a story behind every pack. It’s joyous and solemn, wholesome and debaucherous, entirely sane and yet a little bit out there.
As much as possible, we tried to grab time with people who stopped by the Hyperlite Mountain Gear booth–especially when they were carrying our gear. Learning a little bit about them and their hike helps us all complete the circle on why we do what we do, in turn.
Here’s what we gathered from a random assortment of thru hikers (a lot of whom ended up being from our home state of Maine):
York, ME—On the trail since April 4th
AT Highlights? Pretty much all of it. That’s why I’m here; living it, adventuring it.
Whether your objective is to lighten your load for more comfortable hiking, reduce your pack weight for a long distance hike, or prepare for the most challenging alpine climb of your life, a lightweight approach can have tremendous long-term benefits. With good information, skill and high-quality gear, you can engage in more enjoyable and more rewarding outdoor adventures. We compiled our best big-picture long distance hiking tips here in one convenient package to help you build your own ultralight philosophy and methodology.
April 1 Snow Pack Update: Thru Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Isn’t Getting Any Less Interesting
It’s not like hiking the trail, it’s more of a winter ice endurance event. It doesn’t relate to thru hiking.
–“Don’t Panic,” 2011 PCT thru hiker
Five weeks ago we published a Pacific Crest Trail 2017 preview, and it turns out that we’re not alone in having a mean case of trail brain right now. The post caused quite a stir simply (we think) because it accurately related the insane reality of the Sierra snow pack at the end of February. A quick summary: if you’re thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year, be prepared for snow. Lots of it.
Now for the update: As of April 1, the snow pack for the entire Sierra region of California is at 164% of normal. Break that down regionally and the numbers get even more staggering. We’re talking 147%, 175% and 164% for north, central and south, respectively.
Our friend Robin Standish is nothing if not committed. Her dedication to life on the trail takes many forms: stacked up thru hikes, beautiful photographs of wild places and in this case, a well-thought-out, soulful investigation of the sidecar realities that going ultralight carries—out there, in actual practice.
Expect more dispatches from Robin this summer as she sets out to complete the last leg of the Triple Crown of hiking on the CDT.
It’s not necessarily news that it has been dumping snow this winter. Much to the delight of skiers and snowboarders everywhere, mountains across the country are up to their armpits. You can gloat all you want about sidling up to the all-you-can-eat powder gorge, but if you also happen to be planning on thru hiking the PCT this year, you might to want to change your tune.
(Spoiler Alert) Both trails require the essentials.
Word & Photos by Robin Standish
I finished the Appalachian Trail (AT) in mid December, 2015. Hoarfrost glazed the landscape, icicles lined the slick, frosty trail, and a damp, east coast chill seeped through ever layer I wore. It was time to be done, though it wouldn’t be for long. A few months later, when the feeling in my toes had returned, and my hiker hobble lessened, I headed for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I was confident in the hiking part, but was uncertain about how my gear setup would have to be altered.
The Brooks Range has always intimidated me as a logistical challenge: expensive, remote, cold in the winter and buggy in the summer. But it is the largest swath of Alaska I haven’t seen, and with a lot of planning, we were able to do a long and remote Gates of the Arctic backpacking trip within my budget. We had to have the route, logistics, and pace, dialed-in to pull off this ambitious trip. Our route evolved to be: fly to Anaktuvuk, float southwest on the John River, hike west to the Alatna River, float southeast on the Alatna to access the Arrigetch, cross the Arrigetch, float northwest on the Noatak River, hike southwest to the Ambler River, and float west to Ambler.
SNAP! The sound of a baseball bat hitting my shins was a pain I will never forget. Except there was no baseball bat, I was a month into my Appalachian Trail thru hike and dealing with shin splints that made every step a nightmare. I remember it so well because it was the week of my 26th birthday, and my only wish was for the pain to go away.
To set the story straight I know the problem was my pack weight, which was largely due to my camera gear. I was quite new to backpacking and surely wasn’t the type of guy to brag about my knowledge when it came to the great outdoors. I was determined to keep going and willing to do anything to help ease the pain I had put my body through, but was I ready to take the steps to become an UL hiker?
Bushcrafters Love “Classic” (aka Heavy) Gear: Brian Trubshaw Wants To Change That
Text and photos by Brian Trubshaw
I started my outdoor life with Bushcraft. A naturalist at heart, I don’t just enjoy being in nature; I believe in being one with nature. Bushcraft is the art of being able to spend time outdoors with very few items because you have a better understanding of the natural world. In other words, you have excellent “wilderness skills.” Englishman Ray Mears popularized the term “Bushcraft” here in the United Kingdom in his TV show, “Wild Tracks.” His show brought his survival research across the world to the big screen and left a lasting impression on my seven-year-old self.
