Black Toenails - A Rite of Passage... or is it?!

When I first got into hiking seriously back in 2008 I joined a Meetup Group.  Before becoming a backpacker, I spent a lot of time on front country camping trips doing day hikes.  On one such trip, I remember sitting around a campfire with some veteran hikers and I found myself in a conversation that was borderline horrifying to me.  In fact, many of you who are hiking have probably heard a conversation very similar to this one: "You don't want to see my feet! I've lost so many toenails I can't even count them all!" "Oh yeah, I have two black ones right now - both big ones!" "My first backpacking trip I lost seven nails!" "I get so many blisters I'm pretty sure my trail name should be bubble wrap!" "Yeah, I don't think I've had a solid set of nails in 10 years!"  As I listened to this in slight horror I realized that yes, indeed, I was not a real hiker yet.  And thanks to this conversation, I wasn't looking forward to being a hiker either! 

A few years down the line I did join the real hiker club.  Thanks to a long day of hiking in boots that were too heavy, I got to camp and immediately shed the footwear to walk barefoot in a cold mountain stream.  The stream was in fact so cold that when I banged my toe on a rock I didn't feel a thing.  Later that night, however, a small purple lump showed up directly in the middle of my toenail.  Six months later, that nail had to be surgically removed thanks to the fact that the bruise never healed, nor caused me to lose that nail.  Finally, I had become a real hiker.  Honestly though, does losing or bruising nails REALLY make us a real hiker?  I'm here to tell you guys that NO, LOSING TOENAILS ISN'T NORMAL OR A RITE OF PASSAGE!  This post will deal with some footwear myths and facts to help you avoid the most ridiculous Rite of Passage hikers hear about.  

MYTH: You should Always Buy Your Boots a Full Size Bigger Than Your Shoes

If you need to buy your boots a full size bigger than your normal shoes, this tells me you're not wearing the proper size shoe in the first place!  In fact, most Americans are not wearing the correct shoe size for their foot.  A proper hiking, trail running, or backpacking shoe should not only be long enough, it should also be wide enough to accomodate your feet in both their swollen and normal conditions.  To get properly fitted for a hiking, trail running, or backpacking shoe I HIGHLY recommend going to a running store and not an outdoor retailer first.  Running store employees are properly trained to watch your gait, measure your feet (both width and length) and look for wear patterns on your shoes to recommend a corrective insole if you need it.  They'll ask you your daily/weekly mileage, terrain you plan on traveling, and even what your long-term goals are.  THEN, they'll go in the back and find the brands and styles that will work best for you.  

MYTH: A Heavy Boot Will Solve All Your Foot Problems

Which of these sounds better for a foot in normal conditions: A heavy, inflexible, non-breathable shoe; or a lightweight, breathable, flexible shoe?  Now, add in the rocky, muddy, wet conditions of a mountain trail.  While hiking boots definitely have a place in the hiking world, a lightweight and breathable boot or shoe will do you much better in most conditions.  In the past several years, many running shoe companies have expanded into a line of trail shoes and some even offer a high topped shoe to rival many hiking boots.  Other outdoor companies make heavy duty, breathable shoes with moderate ankle support.  Whether you decide on a boot or a shoe, light and breathable with some flexibility, not heavy and solid, will keep your feet happy.  

MYTH: Always Wear A Sock Liner And You'll Never Get Blisters

Just like one shoe doesn't fit all, one sock solution doesn't work for everyone either!  Sock liners do help prevent friction in high pressure areas of the feet.  Injinji toe socks also make liners to help separate your toes and prevent between-the-toe blisters; however, sock liners aren't your "quick" fix for blisters or black toenails.  Getting a properly fitted, properly breathing, properly weighted shoe is the first line of defense.  Secondly, making sure you're wearing a wicking sock, like a wool or bamboo variety, will also help pull moisture away from your feet.  Third, determining if your blisters are caused by pressure on your foot or debris in your shoe also helps! Some people can solve their blister problems by wearing a gaiter to cover the tops of their shoes or boots and prevent debris from rubbing their feet.  

MYTH: Buy A Pair of Insoles And Never Have Foot Problems Again

Are you guys noticing a pattern yet?  Hikers often have a "one size fits all" solution for foot problems, but just like the other myths we've covered, an insole will not help all hikers solve their problems.  Many insole brands you can buy off the shelf in a store will tell you that being uncomfortable is all a part of the break-in process because your body doesn't know how to walk on it's own (I'm paraphrasing here).  Not every hiker needs an insole to help solve their blister or toenail problems.  In fact, many hikers can avoid the insole by getting a properly fitted, properly cushioned shoe or boot in the first place.  

Have you ever lost toenails or gotten severe blisters on a hike?  What did you do to help remedy the situation? 

Tried it Tuesday - SLS3 Dual Pocket Running Belt (#Giveaway, Review, and Discount!)

