Bethany Hughes: Thru Hiking 20,000 Miles For a Cause

Ambassador Bethany Hughes Raises Awareness for Women’s Issues on major America-to-America Thru Hike

Bethany Hughes - Her Odyssey

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.

Bethany "Fidgit" Hughes (Left) & Lauren "Neon" Reed (Right)
Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes (Left) & Lauren “Neon” Reed (Right)

“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.”

As they hike, the duo has documented their journey on their blog,, and Facebook page,

“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.

Learn more about Bethany Hughes.EDIT-P1010240

The Real Meaning of Success (It’s all about having fun)

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador and well-known ice and alpine climber Angela VanWiemeersch recently visited the Hayes Range, Alaska, in order to put up a couple new lines. (i.e. alpine climbing routes). During a trip to the area in 2014, she spied the two formations. “I was blown away by their beauty and steepness—blue ice drooling from the magnificent faces.” She decided then that she’d have to come back for these peaks. She and Anna Pfaff spent a month there, but got denied by snow and bad weather. But, as she says, a failed expedition is just another learning experience. We recently chatted with her about what she learned from her third big adventure up north.

Read More

Adventure Adaptability: The Key To Succeeding on Your Thru Hikes

Adaptability is one of the most important skills for a hiker to learn. Find out how it affects all stages of your hike.

Bethany Hughes

By Bethany Hughes

The only thing you have control over is yourself, your perspective and your actions. The elements couldn’t care less about your first ascent, your time record or your worthy cause. In thru hiking, as with all adventure sports, adaptability can determine whether you live or die. It means backtracking when you fought hard to get there. It means swallowing your ego.

Adventure athletes are a bull headed breed. We are out there to whet our mettle, pushing forward into new territory, testing limits–this all takes determination. Yet sometimes we have to turn around 300 feet from the summit. It means not dropping in if the snowpack is weak. It means not shooting that sick Go Pro video. Because before all else, Mother Nature demands humility.

Have I made the point about baseline safety, yet? Okay, now let’s talk about how adaptability comes into play at every stage, from planning to after-action review.
Find out more about adaptability

A Season-to-Season Guide to Ultralight Day Hike Gear Lists

The Hyperlite Daybreak ultralight day pack at the summit of a tall, rocky mountain.
The Hyperlite Daybreak ultralight day pack being put to good use.

Thru-Hiking & Backcountry Expert Annie MacWilliams’ Easy Mods Add Four Season Functionality to Your Standard Day Hiking Gear

Since it’s not always an option to take five-month long hikes, I have really come to enjoy fast and light day hikes with lots of elevation and long miles. Having a system dialed in makes it easy for me to grab the right gear for the day and hit the trails without much thought, a nice perk when you’re short on time and trying to spend as much of it outside as possible.

For long-distance thru hikes, I’m used to having limited gear options–you essentially pick one kit for five months of travel and hope it works in everything from the desert to the high alpine. With day hiking or quick overnights, it’s different. I modify what I carry continually throughout the seasons to ensure maximum comfort and minimum weight.

My day hike gear list includes “standard items,” which I always carry. Then there are the “conditional items” that I need for the specific season or activity.

Regardless of the time of year or type of trip I’m doing, the first items I throw in my Daybreak ultralight day pack are a medical kit, ditty bag, snacks, water and an insulating layer.

Check out what is in her pack.

Shifting Ice + Changing Tides: Kt Miller Fights Climate Change Thru Film

Ambassador Kt Miller discusses her ski/climate change documentary, available for your viewing pleasure.

Kt Miller
Photo courtesy of Kt Miller.

For two years Kt Miller was a helicopter skiing guide helping clients use the fuel-hungry machines to reach the top of mountains. After learning more about climate change and seeing the effect it had on the mountains around her, she quickly lost her fondness for the business and the obscene amounts of fuel the helicopters consumed. Miller made a choice. She cut back on travel that hurt the environment and focused on sustainable living. She now resides in a single-room 14-by-12 foot cabin in Cooke City, Montana, population 76. She tries to travel using sustainable methods wherever possible and hasn’t been on a helicopter since she left her job. Now she focuses on making awesome ski videos while bringing the plight of the climate into the public’s eye.

