Trail Prep

A Mountains to Sea Trail Update

It seemed like spring would never arrive a few short weeks ago, but now we're midway through February!  I've been feeling like I'm doing a good job at my New Years' goal of unplugging more, but at the same time I always like to update my readers as to what is going on and what our progress is on thru hike prep.  Major progress is being made and I'm super excited to share it with you guys!

Mountains to Sea Trail Update.png

Menus are finalized!

While for long hikes I'm a big fan of resupplying on the fly, for shorter hikes (1000 miles or less) I prefer to make our own meals.  It's a lot easier on a trail like the AT to resupply in towns or at gas stations, even for those with special dietary needs.  However, when you're on a smaller trail like the Benton MacKaye or the Finger Lakes Trail, doing your own resupply boxes ahead of time is pretty clutch to making your hike work better for you.  Since we're only doing about 45 days on this trek, I decided to go ahead and plan a menu and resupplies.  Here's a small sampling of what we'll be bringing!
 

Breakfast: Fig Newtons, Poptarts, and homemade granola with coconut milk for NoKey; breakfast rice, couscous, oatmeal, and homemade granola with coconut milk for Sprinkles. 
Lunches: Shelf stable bacon with mustard on bagel thins, pepperoni sandwiches, dry hummus and crackers or fresh veggies if we can find them. Homemade granola will work for a sweet lunch as well. 
Dinner: Staples like trail mac 'n' cheese and my favorite Thai Style Ramen always make an appearance, but this time I'm going to make some new dinners like Prosciutto with Peas and unstuffed peppers.  I'm even attempting a chicken piccata recipe!
Snacks: We are going with Lenny and Larry's cookies and RX bars on this trip, with an assorted mix of candy bars in there to keep it interesting!

Drop box locations are still TBD

I honestly just haven't done the research on where I want to send boxes yet.  I've got a pretty good idea of where we'd LIKE to send them, but I still need to narrow that down.  One thing we definitely know is that we'd like to stay at The Pisgah Inn if at all possible and will probably resupply there if we can!  We had lunch here for the first time last year on our 5th Anniversary and fell in love with the place.  It doesn't hurt that it's smack dab on the MST near Asheville. 

Mixing it up a little

The Mountains to Sea trail is so much fun to me because it's not a strict thru hike if you don't want it to be.  In fact, there's a paddling route you can do by kayak and you can bike the road sections (and beach!)  I'm having a lot of fun planning our canoe trip portion and trying to figure out where we can drop our bikes for the last section of trail.  

Planning a thru hike, since I've done it a few times now, is actually a lot of fun for me.  When I first set out onto the AT it was so incredibly overwhelming to plan even my resupply stop at the store, but now that I'm better at estimating my mileage and my appetite I find it almost exciting!  Being able to plan out a trip and know your needs is a great feeling.  

Have you ever planned a distance hike? Did you have to make any changes on the fly? What was your favorite and least favorite part of planning?

 

Hiking in the Rain

I don't know about the weather where you're living, but here in the southeast the late winter and springtime have been full of rain and thunderstorms - a huge difference from the hot and dry weather we were experiencing last year.  With wet weather in the forecast it can be very tempting to cancel your much-anticipated hiking trip, but it doesn't have to halt your plans!  In fact, hiking in the rain can be enjoyable if you've got the right gear.  Check out my advice for hitting the trail in the rain and how to enjoy your trip.  

Invest in Some Contractor Bags

A box of contractor clean-up bags will be a wonderful investment for any backpacker.  An unscented bag can be your pack liner.  You simply slide it into your empty pack and load your gear as  you normally would, twisting and tucking the top/extra plastic before closing up your pack.  Pairing this with your pack cover will give you an extra layer of waterproof protection that can stand up to nearly any storm.  It's important to double check that the box is UNSCENTED and heavy duty before leaving home. 

Ditch the Waterproof Shoes

While this seems counter productive, I promise there's good advice here.  Imagine you're wearing shorts and a Gortex hiking boot during a summer hike when a rainstorm breaks out.  You've got your pack covered and your poncho or rain gear on.  The rain will then run down your poncho or down your legs and directly inside of your boot.  Even if the rain stops and you get a chance at camp to dry out your shoes, shoes that are waterproof will not only keep water from streams from getting inside, but it will also stop the condensation or water that got inside your boots from drying out.  Consider going with a lightweight, breathable boot or, better yet, go ahead and make the switch to a pair of trail runners.  Even if your feet get wet during the day, you can easily dry a pair of trail runners in dry conditions or even just from your own body heat.  

Test Your Gear 

If you haven't taken your gear out in the rain in a while, I highly recommend you check your gear at home first.  That tent that hasn't been out in a year may not be as waterproofed as you remember.  Set up your gear outdoors and spray it down with a garden hose.  Inspect your gear for any seams that aren't sealed or any holes/leaks.  Avoiding a surprise during that late-night thunderstorm could make all the difference in your trip. 

Have The Right Equipment

While this one seems like a no-brainer, there are still things you can do to protect your gear inside your pack.  Invest in some waterproof stuff sacks for your sleeping bag and your clothes.  If you know your trip is expecting rain, make sure to bring an extra dry set of clothes to help avoid hypothermic conditions (because, yes, people can get hypothermia any time of year!).  By lining your pack you're definitely helping keep clothes and sleeping equipment dry, but by adding protection and using a waterproof bag in addition to your pack cover you can be sure your camp clothes will be dry and keep you warm. Remember - hikers always say there is no such thing as bad weather, just gear that can't handle the weather!

Learn Lightning Safety

Thunderstorms are definitely a natural part of the weather system in many parts of the country and being prepared for lightning can not only be informative, it can help you stay safe.  Know the warning signs of an impeding afternoon storm and limit your time above tree line in the summer months. Consider taking a Wilderness First Aid or First Responder course and learn the Lightening Ready protocols.  Learning Lightening Ready Stance can greatly reduce your risk of being struck by lightening in the backcountry. 

 Lightning Ready Stance can be taught by many different courses - learn the proper techniques!

Lightning Ready Stance can be taught by many different courses - learn the proper techniques!

HAVE FUN With It!

While walking for miles in a downpour doesn't always sound like fun, it can definitely be fun.  Play in the puddles, sing a song, or just power through the miles with a smile on your face.  A positive attitude can make all the difference, especially if you're hiking with a group. 

Have you ever had to hike or backpack in the rain? How did you keep your trip enjoyable despite the weather? 

Backpacking 101

If you've been thinking about jumping into the sport of backpacking chances are you've done quite a bit of research on gear to buy or rent; however, this isn't always the case.  As someone who works as a guide and has done a number of distance hikes I can tell you while many people are doing the research there are still huge numbers of people who do absolutely no research at all.  Don't let your first trip take you by surprise!  Here are some common beginner mistakes a lot of people make on their first few backpacking trips and some tips for how to avoid making them. 

Carrying the Wrong Gear

We have all seen people out on the trail for the weekend carrying that backpack their dad bought back in 1979.  While the gear manufactured back then was truly built to last, sitting in the basement unused since the 80's means that your gear has a tendency to fall apart the minute you try to put it through the rigors of a backpacking trip.  As a guide, I've repaired numerous pieces of "durable and built to last" backpacking gear out on a trip.  Avoid this happening to you by heading to an outfitter and buying a new pack, getting fitted properly and learning how to use it.  Can't afford a new pack for the once-a-year trip you're about to take? There are plenty of gear rental companies out there to help you out!  Try looking online for a local place where you're headed into the woods, or check out a website like Get Out Backpacking for ultralight gear rental you can do online.  

Carrying Too Much Gear

Just because you bought it doesn't mean it needs to come out on the trip with you!  While many outdoors aisles have lots of fun and cool-looking outdoor tools you don't necessarily need to bring them on a trip!  Carry a small Swiss Army knife instead of that Leatherman multitool.  Leave the hatchet and saw at home.  A solar charger is useless under most tree canopies.  Cosmetics and deodorants will melt.  A full camp kitchen isn't necessary.  And last, but not least, you aren't going to need a different set of hiking clothes every single day.  By going through your pack and eliminating extra items you'll be able to shave a few pounds off your pack's overall weight.  By carrying less weight you'll decrease your chance for injury and have a more enjoyable trip.  Remember - a pack should never be more than 20% of your total body weight!

