FAQ: I’m Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

backpacking, pacific crest trail

What is the Pacific Crest Trail?

The PCT is a continuous footpath from Mexico to Canada. It’s approximately 2,660 miles long and goes through California, Oregon and Washington.

Who are you going with?

Myself, and a few thousand strangers who are also day hiking, section hiking or attempting to thruhike. Rumor has it the relationships you form with other thru-hikers are the best part of the trail.

How long does it take?

The average hiker takes 5 months.You’re essentially trying to time yourself right so that you aren’t entering the Sierra too early before the snow melt, or the Cascades too late (when it starts to snow in the fall/winter). But that’s going to be an extra challenge this year, because it’s an unusually high snow year.

How far will you hike every day?

At first, probably only 15 miles a day on average or maybe even less. Eventually, more like 20 miles a day average, with some flat terrain days nearing 30 miles. That average includes “zero” days (days where I hike zero miles) and “nero” days (days where I don’t hike very many miles) which may be spent on the trail or in a hotel room or trail angel’s house in one of the trail towns.

What made you want to do that?!

Well, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, for one. Then hiking and backpacking personally. Then Girl in the Woods and Carrot Quinn and Dora la Explorer and HalfwayAnywhere and an innumerable amount of other trail journals and articles online.

How do you feed yourself? 

I’ll be hitchhiking at trail crossings and resupplying every few days (2-3 days average, up to 10 days) in towns along the way. Mostly my goal is to grocery shop for whatever I need along the way, although there will be some areas where I’ll have to send a box of food to a Post Office where stores are scarce.

What are you afraid of?

On a physical level, I’m afraid of rattlesnakes, bears, mountain lions, broken or twisted ankles, exposure, heights, raging rivers, Giardia, blisters, sun burns, hypothermia, dehydration, getting lost and Poodle Dog bush.

But mostly what I’m afraid of is that I’m going to get out there and it’s going to be hard and my fears are going to overwhelm me, and I won’t stick it out long enough to really prove to myself what I’m capable of. Or to put it simply: I’m afraid of the fear itself.

What are you doing to prepare?

So far I’ve just been hiking frequently and backpacking when I can. I haven’t focused on long mileage, though I have managed a few 30-mile backpacking trips with one 16-mile day. 10 mile day hikes aren’t rare for me. I’ve been trying to put myself in new situations in the hopes that it will teach me how to get through things I don’t want to or think I can’t do –  like hike up a terrifying mountain (a la Picket Post Mountain near Superior, AZ), night hike on an exposed ridge or hike through the rain.

What are you bringing with you?

I have my whole planned gear list here.

How are you financing the trip?

I’ve been actively saving money while also slowly upgrading my gear. By the time I hit the trail, I’ll have around $6,000 to spend while on-trail. If I were single, finances would also have included selling everything I own and breaking the lease on my house and canceling/paying off any monthly charges, but since I’m married, Mark is going to be the adult in the relationship and take care of bills while I’m gone. I can only imagine the food bill will shrink dramatically.

Where are you going to be documenting your trip?

A little bit of everywhere. Here, on this blog, on my Instagram, on YouTube, and for friends, family and fellow hikers, on Facebook.

What is your husband going to do while you’re gone?

Continue being a living, breathing independent organism, I imagine. Once I’d decided to go (rather than just talk about it as a “someday” thing) it took Mark a little while to get comfortable with the idea, but since then he’s been incredibly supportive. He’s gone with me on overnights, put the Forest Service number on speed dial while I did solo trips, generously bought me some of my most expensive gear, and listened to me rattle on about trail plans at length. I’m sure he’ll be lonely, though, so please make plans to hang out with them, even if he ignores your first 15 offers. He really does want to meet up.

What are you going to do when you finish?

I have no idea. I have a few practical plans (try to work for an outdoor gear company?) and a few more radical ones (convince Mark to live in a van and travel the country?) but it’s hard to say. I don’t really know who I’ll be when I’m done.

