Friday, March 20, 2015

Foot Care

Caring for your feet while hiking is a vital part of the trail experience. Take it from one who had to abandon a hike for a small irritated blister under one toe – issues with feet can wreak havoc on your
plans. Proper care of feet ahead of time can help avoid a lot of misery on the trail and also avoid injury.

Hiking shoes are really a personal preference in many instances. I have worn both boots and trail runners and am now a convert when it comes to using trail runners for East Coast trails. The lightweight ability of these shoes, the quick drying capacity in wet, soggy conditions, and the ability to navigate rocky terrain have all helped me remain with this type of footwear. But I also made sure I got checked by a professional when buying shoes. I went to a professional running shop and had them evaluate my foot type for the type of shoe I needed. I ended up with what is called a motion control shoe because I pronate. Different shoe types, based on construction, can make your foot, then your leg and hip, move differently. Ill-fitting footwear can affect not only your foot but can cause knee and hip issues and even injuries. Hence the need for a foot professional to make sure you are wearing the right type of shoe for your foot. I also go with a size larger shoe than my foot size as well.
Trail Runners dry ultra quick after being in slush

I am a big believer in proper insoles. This can take some doing as there are so many to choose from. A professional can help you determine what type will work. I actually worked with a physical therapist after having some nerve issues in my calf, and he recommended the blue Superfeet. I have worn them ever since. Get a professional opinion on the right insole to match your foot type. It adds to the support of your foot and makes for a better journey and less injury.

Socks are very important to help minimize pressure points and blister formation. Going with a good merino wool blend helps to wick moisture way from your foot which can cause blisters. DO NOT wear cotton “gym” type socks. As your foot sweats, they get wet, stay wet, and the moisture will make you suffer with blisters that will pop up after only a few miles of walking. In a follow-up blog I will rate a few socks I have tried.

Foot Care
Make sure you are doing proper foot care on your journey. Whenever you stop, take off your shoes, remove the insoles, and take off your socks. Let them all dry in the sun if possible and air out your feet. You will find instant relief if they are feeling hot and tired. Also, be sure you are carrying a proper first aid kit (with duct tape, band aids, etc) should there be issues with hot spots and blister formation. Check out the blog on blister care should they happen.

Your feet will take you wherever you need to go on your hiking journey with some proper care and TLC

Thursday, March 12, 2015

When to Use the Phrase “Hike Your Own Hike” (HYOH)


I have seen the phrase Hike Your Own Hike (or HYOH) used quite frequently on hiker forums and Facebook groups when it comes to various hiking issues. It appears to be the pet phrase of choice whenever there are issues that crop up, including anything from water treatment to bear bagging to camping illegally or using drugs trailside. There is a reason to say “Hike your own Hike” (HYOH) and a reason not to use it as an excuse for something illegal, immoral or downright dangerous. It would be akin, I suppose, to saying – “ whatever you want.” 

But you can’t just do whatever you want if it restricts another’s enjoyment of the woods, if it will destroy or harm wildlife and or the trail or wilderness, if it will endanger your life or someone else’s, or it’s just plain against the law.

I once saw this phrase used when someone, for instance, instead of following the white blaze of the Appalachian Trail, decides they feel like a wander down a blue blaze trail to see other scenery, or they decide maybe they would rather canoe the river instead of hiking or bicycle or road walk a portion. In that instance they are doing their journey the way they want without the legalistic approach following a white blaze or the trail. They are hiking their own hike.

Contrary, a hiker says he’s going to forgo Maryland’s rules of no camping between designated areas and set up his tent wherever he chooses. Or consuming alcohol at the shelter areas in MD (it is posted no drinking along the AT there as its a state park).That is not HYOH - Hike Your Own Hike. This is disobeying posted regulations which are put there for a purpose. It’s not to restrict but to protect both the hiker and the wilderness experience from the multitude of other hikers also looking for a pristine place to wander. Or a hiker plans not to use bear-proof technique to guard food from wildlife which is against the ethics of Leave No Trace and protecting wildlife. This is also not Hiking Your Own Hike.