Disclaimer: I was sent this belt for free in exchange for an HONEST review.  All opinions are my own, and y'all KNOW I wouldn't recommend any gear I wouldn't use myself! I did not receive any other compensation, nor will I if you use the link below to purchase the belt. 

Regardless of whether you're reading my blog  because you're a runner or a hiker, I know you like new gear.  All of us do.  When I was offered the opportunity to try this new SLS3 Dual Pocket Running Belt I jumped at the chance!  Not only would this come in handy for running, which I'm doing a LOT of these days, it would also be great for me on a day hike!  My day hiking pack doesn't offer a hip belt and I've been thinking of upgrading, but now I don't have to!  I am really excited to share my thoughts on this belt with you guys and also offer a giveaway at the end of the post!

This  run belt  can hold an iPhone 6 in a waterproof case on one side and then fuel and your car key in the other!  It's got a buckle and elastic waist band too!  SLS3  has thought of everything!

This run belt can hold an iPhone 6 in a waterproof case on one side and then fuel and your car key in the other!  It's got a buckle and elastic waist band too! SLS3 has thought of everything!

My old running belt is a Flip Belt.  While I do like the belt, lately I've been having issues with my phone falling out of it on runs, and usually it falls out, no joke, when I'm crossing an intersection. Seeing that this belt had a zipper, I knew that problem would no longer be in my future!  Another thing about the Flip Belt is that it's one continuous piece of fabric.  While it holds a lot, you have to slip it on over your head or put it on like a skirt.  Taking it off in public places sometimes gets you weird looks!  This SLS3 belt has a clip at the waist.  Not just a regular clip, but a heavy duty clip like you would see on a backpack.  This thing is going to snap in place and stay put. 

I snapped this belt on for a 7-mile run this week and decided to try it out in between layers.  I put it on over my merino undershirt, but underneath my long sleeved top.  You can hardly even tell I'm wearing it, which is another great feature.  It's awkward when you've got a belt that makes you look all lumpy underneath.  This one is sleek and fits well.  I especially appreciate the elastic in the waist band, as it stays snug and secure without riding up, which my Flip Belt also does after a few sweaty miles.  I ran the entire seven miles without this thing moving one time.  I took it out again the next day for 7 more miles and again it felt comfortable.  Today, however, I did have problems with the belt migrating.  It didn't ride up, but it did spin around a bit and ended up on me sideways for quite a bit of the run.  I didn't feel like fooling with it as my pace was great, so I left it alone.  It didn't bother me or feel weird, just having the weight of my phone on my side was a little strange. 

If I didn't have headphones on, you wouldn't even notice I'm wearing a  running belt !

If I didn't have headphones on, you wouldn't even notice I'm wearing a running belt!

After running twice with this belt, I decided to take it on trail with me for a few hikes!  My day pack doesn't have a hip belt, so I can wear the belt and a backpack while out just for a day.  I used the belt to carry my lip balm and car key in one pocket and my ID, debit card, and some cash in the other.  I honestly forgot I was even wearing the belt.  It sat comfortably and didn't rub my back, even where the belt and the pack were riding in the same place.  Again, I wore this belt over my merino undershirt but under a long-sleeved tech shirt.  

So this belt sounds pretty cool, right?  Well, thanks to SLS3 you have the chance to win one for yourself!  Use the Rafflecopter Widget below to enter to win!

Don't want to wait and see if you're a winner? You can buy this belt right now in the SLS3 Amazon store for 57% off at a special introductory price - only $12.90 instead of the usual $29.00.  Here's the link ----->  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B017DRIKFY

Do you own a belt for hiking or for running? Which color belt would you want if you won? Leave me a comment below!

Info about the giveaway: The giveaway will be running from Feb. 2, 2016 until Feb. 9th, 2016. Winner will be notified via email (if available) and/or blog post, and will have 24 hours to claim prize.  If original winner does not claim prize within 24 hours, an alternate winner(s) will be selected.  Contestants must enter on the Giveaway widget in order to win.  All winning entries will be verified. If a winning entry cannot be verified as completed, a new winner will be drawn.  Winner will be provided the prize directly from SLS3.  Substitutions unlikely but may apply.  Sprinkles Hikes is not responsible for failure of sponsor to deliver product.


I am linking up with Running with SD Mom and Erica Finds so others can enter to #WinAllThePrizes too!

Women's Running Community

Five Pieces of Gear You WON'T Need on an Appalachian Trail Thru Hike

With the holidays upon us, most of the 2015ers are getting their gear research finished and updating their wish lists with the gear they’d love to have on their AT thru hike.  As someone who was in your shoes a few short years ago (and who worked in a hostel doing pack shakedowns for a season in 2013), I’d like to give you some advice as to what gear you can skip adding to your list, as chances are you won’t need it anyway. 

