A Global Rucksack Revolution: Thru-Hiking, Bikepacking, and Traveling 15 Countries with One Rucksack

A Global Rucksack Revolution: Thru-Hiking, Bikepacking, and Traveling 15 Countries with One Rucksack

This is the tale of a global rucksack revolution through 20 months, 15 countries, and 5 continents — all with one Kumo 36 pack and no plans.
3 West Coast Thru-Hikes Under 100 miles to Bring Joy After the Storm

3 West Coast Thru-Hikes Under 100 miles to Bring Joy After the Storm

You don't have to take 4 to 6 months off of work to enjoy the benefits of deep wilderness. Many trails can be fit into a week's worth of vacation. Check out these three West Coast short thru-hikes that are each under 100 miles for your next adventure!

Reflections after Nearly 3,800 Miles Along the Spine of the Rockies

Editor's Note: On April 22, 2019, Andrew Glenn began a thru-hike connecting the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in the United States to the Great Divide Trail (GDT) in Canada for a 3,800-mile traverse along the spine of the Rockies. You can read about the origins of his trip here and his thoughts on hiking the CDT through Colorado during a high snow year here. Below, he shares some of his thoughts after finishing this journey.

The Details of Hiking Nearly 3,800 Miles along the Rockies

Southern Terminus: Crazy Cook, New Mexico (US-Mexico Border) Northern Terminus: Kakwa Lake, British Columbia Mileage: 3,700 - 3,800 mi (3,100 + 700 - alternates)

Start Date: April 22, 2019 CDT End Date/GDT Start Date: August 23, 2019 End Date: September 25, 2019

CDT Zeros: 14 (6 New Mexico, 7 Colorado, 1 Wyoming) GDT Zeros: 1 (Waterton National Park)

National Parks: 7 (Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Glacier, Waterton, Banff, Kootenay, Yoho, Jasper)

Favorite CDT alternate: Titcomb Basin/Knapsack Col, Wyoming Favorite GDT alternate: "Six Pass Alternate," Jasper National Park, Alberta

Favorite CDT trail town: Salida, Colorado Favorite GDT trail town: Jasper, Alberta

Beyond the Terminus of a Rocky Mountain Journey North

"The only way out is North. The only way out is North. The only way out is North," I repeated aloud while ascending Surprise Pass, my final mountain pass of the Great Divide Trail. Thigh-deep snow slowed my pace dramatically, every item in my pack was soaked, and it had been over a week since I'd seen another person. Empty wrappers of my emergency food ration peaked through my hipbelt pocket and acted as a testament to an unforgiving turning of seasons in the truest wilderness I had ever experienced. It was day 156 of 156, and the Divide was as angsty as ever.

Sometime in the peak of exhaustion and fear a few days previously, I picked up the above mantra in an effort to keep the wheels greased. At the time, my options included:

  1. Bushwhacking 3+ days in any direction to a traveled road
  2. Pressing the SOS button on my satellite device
  3. Hiking North

After a quick assessment, I chose the third and made it my only option.

Back near the crest of Surprise Pass, whiteout conditions broke. Wind tamed and powder steadied a bit. A dark slab of Mount Bastille bruised the horizonless white expanse, bringing clarity and orientation. I repeated the simple mantra a final time and felt it slip off my tongue and down the Divide with warmth. For a moment, the thirteen final miles ahead carried more weight than the 3,700+ behind. I was quickly running out of runway, out of North.

Hiking North was a heartstate that revealed itself in acute decisions every day–some subtle (leaving camp, getting up from a break, etc.), while others pretty notable (pushing out from the CDT's southern terminus, continuing through the Colorado's snowpack in May, stepping from the CDT onto the GDT, and passing the GDT's Mount Robson exit in September). Over time, maintaining a continuous northbound footpath was much less about the accomplishment, and more about the value it was bringing to my life. It was a goal that acted as a vehicle to seeing themost inspiring landscapes, loving myself with more care, and learning the spirit of Rocky Mountains via the communities it backdrops.

