I feel like I’ve been preparing for a thru hike on the Appalachian Trail all my life: Initial forays onto the AT in Pennsylvania as a Boy Scout, then organizing spring break hikes with high school friends, an end-of-the-year AT hike with my dorm friends at the University of Delaware, followed by numerous AT excursions of a few days or a week with family and friends over the years since then. I never had the time, or couldn’t manage to set aside the five or six months needed for a thru hike, between school, family, kids and work. I retired end of 2020, so now it’s easier to dedicate the time necessary, or at least it would be without Covid.
Brooke (my lovely wife, aka Twinkletoes) and I decided to do a shake down hike on the Long Trail in Vermont in September 2021 in preparation for an AT thru hike in 2022. What better place to do a prep hike than the Long Trail, which was the inspiration for creating the AT? Brooke, though an intrepid and skilled hiker, wanted to cherry pick sections on AT, not do a thru hike. “That’s your dream,” she said. But on the LT, we would both build our hiking legs, test our equipment, and, perhaps more importantly, test my mettle.
The Green Mountain Club of VT came up with the idea of the Long Trail in 1910 and completed it by 1920. The LT runs along the spine of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts border (near Bennington) to the Canadian border (not near anywhere), 278 miles altogether. Moreover, the LT is conveniently located near our recently completed second home in VT (and Covid hangout). We hiked 175 miles of the northern section of the LT (north of of Route 4 near Killington) in 22 days. That’s about eight miles a day on average – not too bad for some sixty-something’s. Also not bad considering that many of the hikers we met considered the upper section of the LT to be “much more rugged” than the AT.
We got some great support on our LT hike from VT friends (thanks to Judy, Joe and Sharon!). We were super happy to have David, a veteran of my 1970’s high school AT hikes in Shenandoah, join us for the first leg the hike. Also, our new LT hiker friend, Lee, gave Brooke her Trail name “Twinkletoes,” given her ability to move quickly, if not dance, down the downhill sections.
We had a blast, not once did we consider bailing. We came back with fond memories – and a huge collection of mushroom and mountain scape pictures. We tested trail dinner recipes and equipment, and felt physically good. Our packs weighed about 32 lbs each though – they were too, too heavy. Somethings had to go.
We set out on the Long trail with the equipment that we had been using for years. For example, I used my 10-year-old Deuter 55-L pack, which weighed four pounds – empty. It seemed way too heavy. My 2 1/2-pound 25-degree down sleeping bag was too hot for September in the Green Moutains, and too heavy. I switched out my bag on the LT at a conveniently located camping store in Waterbury for a 1 1/2-lb, 45-degree bag (a Thermarest Space Cadet). It was one lb lighter, but just a little too chilly. Our two-person tent seemed to be a keeper though. It’s a Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2, which weighs about 2 1/2 lbs. I still needed to reconsider a tent as I would be hiking about two thirds of the AT by myself. I needed to look for a lighter one-person tent.
Backpack, sleeping bag, and tent upgrades can be costly! And you have to balance cost with weight, durability and comfort. In preparation for our AT hike we broke out our kitchen scale and weighed all of our equipment and clothes, and made a spreadsheet including all items (see table below). You’ll notice that I switched out my four-lb Deuter backpack for a 20-oz Z-pack 55-L Arc Blast. I also upgraded to a 14.7 oz, 30-degree Z-pack M Classic sleeping bag. Brooke did a lot of the research on equipment. However, we worried that the packs may not be durable or comfortable, and that the bags might not be warm enough. Time would tell. Our friend Dave had done the research on sleeping pads, and had brought along a Nemo Tensor on our LT sojourn. He loved it, and when we tried his out, we agreed. We were impressed by how quick and easy the Nemo was to blow up, as well as its comfort. We both switched out our old Thermarests for new Nemo pads. They weighed about the same, but comfort on the trail is important if you don’t have to sacrifice weight. You’ll also notice in the table that we scrimped on clothing to save weight.
In the end, just before leaving for Georgia and Springer Mountain, I planned to have 6.3 lbs of gear and 6.6 lbs of packed clothes. That gives me a pack base weight of about 13 lbs. Add to that five lbs of food (four days worth) and four lbs of water (about two quarts) for a total backpack weight, in theory, of 22 lbs. That’s ten lbs lighter than the 32 lbs of our Long Trail shake down hike. Keep tuned to this blog for more posts on Victor’s flip-flop AT thru-hike! They first days of our adventure are coming up!
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My name is Victor, and I’ve wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail since I was a Boy Scout some 50 years ago. Growing up in Delaware meant that the AT passed nearby in Pennsylvania, and our troop organized annual week-long hikes on the AT in the summer. These hikes were always great adventures, and I dreamed of hiking the whole Trail sometime. During high school I organized spring-break hikes with my friends along the AT in Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smokies. In college I organized a hike with our dorm. In later years I hiked sections of the AT in almost all of the states that it passes through with family and friends. But I never had the time to hike the whole AT all at once. Starting as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay, where I worked as a National Parks Specialist, I made a career as an environmental specialist, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean. But now that I’m retired, and more or less healthy, I’m at last doing a flip-flop AT thru-hike: northbound from Springer Mountain, GA, to Harpers Ferry, WV; and then southbound Katahdin, ME, back to Harpers Ferry. My wife Brooke will cherry pick section hikes with me. Aside from hiking I love to bike, garden, birdwatch, x-country ski, cook and play classical guitar.