Carrying Outdated Gear

Now, I'm not saying that the gear you bought in the late 90's isn't any good any more.  I'm sure it's great!  But, what I am saying is that it might be time to retire that heavy gear to your front country camping stash instead.  Over the last several years backpacking gear has become significantly lighter and more advanced.  While it was common for thru hikers to carry 30-40 pound packs back in the 90's it is no longer necessary for hikers to carry that kind of weight.  By updating your gear piece by piece you'll save yourself quite a few pounds.  One of my favorite switches is a water filtration system.  Commonly weighing a pound or more, the old-fashioned water pumps are no longer necessary with options out on the market today.  Consider switching to a Sawyer Mini or Squeeze system and ditch that Nalgene bottle for a Smartwater bottle and you've saved yourself nearly two pounds and only spent about $20.  

Take More Breaks

As a guide, I teach people not only how to update, replace, or even buy gear properly, I also teach people how to hike properly.  Just because you did a 15-mile hike the last time you went into the woods doesn't necessarily mean you can still do 15 miles without any training time again!  By taking a slower pace and taking a few snack and stretch breaks along the way you'll not only get to camp in one piece, you'll also wake up the next morning with fewer aches and pains.  I recommend taking a 5-minute break every hour to take off your pack and roll out your neck (because looking down at the ground for an hour can really do a number on you) and stretch out your legs.  Snack breaks, even if you're not hungry, can help your body recover before you can even tell that you need to.  Taking small sips of water throughout the day will also go a long way against preventing dehydration.  

These are just a few of many tips I could offer to help make your first (or first in a while) backpacking trip go successfully.  What are some mistakes you made when you first became a backpacker?  What advice would you give someone who wants to try to go out on their own for the first time? 

How to Plan a Thru Hike

Taking on a thru hike can be a daunting task, especially if you're new to distance hiking. Getting ready to head out for a few weeks or months can take a lot of planning, but doesn't have to be stressful.  Check out my tips for planning your thru hike and keep the stress to a minimum!

Decide if You Want to Mail Resupply

Not every trail requires you to plan out and mail yourself a resupply.  If you're looking at doing a trail that is fairly well-established, like the PCT or the AT, and don't require a special diet, you can definitely get away with resupplying in towns.  If you are doing a lesser-known trail or have special dietary needs, you'll want to look more in depth into mailing yourself resupply boxes.  Keep in mind when you're planning your resupply that you might like one meal quite a bit at the beginning of a hike, but after a month or so you might not be so excited to eat it again.  Keep a variety of meals for your resupply and try not to eat the same meal more than once a week if you're going to mail out your own foods.   After you've decided to mail your boxes or resupply on the trail, you can move on to the next step to plan out your drops. 

Look at Your Daily Mileage

The first thing you'll need to do, once deciding on a trail, is checking out the terrain and your daily mileage.  If you're new to backpacking you'll definitely want to keep your mileage below 10 miles per day for the first few days or even first two weeks.  After you've looked at what your abilities will let you hike on the trail, you'll not only have a rough outline of your trip to leave with your friends and family, you'll be able to set up resupplies based on this plan.  Keep in mind that mileage can vary dramatically depending on the season - you never know how many early spring snow storms you'll run into in high elevations!  Keep a buffer zone in there.  

Check Your Bank Account

While a lot of people who aren't yet distance hikers look at a thru hike as a cheap extended vacation, many of us who have been not only distance hikers but also worked in the hostel and hospitality industry can tell you that distance hiking can get expensive!  If you're doing a section hike or traveling far from home for your trail, you'll need to set aside money for shuttles, hostels, hotels, and emergency services (like doctor's visits).  Not only should you have more money set aside than you think you should, it also helps to carry cash and tip your drivers.  Many people who work in the hiking industry are doing it while they're operating at a loss.  Tipping your drivers and hostel owners is always good practice.  

Make Your Reservations and Get Your Permits

Some places you're going to be hiking will require permits or camping reservations.  Hopefully you've done your research before heading out and you know exactly what you need to do to get to your trailhead.  Make sure you call ahead and check with campgrounds and hostels about availability and pricing.  Pricing can vary during the hiking season and by calling ahead and getting a rate and reservation you'll guarantee your pricing.  No one likes a surprise at the beginning or end of their trip.  Some trails require you to get a campfire permit (which are usually free) even if you're using a camping stove, so make sure you've got this as well.  Check and see if bear canister restrictions are in place and always carry the gear required.  By avoiding fines and following trail rules you're helping keep hikers in good standing with rangers and park officials.  

BREATHE and Relax

Know that not everything will always go according to your plan (which is why the emergency funds are so important!)  If you've got a plane to catch you'll have to work harder to stick to a schedule, but it's always a good idea to build in a few buffer days into your trip just in case.  Once you've got all your planning done and you've accepted things won't always go according to your plan, you can relax and count down the days to your trip. 

Planning a thru hike can be a daunting task at the beginning, but once you've got the major details squared away all that's left is to relax and get excited about your trip.  Do you have any tips for planning a major hike or vacation?  Have you ever had a trip not go according to plan? I'd love to hear about it!

 

Sweet Breakfast Rice - Trail Recipe

Breakfast recipes on the trail can be hit or miss for some people.  While some hikers prefer to walk and eat, others prefer waking up with a full breakfast to keep them going in the morning.  Before I became a distance hiker I wasn't much of a breakfast eater.  After I got into my trail routine, however, I quickly realized that if I wanted to have any kind of energy before noon I needed to eat a few times in the morning.  In 2015, when we were setting out to do our thru hikes around the east coast, it was very clear that I'd need to make breakfasts for myself as NoKey definitely falls into the "walk and eat" category of backpackers.  I found myself focusing on flavors I loved and that's where this recipe came from.  

Back in the day, well, back in 2008 when I first started backpacking, there was a brand of commercial foods called Enertia.  They had an amazing breakfast I loved called Cherokee Rice Pudding and it was a sweet breakfast you could eat hot or cold.  I knew when I was setting out to create breakfasts for myself that Cherokee Rice Pudding would need to be recreated.  Sadly, Enertia was bought by Coleman several years ago and the food brand was phased out.  Since I couldn't find the ingredients online I recreated my own special version of Sweet Breakfast Rice. 

Sweet Breakfast Rice (2 servings)

1/2 home dehydrated basmati rice, cooked in vanilla almond milk before drying
1/4 cup dried tropical fruit of your choice (I love to mix it up!)
2 tbsp slivered almonds
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

At home, mix all ingredients together in a small mixing bowl making sure to evenly distribute all flavors.  Split in half amongst two zipper bags and seal. 

On Trail: Add ingredients to your cook pot and bring to a boil.  Let sit until cool enough to eat or until you reach desired texture.  

Breakfast Couscous - Trail Recipe

Breakfast is definitely my favorite meal of the day.  I don't always eat it first thing when I get up, but I can promise I eat a proper breakfast of some kind every single day.  Trying to get in a healthy breakfast while out on the trail can be tough, especially with all the convenient grab and go options out there.  Getting ready for my Tahoe Rim Trail thru hike in 2017 has me prepping lots of easy breakfast options and breakfast couscous is a quick and easy go-to that I enjoy both on the trail and when I need to grab something quick to take with me.  

Breakfast Couscous (2 servings)

1 cup whole wheat couscous
1/3 cup dry coconut milk
2 tbsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 nuts of your choice (slivered almonds are my favorite!)
1/4 dried fruit of choice

At home: Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and stir to combine, paying attention to the brown sugar as it has a tendency to clump.  Once all items are mixed, split into two portions in zip top bags.  Seal. 

On Trail: To eat cold, add cold water to your couscous before going to bed - just enough to cover the couscous by about an inch.  Seal the bag and squish it to mix.  Eat cold in the morning.  If you'd like it hot, add couscous to your cook pot and cover with water, about an inch to an inch and a half over the mixture.  Bring to a boil, remove from heat, stir, and let cool.  

Trail Mac 'N Cheese - Trail Recipe

There are fewer meals hikers love more than Mac 'N Cheese.  When I was thru hiking on the AT, Mac N Cheese night more often than not meant a box of the cheapest stuff at the store without any milk or butter to make it more delicious.  Then, you’d wipe the pot clean with whatever kind of bread you had to clean it up.  Mac 'N Cheese is a fun comfort food, but when you’re making your own meals with nutritional factors in mind a box of the cheapie stuff just won’t do.  Here’s my recipe for Trail Mac that will definitely leave you wanting more!

Trail Mac - 1 serving

1/2 cup macaroni of your choice (does not need to be precooked!)
1/4 cup dehydrated veggies
1/2 tsp dried onion flake
1 tbsp + 1 tsp cheese powder
1 tbsp full fat powdered milk
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp red pepper flake

At home: Add the macaroni, dehydrated veggies, and onion flake into a sandwich size zip top bag.  Add the cheese powder, milk powder, and spices to a smaller snack size zip top bag and mix to combine.  Seal the smaller bag, add to the larger bag, and seal.  