It is hoped people will use the wisdom of HYOH the way it is meant to be used – to enjoy the trail and the journey that best suits your needs and plans. It should not be used as a catch-all phrase and excuse that can potentially harm you, another hiker, or the wilderness.


Thursday, March 05, 2015

What Goes in Maildrops?

I often see hikers ask what a typical maildrop contains. Here is mine for a reference. Adapt it to your needs and your specific trail you are hiking.

Food for that time period – to avoid lots of extras at a store (like having to purchase a big box of Pop Tarts or oatmeal packets) I’ll put in what I need for the days until my next drop. See the food blog for other food ideas I pack (including dehydrated products like homemade jerky, dried veggies etc). Items I can get easily at a small store (candy bars, granola bars, cracker packs) I buy in town as well as perishables like bread and cheese and heavier items such as a small jar of peanut butter. 

       Sometimes extra treats can be put into the box from home you can’t get elsewhere to enjoy on your day off from the trail.

       A roll of toilet paper in a Ziploc along with some baby wipes. For women, light pads are helpful

       Two Ziploc sandwich bags for AM and PM medications – see the first aid blog for what I add vitamin-wise (I usually carry enough meds for a week)

       Maps and pages copied from the Companion or other trail guide you need for the section you are hiking

If I’ve been on the trail a few weeks, I also add this – 

       Some brand new Ziploc bags to replace the ones I use in my pack

       A sandwich Ziploc with some extra Advil and Tylenol

       A few extra band aids and some duct tape to replenish the first aid kit 

       For women - if you have already used up your supply, pack a Ziploc with sanitary products needed for the next time the monthly cycle calls (if you use them)

Gear: If you are thru hiking the Appalachian Trail northbound, typically gear is switched out around Pearisburg, VA for the summer (after you pass the Mt Rogers area) or by mid May and pick up colder weather gear at Glencliff, NH for the Whites, including clothing and sleeping bag (if you go with a different bag). For southbounders it depends on your start date, but you will need colder weather gear by mid October (I had mine for southern VA to Springer by then). NOTE: At Glencliff, NH you can also send your box to the Hiker's Welcome Hostel or earlier in Hanover, NH. 

For other trails such as the PCT and CDT, check your guidebooks for recommendations on gear changes you need to add to your drop as well as places to mail food drops. Yogi has a great Handbooks for this planning. Check other websites for other long distance trails for towns to mail drops.

If you mail a fuel canister to yourself, mail it separately from the main food drop and send it surface mail ONLY via the USPS. And yes, canisters can be mailed!

Be sure to send your food drop Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation and allow plenty of time. 

The drop should be addressed as follows for a Post Office delivery (Use your REAL name and be sure to carry your license to pick up at the PO).
Jane Doe
General Delivery
Hanover, NH  03755
Hold for AT Hiker: ETA (state the expected date of your arrival)

Other businesses, hostels, etc are accepting maildrops. If you mail to those places, be sure to put your real name and "c/o" - care of and the address being sent. Include your ETA.

If you are going to be late (like more than five days), courtesy asks that you call the place holding your drop and alert them. If you sent your drop Priority Mail to the PO and you have not received it or are going to be too late to get it, they can bounce it up the trail for you at no charge. See the mailing blog for other mailing information.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sickness on the Trail

It's that time - when hikers head for the trails and yes, disease can also follow. Here are some reminders on how to keep healthy and stay illness free.

The chief complaint on the trail like the AT is the Norovirus, which seems to strike every hiking season.

Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people and on infected surfaces that have been touched by ill people. Outbreaks occur more often where there are more people in a small area, such cruise ships (and AT hostels/shelters).

How noroviruses are spread
People can become infected with the virus by:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids infected with noroviruses
  • Touching surfaces or objects infected with noroviruses and then touching own mouth, nose, or eyes
  • Having person-to-person contact (with a norovirus-infected person) by
    • being present while someone is vomiting
    • sharing food or eating from the same utensils
    • caring for a sick person
    • shaking hands
    • (also) eating out of contaminated food bags or food contaminated by the virus
  • Not washing hands after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.