Nearly two months have passed since completing the #CDTtoGDT at Lake Kakwa, where the North ran out. I'm mourning the end of a beautiful project and embracing the tension of the runout as my northbound mindset lingers through the day-to-day. It reminds me to trust the course. It reminds me of challenges I've overcome, while gently leading me into the lessons to come. It instructs micro-decisions and is fueled by a greater hope.

I've heard it said that our hearts know deeper seasons than our memories. In each mile I hike, this resonates deeper and deeper. The visceral memories are cherished, but the impact of heart is why I hike. It'll feel the warmth of New Mexico's Ventana Mesa truer than my memory, and it'll carry the massive posthole that was Colorado longer than my recollection. I like to think my heart acts with motivations of alpenglow on glaciers and wildflowers opening to the sun. It responds having danced in sunsets and bushwhacked through the Jackpine. This idea gives grace to time and lengthens trail beyond a northbound direction. With this mindset, the runout isn't much of a runout at all.

Bonus: Obviously, Some Notes on Gear!

Okay, my people. Let's talk gear. Because of the seemingly infinite resources for backpacking gear, I'm just going to stick to a few categorical highlights–gear that paved the way to a successful, safe thru-hike.

Pack: Kumo (NM, WY, ID, MT) and Silverback (CO, GDT). The Kumo was an important move when wanting to cruise through miles. It pairs well with sunset dance parties and spontaneous urges to trail run. On the other hand, the Silverback is the adventure partner that pushes you further. Adding skis and boots? Not a problem. Snowshoes and crampons? Easy peasy. 10 days of food? No stress. Needing a security blanket on a very lonely stretch? "Little Spoon" is its middle name.

Shoes: Nike Wildhorse V - Covered 6,600 miles and counting!

Clothes: I freaking hit my mojo in comfy, layerable clothes this trip. An Arc'teryx puffy vest, Melanzana Microgrid fleece, and a Patagonia lightweight long sleeve kept me warm, while my OR Helium II attempted to keep me dry. Hikers, please don't rock the Helium on a long trail if the forecast calls for dicey conditions. Stay safe and consider another jacket!

Kitchen:I cold-soaked the entire CDT and the first few sections of the GDT. In the final weeks, I added an MSR pocketrocket and GSR pot to boil water in messy shoulder-season weather.

Other: I carried a freaking NALGENE from Chama, New Mexico to the end of the GDT and loved it so, so much. 100% recommend. Ttyl, Smartwater. I still love you <3.

November 17, 2019 — Brian Fryer

Warrior Expeditions Uses Outdoor Adventure to Help Veterans “Walk off the War”

"I got out of the military in 2014, and I wasn't sure what I was going to do with my life," Michelle Revoir, a United States Air Force veteran, confessed.

Revoir had spent 11 years as a Videographer and Aerial Combat Broadcaster for the Air Force, which included deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Having grown up in North Carolina, Michelle had always been familiar with the Appalachian Trail and wanted to give hiking it a try. As she was researching the trail, she came across a newly formed organization called Warrior Expeditions. This organization would soon provide her with the direction she searched for during her transition back to civilian life.

warrior expeditions

Warrior Expeditions Connects Veterans with the Power of Nature

As the organization's mission states: "Warrior Expeditions is a veteran nonprofit outdoor therapy program that helps veterans transition from their wartime experiences through long distance outdoor experiences." The organization started in 2012 with a veteran named Sean Gobin, who served for 12 years as an Infantry Rifleman and Armor Officer for the United States Marine Corps. Well, really, it started a little earlier than that–in 1948 to be exact.