What I’m Packing: Pacific Crest Trail Gear List

backpacking, pacific crest trail

One thing you can learn about thruhiking via the internet is that how much weight you’re carrying will have a measured effect on how much you’re enjoying you’re hike.

Not that long ago, it wasn’t rare for people to carry packs that, not counting food, water, etc weighed upwards of 30 or 40lbs. Cheryl Strayed’s pack, fully loaded, supposedly weighed half her body weight (there’s a reason she named it Monster.)

Now backpacking gear and it’s enthusiasts are trying to find a balance between lighter weight, durability and price point. Some people spent a lot of time, energy, education and often money trying to make their base weight – the weight of a person’s gear not including the clothes on their back, food, water, or fuel – as little as possible.

An “ultralight” hiker is someone who’s base weight is typically less than 12 lbs. Almost every UL hiker whose gear you look at will be carrying a tarp or a tarptent – an easy way to shave a pound or more off your base weight. They also tend to be fastidious about not carrying duplicate gear.

A “lightweight” hiker’s base weight ranges between 13 to 20 lbs. They might have a freestanding tent (like me), sleep clothes, town clothes, and a few other luxury items.

A “traditional” hiker has a base weight of 20 lbs or more.

My baseweight comes in just under 15 lbs, which is considered lightweight. My pack recommends not carrying more than 35lbs at a time, which means I’ve got about 20lbs to play with as far as food, water, and changing gear is concerned. That’s not much, considering that water weights 2.2lbs/liter (and there will be sections I’ll have to carry 6 or more liters of water) and in order to eat enough calories, I’ll be carrying around 2 lbs of food per day I’m hiking. Not to mention, 35lbs is heavy, and heavy slows you down.

I’m giving exact numbers where I can and making guesses where I can’t. I’m not invested enough in exact ounces to weigh each individual piece myself, so I’m going off of product weight details or other hiker’s estimates.

Main Items
Backpack – ULA Circuit – 41 oz – I upgraded this from a 62 oz Deuter backpack to save myself 1.5 lbs and it ended up being more comfortable than the Deuter
Tent – REI quarter dome 1 – 34 oz
Sleeping pad – Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Women’s Regular – 12 oz
Sleeping bag/quilt – Enlightened Equipment Revelation – 21.5 oz
Ground sheet – Tyvek – 5 (?ish?) oz
Sleeping bag liner – 4 oz – Bringing this mainly to put over my sleeping pad because I find it super uncomfortable to sleep directly on plastic. It’s also a nice back up for especially cold nights to help prevent drafts from the quilt, or for warm nights where I don’t need my sleeping quilt.

Total: 117.5 oz 

Potential modifications: I could maybe be talked into a tarp tent, but have seen enough people struggle with them that I’m OK with the Quarter Dome for now. Price is also pretty prohibitive there. Also although some people don’t feel more “protected” inside a tent, I definitely do (for now.) It would be near impossible to talk me into a straight tarp at this point. I can drop the sleeping bag liner if I decide it’s unnecessary, ditto for Tyvek. I have been using both on weekend trips.

Worn clothing (not part of base weight)
Shoes – still figuring this out
Socks – Darn Toughs or Injinji’s (still figuring this out)
Sun shirt – Columbia sun hiking shirt
Smartwool Tshirt
Pants – Columbia Saturday Trail Pant
Underwear – Ibex Wool 
Bra – Panache
Sunglasses – Random cheap polarized glasses, fancier glasses for the Sierra snow
Trekking pole (one)

Potential modifications: Might drop sun gloves if they prove unnecessary, might switch to running shorts if pants prove too hot/my legs can handle the sun, might give up on trekking poles if I can’t teach myself to love them, might have to change shoes depending on just how swollen my already-wide feet get out there

Packed clothing
Rain gear – Dry ducks small jacket – 5 oz (ish)
Socks – Darn toughs x2 – 5 oz
Down jacket – 7.2 oz (Bought on sale from campsaver.com, 50% off)
Underwear – Ibex Wool – 1.6 oz
Cold weather gloves – 1 oz ish
Beanie – 1 oz ish
Bandanas x3 – 1 oz ish

Total: 35.8 oz

Potential modifications: Current plan with bandanas is one is for nose blowing, one is a pee rag, and one is for sun protection/water filtering. Could potentially drop one in the future.