On trail: Add macaroni to your pot and cover with water (just to the tops of the pasta).  Bring to a boil, stirring every few minutes to avoid sticking.  Cook pasta to desired level of doneness and stir in the contents of your spice/cheese packet.  Let meal sit, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens.  

Hawaiian Rice - Trail Recipe

Since NoKey and I are getting ready to tackle another thru hike in 2017 I thought I'd start sharing some recipes with my readers.  A few years ago, when we took off to do a series of smaller thru hikes, I decided to attempt home dehydrating all our meals for a few reasons. Home dehydrated meals are economical and a lot more healthy than just eating a few of the same Lipton Sides over and over again.  It keeps your tastebuds and your wallet happy!

One of our favorite recipes a few years back turned out to be Hawaiian Rice.  This also was the first meal we ever ate out on the Benton MacKaye Trail.  I wanted to eat it first because I was entirely convinced I'd hate it.  This one, however, became an instant hit!  Every time we'd see it in our resupply boxes we'd do a happy dance.  Check out my recipe for Hawaiian Rice below!

Hawaiian Rice (1 Serving)

1/2 cup home dehydrated brown rice (cooked in veggie stock)
2 tbsp home dehydrated pineapple
1 tbsp home dehydrated bell pepper (broiled and blackend before dehydrating)
1 tbsp dried onion flake
1 tbsp unsweetened flaked coconut
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
2 tbsp bacon bits or ham-flavored TVP
1/2 tsp ham base

At home:
Add the rice, pineapple, bell pepper, onion flake, coconut, salt, and ginger into a sandwich size zipper bag and mix well.  Add the bacon bits/TVP and ham base to a snack size zipper bag and mix well; seal the bag.  Add the small zipper bag into the larger bag and seal shut.  

On trail: 
Separate the two bags.  Add the contents of the large bag to your cook pot and cover with water - you are just covering the ingredients here, no need to measure.  Stir and then bring to a boil.  Stir and then remove from the heat.  Add the contents of the smaller bag and stir again.  Let meal sit for 5-10 minutes until it reaches your desired thickness and consistency and enjoy!

This recipe was adapted from Chef Glenn's Hawaiian Shrimp and Rice.  I cannot recommend his website enough if you're looking to learn how to make your own backpacking meals!

Have you made your own dehydrated meals before? How did it go? 

Dehydrator 101

After my big thru hiking announcement last week I've decided to share some of my favorite backpacking recipes with you guys; however, it occurred to me that while I'm whipping up a lot of these recipes like it's no big deal you might not feel that way too!  In fact, it took me a while to perfect my methods for dehydrating tasty meals.  Once you finally start to master techniques to make your food taste better, dehydrating your own backpacking meals is an easy "set it and forget it" option that not only can provide you better nutrition, but can also save you money on resupplies in tough areas.  Here's my quick and dirty guide to dehydrators - both purchasing and techniques to help you make your best backpacking meals.  

The Purchase

Buying a dehydrator is going to be an investment.  In fact, I'd look at it the way you look at purchasing a major kitchen appliance.  After doing plenty of research about what I'd like to use to make an entire season's worth of hiking meals I chose a 5-Tray Excalibur system with a thermostat.  The thing about dehydrating backpacking meals is that you aren't throwing them all in at one time.  First, you're dehydrating the mixed vegetables for a few days. Then maybe you're doing rice for a few days.  Then, you might be doing a few batches of sweet-flavored rice. You do everything in parts before assembling the meals.  Having a fan and a thermostat will help ensure you're dehydrating fruits and veggies at optimal temperatures to keep nasty bacteria at bay.  Meat, fruit, veggies - they all have optimal temps for pulling out moisture.  The thermostat will definitely make sure you're drying your food at the safest temperatures.  

While there are cheaper countertop models of dehydrators available, I definitely recommend going with a model with a fan for air circulation.  The round tray systems need constant babysitting to move the trays.  If you don't do this in a fan-less model, you'll have leather-like layers closer to the heat source whereas your top layers might not even be halfway dry.  You can definitely do months' worth of food on one of these budget models, but be sure you have the time to dedicate to rearranging the trays.  

Finally, you'll need a set of fruit leather trays for your dehydrator.  You can again go the budget option and use parchment paper.  I went with the generic fruit leather reusable inserts on Amazon.  I've reused them countless times for the past three years and they don't hold flavors and just need a quick rinse.  I highly recommend them.  Aren't planning on making fruit roll-ups?  That's fine - neither did I!  But, you'll need these guys to dry sauces, veggie paste, even condiments you'll want to dry to make them more potent.  Trust me, you WANT these tray inserts!

Techniques

So you've purchased your dehydrator and you've found a couple of recipes you want to try out.  Maybe you want to try and recreate one of your favorite pasta sides at a fraction of the price you'd pay for them over the period of a distance hike.  Either way, it's time to start dehydrating.

Rice

Let's say your recipe calls for you to use your own dehydrated rice for a savory recipe.  Instead of just making plain rice like you'd make at home, I highly recommend seasoning the rice before you get it into your dehydrator.  If you're making a savory dish, I recommend cooking your rice in chicken, beef, or vegetable stock and salting it slightly heavier than you would eat at home for a normal meal.  On trail, you'll wish it had more salt!  After the rice cooks, cool it to room temperature before dehydrating.  Making a sweet rice - maybe for a pudding or breakfast treat?  Try cooking it with vanilla almond milk instead of water!  When it comes time to dehydrate your rice, spread it out thinly and try to avoid clumps of rice.  Clumps will hold more moisture and take longer to dehydrate.  If you're home while it's dehydrating, go out and break up the chunks of rice every so often to help it dry out faster.  

Vegetables

Not all frozen veggie mixes are created equally!  My favorite store, Aldi, has mixed veggies in a bag as cheap as $0.95!  However, their mixed veggies aren't all the same size and, in fact, the carrots are in rounds that are easily four times the size as the other vegetables.  This doesn't make for fast dehydrating OR rehydrating!  On the flip side of this, Wegmans makes a great mixed veggie blend with the exception of the lima beans.  Lima beans are another rehydration nightmare.  I don't care how long you soak or boil lima beans - they never seem to fully rehydrate properly.  When you're looking for mixed vegetables to dehydrate for additions to your meals, I highly recommend looking at the contents and shapes of the veggies in the bag.  BJ's Wholesale has great 4-lb bags that require minimal changes.  The only thing I did to these was cutting the green beans in half to make everything the same size.  When it comes to vegetables, uniform size is key to getting them dehydrated and rehydrated at the same times.  Trust me, there are few things sadder than being hungry on trail and crunching into half-rehydrated corn when the rest of your meal is ready!

Something I did for our meals a few years ago was broiling and blackening bell peppers before dehydrating.  This little something extra really made the flavors taste even more homemade despite being in the backcountry.  My most important tip is to NOT mix different veggies in your dehydrator at the same time if you can help it - especially strong-smelling veggies.  If you want to do a tray of red onions, put them in by themselves or else all your food will taste like onion!

 I actually have EIGHT POUNDS of veggies in that second photo. They don't amount to much!

I actually have EIGHT POUNDS of veggies in that second photo. They don't amount to much!

Meat

Meat is a tricky, tricky thing to home dehydrate.  If you're doing beef or ground turkey you'll quickly become familiar with the term "gravel".  The reason?  Ground meat basically has the texture of gravel when you do it right.  Buying meat is the critical first step and you've got to do it right.  If you're set on using ground beef, you'll need to buy the leanest possible cut you can find (less than 90%, and 95% lean is more ideal).  Since buying meat this lean is often expensive, I chose to go with lean turkey as my meat choice.  We bought 99% lean white ground turkey.  Now, cooking the meat is also tricky because you'll have to do it low, slow, and as dry as possible.  No oils at all can be added to the pan, as every bit of oil can go rancid in packaging.  Adding dried breadcrumbs to your meat to soak up the oil is a great step you can take during the browning process.  After cooking the meat to well done, you'll need to sop up any oil that happened to cook out before breaking it up to place in your dehydrator.  Like rice, meat has a tendency to clump, so you'll need to break up the clusters every once in a while. Once your meat is completely dehydrated, I highly recommend vacuum sealing each portion to keep it fresh, just in case.  

Fruit

Like veggies, uniformity is key with fruit.  Having all your pieces roughly the same size will save you time on both ends of the dehydrating and rehydrating process.  One tricky element to dehydrating fruit, however, is browning.  Apples and bananas both tend to brown when they're exposed to oxygen for a period of time.  I solved this problem by brushing easily browning fruits with lemon juice on both sides before putting them on trays in my dehydrator.  I liked seasoning my fruit as well.  A sprinkle of ginger and cinnamon on apple slices comes out delicious!