Following the devastations of World War II, a soldier named Earl Shaffer told a friend that he was going to "walk off the war." Shaffer, indeed, would become the first person to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. When Gobin returned home to the United States following three combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was Shaffer's footsteps in which he decided to follow. After completing all 2,192 miles of the Appalachian Trail, Gobin strongly believed in the powerful, therapeutic nature of, well–nature. He wanted to share that experience with other veterans. Hence, in 2013, Gobin created the Warrior Hike, Warrior Bike, and Warrior Paddle programs, each designed to help veterans transition back into civilian life.

warrior expeditions

Michelle Revoir Begins Her Warrior Expeditions Journey

After applying and being accepted to the 2015 Warrior Hike program on the Appalachian Trail, Revoir received all of the gear and guidance she needed for the hike ahead. She began her long walk in the woods with a group of fellow veterans. It opened her eyes to resources like VFWs and American Legions, which provided trail support to the veterans along the way and became a point of connection for Revoir and others even after their hike ended.

"I loved my experience so much that I came back the next year to hike with the new year of hikers," Revoir shared. "I was able to give them some insight on how the hike went for me, and just little lessons that you pick up along the way. I really enjoyed that."

Gobin noticed Revoir's commitment to the mission of Warrior Expeditions, and so following her second year of hiking, he asked if she'd prototype the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in North Carolina for him. She enthusiastically agreed and set out on the trail with her brother, a Purple Heart recipient. By the next year, she still wanted more, so she began volunteering with Warrior Expeditions, helping out with both the Appalachian Trail and Mountains-to-Sea Trail participants that year. The year after that, she joined a Warrior Paddle program down the length of the Mississippi River.

warrior expeditions

"When I was finishing the paddle, Sean asked me if I wanted to work for the organization," Revoir remembered. "I thought, well, I'm already spending all my time here anyway. I believe in what they do. I just think it's such a great program, so to be able to work for them was even better."

Today, Revoir is the Director of Development for Warrior Expeditions, which runs 10 trips each year for 40 veterans to find healing in the wilderness. She personally makes sure each veteran has the gear they need, joins them for the first few days to kickoff their trip, and acts as a point of contact should they need anything after that. Leaving their families again for an extended period of time after already having been away on military duty can be hard on some veterans. Revoir's pre-trip support helps veterans work through those upfront challenges to see the larger picture ahead.

Warrior Expeditions is Making an Impact on the Lives of Veterans

Over 2.5 million veterans have returned home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, and the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that over 20% of these veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Warrior Expeditions believes that this is exacerbated by how quickly modern transportation can move a veteran from combat zone back to "regular" life with little time to process that transition. The trail, they believe, allows for that contemplative march home to occur retroactively–complete with camaraderie and community.

warrior expeditions

"One of the biggest things that got me actually wanting to continue with Warrior Expeditions was I watched two of the veterans I initially hiked with change," Revoir explained. "When they started the hike, they were incredibly unsocial. People were actually saying, like, man, those Warrior Hike guys are real assholes! But towards the middle and end of the hike, they were actually hanging out with other hikers, not just veterans, but other hikers. That was huge. They wouldn't even talk to other hikers when we started. And now, one of them was giving group hugs and even hiked naked on Hike Naked Day! In the beginning, we never would have guessed he would've done any of that stuff. It was such a huge change that we saw."

In addition to the anecdotal evidence of how the Warrior programs improve veterans' lives, Warrior Expeditions has partnered with two psychologists, and fellow veterans, from the University of Georgia to measure program effects on the well-being of participating veterans. Each veteran takes a survey before and after their trip with questions covering five measures that assess post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, emotional expression, and psychiatric symptoms.

"Short trips out in the woods are always really good, but having the time to spend eight hours a day on the trail for three to six months is a whole different story," Michelle described. "You really have the time to process everything that you went through. And when that's your only goal–to find where you're sleeping for the night–and when you only have the stuff on your back, it makes life simple. It makes it easier to–for lack of better terms–deal with your crap when you have less distractions."

warrior expeditions

The extended time on the trail to decompress is coupled with support from a licensed clinical psychologist who offers psychoeducational services to Warrior Expeditions veterans at any time during their journey. Once per week, participating veterans also receive strategies based on the framework of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help normalize post-combat reactions and reintegrate back into society. This therapy is a problem-focused and action-oriented approach to help veterans recognize and alter dysfunctional or maladaptive emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

The survey data have shown significant positive changes in veterans following this supported trail journey.