Norovirus infections are not usually serious
Noroviruses are highly contagious, but infections are not usually serious. People may feel very sick and vomit often or get diarrhea, becoming dehydrated if lost liquids are not replaced. Most people recover within 1 or 2 days and have no long-term adverse health effects.

What to do if you get norovirus (I am adding more to this)

  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids as you tolerate it. Start with clear fluids first - like broth from Ramen, Gatorade, weak tea with a little sugar, just plain water, jello and popsicles (if you can get it). As your stomach allows, eat bland foods like crackers, white bread, Ramen noodle soup, jello if you can get it. Advance your diet very slowly. Avoid greasy and fried foods. When you can tolerate it, replace electrolytes and bacteria lost with bananas and yogurt.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Baby wipes can help clean irritation left from the "runs"

How to prevent getting and spreading noroviruses (and other illnesses)

  • Wash hands often. Wash hands after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food. Wash hands more often when someone in your hostel/shelter is sick.
  • Avoid shaking hands during outbreaks
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer along with handwashing or if facilities for handwashing are unavailable. Make sure the sanitizer is at least 70% alcohol. I recommend Purell Advanced.
  • Do not eat out of another hiker's food bag (like passing the bag of GORP or bag of chips around the campsite or shelter) Be careful where you are accepting food at hiker feeds and by generous trail angels. Packaged food is best. use had sanitizer whenever possible.
  • Avoiding shelter areas and other communicable spots, esp during the disease season.
  • Carrying packets of Emergen C to add to water helps replace vitamins lost and can boost your immune system.
  • Boost your immune system by eating good healthy foods while hiking. A balance of proteins, fats, carbs, supplemented by dried veggies and fruits is best. Avoid empty carbs and sugars. Consider also taking a vitamin supplement.

Friday, February 20, 2015

10 Things to Do Before You Begin Your Long Distance Hike

You’ve been thinking abut this trip forever, it seems. Your big step onto a long distance trail hike. The nerves are getting to you a bit but so is great expectation. Especially the gnawing sensation if you have everything you really need to do this. Try this checklist to see if you have covered all your bases before you embark on your adventure.

1. Your gear. Have you got everything you need for what may lie ahead? Esp. weather wise? Try this
Gear choices can be overwhelming. Do the best you can.
gear list to see if you may have forgotten something, even the small stuff. Have some money on hand during your hike to replace some gear issues for long distance hiking. Even if your gear choices aren't perfect, it will be ok. Some extra money can help remedy some of that, esp if it is a safety issue. Other times, just let it go.

2. Your means of communication. While we like to get away from the electronics out in the wild, electronics are necessary for planning ahead, calling home, checking on shuttles and hostels, unplanned emergencies, etc. Plan for a cell phone. Some family members may want to follow your progress so consider a SPOT or similar device. Leave an itinerary at home. Though it may change, it gives your loved ones an idea where you will be.

3. Your navigation. Most say just follow the blazes, but lots of time, esp. in surprise weather, that doesn’t always work. Have the means for navigation on you. Maps (or map apps for your cell phone), current guidebook and / or guidebook pages, etc. If using a phone for map apps, be sure you have an extra power pack for it. A compass is an added bonus, but make sure you know how to use it. Same for a GPS for certain hard to follow trails.

4. Your health. Have you been to the doctor AND dentist for all necessary checkups? Make sure you will have the medicines you need. How about extra prescriptions, esp. for glasses should they break while on the trail? Do you have a prescription for things like doxycycline for a tick bite on the trail? Also, be up to date on shots like Tetanus. Don’t forget to bring a good first aid kit and consider taking a first aid course before the trip. 

5. Your money. Check your accounts to make sure everything is up to date and you have the money you need should you have to spend a few extra days in town due to bad weather, illness, gear replacement, etc. Carry some cash on you as well as a debit card and credit card on you, along with your driver’s license or other form of ID. Be sure you have an extra debit card at home to mail out just in case the magnetic strip wears out.