On one of her more recent expedition, she and four women embarked on a human- and wind-powered trip to the western coast of Greenland to document the effect climate change has had on the ice sheet in the area. They also skied multiple first descents along the coast to help motivate snow sport enthusiasts to get up and do their part to conserve winter landscapes. Now that the trip has finished and her documentary about the adventure is being shown across the world, we took some time to ask Kt Miller a few questions about her new documentary, “Shifting Ice + Changing Tides,” and the experience she had during the filming process.
Click here for the full Q&A.

America to America: Thru Hiking the Continent’s Longest “Trail”

Ambassador Bethany Hughes weighs in after 5 months of thru hiking the Americas

Bethany Hughes-2
Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes and Lauren “Neon” Reed thru hiking as far south as you can get in the Americas.

The scale at the international flight counter weighed each of our packs, full of everything except food and water, at 10 kilos (about 22 pounds). Planning to mostly thru hike the length of South America over the next three years, going lightweight is a must. Our route has taken us through National Parks and Preserves, and we have often marveled at the bulk of what many visitors carry. They shuffle and trudge, backs bowing under the weight of their packs as they frown at the dirt before their feet while giants such as the Torres del Paine, Fitz Roy and Cerro Norte tower above.

Bethany Hughes and Neon Reed are thru hiking from the south to the north tip of America.

Raised in a Scouting family, backpacking has long been a part of my narrative; lightweight, not so much. I’d never even heard of a baseweight until the night before starting the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010. Hanging my pack from a scale for the first time I thought 58 lbs. wasn’t bad. By the end of that trail my full weight was around 35 lbs.

But going lightweight has been natural and necessary development in the transition from backpacking to thru hiking. For Neon and myself, it has become essential, and being out of reach of easy replacement gear, durability is also an important component. It is a question of balance and simplicity, and it’s something we think about every day. We hike light for the practical reason of sustaining 20-40 kilometers a day over years to come.

Continue reading.

From the AT to the PCT: The Journey to Ultralight

Fresh off the Appalachian Trail (AT), Grassroots Trail Ambassador Robin Standish Hits the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Robin Standish hits the PCT fresh off the AT.“At the time I only had a vague notion of what ultralight meant, and that was based on a reddit post about using a Sawyer syringe as a bidet to cut out the weight of toilet paper.” -New PCT Trail Ambassador, Robin Standish

My parents raised me to have a fearless approach to life and unintentionally instilled a deep-rooted, unsatisfiable need for extremes and adventure. Thus, I spent my youth mushing dog teams, exploring the Alaskan wilderness, snowshoeing for miles while breaking trails after winter storms, and staying alive during months of 40-, 50-, and even 60-below temperatures. Consequentially, a youth of la vida loca set me up to have unrealistically high expectations for all my future endeavors. I now frolic through Death Valley for fun, hike for weeks in the Himalayas, explore malaria-filled, Southeast Asian jungles dotted with land mines, and, most recently, I walked from Maine to Georgia (the Appalachian Trail) because I had nothing else to do. And now I’m heading out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (aka the PCT).

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I DON’T PLAN, and slogging through the wealth of information via, forums, books and blogs was more than enough to remind me of why. Despite being an outdoor enthusiast I felt dumb when it came to making choices. Silnylon vs Cuben Fiber? Aqua Mira vs Sawyer? Boots vs shoes? Tents vs hammock? And, of course, the endless arguments over the pounds, ounces and grams of every single item. At the time I only had a vague notion of what ultralight meant, and that was based on a reddit post about using a Sawyer syringe as a bidet to cut out the weight of toilet paper. I didn’t want this hike to be easy; I wanted to walk every step of the 2189.2 miles and feel like I earned it. I did just that, but I also earned countless infected blisters, missing toenails, a broken foot and the sour scent of ammonia seeping through my pores. I don’t know if by doing better research before the hike if I could have avoided any of that. I am a stubborn masochist that learns exceptionally through trial and a lot of error, and because of this, the first 700 miles hurt. Read the rest of the post.

Married to The Trail, Part I: Moynihan Tries Calendar Triple Crown

Nearly Finished with the Appalachian Trail, Ambassador Mary “Speedstick” Moynihan Strives to be 1st Female to do the Calendar Triple Crown

CTC- Mary Moynihan
Mary Moynihan is carrying a 3400 Windrider on her Calendar Triple Crown attempt.