Cooking/Food storage
Stove – Pocket rocket knockoff – 3 oz
Pot – 7.5 oz
Long spoon – .5 oz
Opsack odor proof food bag 28.20 – 2 oz
Windscreen (Aluminum foil) – .05 oz

Total: 13.5 oz

1.5L Evernew Bladder – 1.3 oz
2L Evernew Bladder – 1.5 oz
Evernew Bladder Hose – 2oz (ish)
Smart Water Bottles x 2 – 2.6 oz
Sawyer Squeeze – 3 oz

Total: 10.4 oz

Potential changes: Likely using the 2L Evernew Bladder as a “dirty” bag for Sawyer – whole thing is subject to change, one of the challenges of carrying water on the sides of your pack is having to adjust it as you go through your water lest you end up walking like Igor. At this point I definitely prefer being able to sip water effortlessly via a tube than having to take a waterbottle out of my pack. But the bladder hose is compatible with Smart Water bottles so I may end up just attaching it to the bottles directly.

First aid/emergency/hygiene kit
Duct tape, Ibuprofen, Benadryl, Pepto, Antifungal, anti-chafe, Sunscreen, chapstick, antibacterial, sunscreen, needle, thread – 5oz ish
Toothbrush, Toothpaste,  Floss, Hand sanitizer, Wet wipes, TP, Menstrual cup, Deuce of Spades – 5 oz ish
Lighters x2, Whistle, Compass, (2.4 oz), Multitool – 5 oz ish
DeLorme InReach – 7 oz

Total: 22 oz

Potential modifications: Changes to first aid kit as different things become an issue/nonissue, will eventually add bug spray/lotion

10k MAH Battery pack – 6.4 oz
Headlamp – 4.6 oz
iPhone7 w/ lifeproof case- 6 oz
Earbuds – .4.oz
Backup batteries for headlamp – 1 oz
Charges/cords – 3 oz (ish)

Total: 21 oz

Trash compactor bag – pack liner – 1 oz ish
Cards/cash/ID — 3 oz ish
Hiking Umbrella – 7 oz
Maps – varies, let’s say 2.5 oz
SticPic + Phone holder – 1 oz

Total: 14.5 oz

Potential modifications: Umbrella will get shipped ahead or ditched in the Sierra, possibly sooner. We’ll see if I use the SticPic, or the trekking poles that it attaches to, for that matter.

Total pack base weight: 234.1 oz (14.6 lbs)

Later gear
Bug net
Ice axe or whippet
Bear canister

The Point of Suffering – Reavis Falls + Reavis Ranch overnight

backpacking, hiking

This weekend was 25 miles of backpacking in 36 hours. Approximately 5000 feet accumulated elevation gain, 3000 of it in a 2 mile distance. The destination: Reavis Falls and Reavis Ranch in a day with my friend Dominic. Holy crap, what a trip.

Our initial plan had been Reavis Ranch, but I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to backpack in that area again, so I wanted to see as much as possible and Dominic was down for a big mile push. The map said the waterfall plus the ranch would be a 15 mile day. I’ve managed 16 with less daylight before, and the ranch’s elevation gain seemed gentle (I didn’t look at the elevation gain for the waterfall – whoops) so I figured we could handle it.


View from Reavis Trailhead

We camped at the trailhead the night before and were on-trail by 6:45 am. The first ~3 miles was gentle uphill climbing in the cool morning air which made us overconfident. The flowers were blooming – one species smelled strongly of, ahem, semen (?!? I know there’s a tree that smells like this there weren’t any trees in this section) – and the mountains were gorgeously green and rolling. We could scarcely believe we were hiking in the Superstitions. It wasn’t like anything we’d seen in the Tonto before.