How Warrior Expeditions Supports Veterans Long After the Trail

"We had a woman in her forties who when she started the trail was incredibly closed off–really didn't talk to anybody, was super uncomfortable, cried at the drop of a hat, just had all of these emotions that she couldn't deal with," Revoir reflected. "Within four days of hiking, she had a complete breakdown, and was just like, 'This is what I should have been doing, trying to deal with my stuff. I couldn't do it on my own.' And then she just changed. From that moment, every time I saw her, she was more open and more social and more talkative. It's hard stuff to describe."

warrior expeditions

Talking with Revoir, reading the testimonials of veterans who have participated in a Warrior program, and reviewing the program data paint a heart-warming picture of healing. It all shows the power of nature and long distance adventure in a way that is both extreme and relatable. But, what happens after the trail ends for veterans like the one Revoir described?

Well, for starters, every veteran gets to keep all of the gear they used on the trail–from backpacks and sleeping bags to first aid kits and backpacking spoons.

"If they are suffering, they can take that gear and go back out and kind of get away from regular life again," Revoir explained.

In addition, all alumni of the program are invited to a reunion hike held each Veterans' Day where they can reunite with fellow hikers from their year and also meet some others they may have only been able to follow on social media before. Veterans are also encouraged to reach out to local veterans' groups, such as the VFWs and American Legions that provide support along the way, to establish connections within their hometowns.

The healing and transition veterans need may begin in the wilderness with Warrior Expeditions, but it continues at the end of the trail through the community and new skills veterans receive along the way.

warrior expeditions

Gossamer Gear is proud to support veterans through Warrior Expeditions. Each year, Gossamer Gear donates Cuben Q-Storage Sacks that Revoir uses to organize first aid kits for every veteran in the program. As she shared: "Nothing has ever gone wrong with those bags you guys give us. They're one of the pieces of gear where I know when I give it to the veterans, I'm not going to hear about it miles down the trail."

To support Warrior Expeditions in its life-changing work, make sure to head over to its website to give a donation or find other ways you can volunteer.

And, today, and every day, we thank our veterans for their service and wish them happy trails ahead!

Best Pacific Crest Trail Section Hiking, According to the Experts

Best Pacific Crest Trail Section Hiking, According to the Experts

Our brand ambassadors dish on the best sections of the PCT to start your section hiking journey.
Big Bend 100 Trail Showcases the Best of West Texas

Big Bend 100 Trail Showcases the Best of West Texas

Update December 2020: The Big Bend region of Texas is experiencing unprecedented visitation during a time when resources are stretched thinner than ever. Until further notice, we ask that people refrain from visiting the region or attempting this or any other routes in the area. The Big Bend 100 website and resources referenced in this blog have been disabled by the hosts until it becomes safe to resume visitation.

 

-----------

"From my perspective, the Big Bend 100 are the best 100 miles of backpacking in Texas," shared Ky Harkey who established this new hiking route through West Texas with Anna Claire Eddington. "The route passes through rugged canyon country, mesas overlooking Mexico, hidden waterfalls, pictographs hinting at the region's long human history, and finishes on the stunning South Rim–Texas's pride and joy, and considered a few of the best miles of trail in the entire National Park Service system."

As a proud Texas-based company, Gossamer Gear was thrilled to support Anna Claire and Ky in promoting this long trail tribute to the natural wonders of the Lone Star State.