Like Mears, when I walk in my woodlands, I don’t just see trees and plants, I see food I can eat and resources that I can use to do tasks. For example I very rarely carry tent stakes with me, as I know that I can just use branches with a carved point on the end. However, I also have a set of tent takes I have carved out of Hazel straights for when I’m in mossy areas. Wood work, fire lighting, shelter building—with the right knowledge the possibilities are endless.
Most people don’t know New Zealand for its backpacking. Native New Zealander Greig Caigou explains how to make the most out of your time visiting.
Text & Photos by Greig Caigou
Far flung from Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s home in Maine, my Southwest 3400 pack travelled via CB postage (cabin baggage) to the land ‘Downunder’, to the bottom of the world . . . to New Zealand!
I’m a NZ’er by birth – 60 years young, and an outdoor educator by profession and a wilderness hunter by passion.
Named after our iconic native bird, we ‘Kiwis’ (New Zealanders) are an adventurous lot, with many like myself having had a rural or ‘outdoorsy’ upbringing. As such, we’ve prided ourselves on a rugged lifestyle birthed by pioneering forefathers who just 175 years ago travelled tenaciously half-way round the globe to settle amongst the impressive and varied landscapes of these islands at 41 degrees South.
That not-so-old legacy of past pioneers meant I grew up with a bold spirit, always keen for expeditions into the wild unknown, well beyond the back fence. In addition it meant I was raised on country fare . . . home grown vegetables matched with wild meats hunted from the local hills, and resided in a generous community where such produce could occasionally be exchanged for a fat mutton (sheepmeat) or some homebrew with a kick!
My new pack has been an integral part of my recent adventures, helping me stay ‘ultralight’ during my work and in my Kiwi-style hunting. Maintaining that simpler and stripped down approach resonates better with a wild experience for me, in touch with the rhythms of nature, but which has been somewhat counter–culture for many who take on the rigors of traversing the backcountry of New Zealand.
There are thousands of kilometers of formed trails here, many more established ‘routes’ and perhaps unquestionably the best network of public accommodation ‘trampers’ huts in the world. Let’s say you are planning on heading to this country with your very own Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack and hoping to walk one of our Great Walks or the ‘Long Pathway’ – Te Araroa (TA).
So what are some tips for the trail and how could you add some extra pizzaz and design your adventure for something differently wild and uniquely ‘Kiwi’?
Ambassador Bethany Hughes Raises Awareness for Women’s Issues on major America-to-America Thru Hike
When the rainy/winter season came, the two-woman hiking team of Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Bethany Hughes (aka “Fidgit”) and Lauren Reed (aka “Neon”) completed the first stretch of a 20,000-mile hike from the tip of South America to the top of Alaska. They finished the hiking season in Bariloche, Argentina after walking an estimated 1553 miles from November 23, 2015 to April 19, 2016, covering 13 degrees of latitude since starting in Ushuaia, Argentina.
“Taking a break will give us a chance to structure the next leg of our journey, which will run longer as we should, by next winter, be far enough north to hike through the winter season,” Hughes says. “Plus, it means I can put more time and effort into writing.”
“We are particularly interested in highlighting the abilities and accomplishments of women we meet by featuring their stories,” Hughes explained. As well, she stated, with domestic violence recently becoming a more prominent topic of conversation in South America, their trek offers the opportunity for fostering discussion.
“Taboos are being broken just by having these conversations, especially with an outsider,” Hughes added.
Hughes began planning this trek, dubbed “Her Odyssey,” five years ago after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and subsequently learning that it formed part of the longest contiguous chain of mountains in the world. Reed, a “Triple Crowner,” is accompanying her on the South American portion of the journey.
Philip Werner never wanted to be a thru hiker. While he respects thru hikers and their achievement(s), he prefers to hike his own hike, which, to him, means hiking and backpacking both on and off-trail on journeys of his own design. People often equate hiking and backpacking with thru hiking. However, the vast majority of hikers and backpackers don’t hike on National Scenic Trails. Werner estimates there are probably 10,000 or more non-thru hikers for every Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru hiker. We recently chatted with this influential hiking blogger and owner of SectionHiker.com about what “hike your own hike” means to him.
Hiking new routes, to new places and in new ways. My favorite mountain is the mountain I have yet to climb. To find new routes, I look at maps a lot and work off trail lists and peak lists. For off-trail routes, I mainly use caltopo.com to plan my bushwhacks and a map and compass to hike the routes. I really enjoy planning unique trips to places I want to visit. I can’t think of a time where I’ve used someone else’s route on a trip on purpose.
What are some of the “new ways” you have hiked over the years?
Winter backpacking, mountaineering, bushwhacking, peak bagging, waterfall climbing, day hiking and nature viewing. There are lots of styles of hiking and combinations of these styles.