A solar charger for your electronics

Doesn’t a solar charger sound cool? You can charge your phone up every day and keep the battery full for those Kodak moments you’ll be sure to have every single day!  In reality, the Appalachian Trail is called “The Green Tunnel” for a reason.  You’re actually  not going to be spending much time in direct sunlight, which is how these things get their charging power in the first place.  I would say more than half of the people on the trail in 2012 that had these chargers sent them home at Neel Gap (only 30 miles in).  I would say by Damascus, VA (mile 470ish) 99% of people had sent theirs back home.  In Maine if we hadn't convinced hikers to send them home in their initial pack shakedown in Millinocket, I would say most, if not 99% or so, had sent them home in Monson. If you’re turning off your phone at night and keeping it in airplane mode during the day, you can easily get 5-7 days on a full charge from going into town (I've done this on an iPhone 4S and an iPhone 6; NoKey has done this on a Galaxy S3 and S5).  Trust me, you don’t want to be the guy who is always on his phone in camp at night anyway. If you really think you need the extra power for your devices, consider getting an external battery pack that can hold a full 2 charges for your specific device. 

Rain pants

Rain pants are good for pretty much one thing on the AT - an extra layer to keep you warm, especially when it’s windy or chilly.  I know, I know, you’re probably thinking that warm and dry sound like a good thing… but the fact of the matter is if you hike in rain pants you’re going to sweat.  You’re going to sweat and that moisture you’re repelling from the rain is pretty much canceling itself out.  A good rain jacket will really be all you need most of the time.  Rain ponchos that also cover your pack are starting to become wildly popular due to their breathability and double usage (always a big plus with thru hikers) and can be found online with a simple google search. 

Bear “anything” - bell, canister, spray, etc.

The bears we have here on the east coast are black bears, which are normally very afraid of humans. While there are always exceptions to this, black bears are often smelling you and hiding from you before you even ever see them.  If a product has the word “bear” in front of it, chances are you aren’t going to need it on the Appalachian Trail.  Granted, a bear canister is required for camping in Georgia between Jerard Gap and Neel Gap, but this short stretch can easily be done in one day by even the most fresh-footed new thru hiker.  The ATC is also starting to recommend hikers carrying a bear canister from Springer to Damascus, but I honestly don't see this catching on for thru hiking.  Canisters are heavy, cumbersome, and often don't hold the amount of food you need it to on a long-distance hike.  Bear spray is just added weight and a bear bell is just annoying to all the other people around you.  The bear line, while useful, is seldom used correctly by hikers anyway.  If you’re planning to keep using your bear line to hang your food and toiletries, I highly recommend learning to use it and do a proper hang by watching videos on YouTube.  Otherwise, maybe look into getting an Ursack for your food bag if you’re really concerned about protection from animals.  I've found that on trail the most common animal "attack" on a food bag is a mouse or a squirrel in the middle of the night.  

Deodorant and most first aid items

If you’re going 5-7 days between a shower, you’re going to stink anyway -and everyone else stinks too. This is just a fact of doing a long-distance hike.  Trying to put on deodorant isn’t going to help that set-in hiker funk that comes from wearing the same clothing day in and day out.  Save yourself the melting stick and leave it at home.  While you’re at it, I’m pretty sure 90% of your first aid kit can go home too.  While when you’re first starting out some Second Skin for blisters could be great, but Band-Aids can all be left at home.  Duct tape/Gorilla Tape and Leuko tape will be the only thing that comes even remotely close to sticking to your skin during a long day of hiking.  Other than ibuprofen and the occasional emergency Benadryl, pretty much all other over-the-counter meds can stay home too.  Obviously, if you’re taking prescription meds you should always bring those.  If you've bought a pre-assembled first aid kit and there are items in there you don't know how to use, chuck them.  (And if you want to know how to treat a few common hiking injuries, check out a post I wrote back in November 2015 here.)

Extra clothes

This sort of goes along with the deodorant.  You think it’d be nice to have an extra set of clothes to hike in, but in reality extra weight on your back isn’t worth it.  For my thru hike, I wore the same outfit to hike in every single day with three pairs of socks rotated - right side out, the next day inside out. I’d leave the dirty ones inside out in my clothes bag and put on a clean pair for day three.  This way, I could get away with only doing laundry every 6 days at the minimum.  I had a dress I’d wear in town while I was washing my one set of clothes and three pairs of socks. Obviously, you’ll have a layer for cooler days at the beginning and possibly at the end of your hike, but an extra set of clothes, sleeping clothes, etc. can all be left at home. (If you want to see an example of the clothes I carry for a thru hike, please check out my gear list here). 

When it comes to long-distance hiking, the mantra “hike your own hike” is oft-repeated and the same goes for this blog post.  If you’re willing and able to carry the extra weight from some of the items listed above then by all means go ahead and carry them.  These are just some of the things I saw nearly all thru hikers ditching in the first 100 miles, both northbounders and southbounders.  Of course, every hiker will have their luxury item they just won’t part with, be it a pillow or a titanium trowel to dig cat holes.  I hope this list has helped you to narrow down your gear for your upcoming long distance hike. 

Special thanks goes out to 2012 Hiker Trash Anonymous for helping me to confirm the items listed in this post.