6. Your trail mail. Are you expecting mail on the trail? Make sure you have your mail drops ready to go or a person ready to do them for you and a responsible person to mail them. As things can change en route, be sure you give yourself plenty of time for the drops to get there. Use Priority Mailing case you need to forward drops (which can be done for free if you don’t pick up the box at the PO). Use this checklist for maildrops and what to put in them.

7. Your house, bills, pets. Is your place or residence being cared for as well as the bills for it? Things like this can really distract from a hike unless you have prepared for it. Make sure all these things are covered. That also includes any pets left at home – that they are cared for by responsible people and have the food, medicines, vet info, etc they need.

8. Your job. If you have a leave from your job, make sure everything is OK at work for you to return. If you quit your job, have some ideas what you will do when you get back. Maybe make a list or have an idea of a job that interests you.  Be sure there is money to cover several months of bills after you get back as you look for a job or to pay the bills until you start work and get paid.

9. After the trail. Prepare for the after the trail doldrums. See my blog on coping with post-trail issues
which are very real after any major hike. Don’t
let depression and other issues kill the joy of your great adventure.

10. Now…Relax. The bases are covered, so get out there and enjoy it. Take it day by day. And don’t be afraid to change things on your hike if needed. Be flexible. The journey is more mental than physical.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lessons from a Winter Weekend Section Hike

Lots of views and lots of mountains too in this section
I am in the process of completing my third trek of the Appalachian Trail via section hiking. So far I have walked from Springer Mtn (the southern terminus) to outside of Erwin and from Crabtree Falls Rd in VA to Pen Mar Park, PA. For this trip I decided to piece together a bit more of VA, taking it from the Tye River (or about five miles north of Crabtree Falls Rd) to the James River. I elected to do the trail southbound because of shuttle availability, and as I would discover through the course of my wander, it was the correct choice. 

What is the saying about how a man plans his way but God directs the steps? It proved quite true. We’d had some good melting of any previous snowy precip, so I had to make a decision whether to bring traction devices for my shoes or not (like my Yaktrax). Seeing the bare
An icy trail and no traction devices!
woods up at 2500 foot elevation in Shenandoah, I elected not to carry them. But one doesn’t realize that snow and ice are slow to leave the north facing slopes of the mountains. So it was on this section hike as I faced icy trails and no traction devices. But when one goes southbound, you go UP the north side of the mountain, and that was the lifesaver of the hike. It’s much easier with momentum to go slipping up an icy slope rater than trying to sneak down. So I was able to do it, even though I was kicking myself for not carrying the traction devices in early February.

I also discovered that while guidebooks are a must to have on any hike, long or short, there can be some discrepancies. A campsite I thought would be there as outlined in the pages had a NO CAMPING sign posted in it. Ok, so onward I went. Except the trail takes a meandering approach around the Lynchburg Reservoir with hills on either side for several miles. There was NO place to camp, and daylight’s burning (it gets dark early in winter nights). I finally found one small sag in the trail by some boundary markers and threw up my tent there. Better safe than sorry. But with night falling, I now attempt to locate a rock to toss up my bear rope – none were found anywhere. Then a thought occurred to me—use my water bottle. So I did, and it worked fine. After 4,000 plus miles of trial it was the only time I ever used my water bottle to help hang the rope for bear bagging!

On day three of my wander, I was to be picked up at the James River. It wasn’t until I finished the section and dealing with very sore  muscles that I realized how much elevation I had accomplished AND the mileage I had put in a simple Friday to Sunday wander (47.6). It was a bit extreme to say the least. I guess I’d rather be hiking, even if I’m sore, then get to camp early and sit there shivering (at least the final day of the hike warmed up to the sixties!). Now I pay the price as I recuperate from an arduous adventure that saw me again dealing with new situations every time I go out.