The American Long Distance Hiking Association has given 250 people the Triple Crown Award. These folks have hiked America’s three major long-distance trails—the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail—either in sections or doing each trail in one push. But only four people have actually achieved the Calendar Triple Crown (CTC), hiking all three of these trails in one year.

First done by Brian “Flyin’ Brian” Robinson in 2001 as a section hike, this super thru hike covers a total of 7,900 miles, has more than one million feet of vertical gain and travels through 22 states. To put this in perspective, one would have to hike about 21.64 miles each day for 365 days. Three other people have completed this feat: Matthew “Squeaky” Hazley was the first to do the trails back-to-back in 240 days; Justin “Trauma” Lichter did the Triple Crown plus another 2100 miles in 356 days; and most recently Cam “Swami” Honan hiked it in just 236 days (as part of his 545-day, 14,342-mile “12 Long Walks” challenge). New Hyperlite Mountain Gear Trail Ambassador Mary “Speedstick” Moynihan is currently on the way to becoming the fifth person to complete the Calendar Triple Crown, and the first woman.

Triple Crown of Hiking Map

Moynihan is three-quarters of the way done with her northbound journey on the Appalachian Trail. She left in January, hiking through the snow and in freezing cold temperatures for most of the first few months. “Hiking in the winter is complex!” she says. “At the end of February I was hiking in snow, and so started my mornings hiking with all my layers on.” She wore a hat, neck gaiter, down vest, down parka, fleece, base layers, gloves, and she’d even wear her rain jacket just for that extra warmth. “It’s all about layering and making sure you have the layers designed for whatever conditions you might come across. I literally got rid of five pounds of gear once winter was over!”

Read the rest of the article here.

Te Araroa: Ashley Hill Takes on New Zealand’s Thru Hike

Notoriously difficult, the Te Araroa’s terrain involves deep wilderness, wild and scenic beaches, volcanoes and cities. Ambassador Ashley Hill embraced it all.

Te Araroa - Ashley Hill


Thru hikers know the Appalachian Trail and they’ve probably heard of the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT), but few can boast they’ve hiked New Zealand’s long trail. Relatively new, the Te Araroa is an 1864-mile trail running from Cape Reinga in the north of the country to Bluff in the very south. Opened late December 3, 2011 by the Governor-General of New Zealand, Sir Jerry Mateparae, it’s less well-known hiking trail (or “tramping trail” if you are a Kiwi). It’s also long and difficult, typically taking hikers three to six months to complete. It involves startlingly different types of terrain; one day you might find yourself walking along a road and then, the next day find yourself deep in the wilderness.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador and happily obsessive thru hiker Ashley Hill recently completed the journey in three months and three days, saying it was one of her favorite trails ever. Read our Q&A with Hill. Post continues here…

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Expands Team–Grabs Amy Kading From the Fashion World

Fresh off hiking 850 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, Amy Kading brings a wealth of merchandising experience to her new position as ecommerce and sales manager at Hyperlite Mountain Gear.

Amy Kading.
Amy Kading.

Though Amy Kading grew up in small town Texas, she dreamed big. In fact, by 6th grade she already knew she would attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

“I’ve always known what I wanted to do, and I’ve never hesitated,” she says. Kading was so motivated to dive into the world of fashion merchandising management that she graduated from high school a year early and went straight to the Big Apple. Not only did she attend school full time, but she also worked managing two high-end stores on the upper East Side, followed by an internship with Dolce & Gabbana.

“Who gives a 19-year-old the keys to a store on Madison Avenue!?” she asks with a laugh. But her dedication was obvious. She absorbed knowledge, learning from coworkers and professors who had climbed the chain in the retail industry. Read the rest of the article.

A Woman With a Tarp

Ambassador Ashley Hill braves the mosquitoes, embraces the Flat Tarp

Each month Hyperlite Mountain Gear will feature one of its ambassadors. This month we’re highlighting Ashley Hill (trail name, Bloody Mary). A thru-hiker, lover of life and avid user of the Flat Tarp, Hill recently finished hiking the Te Araroa. Stay tuned this month for a blog post about what it takes to hike New Zealand’s most famous trail, plus a feature Q&A with Hill. This article reprinted from Hill’s blog.