 Me with my bounty - an entire summer's worth of meals for two hungry hikers. 

Me with my bounty - an entire summer's worth of meals for two hungry hikers. 

Just like with any good recipe, mastering skills with a dehydrator will take time and a few errors will happen as well.  It's all part of the journey!  Have you experimented with dehydrating meals?  What is your favorite backcountry meal? 

Taking Your Dog on a Long Hike - Things to Consider Before Packing Up

Lots of us have four-legged companions who love to spend time with us.  For hikers, it's only natural to want to bring your pup out onto the trails with you.  In fact, more and more people are taking their dogs on long hikes every year.  Dogs, however, are just like humans when it comes to taking long hikes in the woods - it's not for everyone!  Not all dogs are equipped to handle the rigors of distance hiking or long, extended weekends in the woods.  If you've considered taking your dog out for their first long hike, here is a list of things to consider before buying the gear and taking the leap. 

Hiking_With_Dog

Regulations

First of all, make sure where you are going is DOG FRIENDLY!  Not all places will allow dogs on trails - most US National Parks are not dog friendly!  And also, don't be that guy who gets fake permits to say your dog is a service dog just to bring them hiking with you.  We all know someone who does it and it's not only illegal, it also gives hikers a bad name.  Plan a trip someplace where dogs are welcome. 

Gear

People need backpacks that fit properly and this is no different for your pup!  While there are several commercial brands out there - Ruffwear, Mountain Smith, there are also some customizable dog packs available as well.  Groundbird Gear makes many types of customizable packs for dogs as well.  Knowing the proper sizing is key to making sure your dog stays happy and doesn't carry to much weight for his or her body on trail.  Not only should you consider a backpack for your dog, you should also consider sleeping conditions.  Will your dog be more comfortable on a sleeping pad or wrapped up in a sleeping bag for cooler nights?  Does your dog have sensitive feet and will he need to wear boots?  Where you're going may also have leash requirements.  Even if your dog is well-trained off leash you may be required to keep him or her on a leash of a certain length the whole time you're hiking.  Again, requirements are in place for a REASON!  Don't be that guy and claim your dog is well-trained and the rules don't apply to you.  

Mileage and Training

Just like people, dogs need to build up their mileage gradually as well!  While dogs are commonly thought of to be strong runners and able to carry on for long distances, that doesn't always tend to be the case.  If you're taking your first backpacking trip with your furry friend, it's a great idea to treat it like you're taking out a complete beginner.  Try to limit hikes to the 5-8 mile range per day for your first trip out.  If you're a super awesome pet parent, you should train your dog for hiking much like the way you began training to do longer hikes - and if you need some ideas for training, see my post about training for a long-distance hike here!  Since my dog, Gracie, is getting older and can't quite do the mileage she used to anymore, we spend a week or so leading up to the hike by practicing with her backpack and gradually add a little weight to it to reintroduce her to backpacking.  

The Happiness Factor

Does your dog actually like hiking? Sure, most dogs love taking walks and might even enjoy an hour or two out on the trails during the day, but how does your dog sleep at night in the woods?  If you're planning to keep your dog in your tent with you at night do you know how he or she sleeps in one?  Is your dog hypersensitive to sounds at night?  Is he a natural guardian and feel the need to protect you all night?  If your dog is suffering from lack of sleep at night it can hinder their performance during the day, just like a person!  This is why I recommend short mileage days and limited nights in the woods when training with your dog.  Chances are you're an amazing pet parent and your dog loves you and would do anything to make you happy - including packing up and taking a hike of any distance for you.  If your dog isn't cut out for longer mileage days they may not eat well or sleep well in the woods but will hike as many miles as you ask of him.  Watching for change in mood or normal behavior is incredibly important for backpacking with a dog!  Dogs cannot speak to us.  They can't tell us when they're hurting or when they don't feel well and it is up to us to determine if they're suffering.  

The decision to take a long hiking trip with a dog is an incredibly personal one.  While I love my dog and know she loves to go hiking, I know that backpacking long distances day after day is definitely not for her and that is okay.  I was broken hearted missing her during all my thru hikes, but in the end I know leaving her at home was for the best - best for her health and well-being!  While I have seen many people backpacking or even thru hiking with dogs, at some point your dog's body will begin to break down just like yours will.  It is so critically important to be in tune with how your pup is feeling to ensure they're still happy and having fun. 

Do you take your dog backpacking or trail running?  Are you someone who once backpacked with a dog but maybe can no longer take your four-legged friend with you?  I'd love to hear how you feel about it!  Leave me a comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

Hiking with Kids in the Smokies

Recently I was asked on social media for some recommendations for hikes in the Smokies with children - on trails that weren't terribly busy.  This is a really great question and, as a National Parks Ambassador, it's something I've learned a little bit about.  If you live near, or are planning a visit to, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park soon, here are a few recommendations for some shorter hikes that the kids can really enjoy! 

Stroller-friendly Trails

If you've got littles who aren't quite up to walking trails on their own yet and you will need a stroller, we have a few options for you here in the park.  

-The nature trail behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center.  This 0.7 mile round trip hike on a groomed gravel path will have a few bumps and tree roots, but won't be too difficult to tackle with a substantial stroller.  The path will take you out to Cataract Falls and you can follow it back to the visitor center. 

-The Gatlinburg Trail.  Another well-groomed gravel path, you will follow a stream with plenty of opportunity to jump in and cool off on a hot day.  While the advertised mileage of this trail is 2 miles, making for 4 miles out and back, you can take your time and walk slowly from the parking area (located at River Road in Gatlinburg at the last stoplight in town) up to an old homesite just past the bridge over the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. This makes a great turn around spot for families. This is also one of only two trails in the park where you can take a dog with you as well.

-The Oconoluftee River Trail.  This accessible trail is located on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, at the visitor center near Cherokee.  This 3-mile round trip trail walks along the Oconoluftee River through some area that used to be an old farmstead and offers a few opportunities to hop into the river to cool off on a hot day.  This trail is also dog-friendly. 

-Laurel Falls Trail (to the waterfall). About 2.5 miles round trip, this paved trail is wildly popular among tourists.  On weekends, arrive early to ensure a parking spot!  The trail gently goes uphill to the waterfall and offers wildflowers in the late spring and summer.  

-Quiet Walkways.  We have a number of paved and unpaved quiet walkways in the Smokies that are relatively short.  These self-guided nature trails often have interpretive signs, old homesites, flowers, and big trees.  The quiet walkways are often less than 1 mile round trip. 

Hiking with toddlers/Young Children

If you've got kids that can walk on their own without needing much assistance (other than maybe the occasional candy bribe to get them back to the car) I have a few other suggestions for trails, especially if you've got a little one who has energy to burn off!  While any of the above trails would also be great options if you're testing the waters, here are a few other longer walks that might be more challenging. 

- Porter's Creek Trail to the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club Cabin.  This 2-mile round trip hike takes place on an old roadbed, so the walking is mostly level, albeit uphill for the first mile.  You'll pass by a giant rock shortly on your left hand side that I've had kids tell me looks like a big shark tooth.  About half a mile in, it will be evident you are on an old farmstead site - rock walls and building foundations can be seen on the hillside.  About 0.75 miles in you'll get to cross a stream on a footbridge before coming upon a set of stairs leading up to the Owenby Cemetery. Finally, about 1.1 miles in you will follow the signs over to an old cantilever barn known as the John Messer Barn.  You can walk around in the livestock pens and underneath the barn to play before heading back to the old springhouse and Smoky Mountains Hiking Club Cabin.  You will return to your car the way you came up the trail.  This trail is especially popular in the springtime for wildflower sightings!

-Spruce Flats Falls (Tremont).  This 2-mile round trip hike might be a little more challenging for kids, but can definitely be fun!  You'll follow the signs for the Lumber Ridge Trail leaving out of the parking lot for the Tremont Institute.  Shortly thereafter, follow the signs for the falls trail.  You'll climb a steep hill and get pretty views of Thunderhead Mountain on the Appalachian Trail before coming to a unique set of foot log stairs.  You'll head downhill on a steep trail that can be rocky and root-filled before coming up to the falls.  This is also a great place to cool off in the summertime.  Return back to your car the way you came. 

-The Walker Sister Homesite. A 3 mile hike starting at the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse in Metcalf Bottoms, follow the Little Brier Gap Trail approximately 1.4 miles from the gated access road.  You'll follow the gentle old road bed to the site of the Walker Sister home.  These five women lived here in the park until 1964, when the final sister passed away.  The five women lived here when the park service established the park in the 1930s, but at the time the women, all without husbands, were allowed to stay on their land as part of a lifetime lease.  They lived a simple and primitive life in the cabin as it stands today.  The only buildings left as part of the farm are the cabin, springhouse, and corn crib, but it will serve as a neat teaching opportunity to show kids how people lived in these mountains in the early 20th century. 