When we reached the turnoff for the unmaintained waterfall trail, it was a steeper up, but nothing too treacherous, and then started going relatively gentle downhill. Dominic and I passed a campsite where someone had left bottles of booze, a pair of pants and a torn up sleeping bag. “People are awful,” we moaned. “Maybe we can carry it back to the turnoff on our way out? And if it’s still there tomorrow, we can carry it out!” Ha ha. Our adorably sweet intentions.

Then the trail got decidedly less friendly. Steep downhills with loose soil and eventually eroded granite that acted like marbles under our feet. The mountain was a large garden of prickly pear cactuses. We’d only just started the big descent when I slipped and fell into one very large prickly pear plant. Dominic turned around and said he was sure he’d be pulling spines out of my back, but I managed to miss everything but a splinter in my finger.

As we continued down (and I fell on my ass several more times) we started voicing our concern for the trek back up: “That is going to be one bitch of a climb.” “And we still have six miles to get to the ranch afterward.” “But: Waterfall!”

After a full mile or so of treacherous footwork, we reached the creek at the bottom. Backpackers who’d camped overnight pointed us up the creek. “The waterfall is that way.”

There was little to no trail, only creek and boulders. Dominic seemed to be having a relatively easy time making it across the boulders and through bushes, but my pack kept getting caught on branches, yanking me back. I overheated quickly and told Dominic to go ahead while I sat by the creek and ate and cooled down. He didn’t get much further before finding a rock to catch a quick nap on and a half an hour or so later we met up and pushed forward.

My pack continued to get caught and eventually I decided to leave it on a boulder. I was more worried about forgetting where it was than someone stealing it. If someone wanted to haul that back up the mountain, more power to them.

And then, not even 20 minutes later, we were at the falls.


Me at Reavis Falls.

Dominic made a quick fire and cooked some potatoes, yams and onions he’d packed in tin foil and we had a hot, delicious lunch while resting our feet before heading back. My pack was where I’d left it. As I put it on, I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye and spotted a silver frog/toad. I called out for Dominic, who is really into herping (he’d brought along a hook-type thing to scout for snakes, I was sending out all of my anti-rattlesnake vibes.) He caught it and took a picture with it and we moved on. The trek back through the creek was easier and we stopped at the trail turnoff (easy to miss if you’re looking for campers like I was – it’s marked by a cairn that blends in if you’re not paying close attention) to filter water.

Sitting there filtering water I realized just how hot it still was and how easily I was overheating just going through the creek. We’d planned to try to be at the top of the hike up by 4pm so that we could get to Reavis by sunset, but I couldn’t imagine hiking up 3000 feet in 80 degrees and direct sunlight. I knew I’d be miserable and have to stop every few feet at best, and that I could get dangerously overheated at worst.

“What if we wait here until the sun backs off and night hike the rest of the way instead?” I offered. Admittedly, I am not a night hiker – the only other time I’d done it was on the day I met Dominic on the top of Piestewa Peak. But that hadn’t been so bad, right?

Dominic would have definitely preferred to push for it because he wasn’t as bothered by the heat, but he’s a great backpacker and knows heat affects people really differently, so he acquiesced.

As I sat there continuing to filter our water, another backpacker showed up. He was an older guy and he was sweaty and breathing hard. “I don’t envy you hiking down in that sun,” I said. He put his pack down and chatted with us. We advised him to leave his pack to get to the waterfall and traded hiking suggestions and I filtered some water for him because he hadn’t brought his own (he planned to bum a filter off of other hikers or boil water if he ran out.) He told us about trying to navigate Hell’s Gate up north and took my suggestion for an easy trip to Horton Springs.