Plus, I’m constantly learning new backcountry skills and folding them into my adventures, adding endless new facets to my experiences. I’ve incorporated backcountry (cross-country) skiing, Tenkara fly fishing and traditional Flycasting with a reel into my adventures lately. This summer, for example, I’m doing a series of backpacking trips to remote alpine ponds in New Hampshire and Maine to fly fish from a packraft. That’s just one example of a trip that includes numerous activities—backpacking, fly fishing and packrafting. And this coming winter I plan to combine winter backpacking and backcountry skiing on some trips into the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
The vast Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument is arguably best true wilderness in the lower 48. The beauty of the desert canyons and the mesas in the Monument is breathtaking—challenging the the best the planet has to offer. It is the perfect setting for a bona fide adventure filled with jaw dropping beauty.
The Escalante was the last river of its size to be discovered in the lower 48 states and the area was the last to be mapped in the lower 48. In the vast expanse below Highway 12 there are no trails (actually there is only one trail in the entire park). Many of the side canyons are so remote and inaccessible that only a few people every 10 years reaches them, if ever. Only a few canyons see regular use.
A light tarp is usually all you need in the desert. Note: While I could have camped higher up on the canyon wall on a slickrock shelf with better views… I discreetly camped out of sight, away from the trail and in the cottonwood trees as a favor to others sharing the canyon with me. It is also a warmer and more protected location than exposed on the slickrock. And this is far from a bad view!
Alan Dixon runs the popular website, AdventureAlan.com. He regularly uses our 3400 Southwest Pack. Stay tuned for Dixon’s future blog posts, including the second in our series of, “Why You Won’t Freeze or Starve Going Ultralight” blog posts, in which he discusses good camping skills, utilizing gear that’s appropriate for the conditions, and being prepared in terms of weather and calories needed. “I’ll wager that with my 5-6 pounds of ultralight gear I’m more comfortable, sleep better, and eat as well or better than most campers carrying 20 to 30 pounds of conventional/heavier backpacking gear,” Dixon says.
The Triple Crown of hiking is an almost mythical endeavor. These three trails take thru hikers and backpackers to some of the most scenic, remote and illustrious landscapes of the United States. The Appalachian Trail is full of history, tradition and lore. The moss-covered New England rocks and gnarly roots are emblematic of the long and deep culture of this famous footpath. And the Pacific Crest Trail winds its way through desert, climbs its way to the High Sierra and John Muir’s fabled “Range of Light” and onward to the volcanic peaks of the Pacific Northwest. It is a land of biodiversity and enchantment. Anyone attempting all three will find something completely different hiking the CDT (Continental Divide National Scenic Trail). Read on.
One-Quarter of Aspiring Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hikes Succeed: These Tips Can Make The Difference
The Westernmost trail in the infamous “Triple Crown” of hiking, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) stretches from the US-Mexico border to the US-Canada border, running through California, Oregon and Washington. According to the 2013 statistics from the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, out of the 1041 people that attempted the PCT, only 273 of them reported completing the trail (26% completion). We talked to Trail Information Specialist Jack Haskel of the PCTA who gave us nine critical PCT tips to help you on your thru hike. Find out how to thru hike the PCT.
Remote Camino de Santiago Routes To Challenge the Most Experienced Hikers
A network of ancient pilgrim routes, The Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) leads from different parts of Europe into Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, believed to be the resting place of Saint James the Apostle. Between 200,000 to 300,000 people from all over the world follow the famous signs of the yellow arrow and the scallop shell on the Camino routes each year. Camino pilgrims who hike at least 62 miles can get their “passport” stamped and then apply for the pilgrim certificate, the Compostela, once they arrive to Santiago. People hike for religious or spiritual reasons, to discover new places and to meet new people. Others hike because they want to experience the remoteness and difficulty of some of Europe’s most ancient trails. Though many people go on the Camino’s various trails for the cultural experience or for religious reasons, long-distance hikers can also have a true outdoor adventure. Special thanks to the folks at CaminoWays for helping us answer these questions. Read on to learn more.
If not the most difficult, a hike below the rim of the Grand comes close.
Learn about Ambassador Rich Rudow’s thru hike & Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s planning & prep for his 2 section hikes.
More than four thousand people have summited Mt. Everest. Two hundred and fifty people have walked 7,900 miles to complete the triple crown of hiking (walking the PCT, CDT and AT). Twenty-four astronauts left the Earth’s orbit for the moon. But only 12 people have ever walked the length of Grand Canyon in one continuous push and just a handful have done it in sections. Why? There are no towns for resupply, no base camps for logistics support, and in fact, no trails for the vast majority of the 700 miles. Traversing Grand Canyon is like walking a complex three-dimensional maze with delicate routes that include hundreds of thousands of vertical feet of scrambling and climbing up to low class five terrain. There isn’t a guidebook, and beta is sparse. To most people, this thru hike seems impossible. But for people like Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow, the foremost expert on slot canyons in the Grand, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Chief Adventure Officer (aka CEO) Mike St. Pierre, and a handful of others it’s not only possible, but one of life’s most exciting challenges. Rudow finished his thru hike late in 2015; St. Pierre has achieved the first two sections of the hike, and plans on finishing the entire journey within the next few years. Read more.