Kids from around 8 years to young teens

Lots of waterfalls will be listed in this section!  Kids love waterfalls (and hey, adults do too!)  

-Grotto Falls (Trillium Gap Trail).  From the Roaring Creek Motor Nature Trail (which has plenty to see and several opportunities to stop and explore restored homesteads!), you'll find the Grotto Falls Parking area.  From the parking area to the falls and back is approximately 2.25 miles, but this trail is a little more difficult than others I've listed previously.  This waterfall is really neat for photos because you can walk back behind the falls on the trail!  Also, this is the trail the llama train takes up to Mt. LeConte with the clean laundry and food supplies, so you might have a chance to see llamas!

-Abrams Falls.  Approximately 5 miles round trip, this is arguably the most popular family day hike in the park.  Like Laurel Falls, this parking lot fills to the brim on weekends, so make sure you arrive early (On Saturday mornings, the road doesn't open until 10 a.m. as to allow runners, walkers, and  cyclists the chance to enjoy the road without fears of being run over!). This all-day hike follows the wide and challenging Abrams Falls Trail over several small hills before coming up to a sandstone ridge line.  Follow the trail downhill to the falls and take warning - there are signs telling you how dangerous it is to swim near the falls!

-Rainbow Falls. This nearly 6-mile round trip hike is the most difficult of this list and climbs nearly 1500 feet over the course of 3 miles.  Popular nearly every day of the week in summer time, this challenging day hike follows LeConte Creek up the mountain, switching back through rhododendron thickets and climbing uphill the entire way to the waterfall.  When you get to the falls at mile 2.7, be prepared for crowds.  On the positive side, it's downhill all the way back to the car!

These are my trail recommendations for families visiting the Smokies.  I didn't include teenagers on this list as I find many teenagers vary in interests and physical fitness levels.  If you're looking to hike with a teen, you may find some of the hikes listed for older children helpful, especially if you're not used to doing much hiking.  Do you hike with children?  Did I miss any of your favorite family hikes?  Leave me a comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

When Quitting the Trail is Okay - How to Decide to End Your Thru Hike

Here's a true story - I've bailed on a thru hike before.  For those of you who have followed this blog for a while now, you'll know that NoKey and I bailed off the Finger Lakes Trail back in the summer of 2015.  We quit for a few reasons - I got a MRSA infection and a respiratory virus; it rained every single day; parts of the trail were completely underwater, meaning we did a LOT of road walking; the trail conservancy was very rude to us on the phone and didn't offer us any help when were were looking for a place to camp (and the president of the conservancy did call to apologize, but the damage was done); and the biggest reason of all - we weren't having any fun at all. Our thru hike was a failure.  I even wrote a post about how yes, we didn't finish our hike and it failed and why it wasn't a bad thing.  For us, the decision to quit the FLT was the best one and I don't regret it.  In my post last week I talked about reasons why thru hikers will leave the trail.  This week, I want to talk about when leaving the trail is the right decision and how to make the call.

When It's No Longer Worth It

You may have set out to conquer the trail, but now it no longer seems important to you.  Sure, no one said thru hiking would be easy and you get that, but no one said you had to finish the trail as a thru hiker either.  There are many, many different ways to hike a long distance trail and you can complete it (or not!) any way you choose.  When we decided to quit the FLT and take a vacation we had taken quite a few days to talk about our decision.  We had taken a weekend off to avoid more rain.  We hiked out and then I woke up incredibly sick.  We went back home to recover and during the first week after little improvement we decided that the rain would never let up and I probably wouldn't get any better (it took me almost a month to shake the MRSA and respiratory virus).  What is the point of killing ourselves every day if we don't want to be there?  Like I said last week, there are many reasons why you can decide to get off trail. 

When You Don't Care About the Trail Anymore

Hiking the trail can sometimes be like a bad relationship.  It mentally and physically exhausts you, sometimes for weeks on end.  You give yourself to it 100% and you get nothing in return. You've even given up most of your "normal life" to spend time with the trail and it's like the trail doesn't even care!  Now, if this was a relationship with another person chances are you'd be ready to call it quits and break up.  Sure, you might Facebook/Instagram stalk the trail for a while.  Every once in a while you'll feel nostalgic and pull out that picture of the two of you together.  You might even like a photo posted of the trail with it's new hikers.  Time will heal your wounds.  

When You've Tried a Second Time and Feel the Same

So sticking with the bad relationship concept above, maybe you and the trail broke up.  But sometimes exes get back together, right?  Maybe you broke it off with the idea of thru hiking but for whatever reason you two found your way back to each other.  Then, you and the trail fall back into old habits and it turns out the relationship hasn't changed at all; everything is exactly the same.  

The bottom line is this: 

THRU HIKING ISN'T FOR EVERYONE!

And you know what? That's okay.  Nobody said you have to thru hike a trail for it to magically "count".  What's more is that most trail conservancies recognize trail FINISHERS, not trail thru hikers.  Sure, you might be able to order that extra "thru hiker" or "end to ender" rocker patch for your certificate, but at the end of the day being a thru hiker is just a title.  In a world where we place a lot of emphasis on extraordinary achievements, at the end of the day whether you set the fastest know time, slowest time ever, hike a section over 20 years, or hike it all in six months - anyone who has finished a long trail all gets to say they're a completer.  

Maybe you're on the fence about breaking off your thru hike.  For those of you who haven't decided if getting off trail is right for you, here are a few pieces of advice: 

-Take a zero day.  If you're still on the fence, take another.  Maybe take a week off.  Talk it out with other hikers at a hostel.  Make a plan to hike to only the next town and see if your feelings change.  
- Think about how you'd feel if you quit.  Maybe you're thru hiking to prove something to someone (yourself or a loved one).  If the idea of quitting doesn't make you all that upset, it's probably time to call it.  

Have you ever been on the fence about quitting a hike?  Maybe you've spent tons of time planning and dreaming only to have it turn out differently than you'd imagined?  I'd love to hear how you dealt with getting off the trail.  Leave me a comment or find me on Facebook and get the conversation started!

Four Reasons Hikers Thru Hikers Quit (and one that trumps them all!)

It's no secret that most people who set out to thru hike fail.  According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, only 20-30% of people who report starting a thru hike will actually finish. While taking on the task of thru hiking seems glamorous and exciting, after spending several weeks on trail many hikers realize that the romantic idea of doing a long hike isn't always all it's cracked up to be.  This post is going to touch on the four main reasons thru hikers quit, plus one fifth reason that is the most powerful of all. 

Injuries

Many people attempting a thru hike are complete newbies to the world of multi-week backpacking trips - myself included.  For me, I trained for my thru hike and started my hike with bigger hiking days, 15-20 mile days.  Many people do not do this and think that a thru hike is a lot like a day hike.  I mean, a lot of people can do a 15 mile day hike with no problems! They go big too early and end up with a common hiking injury.  Shin splints, sprains, strains, and exhaustion are all very common in many new hikers.  Unfortunately, many hikers don't let their injuries properly heal and end up reinjuring themselves pretty quickly.  This definitely ends a lot of hikes!  (and if you want to know how to avoid injuries, check out a this post I wrote in November 2015!)

Money Issues

Leaving the working world behind for 4-7 months can be expensive!  I've seen estimates of $5000 per person to successfully complete a thru hike and that can be very realistic.  I myself did the trail on $2800, but I didn't need to replace any of my gear or electronics and we often found cheap places to stay instead of zeroing in expensive motels.  Many people we knew who quit the trail north of the Mason-Dixon line quit because they were running short on cash and had pretty much exhausted all other resources for backup cash.  Sure, some hostels offer work for stay and you can resupply a lot out of hiker boxes at post offices or hostels, but that can only get many hikers so far before throwing in the towel.  After taking more than 50 zero days on our AT thru hike, NoKey and I developed a Near-o system on our three 2015 thru hikes of various shorter trails.  The near-o system of hiking into town early in the morning, resupplying and freshening up, staying in the hostel, and hiking out the next day not only saved us money but also gave us the mental boost we needed to keep hiking.  Taking too many zeros can definitely deplete your cash flow!