Eventually he moved on and Dominic and I found a rock to lay back on and close our eyes for a few minutes. Around 4 we started heading back up the mountain. It was hard, but I was immediately glad we’d waited until the sun went away. Still, as we climbed, I let out many a “fucking seriously?” and “you have got to be kidding me” as I looked up at the trail in front of me. Meanwhile, Dominic’s knee was cramping up. I stopped every few steps to catch my breath.

At one point I turned to Dominic and said, “This is making me feel like I’ve never hiked before.”

But that kind of hiking is both what I live for and what I detest. It’s the point of suffering in a hike. That used to come quickly in a hike for me, and I could easily reach that place in a 3-mile hike in town. Everything about hiking was new to me – if my hands were swelling I thought I might be dying, if I needed a break when other people were passing me I told myself I was terrible and should quit, if my muscles burned I thought it was the end of the world.

I still don’t love those things. They aren’t fun. But when you’re done with them, your experience of yourself expands. You go from “overwhelmed, bit off more than I could chew, what was I thinking?!” to: I did that. I didn’t think I could, but I did.

The more I hike, the more I’m able to manage that feeling of suffering. Instead of, “this is a disaster,” instead I think: This is hard as hell, but I’ll get there eventually. Admittedly, on the climb out of Reavis Falls, I was definitely thinking, Hey, if Dominic wants to call it quits and just head back to the trailhead, I’ll be totally cool with that. If Dominic doesn’t want to try to push to Reavis Ranch, I won’t argue.

(But I also wasn’t going to offer.)

When we passed the trashed campsite again, we both looked at each other wishing we were better (and less exhausted) people and left everything, the pants, the alcohol bottles, the sleeping bag there.

Shortly thereafter we were at the top, and the sun was going down.


Sunset from the saddle above the waterfall climb

Ah, yes, the top! Dominic was ready to get as close to the ranch as possible despite his knee. Still, we figured we would be alright. We were back to the promised land of minimal, gradual elevation gain before a relatively flat smooth-sailing to the ranch. The sufferfest was over! (This is the lie my brain likes to tell itself to induce further agony.)

We quickly start cruising along the trail and the temperature is wonderful and we’re finally not moving at a snail’s pace and I’m like, night hiking is great! But my headlamp, I’m realizing, isn’t super great. My eyes are working hard to make sense of the trail, which so far has been pretty smooth but occasionally tosses a bunch of rocks at me that my ankles have to work quickly to correct.

And then we started hiking on a ridge, with a sheer cliff to the side.

It’s fine, I tell myself. The trail is smooth and wide enough and I haven’t died yet ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha?

“I don’t love this cliff,” I say out loud, and my voice is shakier than I anticipated.

“We’re fine,” Dominic says. I’m doing my best to keep my anxieties at bay and not imagine my body tumbling down the mountain.

A few minutes later I hear him say something.

“What?” I ask.

“I said, that really is a cliff.”

And then my brain goes wild. It goes something like this:

*imagining body tumbling down mountain –*

Me: NO! Don’t think about that! One step at a time. One step at a time. One step at a…

*imagining twisting an ankle that sends me off-balance and tumbling down the mountain*

Me: I wonder who should be carrying the emergency Personal Locator Beacon? Is it better for it to be on the body of the injured, or in the hands of the safe?

Me: NO! Don’t think about that –

Me: What if DOMINIC is the one who falls?

Me: I said don’t —

Me: Dominic walks faster than me, maybe that means he’s in even more danger?!

And so on, until we’re at a saddle looking at a camp site. “Did you want to just camp here?” I ask. But Dominic doesn’t. He thinks he can squeeze a few more miles in before his leg gives out, and he’s sure there will be more campsites along the way.

“I’m just really freaking out about the drop off,” I tell him. I can’t really see well with my headlamp and it’s scaring me. “I hate to ask,” I say. “But can I use your flashlight instead?”

“Of course,” he says. So he puts on my headlamp and pulls out his secondary bike light and I turn on his flashlight and it’s suddenly like the night isn’t quite as scary anymore because I can actually SEE.