"This region is where people go to get away from it all," Anna Claire described. "Piecing together a trail in a landscape that has been populated for thousands of years and that is receiving so much media attention, but actually sees very few visitors for its land mass, makes the Big Bend 100 seem far more remote and difficult than other trails like it."

big bend 100

Everything You Need to Know about the Big Bend 100 Trail

Ky's hope is that the Big Bend 100 will eventually be recognized as a National Scenic Trail, and that it can snag the title of "longest thru-hike in Texas" from the current 96-mile Lone Star Trail located north of Houston.

"That title belongs in the Big Bend region," he explained. "At least, until someone out does this route to create a new longest thru-hike in Texas–which I hope they do!"

Anna Claire reflected on the seasonality of the trail and what it can provide outdoor enthusiasts looking to escape the chill, but stay outside, "I think it adds a perfect winter backpacking option to the outdoor community, while also offering access to that elusive remoteness that we're all seeking in the great outdoors."

With some help from Anna Claire and Ky, this post covers everything you need to know about hiking the Big Bend 100 through West Texas.

big bend 100

Establishing the Big Bend 100 Trail

Ky is a sixth generation Texan, born and raised in Austin. He has spent several summers leading backpacking courses with the National Outdoor Leadership School and is currently the Director of Interpretation for Texas State Parks, having visited 91 out of the 95 state parks.

Anna Claire is a Louisiana native who spent her youth camping and hiking with her family. She has been slowly section hiking the Appalachian Trail, is a former National Park Service ranger, and currently works as a travel guide and sustainable tourism expert. In fact, she's starting a sustainability-focused active travel company with her sister that will help make the outdoors more accessible to women, children, and families.

With their shared passion for wilderness and connecting others to the outdoors, Anna Claire and Ky began discussions on establishing the Big Bend 100 back in the fall of 2017.

"While I grew up in Texas, I didn't make it out to Big Bend until about 10 years ago, but I fell in love instantly," Ky reflected. "Since then, I've been all over the Big Bend region paddling on the Rio Grande, canyoneering on the Mesa de Anguila, and leading backpacking trips in the state and national parks. I patrolled the state park during an annual mountain bike festival that used to be held out there, and that's really the experience that planted the seed that the two parks could be connected by a shared trail system. I pitched it to Anna Claire and her instant enthusiasm got me really excited to bring the project to life."

After gathering crucial insight from Texas State Parks staff for the vision of the 50 miles that would cross through the less-traveled backcountry of the state park, Anna Claire and Ky hit the trail in late December 2017, just a few months after deciding to make it happen. They hiked for about 10 days, collecting key information about how others could follow in their footsteps.

How to Hike the Big Bend 100 Trail

You'll find a wealth of knowledge about hiking the Big Bend 100 on its official website, including photos, frequently asked questions, a link to the best topographic maps to carry with you, and a contact form to get in touch with the experts. The website even includes a detailed itinerary for how to complete a 9-day trek on the trail, which covers expected daily mileage, and where to camp and find water.

As you're planning for your trip, here is some key information to keep in mind:

  • The Route: Starting in the northwestern panhandle of Big Bend Ranch State Park, the route travels a 50-mile stretch of the 311,000-acre park. Around the route's halfway point, backpackers will cross through the town of Lajitas to enter the Mesa de Anguila, the westernmost expanse of Big Bend National Park. Once in the national park, the trail travels through rugged–and sometimes off-trail–terrain approaching the Chisos from the West. Navigating through Homer Wilson Ranch and Clue Creek Canyon concludes the trip on the South Rim.
  • Be Prepared: This is a desert environment, so be prepared for dry camping and always check current conditions before hitting the trail.
  • Best Season for Hiking: November through February is the best time to hike the trail. The Chihuahuan Desert can get very hot; in fact, it was 82-degrees Fahrenheit in Big Bend Ranch State Park on New Year's Eve 2017 when Anna Claire and Ky were hiking.
  • State Park Permits: The portion through the state park requires a backcountry permit, which runs $10/night; call (512) 389-8919 for more information and to make reservations.
  • National Park Permits: The portion through the national park requires backpacking permits that must be obtained in-person no more than 24 hours before your trip begins. You'll need to plan to drive/hitch out of your way to get this permit, and then make your way back to the trail.
  • Shuttles: Make sure to plan your shuttle in advance to begin and end the trail. You'll also want to think through your options for getting back to a National Park Service office to get your permit mid-trail.
big bend 100

Anna Claire's best advice for hiking the trail?