On the lighter side of things, I am glad for several gear choices for the trip:

My new LUCI solar charged lantern when those nights sneak up on you quick

The lantern glows as darkness falls

Terramar silk baselayer as a secondary baselayer for very cold nights (and also very ultralight)

Woolx midweight merino wool socks that performed beautifully for two solid days of 30 plus miles with a great cushy feet and zero blister issues afterwards (I highly recommend them and will likely follow-up with a SOCK blog soon on my favorite brands for hiking). 

Related blogs:

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Guest Blog: Letter of a $1000 AT Thru Hike

Enjoy this guest blog from "Sleepwalker" on how he did his AT (Appalachian Trail) thru hike for $1000!

Greetings from the ether. 

My trail name is Sleepwalker, for obvious reasons. I’m a trail Legacy as my father thru hiked also.
This also means I grew up knowing about the AT and backpacking in general. I didn’t like it much as a kid, but I think that was because I was being forced, because as soon as I went out a few times on my own or with friends, I discovered a thorough joy for it. I was getting bored of college or maybe I was just lazy. Either way, I decided I wanted a reason my parents could appreciate to take time off and hiking sounded reasonable to me. Since I had money saved up, I was fortunate enough to be able to decide to do a thru hike the December before I left. I’m 20 at this point in time so money saved up means I had around $1000 to spare. Now most people would say this isn’t enough, but I did a lot of math (which I’m not horrible at) and I kept coming up with the same answer: this IS possible.

I already had a lot of the gear I needed from growing up in a hiking family so my expenses pre-trail were low. In fact the only things I had to get were a sawyer squeeze ($50), a tent ($100) and a cook kit ($10). Living in Pennsylvania, having family in Harrisburg, and going to school at Shippensburg (yeah, you missed it if you thru hiked) gave me great confidence that even if I didn’t finish, I’d at least be able to hike home and be alright. Of course this is a hilarious joke, because I wasn’t going to fail. I’m not the type of person who could tell all their friends and family that I was going to do something epic and then fall short. 

When I got dropped of at Springer Mountain I was super confident. When I reached the NOC, I started to get worried. I was eating too much money and my mile-droppings weren’t large enough. Financially and temporally (oh, yeah I started on May 15th) I was not going to succeed. Well, for better or for worse, my hiking partners dwindled to none by Fontana Dam. I decided the day Gandalf left me there that I was just going to blast up that damn hill and run to Katahdin and make it anyway. Turns out that’s a mighty climb and for someone who had only slept in a bed once since starting, my 20 year old bod got pretty worn out. Luckily there were two more things that kept me going: Ramen noodles and Argo. Since I only had $1000 to do the hike on, Ramen was pretty much what I ate, day in and day out. I must say, going in for a resupply and having to budget really isn’t easy. I wish I could lay out a solid plan as to what you can really afford to eat with that little money, but that solid plan will come out the other end anything but solid. 

Ramen, pepperoni, mashed potatoes, raisins, granola bars, oatmeal, crackers, cheese, tortillas, knock off pop tarts, the occasional live chicken and before you do the shopping, take a half gallon of chocolate milk to pound town. Now even with that you must be wondering how to make the rounds. Well I may or may not have shoplifted two whole pizzas from a pizza buffet in Pearisburg, Virginia after eating my fill. Some other less than elegant things I had to do include: raiding the hiker boxes for hopefully not so expired food, working for stay… everywhere, carrying someone else’s pack on top of mine in exchange for food, and smiling a lot. I’m a food whore, I admit it. Naturally you have the startup energy that just living uses up so ideally you also need to make a thru hike take less time because you’ll need to eat more the longer you take. This is where Argo comes into play! It turns out when you’re a 20 year old, rarely seeing women, and you’re horny as hell, the promise of a “fine lookin’ thru hiker lady up ahead” can really get you moving. Who would have known? I eventually caught up to her and some other May starters who were also moving fast and I must admit, their companionship was a great motivator for me. I never felt like quitting but my fast pace was certainly not easy, even for me and great hikers were what kept me trucking. If I were to summarize the keys to doing a thru hike cheap, they would be:

1.    Hike fast
2.    Eat cheap food aka hiker box food
3.    Make friends
4.    Work for stay everywhere
5.    Become someones trail slave
6.    Become a breatharian

I hope this can help someone who doesn’t think they have the funds for the funs on the AT change their mind. I ended up paying for some hostels and I used some money on gear that broke. Your gear might not. I could see someone totaling $700. It’s also crucial to keep your mind in the right place. The beginning is very discouraging, but trust me, if you really want Katahdin, you will get there!