Text & photos by Ashley Hill

I remember it vividly, the moment I saw her, a solo female hiker named Mountain Spice. She was sheltered beneath a flat tarp at a mosquito infested lake on the PCT. I thought to myself, “Wow… I want to be like her one day. A woman with a tarp. She’s extreme. She’s bad ass. She’s doing it like one should.” How romantic, only using a small square piece of material for protection from the wilderness.

Now, I rarely sleep in a shelter, even when it rains. There’s nothing I love more than closing my eyes under the shooting stars, when you’re alone in the open… Vulnerable… Cowboy camping… Like a fresh little baby drinking it’s first breath of air. I know, it is more than necessary to have something to protect yourself from the elements. My little hypothermia scare taught me that. Even if I camp in a sleeping bag on the dirt, I’ve always carried my tent, just in case.

For my Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) trip, I decided to be “that women with a tarp.” Now, this hike is not comparable to the Pacific Crest Trail. I skirt a constant latitude similar to that of the Nordic climate, (at least it is in my mind): rain falls daily, if only for an hour or two, mosquitoes swarm in the millions, creek and river fords are a common occurrence, and I’m always on watch for the wild animals. Perhaps a tarp isn’t the ideal gear choice, but I don’t care, I want to be her, and after making it 400 plus miles, I think I can say that I am.



I’m using a 10 ounce 8.6′ x 8.6′ cuben fiber tarp for my shelter, crafted by my friends at Hyperlite Mountain Gear… and by golly, I love it. It takes time and experience to learn how to set up this kind of ultralight system, but once you’ve got it down, you’re gold. Tents might be easier to rig and protect you better from the bugs and rain, but when you wake up and start hiking, everyone is on the exact same page… The only difference is that I’m lighter and I’m cooler… I’m that bad ass women with a tarp.


Spanish Explorer Ceci Buil Becomes Ambassador, Presents in Portland Feb 2

Ceci Buil Slide & Video Presentation on Ice & Big Wall Climbing @ the Salt Pump Climbing Gym, Scarborough, Maine, Tuesday, Feb. 2

It’s a cold winter morning in the Cajon del Maipo Valley, and Cecilia Buil and her partner, Anna Toretta, are on their way to do what will be the first ascent of the ice climb, La Gioconda. The sun rises, the sky turns from orange to blue, and the only noise they hear is the sliding of their skis over the snow. Buil remembers this moment perfectly. It, and others like it, drive her to put up new routes on rock, snow and ice in the wildest high places in the world, and they inspire her to always give everything she’s got. “If I go climbing, the summit is not the only thing that makes me feel good; it’s the entire experience, to have made an effort and to given it my all,” she says. “The same applies to the rest of my life—to be in the moment and to live everything deeply.”

Hyperlite Mountain Gear recently invited well-known Spanish explorer Cecilia Buil to join its ambassador team. A world-renowned big wall and ice climber, Buil has put up first ascents (sometimes by herself!) of walls in Pakistan, Mexico and Greenland that are thousands of feet high, along with ice climbs from South America to Europe. Buil will be visiting the Northeast for three weeks to guide for Hyperlite Mountain Gear at the 2016 Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest from February 5-7. She will also be giving a slide & video presentation at the Salt Pump Climbing Company on February 2nd at 7:30p.m. Buil will show various videos, including one of her ascent of La Gioconda, a 500-foot route on Cerro Marmolego (20,039′) that she tried five times before accomplishing it with Italian climber, Anna Toretta. You can read more about the ascent here, or come to her show on February 2!


One Woman’s Lightweight Journey On the Camino de Santiago

MaryAnn Healey looking forward on the Camino de Santiago
MaryAnn Healey looking forward on the Camino de Santiago

Hundreds of thousands of people hike the numerous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes each year. And they do it carrying various things. MaryAnn Healey decided to carry a lightweight pack with all that she needed for a six-week adventure from Roncesvalles to Santiago, both in Spain. Unlike thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, Camino pilgrims don’t need tents, stoves and sleeping bags because there are plenty of restaurants and albergues (hostels) along the way. Thus, many people completely forego carrying their personal gear and have it sent ahead via vehicle. But says Healey, she wouldn’t let anyone touch her bag.