"Slow down!" she exclaimed. "No matter how fast your feet move, you're naturally going to get worked by the desert–backsliding in arroyos, hunting for elusive cairns, and getting stuck in patches of trail overgrown with thorns. But, there is some serious magic out there! So, as long as you have enough water, take time to get lost in the side canyons and take a nap against a stone wall. Leaving time to experience whatever Big Bend has to show you is what makes this trail so special. And, how often in life do we really get to slow it all down? This is the perfect place for it."

Your Lightweight Gear List for the Big Bend 100 Trail

"While Anna Claire and I had both guided backpacking trips, and were in good all-around shape, when we left for the trail, I wouldn't say we were 'trail fit," Ky confessed. "We hadn't done much to specifically train for the long days slogging through sandy arroyos and some off-trail terrain. But, with Gossamer Gear's help, we were able to stay nimble on a trail that absolutely tested us. Anna Claire had to convince me to keep going at one point after a brutal day. If our packs had been 10 to 20 pounds heavier, I think I would have thrown in the towel. Additionally, there were a few days we had to carry extra water when we were dry camping, and we could spare the weight because we started light and fast."

Anna Claire shared this sentiment, stressing the importance of keeping light on this challenging, but rewarding trail.

"Staying lightweight is critical to the enjoyment of this trail," she shared. "The less weight you have, the more you're willing to step off the trail and explore the nooks and crannies of the Big Bend. Plus, hiking in arroyos is just a bitch, and the less weight you have, the better your chances of not absolutely hating yourself and your feet at the end of the day!"

big bend 100

So, thinking about hiking the Big Bend 100? We don't blame you. It's awesome. But, let Gossamer Gear help make your trip a little more enjoyable with this lightweight packing list:

  • Backpack: Ky hiked with the Gorilla 40, clocking in at just 30.5 ounces for the medium size. If you're looking for something with a little more volume, try our beloved Mariposa 60. If you want to fully embrace the West Texas ethos, then grab yourself a Ranger 35 from the Gossamer Gear Texas Collection!
  • Shelter: Ky and Anna Claire enjoyed the lightweight protection of Gossamer Gear's The Two tent. If you're looking for more of a "cowboy camping" feel, but still want to have the option of taking cover if you need to, you might want to check out the Twinn Tarp, which, like The Two, can be set up using your trekking poles.
  • Sun Protection: Backpacking in the desert means a lot of exposure. Keep yourself protected by using a hiking umbrella. You should also bring some SPF, and may also want to consider a sun hat and lightweight, breathable, long-sleeve shirts and pants to cover up from the elements.
  • Hydration: Remember that you'll likely need to carry more water than you're used to for this trail. Bring multiple storage options and make sure to check for leaks before hitting the trail. We recommend a 2- or 3-liter Platypus bag and some repurposed plastic water bottles (check out our Smart Water bottle upgrade kit!).
  • Cooking: Remember to pack a lightweight stove system (or, hey, maybe just cook dinner in your pants?!), and you should probably bring along the world's most beloved and badass bamboo backpacking spoon.
  • Food: Anna Claire recommends bringing plenty of salty snacks along with you on the trail, as well as some electrolyte tablets to help with hydration.
  • Navigation and Safety: Of course, don't forget the other accessories you'll need for navigation and safety, such as a compass, your maps, a headlamp, a first aid kit, a knowledge of Leave No Trace badassery.

"Overall, it was just great to see a group of hikers like the Gossamer Gear team believe in this trail from the first mention," Ky reflected. "In addition to gear, they've offered a ton of support to keep the whole project moving forward."