So, on we go. Over more rocky rocks, across more ridges. There aren’t, unfortunately, more established campsites to stay at, and Dominic’s knee is only getting worse. We’re shining our lights around a slightly slanted meadow when in the distance is what sounds like a high-pitched, guttural “helllllllllllp.”

“Fucking birds,” I say out of reflex.

Wait, I think.

It’s night time.

I don’t think that was a bird.

“What was that?” I ask. On second thought, it kind of sounded like a dying deer.

“I don’t know,” he says, but I can tell he probably knows and just isn’t excited about telling me.

Oh my god, I think. It’s a mountain lion. There’s a fucking mountain lion and it sees us and it’s making noises at us and —

“It’s a bobcat,” Dominic says.

“That’s like a mountain lion, right?!”


“But it eats people like mountain lions!?”

“No. They’re barely bigger than a house cat.”

“And you’re totally 100% sure they don’t eat humans?”


I choose to believe him. But then I also tell him we won’t be camping for a few more miles because I won’t sleep a wink if we stop anywhere near that noise.

Which turns out to be fine, because there aren’t any established campsites. Eventually we’re far enough away that I relax, and Dominic gives up on the established campsite route and instead finds a tree in a meadow to set up camp underneath. We stop at 10pm. We’ve hiked 14 miles. We’re only about a mile from the ranch, but when it’s quitting time, it’s quitting time.

We eat. I pass off half my lentils and rice to Dominic, and then half my cheesecake. I’m hungry but not.

“I’m sleeping in tomorrow,” Dominic says. I can hear him snoring a few minutes later. I text Mark from my PLB and let him know we’re safe and at camp.

The next morning we don’t get up until 8:30. We pack our bags with only food and water and leave our tents at camp and go explore the ranch. It occurs to me pretty quickly I should have read more about what there was to see at the ranch. Mostly it’s a big, open field with remnants of farm equipment. Dominic was interested in some of the rusted machinery out there, trailers and axles and an old Buick transmission (?).

We puttered around and then filled water at the creek and got back on the trail at 12:30. I pulled out my umbrella for the first time and sang it’s praises for the first 3 miles. After that, the wind picked up, and I kept switching between putting on a hat and long sleeves or using the umbrella. I felt like I was constantly adjusting where the umbrella was sitting so that it would cover the whole top half of my body, and in some instances it felt like I was obstructing my view when the sun was in front of me. I want to give it a few more chances, because I definitely like not having to wear long sleeves and have a hat on, but I also don’t want to be putting my bag down every mile or so to readjust.

The last 3 miles seemed to last forever. I kept telling myself that the trailhead was just around the corner, it had to be, we were going down hill, it was only three miles, the time should fly by. No such luck. At one point we ran into a group of hikers hiking in. “We’ve been hiking for about an hour,” they said.

“Are you joking?” I asked.

“No…” they said. “Ha, has he been lying to you about how far there is to go?”

“No,” I said. “I’ve been lying to myself.”

Dominic said the look they’d given him when we said we’d done both the Falls and the Ranch in a day made him puff up a bit.

I have a habit of trying to push to the end at the end, and becoming grumpy and tired and unpleasant. So around the next curve I plopped down in the dirt and let my feet rest in the shade for a minute. I wanted to get to the trailhead, but I didn’t want to have a constant stream of expletives running through my head every step of the way there.

40 minutes or so after that break, we got to the car.

The drive back I felt pretty delirious. I could only half-have a conversation. I found things ridiculously funny.

It’s a weird feeling post-hike. Even at the end of the day at camp. I spend much of the second half of the day agonizing over how far we’ll make it, over my fears, over phantom aches in my body. But then I get to camp, or the car, and it’s done, and I see the fruitlessness of my anxieties.

Not to mention, once I’m home and I’ve had a good sleep, my brain rewrites history. It wasn’t really that hard, was it? You could do it again. Of course you could. No problem. How about next weekend?