The Honeymoon is Over

If you think about it, the idea of thru hiking is incredibly romantic!  Just you and your gear, powering through hard miles, rolling into camp for a hot meal and a beautiful sunset at a mountain overlook every night... what's not to love about that?!  Well, as someone who has thru hiked before, I can tell you those kinds of days are few and far between.  Sure, you can still have a great time on days that don't look like that, but for many the repetitive nature of hiking day after day after day just becomes too much.  The trail isn't as fun as they thought it would be.  The work isn't worth the reward.  Quite frankly, thru hiking can be INCREDIBLY BORING a lot of the time.  Many people you meet will ask you all about your "hiking vacation", but I personally find that a thru hike is like a low-paying full time job.  You log 10-16 hours a day of hard work (walking all day long) for mediocre food before collapsing into your sleeping bag.  Make no mistake, thru hiking is definitely not a 6-month vacation!

Family Issues

I left this one for last because it's the one that is often unavoidable.  We can't control what happens at home and an illness or the death of a relative can happen.  Sometimes hikers can bounce back and come back to the trail, but often times those hikers don't stay back on trail. It's also very common to miss your family and friends back at home, especially if a hiker has kids.  Missing out on milestones or big events in a family member or friend's life can be tough. 

And finally, the one that happens that many people don't think about: 

You Find What You're Looking For

Many people decide to take on a thru hike while they're in a transition phase of life - recently graduated school, retirement, being laid off from a job, etc.  You'll find that many trails often have people from all walks of life who are out on the trail trying to discover their next path in life.  In fact, I'd find it fair to say that every single person on the trail is definitely looking for answers to some question they have.  Sometimes you'll find what you're looking for before your trail ends.  This is another reason the quote "it's about the journey, not the destination" is so true and popular among many hikers.  

These are just a few reasons why thru hikers quit the trail before finishing, but I've found them to be the most common!  Be sure to check out my post next week on why quitting the trail isn't a bad thing - and why for some people it can be the right thing to do.  

Have you attempted and quit a thru hike or other major goal in life?  How do you feel about your decision?  I'd love to chat with you about it!  Leave me a comment below or catch me over on the Facebook page to get the conversation started!

Common Hiking Injuries - How to Avoid and Treat Them

Injury prevention and treatment is something anyone participating in any sport will eventually have to deal with.  While many people don't consider hiking to be a sport, it's very easy to draw comparisons between hiking and high impact exercise like running and ultrarunning.  While taking your time to ease into hiking is always a great way to begin, overuse injuries are extremely common in novice and experienced hikers alike.  Here are my tips to avoid and treat common hiking injuries.

Sprains and Strains: 

First, let's understand the difference between a sprain and a strain.  A strain is when you have a pull or tear in a muscle or tendon while a sprain is when you have an overuse injury in a joint that causes damage to a ligament.  Muscle strains in hikers are commonly seen in the hamstrings, while a sprain is more likely found in the ankle.  Regardless of the difference in terminology, prevention and treatment for both are very similar.  

Prevention: Begin your mornings by hiking a slower pace, giving your body plenty of time to warm up.  I always recommend that you take a minute to stretch your ankles by writing your full in name in cursive with each foot about 15 minutes into your hike.  Stretching out your quads and hamstrings is also helpful.  This is easy to do by making a "figure 4", balancing one leg just above the knee of the opposite leg and bending at the waist.  Bend only as far as needed before you begin to feel a slight pull in your hip.  

Treatment: For an ankle sprain, stop and sit down.  Remove your shoe and take a look.  If it is beginning to swell, it's time to take action.  While in the real world we would recommend the RICE method (Rest, ice, compression, elevation), on trail it's important to rest, elevate, and compress - in that order.  Since not everyone has an Ace bandage on them, rest and elevation for 30-45 minutes after the injury can significantly help.  If you're having pain, ibuprofen (Vitamin I as many hikers call it) can also be helpful for both the pain and the swelling.  I also recommend sleeping with your feet elevated the night of your injury.  Just use your pack to keep your feet off the ground.  Take a zero day if you're in a lot of pain and give your body time to heal. 

Shin Splints:

Shin splints are the most common overuse injury I've ever seen on trail - and I've seen a ton of them.  I'm also very prone to them myself and often get them during race training as a runner. Signs and symptoms of shin splints can include tenderness, soreness, and pain in the lower leg, which may or may not be accompanied by localized swelling.  Lower leg pain when walking is the most common complaint.  Unfortunately, if not treated, shin splints can lead to another nasty injury called a stress fracture!

Prevention: Wearing properly fitted shoes with insoles is the best thing you can do to help prevent shin splints.  For hikers who prefer a lightweight trail shoe, I highly recommend going to a RUNNING store, not a hiking store, to be properly fitted.  Many running stores are trained to analyze your gait and see what insoles and shoes would be best for you.  If you want a heavier hiking boot, go to an outfitter and be properly fitted.  Since shin splints are an overuse injury, I recommend taking your first days out on the trail a little slower and doing fewer miles to ease your body into carrying a heavy pack and doing long days. 

Treatment: When you're out on trail a few days from town, treatment options are limited. As a long-distance hiker, I always carry leukotape with me and it's invaluable! NoKey and I call this human duct tape - it can work as K-tape in a pinch and also stays stuck to skin that is dirty and grimy for weeks on end (seriously, I had it on my feet for 17 days of straight rain on the Finger Lakes Trail and I still had to rip it off!)  Learn how to tape a shin splint by watching a YouTube tutorial.  This will help you tremendously in getting to town.  Once in town, unfortunately a few zero days will be in order.  That handy RICE method I mentioned above is your best bet for treating a shin splint, along with an NSAID (nonsteroidal antiinflammatory) like ibuprofen or naproxen (Aleve).  Shin splints can take a long time to heal, so being patient is key. 

Blisters:

Ahhh, blisters.  Everyone I know has had more than a few blisters in their lifetime and ways to treat and prevent blisters can vary from person to person.  The advice I'm listing below is the method I was taught at my recent Wilderness First Responder program last month and is on point with how I've treated blisters for a few years. 

Prevention: Since everyone's feet are different, I highly recommend you find works best for you in terms of prevention.  For all hikers, I highly recommend a wool sock and properly fitting shoes that can breathe.  Gortex is not your friend on long hikes because it can actually keep moisture from sweat inside your shoes.  Some hikers who get blisters between the toes find that Injini toe socks can be helpful to alleviate their toes rubbing together.  If you get blisters on the tips of your toes, chances are you need a larger shoe size. 

Treatment: Again, everyone treats blisters differently.  For me, I use a sterilized safety pin (sterilized with an alcohol pad) and pop the blister from the bottom, going underneath the healthy skin before the blister starts.  Gravity will clear the fluid from the blister.  Do not apply any ointment inside the blister and leave the "blanket" in place.  Cut a donut-style hole with moleskin and apply it around the blister.  Secure in place with leukotape.  Make sure to change this every night before going to bed to allow the wound to breathe and heal. If you feel like infection is imminent, you can place triple antibiotic ointment around the outside of the blister, but avoid putting it in the actual wound. 

Muscle Cramps: 

We've all been woken up in the middle of the night with a Charlie Horse pain in our calf muscles.  When you're out on the trail and you don't hike much, it's common to have some muscle aches and pains, pop a few ibuprofen, and continue on your way.  

Prevention: Dehydration is very common not only in long-distance hiking, but also in America in general.   In fact, it's estimated that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated and probably don't even know it!  Muscle cramping on trail is usually due to the fact that you aren't drinking enough water, which sounds like a simple fix, right? I highly recommend using a Gatorate powder or Nuun electrolyte tab in your water you drink with your camp dinner at night before you go to bed.  Not only do they taste like something other than water, they will help replace the vital electrolytes you lost during your hours of hiking during the day.  

Treatment: Just like with the prevention, treatment for muscle cramps means eliminating dehydration.  Unfortunately, just chugging a bunch of water after you cramp up isn't going to help much.  This rehydrating process can take a day or two, so be patient.  I highly recommend drinking an electrolyte drink with each meal for a few days after the cramping began.  Also, drinking more water is important.  Try to remember to take a sip each time you stop to take a photo or talk to a hiker.  

Chaffing: 

No matter if it's your first long-distance hiker or your fiftieth, you're going to chafe when you least expect it.  Whether it's on your thighs, low back, or even shoulders, chafe is definitely irritating and can be prevented and cured while hiking. 

Prevention: A lot of hikers quickly discover Body Glide is their friend!  Simply apply to wherever you've got friction and it will help.  I also highly recommend marino wool undergarments.  I'm a huge fan of Smartwool bras and underwear to prevent chaffing.  

Treatment:  NoKey and I are huge fans of something called Boudreaux's Butt Paste.  It's essentially a zinc cream for treating diaper rash and that's pretty much what chaffing is.  We apply a thick layer of this to wherever is starting to chafe and it will not only soothe the pain, it will help heal the rash.  Also, prerinsing your hiking clothes with you in the shower before doing your laundry will help cut down on the recurrence of chaffing.  If you've been wearing the same shirt for months on end and washing it only 2-3 times a month, doing a prerinse will definitely help cut out some salt crystals.  