Much love,


Related Bog:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Guest Blog: Group Hiking

Planning Your Group Hiking Trip
By Rob Wipfler
Hiking is a fun and rewarding activity that can be enjoyed as a family, with a group of friends, or even solo. Getting cozy with Mother Nature requires some serious planning however, as the last thing you need on your trip is for someone to arrive without their essentials or for the hike to go wrong. Below, we will discuss some of the important questions you’ll want to ask yourself to make sure that your first trip will be as safe as it is fun.

Who are you going with?

If you are leading experienced hikers, they will likely know what to do. But make sure you run through all of the basics with them and that everything is in order before departing. However, if you are planning a trip for other first-time hikers or with young children, there is a lot to consider when planning. For example, everyone should be on the same page about the scope of the trip. Is everyone in good physical shape and wanting to try something strenuous? If so, a more challenging hike may be appropriate. Are there children in the group who will likely need to be carried for part of the trip? If this is the case, a shorter trip would probably be best. Gauge the capabilities of the group before your departure. Also, be sure you know first aid. Carry a group cell phone to use in case of emergency.

It is also a good idea to establish group ground rules such as sticking together or stopping to take a break at certain time intervals. Knowing basic hiking etiquette, such as staying to the right of the trail and passing fellow hikers on the left, is also important.
Where are you going?

There are a number of beautiful trails, mountains and canyons that are favorite hiking spots of many seasoned hikers. You first need to determine what your capabilities are when determining a specific route. Since it is your first time hiking, a 2-day extravaganza may not be the best choice. For your first hike, test your stamina and abilities with a shorter trail that can be completed within 1 day. Some things to consider when choosing a hike include:

  • Parking opportunities for the group
  • Bathroom facilities ahead of time and also LNT (Leave No Trace) practices during the hike including carrying out trash and waste disposal
  • Length of trip
  • Expertise level
  • Scenic Views

Be sure that everyone is clear on the path and operate with a leader and sweeper. The leader is the first one in a group and stops at each and every cross trail until the sweeper brings up the back. This will ensure that no one will stray from the group and as a whole you will be able to stay on track.
What are you bringing?

Proper Attire

Every member of a hiking group should come prepared with the proper attire. Hiking boots or shoes should be worn to provide grip so you can navigate your way across slippery rocks and uneven trails. Be prepared for weather changes. The peaks of mountains are significantly colder than the valleys, so bring an extra layer to stay warm while you enjoy the view. A hat is a good idea. Mother Nature is unpredictable, so if you don’t want to spend your hiking trip soaked from head to toe, bring raingear.

Food & Essentials

Food and water are the most important items on your packing list. Bring at least twice as much water as you normally drink, as you may be sweating or just get held up somewhere you didn’t intend to. Unfortunately dehydration is a common and costly mistake that many novice hikers make. In addition to an adequate water supply, you will want nutritious food that will provide sustained energy. Healthy snacks such as natural granola, trail mix and fruits are always great ideas. For lunch try peanut butter, bagels, jerky, and pepperoni.

Other necessities for a safe and enjoyable hiking trip are insect repellent, a first aid kit, and a map and compass when traveling through an unmarked trail.

Hiking is a beloved hobby all around the world, but it is a potentially dangerous one too. It’s incredibly important to make sure the group you are traveling with is on the same page as you so no one is overexerted. By planning out the trail location, setting ground rules, and triple checking the items you pack, everyone will be able to enjoy the group hiking trip!

Rob Wipfler is one of the co-owners of Kingswood Summer Camp for Boys located in New Hampshire. When he is not busy running the camp, Rob often writes articles which are aimed at encouraging an active and healthy outdoor lifestyle for children in New Hampshire