On June 4th we’re celebrating National Trails Day! Occurring the first Saturday of June, this American Hiking Society-sponsored day celebrates America’s magnificent Trail System. According to AHS: “The event evolved during the late ‘80s and ‘90s from a popular ethos among trail advocates, outdoor industry leaders and political bodies who wanted to unlock the vast potential in America’s National Trails System, transforming it from a collection of local paths into a true network of interconnected trails and vested trail organizations. This collective mindset hatched the idea of a singular day where the greater trail community could band together behind to show their pride and dedication to the National Trails System.”
A Master Cartographer Digs Deep to Find the Navigational Skills Needed to Succeed on One of the World’s Most Extreme Thru Hikes
By Clay Wadman, photos by Mike St. Pierre & Clay Wadman
Once I’m oriented, a map is nothing but a close-up of that mental image I form before every trip, an overview if you will, from space. I marvel at how far these maps have come since Major John Wesley Powell first came to the Southwest with pencil and paper and tried to make sense of these great cirques and valleys. To glance up at the cliffs and huge amphitheaters of the Grand Canyon’s Red Wall and then back down to the impossibly high tech orthographic projection of these features I hold in my hand, they are perfect and these images help me see their scale and shape even more clearly.
In this blog post, I recreated notes from the journal I took on the below-the-rim section hike of the Grand that Mike St. Pierre and I embarked on, March 2016. The section we did is part of what Rich Rudow calls, “The Grandest Walk“—a thru hike that traverses the Canyon below the rim. Mike plans on doing it in three sections; he invited me for the second leg of his journey. Though a mapmaker with decades of experience, I dug deep on this adventure. It was one of the most difficult of my life. Strong navigation skills and tools were integral to our success.
On day four of our trip we awake to grey—grey skies, grey fatigue, a grey attitude like fog from last night’s sand storm and bad water. Everything above the 6,000-foot level is washed in fresh snow, including the rim above us. In the Crystal Creek wash, clear alkaline-poison water laps at our boots. I want to see something good in everything and think to myself: “At least in the weeks to come, the potholes will be full on the Esplanade…” From the streambed, our escape route out of the Crystal is unobvious. We just descended from Shiva Saddle, one of the highest saddles on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and dropped all the way to the river. Now we need to climb back up through five or six of the major geologic groups in the canyon, this time to the Sagittarius Saddle.
If you’ve ever seen a photo looking down on the Grand Canyon from outer space you can see the dark, almost black looking boreal forests that cap one of the biggest “oxbow” bends on the planet. This immense arch stretches from Nankoweep at River Mile 53 all the way to Tapeats at River Mile 137. In the scorching desert of the American Southwest, this part of the geologic up-thrust that created the canyon itself, has become a forest of huge conifers and moisture, rising to an elevation of 10,000’.
I hold onto this mental image as I study the maps of the inner canyon. Not just a random sweep of bends and corners, the river has purpose and direction; from its genesis to its evolution, modern topographical science magically reveals each of its secrets. Read the rest of Wadman’s story.
The Appalachian Trail under his belt, Nicholas Reichard is onto his next thru hiking and photography mission: The Pacific Crest Trail.
Nicholas “Click” Reichard didn’t grow up hiking or exploring in the woods. He had a passion filmmaking, and wanted to be one of the best. So he attended the Savannah College of Art and Design where he obtained a BFA in filmmaking. But despite his skill and talent, he found his options limited. So he sought a change–a new perspective on life. And what better way to do it than hike the “big three” long-distance trails in the United States. He planned to become a Triple Crowner, hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. It didn’t matter that he had little backpacking experience, he would photograph his adventure with a film camera. So in 2015 he got some gear together and began thru hiking the AT. Six months and 150 rolls of film later he completed the first leg of his journey, and he was hungry for more. Currently Click is partway through the PCT. We caught up with him on a day he had phone reception and asked him a few questions about how he balances ultralight with photography.
How did you discover thru hiking?
So the funny thing is I never wanted to hike the AT, or even enjoyed going on day hikes. But I knew undertaking such an epic adventure would change who I am as a person and as an artist. Boy was I right. Now I sleep better outside than I do at home. I think the challenge of covering so much ground over the span of a few months is also really appealing to me.
How do you plan for a trip like the Pacific Crest Trail?
I’m not sure there is a right answer for this. I’d say it’s fun to plan the trip but I’m more of a figure it out as I go which seems to make things happen more naturally. Read the rest of the Q&A.