“I got so I really loved having it on my back,” she explains. “It was my home. I didn’t feel right if I didn’t have it on.” She brought exactly what she needed and left all the unnecessary items behind. “Most people I hiked with didn’t notice, but the people I stayed with always asked, ‘Wow, is that all you’re carrying?’” I’d say, ‘yep.’ I’ve got everything I need and then some!” (See her gear list below). Read the rest of the article here.

Quinn Brett: First Ascents in the Rockies + Expedition to the Garwhal

Quinn Brett leading the climb up "Geronimo."
Quinn Brett leading the climb up “Geronimo.” Photo by Max Barlerin.

With an unquenchable thirst for adventure, it is no surprise that Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Quinn Brett is now embarking on yet another expedition to the Garhwal Himalayan region in Northern India, thanks to GORE-TEX®’s Shipton-Tilman Grant. She will be meeting up with partners Crystal Davis-Robbins and Whitney Clark to explore the Obra Valley and/or the Bhilangna Valley. We wish her luck and hope that she stays safe and has fun. Brett also recently put up a first ascent on a popular peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, where she works as a climbing ranger. This post is a brief account of that ascent.

The day started early for Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Quinn Brett and her boyfriend Maximillian Barlerin, a 4a.m. wakeup for a truck-ride to the trailhead in preparation for what would end up being a first ascent up the North East face of Chiefs Head Peak, the third highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Brett had worked a rescue until 10p.m. the night before; with less than six hours of sleep going, simply standing up was a challenge.  Read More

Nat Geo Photographer Searches for Coastal Wolves

National Geographic Explorer and photographer Becca Skinner.
National Geographic Explorer and photographer Becca Skinner.

Becca Skinner knew she wanted to explore when she grew up, and then in 2010 she fell in love with photography after winning grant to photograph New Orleans post-Katrina. She has since become a rising star in photography and a recipient of the National Geographic Young Explorer Grant. Her talent and passion for photography and appreciation of the natural world is evident in the photos of her own adventures.

Now she is preparing to go on an expedition with fellow photographer Bertie Gregory (recipient of 2012 Youth Outdoor Photographer Award) to Canada’s West Coast to raise awareness for the conservation of the unique British Columbian coastal wolves. These wolves are a close relative of the grey wolf, however instead of a normal diet of deer and elk, the coastal wolves have evolved to eat seafood such as mussels and salmon eggs. The pair are planning on spending 18 days on the island with the wolves in order to photograph, film and observe the animals. Before she leaves, she had time to answer a few questions about her trip, her life and ultralight backpacking: Read the Q&A with Becca Skinner!

Ashley Hill on Thru Hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail

Ashley Hill on the Pacific Northwest Trail with her Southwest Pack.
Ashley Hill on the Pacific Northwest Trail with her Southwest Pack.

Meet Ashley Hill, a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Trail Ambassador. Born and raised in San Jose, Calif., she has traveled around the world, worked for both the United Nations and Amnesty International and earned BA in Peace and Conflict studies. At a young age, she decided to go abroad, and so bought a one-way ticket to South America, where she visited Colombia, lived with a shaman in the Amazon and traveled the Caribbean Coast. But, in 2012, her life changed when she learned her mother’s cancer diagnosis had taken a turn for the worse. She packed up and went home. But the wanderlust returned after her mother passed away, and despite having very little outdoor experience, she decided to do a thru hike. Hill figured walking in the wilderness would help her both grieve and grow. So she set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail Southbound from Canada to Mexico on July 12, 2014. “It was the best decision of my life,” Hill says. “After hitting the Mexican border, I knew I would be a hiker for the rest of my life.” Hill is currently hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail. She recently answered a few questions for us on a zero day. Read our Q&A with Ashley Hill!

Gone Light, Part IV: Bring Your Brain & Other Thru-Hiking Tips

Annie MacWilliams on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Annie MacWilliams on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Stripped Down With Guest Blogger Annie MacWilliams. This is the last in Annie’s blog series of thru-hiking tips & tricks for women.