I guess that’s why I go back there again and again. Overcoming my anxieties in real, tangible ways. And a little bit of amnesia.


14 things I wish I’d known before my first backpacking trip

backpacking, hiking, hiking tips

My first-ever backpacking trip was to Havasu Falls, Arizona, a three-day, two-night trip. I was invited less than a week before the trip, had zero gear, and had only ever hiked 8 (miserable) miles in a day. I gathered all my gear from REI rentals and Amazon and ended up with a pack that I struggled to lift onto my back. I had no idea how to secure a backpacking packs, so on the mile down the canyon the pack swayed side to side and repeatedly pushed my pants down. I slipped and fell three times or so, and I moved about as slowly as someone could without reversing back up the mountain. I arrived to camp two hours later than everyone else in my group. At camp, I gave away a bunch of extras – a fuel canister, books – to my group so that I wouldn’t have to carry them out.

On the way OUT of the canyon, the sandy uphill that comes directly out of camp ruined my morale (I’d woken up early to get a head start) and I stood in line for two hours to take the tourist helicopter out ($80 fee) before learning that I’d have to wait for another four hours. I furiously called my husband, had him drive four hours to meet me (knowing my group would have left by then) and hiked my way out of the canyon on pure self-hatred alone. I had eight blisters on my feet when I reached the top.

Here are a few things I wish I’d known.


1. Your pack is (mostly) as heavy as you make it

Ounces add up to pounds. Step on your home scale without your pack, and then with your pack. Decide if all that “just in case” stuff is necessary.

2. Somebody else will likely have packed all that “just in case” stuff

Borrow it if you need it, which you probably won’t.

3. That 2lb sleeping pad you brought slept on for two nights that just seems like a useless flat piece of plastic? 

It’s inflatable.

4. Your hands will swell while hiking/backpacking

You’re not gonna die.

5. If your shoes give you blisters, any at all, return them

Finding the perfect hiking shoe is an adventure all of it’s own.

6. You’re a slow-average hiker

Your pace is pretty much your pace, and there’s not much you can do about it. Luckily, this is not a race, so stop comparing yourself to everyone else.

7. Don’t sit down or take off your pack when you need a breather.

Save these moments for when you’re going to stop and eat lunch, or need to take care of your feet. Actually, someone probably did tell you this, and you probably cursed at them. They were right.

8. Tighten all of the straps on your pack.

This helps make your pack into one solid mass, which you can then do your best to secure to your back so that it 1) doesn’t wobble and throw you off balance and 2) transfers the weight more effectively to your hips.

9. Snaaaaacks.

Eat them regularly and as you walk. Don’t “wait for another 10 minutes” or “’til you get to X miles.” Eat and drink when you’re hungry. The delay between energy dip and energy crash is shorter than you think.

10. Don’t pack “healthy” food.

Remember that time you packed celery and carrots and cucumbers for a day hike? And the whole universe laughed at you? Bring easy fats and carbs, friend. Fats and carbs.

11. Fit as much as you can IN your pack, not on it

This will help keep the weight in your hips, which do not lie.

12. You don’t have to put your tent poles inside your pack

You can put them in a side pocket, strap them on top, etc. Just make sure they’re secure..

13. Context matters

If you’re having a hell of a time, ask yourself: Why? Maybe you’re walking uphill in sand for two miles, and it’s not that you suck, the trail does. Maybe you didn’t have enough for breakfast. Maybe you’re carrying 5 liters of water. Remind yourself that the suckiness doesn’t last forever – both your mental state and the terrain are subject to change. Then keep going.

14. You will be okay (probably)

Common sense and paying attention go a remarkably long way. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from trying something new.

Here’s a photo of my pack on the first trip I took to Havasu Falls compared to my pack 18 months later on the same trip.


**Admittedly, being able to evaluate and purchase your own gear helps a whole lot – REI doesn’t have a particularly great light-weight selection for rental (or it didn’t at the time. Not that I would have known to ask.)