So, you mastered the art of the few-hour-long hike, half-day and day-long hikes.
Ready for the next challenge?
What about hiking far? But… really far? Like in… few hundred miles far?
Initially, the task might seem very daunting, no matter if you plan to do it alone or with a friend. How do
I prepare for this? What do I pack? What about food and water? What if I get injured or sick? What if a bear eats me?
Well, make sure you have your last will updated (just kiddin’…).
Preparing for a multi-day through hike requires tons of planning, patience, compromise, grit, experience from shorter hikes, and some imagination. You want to approach it step by step, just like other fitness goals, such as losing weight or becoming more toned overall. Truly, what you really need is water, food and shelter (and a pair of good hiking or trail running shoes)… OK, and some luck, too. But you try to imagine any possible situation that can happen to you, and you need to plan for each and every of them.
First, read about the destination. Get the right maps. Plan if, and if yes, how often, you want to get down from the trail to any hamlet populated by more than one person in a tent. If the hamlet features a food store or a basic gas station, you hit the spot! Some long-distance hikers make their respective lives more complicated on purpose by, say, not resupplying while on the trail. They would carry lots of dry food and nuts for healthy fats to fuel them. On the other hand, some would not mind hitting the local grocery store or a motel room for one night to refresh, or sending packages to the local post office (addressed to themselves) with food and fresh socks, change of clothes and food. The sky is the limit, in terms of how easy or complicated you might make your long hike.
So, once you’ve got the total mileage planned, got the maps and divided the full distance in more manageable day-long chunks, and you have planned for the camping spots (solo by the side of the trail or at designated campgrounds), the packing starts.
First, think of the water: would you have easy access to water? Would you need to filter it or chemically treat it? Plan for that! Take as many water bladders/squeezable bottles as you need to get you through the longest dry part of your trail (and then, possibly, add one bottle more, just in case! I cannot stress how important water is. We all know we can go with no ater for several days before perishing for good, but why do it you ourselves? It is not fun). Plan to carry a water filtration system and/or tablets. Plan which bottle would contain the “dirty”, non-treated water, before the treatment, and which bottles are designated as “clean” (after filtration). Mark them accordingly or use different colors or types of bottles for each stage of treatment (pre- and post-).
Then, think of your backpack – you want your backpack to weight you down as little as possible, and to either be waterproof or come with the waterproof cover. There are quite a few types of ultra-light backpacks out there on the market. I, personally, appreciate the ones which are waterproof, so you do not need to carry the additional rain cover – one thing less. They roll and close with Velcro and two snaps on top of your load, just like a water rafting bag.
I like to have some mesh pockets around my backpack, so I can dry my laundry in the sun and charge my solar panel as I hike. I also appreciate the front pockets, easily accessible ones, where I can keep my map, nuts, energy gels, sunscreen and SPF lip balm, the basics I reach for often.
You want the weight of that backpack and all it will contain as low as possible: on a multi-day trek, each ounce of weight seems to be one pound by the end of the day. Also, the less stuff you have, the easier you will find your possessions in the bowels of your pack.
Here, the fine balance of comfort versus necessity kicks in. Do I really need to have warm food? Do I want to carry the ultra-light stove, matches, and so on – or can I go by with no stove? Do the regulations of the area you are heading to allow you to make a campfire, instead? Or do they require you to carry a bear container? If yes, even the ultra-light container would set you back at under two pounds of weight – and, from experience, it takes some muscle to squeeze the ten-day food and toothpaste supplies into the largest one on the market! If the container is not enough, you might need to get a few Special Op sacks, which promise to be water- and air-proof and won’t let the smell of their contents out. Once you are out of the bear-infested area, you might consider sending the container back to your home address and continuing your hike some two pounds lighter!
You might need (or want?) the basic sleeping pad. An ultra-light tent for one person adds about 1.12lb minimum. Then, the sleeping bag: yes or no? Are you ready to sleep on the pad, in the tent, but with no sleeping bag, in your dawn jacket? Decisions, decisions…
Clothing: go for one of each and rinse daily in a zip lock bag with some water (far away from any water source). I’d only double on the underwear and socks (which, surprise-surprise, were the only two items I truly forgot to take for my recent Tahoe Rim Trail through hike!!!).
Think of the kind of weather you will be hiking in, as well as the elevation. You might be hiking in the middle of the summer in Nevada, but if you do so at nine or ten thousand feet of elevation, you will experience very cold nights and, most likely, will hike over snow caps, small snow fields, bursting and deep streams, and so on. Most likely, there will be even permanent snow that high.
Think how the items you pack might multitask. For example, for my recent long hike, I did not pack a beanie – I took a neck warmer, which I was pulling over my head during especially cold nights. If you plan better than me and take two pairs of socks instead of one, you might want to skip taking the gloves/mittens. One pair of socks on your feet, you can put the other pair on your hands to keep warm.
You might decide to take rain gear or rain/waterproof jacket, at least. I find having the waterproof pants less essential.
Avoid cotton, opt for wool and fast-drying clothes.
Do not forget the first aid kit, Swiss army knife, spork (spoon and fork in one) and a supply of medications you typically take – for the duration of your hike plus one-two days more, just in case.
A good, compact and reliable solar panel might be helpful if you have hard time unplugging from your electronics. Many spots won’t have the service, anyway, but if you can charge your GPS watch and phone to take pictures of your adventure, that can make your day! However, never-ever rely on the electronics to guide you in terms of where you are going. They are not 100% reliable at all. Have the maps, compass and an extremely good sense of orienteering, especially if you head for a remote, barely there single-track with possible snow caps over your trail.
Planning is essential, but even with the most meticulous plan in place, things will surely go wrong or at least get derailed and you will experience surprises and setbacks. So, make sure to have a good sense of humor and see the obstacles arising as something that would make you stronger. Obstacles are out there to be conquered by us. Each time you do so, you feel stronger and more accomplished: the moment when you manage the situation and weeks and months later, when you remember how you can deal with them.
You will be, likely, more uncomfy than ever, you will be hot or cold, wet, delayed, very tired, hungry and thirsty, low on sodium, suffering from blisters, under-caffeinated and a notch scared at night when you hear that bear in the bushes nearby or when an elk jumps out of the forest right in front of you. You will lose some toenails (no worries, they will grow back).
And the sense of accomplishment you will feel each day during your hike, as well as upon completion of your adventure, will be worth all the typical multi-day hike/power packing suffering.
Good luck, good planning and have a time of your life out there!