Bring Your Brain: Really, most backpacking and thru hiking gear is gender neutral–tents, sleeping pads, cook gear, etc. But with each other these items, it’s important that you choose the right gear for you. Your brain is the best piece of gear you can bring, so know everything about your gear before you head out. Learn how to pitch your tent in different ways, in the worst conditions you can practice in. Anyone can pitch a tent in their grassy lawn on a sunny day, but a rocky hillside in sideways freezing rain? I failed that test on the Pacific Crest Trail and ended up getting a new tent shipped to me while on the trail. I needed my gear to work in the worst conditions, and user failure resulted in a very cold and wet night. Can you patch a leaky air mattress? Fix a zipper? Tweak a broken stove? If not, learn how. Read the rest of Annie’s final post!

Gone Light, Part III: Safety, Hygiene & Women Hiking Solo

Annie MacWilliams high in the Sierras.
Annie MacWilliams high in the Sierras.

This is the third of four posts from our Stripped Down series, authored by Guest Blogger & Triple Crowner Annie MacWilliams. 

When you break it all down, there are some gear swaps you can make to lighten your load and some skills you can hone in on to better adjust to long-distance treks. But becoming a good thru hiker really comes down to your mental strength. I personally feel females make stronger long-distance hikers due to the ability of a woman’s body to delegate limited resources (think pregnancy). Plus, females tend to have a lower bar for the acceptable level of risk, and we have a higher bar for hygiene.

Read Annie’s latest Stripped Down post!

Gone Light, Part II: Sleeping Bags & Clothes

Annie Mac thumbs up
Annie Mac thumbs up

This is the second of four posts from our Stripped Down series, authored by Guest Blogger & Triple Crowner Annie MacWilliams. This series targets female thru hikers and backpackers, but most of the info applies equally well to aspiring male hikers. 

As I mentioned in my first post, female solo hikers carry the same things, such as clothes and sleeping bags for backpacking, as their male counterparts. You need shelter, a pack, a cooking kit and stuff to keep you warm and dry. So this series of articles is useful for either gender getting after it in the woods. However, there are some things I recommend to aspiring female thru hikers. After all, women are smaller, they often sleep colder and they can wear dresses in the woods. Read the rest of the article here!

Gone Light, Part I: Backpacking & Thru Hiking Pack Fitting Tips for Women

A triple-crowner, Annie has hiked more than 10,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, among others.
A triple-crowner, Annie has hiked 10,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, among others. Photo by Brian Threlkeld.

This is the first of four posts from our Stripped Down series, authored by Guest Blogger Annie MacWilliams. This series targets female thru hikers and backpackers, but most of the information applies equally well to aspiring male thru hikers and backpackers.

Annie Mac mugOver the course of my colorful career in the woods, I have experienced the sick satisfaction of hefting a pack nearly half my body weight for a wilderness therapy job filled with med kits, wilderness survival tools, radios and 10 liters of water. The mileage was never high, mostly due to the disgruntled participants, but there was a small sense of pride in carrying so much weight. I can almost understand why some people want to prove something by carrying big packs. It makes you stronger, tougher and more eager to get to camp.

On the flip side, when I’m not recreating for a paycheck, I prefer to keep my pack considerably smaller. As a long-distance hiker, I have tallied almost 10,000 miles hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail, along with countless other shorter trails. The lighter the pack, the easier the miles, the more food I can carry, and the less stress I put on my joints and muscles. This seems logical enough; yet every year I see prospective thru-hikers start long trails with behemoth packs towering over their heads, dangles and doodads hanging off every attachment point, and inadequate gear for the environment. Some hikers are resistant to change, as are some non-hikers, but many more are eager to learn about the new technology, skills and hacks to make life easier.

As a female solo hiker, you are essentially carrying the exact same gear as a male hiker, but are more likely to have a smaller frame and less mass to carry that weight. For me, the correct fit on a backpack is critical to carrying weight comfortably. If I have to take these hips hiking with me; I might as well use them for the long term. You must find a pack that rests comfortably on the hips, is the correct length on the spine and has straps that rest comfortably around the chest and shoulders. I know plenty of male hikers who hike without a hip belt because their hips barely flare out enough to be an advantage, but their shoulders, back and neck take a beating. Additionally I have seen many females use a male-specific pack (myself included) that is misaligned with the spine. They subsequently struggle to find a comfortable fit. Load a pack with the weight you expect to carry, and wear it around. Let the weight settle on your hips. We’ve all carried heavy backpacks on our shoulders for a short while and felt fine, but anything longer than a walk home from the school bus is too long. Read the rest of the article and get pack fitting tips here!

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