Apr

7

 Virtually every Appalachian Trail hiker ditches stuff in the first two weeks of walking. At the end of the first month he's learned to tell ounces difference in his backpack, and has trimmed the pack itself as much as possible. His guidebook is whittled, he has thrown away his water filter, jackets, extra clothes, and arrives at all I ever take on a distance hike: 6-8 lbs including the guidebook (pages torn out), one extra pair of sox, matches, a 1.5 lb sleeping bag, 1 pound biv sack, quart water bottle, GPS, compass, and the clothes and hat on the body.

By the time they reached me on the APT in Vermont that's about what their packs contained. There's about a 90% attrition rate from the start at Springer Mt, Geo to the finish at the Canadian border. I just did the length of Vermont & Maine to the Canadian border & nearly got run over in the fog in the road a few minutes from the border. I was shivering so hard in the October cold that wouldn't have felt it, but carried on past the road for a few minutes to a signed border post, turned around, walked another few hours on frozen feet and in the middle of the night found some locals outside a town burning pallets & fell asleep by the fire.

One would think that one would intuitively evolve to ultralight backpacking everywhere by everyone but the opposite was true. Until the early 90s, I found on trails that every one of hundreds I encountered used the method of carry as much as you can to connect the short supply/water points. These were generally 15 miles away, and 8 miles apart in the mountains where the packs for both weighed 40-60 lbs. They looked as tall as basketball nets.

People on the Pacific Crest & Appalachian trails ridiculed me in the early 90s for carrying no more than a fanny pack or day pack for long distances of months to walk faster and further to connect to more distant supply/water points. I was ostracized from groups while hiking & denied access to the shelters because no one believed I was a thorough hiker using a base weight 10 lbs. pack plus little water and food. I was walking as if on clouds 25-30 miles a day.

Then something happened in about '95. I started seeing hikers with lighter packs and read in a hiking journal about the new 'ultralight' concept of hiking. Now I was ostracized again for carrying a pack too heavy. The technique has evolved, and is, to carry an extremely light pack of 6-8 lbs. and to walk upward of 40 miles a day. Hiking is big business these days around USA and I'm waiting for them to expand across the border into Mexico and South America where I've become an 'ex-pat hiker' and pioneered trails including a continuation of the Pacific Crest from the border for 1300 miles through Baja to Cabo san Lucas. 


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  1. Andrew Goodwin on April 10, 2014 7:43 pm

    My guide in Maine, who had completed the AT, cut his toothbrush handle by 2/3 to reduce the pack weight.

    What’s not included in Bo’s post is the use of “General Delivery” by hikers. Those with support, doing the full trek from Georgia to Maine or in reverse, have family/friends who mail them supplies to post offices by General Delivery.

    This means the post office will hold the supplies for 10 days, and one need merely show ID to pick up the package despite one’s having no physical address.

    According to an article, the line of homeless people waiting for General Delivery expands dramatically when the Social Security and other federal aid checks go out at the beginning of each month.

    This effect was noted at the post office on Ninth ave in the near Madison Square Garden in Manhattan in particular.

    The achievement of thru hiking is admirable. A dodge of storage fees while the Post Office bleeds money is not.

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