I'm NOT a physician and what you're reading here isn't considered diagnosis or treatment for your specific injuries - ask a doctor what is best for your specific injuries after you get back to civilization!  

These are only a few of the common injuries I have treated on both myself and other hikers.  Do you have any trail injury stories?  I'd love to chat with you about what you would do differently.  Leave me a comment or head over to the Facebook page to join in!

How to Pack Your Backpack

While each of us have different gear, the packing process for our packs will generally be the same.  In this post, I'll give you some pointers for making your pack fit the best while distributing the weight properly.  

THE BOTTOM

In the very bottom of your pack should be your tent and sleeping system, or the bulk of your gear.  While I'm on a long-distance hike, if my tent is dry I won't even bother stuffing it into a bag.  I just make it as flat as possible and put it across the bottom of my pack, followed on top by the stuff sack.  On top of this, my sleeping bag and sleeping pad will go in next.  While many people don't use a stuff sack for their sleeping bags either, I am a big fan of keeping these items in their own bags and filling the empty space with clothing and my cook pot.  Since my cook pot is a nesting system, my cup, spork, Swiss Army Knife, stove, lighter, and fuel canister all fit inside.  I usually cram this into an empty space created by the sleeping bag/pad combo.  

THE MIDDLE

The middle of your pack is going to be where the heaviest items go.  I normally take my food bag and lay it horizontally to fill up the entire space across the width of my pack.  If you have any liquid fuel, like Coleman fuel or white gas, make sure your cap is on tightly to prevent spilling on the items below.  Since we're talking about the middle of your pack, this is also technically where your Camelbak or Platypus bladder will go also.  Most packs designed in recent years will have a hydration sleeve running up and down the part of the pack closest to your pack.  Since water is one of the heaviest things you will carry, you definitely want this closer to your core.  Go ahead and put the bladder in while you're adding your food bag. 

THE TOP

After getting all the other items in your pack, the only thing left to go on top is probably a small bag with extra clothes.  If you haven't used them to fill the space in the rest of your backpack, go ahead and put these in a thin layer on top of your pack.  If you don't have an external front pocket, this is a great place to put your rain gear and pack cover for easy access in a rainstorm. 

THE BRAIN

Many backpacks have a lid or a brain.  This is a great place to keep small items you'll be using throughout the day, like a map/compass, guidebook, toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and your first aid kit.  Also, if you're like me and need glasses to see, a great place to store your eyeglass case and vitamins.  

EXTERNAL POCKETS

My backpack has three external pockets - one large one and two small ones, as well as two pockets on the hipbelt.  The hipbelt pockets are good for storing items you'll need throughout the day, such as your Phone/GPS/Camera, Chapstick, and snacks.  The largest pocket is where I'll store bear line and tent poles.  The upper small pocket is for my Sawyer waterfilter and the lower pocket is where I keep an extra water bottle.   If you have a large foam sleeping pad, like a Ridgerest or Z-rest, the lashing loops on the bottom of the pack generally reserved for gear like trekking poles or an ice axe is where you'll attach it to your pack.  

Is this the method you use to pack your bag?  What would you change or do differently with your pack?  Leave me a comment below or head over to the Facebook page to share your opinion!

"But How Can You Afford That?!" - Working Hard to Play Hard

 It might look relaxing, but a TON of hard work went on behind the scenes before doing a hike!

It might look relaxing, but a TON of hard work went on behind the scenes before doing a hike!

The number one question asked to me upon finding out that I enjoy long-distance hiking is "how can you afford to do that?!"  Similarly, "you must be independently wealthy!" is a common followup.  The truth of the matter is if you find your passion, most of the time there is so much behind-the-scenes hard work involved in making your dream a reality that many people often don't see your struggle to reach your goal.  This post is brought to you by hard work, folks!

When I had decided I wanted to attempt a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2012 it was July 2011.  I had a vague notion I'd want to thru hike one day, but I made a firm decision in July and immediately began planning.  When you plan for a long-distance hike there is a lot of research involved and the thing I noticed in many failed thru hike attempts was running out of money. This was back in the days before everyone and their brother ran a GoFundMe.  I knew immediately that if I wanted to up my chances of finishing a 2200-mile hike I would need to prepare financially.  

Saving money has never been hard for me.  I grew up in a family where if we wanted something, we saved up for it.  I bought my own cell phone and plan in the early 2000s from part job after school jobs.  I bought my first laptop computer when I was 17 through the same hard work.  Keep in mind these were the days when laptops were $1500 and cell phone plans were only 200 minutes a month with no text messaging options!  I've always been a saver, so this task wasn't hard for me at all.  Although, as an adult with a home mortgage and a fairly brand new car recently purchased, saving money wasn't as easy as it was in my teenage years! The first thing I would need to do is supplement my income with a second job. 

In 2011 I took a job with a temp agency.  The agency I was with specialized only in medical offices, my area of training.  I worked part time at night from home as my regular job, so that left me free for day shift jobs.  In the medical field I quickly found fairly regular work as a temp from 7:30-5 p.m. and still had time for my regular job.  Some weeks found me working as many as 65 hours, but I was okay with this as all that money from temp work was going into my savings and my trail fund.  By the time I left in 2012 I had expanded my network in the healthcare field and saved some money to thru hike. 

The same methodology applied to my summer 2015 thru hikes.  Although the medical field in Syracuse was much smaller, I had to get more creative.  I worked an early morning shift at FedEx and then worked a normal 8-5 job like any other person.  While doing these shifts I often found myself working 70-hour weeks in the Christmas season, but the result was still the same - I was able to funnel the extra cash into my savings for thru hiking.  For months I was often tired and I wasn't the most social person, but the end result allowed me to take off an entire summer to live my dreams.  I am personally not a fan of the GoFundMe campaigns for people to take the time to do a thru hike.  If you want to take the time off from life to do a hike, you should be willing to work just as hard for it as you would any other dream! Kickstarters, however, are different.  If you're a filmmaker or a writer I find this a viable option for production costs.  I have nothing against people who do use GoFundMe for trips, I have just found it's not something I could see myself doing for a trip I've chosen to do. 

Once again I've found myself back in the real world dreaming of my next adventure.  While my new job as a backpacking guide will help me live out my passion on a smaller scale for the next several months, I know that if I want to get back out and take a season away from my adulting hard work and little free time will be the key.  How did you save for your adventuring?  I'd love to hear some of the methods you use!  Please leave me a comment or connect with me on Facebook!

 

One Summer, Two Hikers, Three Trails, and Not a Single Lipton Side in Sight!

 An entire summer worth of food stretched out all over our spare bedroom!  Everything we will be consuming on our three hikes is here. 

An entire summer worth of food stretched out all over our spare bedroom!  Everything we will be consuming on our three hikes is here. 

I've finished!  A week ahead of schedule I have all of our food dehydrated, packaged, and ready to mail out to a friendly post office near the trail somewhere in the eastern portion of the US.  Thanks to a friendly hiker on Instagram I have also learned that Priority Mail Regional boxes will save me a FORTUNE!  Seriously, go to the USPS website and order your own regional boxes.  They're bigger and, for the BMT if we mail them from my parents house, we're going to save SEVEN BUCKS a box!

So, here's the breakdown of what I've made meal-wise for the summer:
Breakfasts: Sweet potato pudding, rice pudding, pizza grits, breakfast couscous, assorted Poptarts.  I also made a special breakfast drink out of Carnation Instant Breakfast, powdered coconut milk, and instant coffee.
Lunches: Refried bean burritos with salsa, dal with tortillas, sandwich thins with peanut butter/cashew butter or tuna, Poptarts
Dinners: Dal with rice, Hawaiian-style ham and pineapple rice, "soul food" with brown rice and blackeyed peas, mushroom stroganoff with egg noodles, mac & cheese, sloppy joes, Thai-style ramen. 
Snacks: Picky Bars, candy bars, trail mixes, dehydrated apple chips

We'll have enough dinners to get through the trail and we'll need to supplement still with the tuna packets and the peanut butters.  I don't have either of those meals planned for the BMT though, so the shopping for the tuna can wait until we're back in NY for the Finger Lakes Trail. I'm hoping that our portion sizes for the meals we've chosen work out alright.  The hardest part of planning all this cooking has definitely been the fact that the meal sizes all seemed to vary SO MUCH!  One recipe I made, the dal, called for serving 3 people.  I ended up getting 14 servings out of it with the measurements provided in the recipe!  I ended up with more dinners and less lunches due to these sorts of discrepancies, but hikers are great at adapting and if we end up having to cook lunches - so be it!

I had a few people ask me how expensive it was to do all these meals so here's the price breakdown:  I had budgeted approximately $400 for food and shipping and I'm happy to say that after we ship everything I will be under $400 for the entire summer.  That's for TWO people plus shipping!  For an average AT resupply, I was typically spending $25 to $30 per stop on just myself.  So, if we say that NoKey and I were spending $30 per person on our summer hikes, we'd be spending approximately $480 on food.  This, of course, assumes we'd be able to even get to a decent store on these trails!  The BMT goes through smaller towns than the AT - smaller towns which also see less hiking traffic than the AT and aren't quite resupply friendly.  Most of our options are tiny stores or convenience stores.  Those types of stores don't often carry much and are often insanely expensive.  Since I've done our food, I know we'll have the nutrition we're looking for, as well as the variety to keep us from getting sick of everything we're eating.  I know the Long Trail will have better resupply options on the southern portion so when the lunch/breakfast situations starts to look slim, we can supplement for a regular town resupply for breakfast items.  

I hope you've enjoyed seeing all the food prep I did over the past few weeks.  I'm very excited to get out and get hiking and can't wait to share the journey with you guys.  Happy Trails!

Sloppy Joe's - a tale of a hiker's quest

When you're hiking for a day, a weekend, or even for a month there is one thing every conversation will inevitably turn to - FOOD!  Usually more than once a day we would find ourselves hit with a hardcore craving for food, usually something so impossible to access in the small town resupply stores that the idea of it was absurd.  For NoKey and I in 2012, our food porn was all about Sloppy Joe's.  When we were hiking in Damascus, VA, we did what is called a slackpack.  This is where you leave the majority of your gear in town and take only water and food for the day.  Someone will drop you off and you walk back to your gear.  You can hike out of town, but still come back to town that night.  We did an 18-mile slackpack in 5 hours that day and we hiked back into town, starving of course.  We went to a place in town called Dairy King. The special that evening was Sloppy Joe's with tater tots.  We thought about getting them, but instead we grabbed a burger and a milkshake (blueberry and chocolate peanut butter, respectively) and vowed to go back to Dairy King before we left town the next day for what would undoubtedly be the best meal ever - Sloppy Joe's.  When we left town the next day we discovered it was Sunday.  Sunday's are the WORST DAYS on the AT because it often means all these small businesses are closed.  We fought back tears knowing we had missed our chance for Sloppy Joe's and we talked about them every night for two weeks. 

When we got just south of Waynesboro, VA we had to stop at Dutch Haus, a bed and breakfast/hostel where they would cook lunches and dinners for hikers.  I had the norovirus, meaning I was essentially quarantined in the basement.  It was on this day when I could eat nothing, nor hold it down, that NoKey got not only his two Sloppy Joe's, but also both of mine since I had paid for lunch but could not eat it.  Again, I had missed my chance for Sloppy Joe's.  It was heartbreaking in the mind of a hungry hiker.  The next 1600 miles consisted of the both of us talking about Sloppy Joe's.  We never got them again.  

This story, however, is about to get an incredibly happy ending!  In developing our hiker meals for the summer I came across an article on Chef Glenn's website describing how you can dehydrate your own ground meat.  I had an epiphany: I could make Sloppy Joe's.  We could eat them SEVEN times a piece over the course of the summer!  The food porn that kept us going on our AT thru hike could now become a reality!  While it doesn't look very pretty in the bags, it's going to be incredibly tasty in our stomachs this summer! (Scroll down for recipe!)

 It's not pretty, but it will be tasty!

It's not pretty, but it will be tasty!

The first thing this recipe is going to require is that you cook and dehydrate your meat.  I chose a 93/7 Ground Turkey as fat is a big "no-no" when you're trying to preserve items.  I did 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs mixed with 1 pound of turkey meat before I cooked it.  This helped absorb any remaining fat and kept the meat incredibly dry for the cooking process.  While this isn't really ideal for most conditions, for dehydrating it is a must!  I dehydrated the meat at 145 degrees for 7 hours before it was completely dry.  

For the sauce, you can just use your favorite canned brand or you can make your own.  To dehydrate sauce, spread it in a thin layer over a silicone sheet or a piece of parchment paper on your dehydrator tray.  This dehydrates at 135 degrees for 8-10 hours.  After six hours your sauce should be dry around the edges and gelatinous in the middle.  You will take the sheet it's on, flip it upside down, and peel it off like a fruit roll up, placing directly onto the dehydrator tray.  Let it dry until it's crisp. When it's dry, break it up into smaller pieces and put it in an airtight container until you're ready to package your Sloppy Joe's!

 Sloppy Joe "roll ups."  These might be good all on their own!

Sloppy Joe "roll ups."  These might be good all on their own!

Sprinkles' Sloppy Sammiches - 2 servings
-1 lb dehydrated meat of your choice (using the information above)
-1 can dehydrated Sloppy Joe sauce OR 1 recipe worth of homemade sauce
-2 tsp dried onion flake
-1/2 tsp paprika
-1/2 tsp garlic powder
At home prep: 
+In two vacuum sealer bags, split the meat and the sauce leather evenly into two portions. Add 1 tsp dried onion flake, 1/4 tsp paprika, and 1/4 tsp garlic powder to each bag.  Seal them with the vacuum sealer.  (This step is important with dried meat to keep it from spoiling!  If not using within 1 month, keep it in the fridge). 
Trail Prep:
+Pour the contents of the vacuum sealed bag in your pot and pour over just enough water to coat the contents.  Heat the contents to a boil, turn off the heat, and cover.  Let it sit just enough to hydrate everything thouroughly.  
+Spread mixture evenly between two sandwich rounds and enjoy your trail Sloppy Joe's!

Retesting Gear - Making Sure it All Works!

 Gracie and me in our Tarptent last night. 

Gracie and me in our Tarptent last night. 

Even experienced long-distance hikers need a refresher every once in a while.  Last night, NoKey and I took our trusty Tarptent Double Rainbow out into the yard and set it up for the night.  We bought this tent a year ago and have so far only managed to use it a half-dozen times or so.  Since we could set up both of our one-man tents in our sleep and we haven't had much practice with this one, we thought it might be good to put this one back together to refresh our memories.  Not only were we getting it out to set up, we needed to set up the tent for the fact that it was due to rain last night.  See, when you order a Tarptent you have the option to have Henry Shires seam seal it for you, or you can buy the tent and save yourself a few bucks by making your own waterproofer at home and sealing it yourself.  While I sealed ours about a year ago, we wanted to set it up last night to see how it held up in the rain and see if it needed any touch ups.  With your backpacking gear, it is so important to try it out at home first so you don't get any surprises out on the trail!

Here's how our Double Rainbow held up:

 Nice and dry!  Now we have to wait for the thing to dry out so we can put it away!

Nice and dry!  Now we have to wait for the thing to dry out so we can put it away!

Since I have been so busy at home and haven't had much time to leave the house, let alone go out for a shakedown hike, I haven't put all my gear in my pack yet.  We still have about two weeks before we'll be back down south though, so I still have plenty of time.  The big dehydrator projects are starting to wind down, so expect a "What's in My Pack" post coming later this week!  

Want to make your own seam sealer?  Here's what I used on our Tarptent:
+Approximately 2-3 tablespoons of mineral spirits (found in the paint thinner aisle)
+Approximately 1 tablespoon of GE Silicone II (from the plumbing aisle)
+An empty, clean, resealable wide-mouth jar (we used a recycled salsa jar)
+1-inch wide foam brush (plumbing aisle)
+Paint stick
+Rag or paper towels 

-Stir together the mineral spirits and the silicone until it reaches the consistency of olive oil. Add more of either ingredient to get the desired consistency. 
-Apply the sealer to the outside of the tent while it is set up outdoors.  You need the ventilation for this! Using the foam brush to work the silicone mixture into all exposed seams, applying some pressure as you go.  Work in small sections and use the rag or paper towels to work the excess drips into the seams. 
-Apply to the entire outside seamed area of the tent in small sections, including a logo if your tent has one, as well as any points where guy lines attach or velcro pieces are sewn in.  These places can leak also!  If you want to earn extra life points, paint some horizontal lines across your tent floor to keep your sleeping pad/bag in place while you sleep.  No one likes drifting to the bottom of the tent overnight!
-Allow your tent to dry overnight, until the mixture is not tacky to the touch.  
-Spray your tent with the mist cycle of your garden hose for several minutes to see if the tent leaks.  If you have drips inside, note where they're coming from.  It may be helpful to have a second person spray the tent while you're inside to do this step.  
-If a second coating of the silicone mixture is needed, apply it after the tent is dry using the process above.