Gossamer Gear is proud to have been able to partner with Anna Claire and Ky in establishing this awesome new West Texas route. We hope our lightweight gear gives you a launching point from which to explore the unique beauty, challenge, and excitement of the Big Bend 100. If you hike this trail, make sure to share your stories with us by tagging @gossamergear and using the hashtag #takelessdomore.

The Magic of Hiking the CDT in Colorado During a High Snow Year

The Magic of Hiking the CDT in Colorado During a High Snow Year

On April 22, 2019, Andrew Glenn began a thru-hike connecting the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in the United States to the Great Divide Trail (GDT) in Canada for a 3,800-mile traverse along the spine of the Rockies. You can read about the origins of his trip here, and stay tuned to the Gossamer Gear blog for more updates from the trail like this one!

As many 2019 Continental Divide Trail thru-hikers can attest, the journey through Colorado began far before we reached its border with New Mexico. The San Juans of southern Colorado were all the talk for hundreds of miles–in fact, perhaps for the entirety of New Mexico. Given the high snow year, fear mongering was real. Some northbounders entertained the idea of becoming southbounders, and, really, nobody had reliable beta for the trail ahead.

high snow

I was optimistically ready to backcountry ski through the snowy conditions, so I built a setup around this idea and called it Plan A. As thru-hikers know, however, Plan A often becomes Plan B, C, or D–especially in a high snow year.

After I finished New Mexico on skis in a gnarly multi-day snowstorm, I quickly realized my setup wasn't right for the conditions. I contemplated flipping to Wyoming, but was pretty set on a northbound thru-hike of the CDT to the GDT. So, I swapped skis for snowshoes (thanks, Craigslist!), and followed a route through Elwood Pass and Creede before jumping back up to the official CDT for what would be the start of weeks of high-alpine light mountaineering.

Through all of this, my newly-acquired Silverback 55 adapted well to the gear swaps, and quickly became my favorite pack I've ever used. Seriously, gang. Don't let the full-frame scare you away. The Silverback is the crème de la crème of packs for a more aggressive thru-hike. (BONUS: It's hipbelt pockets can hold approximately 747,382,862 goldfish!)

high snow

The CDT's high route through the western side of the Collegiate Peaks, boasting fear-inducing passes and ridgelines, have been some of my favorite miles of trail so far. The miles didn't come easy (i.e., post-holing and side-sloping galore), but I understood the challenge as the cost of admission to the surrounding beauty. "Grab your ice axe, snowshoes, and crampons," Colorado said. "Let's have some fun!"

high snow

And so went Colorado, one incredibly aggressive day after another, each requiring a new tenacity and deeper desire to be out there. I was solo for the majority of the state, and grew to understand a new form of positivity, one backed by hope and an energy from time spent outside. Peaks and passes were crossed, alternates and audibles were called, but the footsteps were continuously kept, even through the surprises (like that 22-inch dumping of powder on the summer solstice in Rocky Mountain National Park!).

Looking back, I wouldn't change a single thing about this stretch of my journey so far. Getting to experience the Continential Divide early in the season during a high snow year is a privilege I will never forget.

July 14, 2019 — Brian Fryer
5 Tips for Foraging and Storing Food on a Thru-Hike

5 Tips for Foraging and Storing Food on a Thru-Hike

What thru-hikers eat, and how they eat, can make the difference between making and not making it to the end of the hike. Feeding off the land, in addition to what you bring with you, can lighten the load and make your trek a little easier. Here are five tips for foraging and storing food on a thru-hike.

1. Don't Poison Yourself

foraging and storing food on a thru-hike

Photo Credit

The main thing to remember when you're foraging and storing food on a thru-hike is to be 100% certain a plant, berry, or mushroom is safe before putting it in your mouth. The best short hike nearby and show you how to find edible plants.

If you can't find a seasoned hiker, the next best thing is a book. Look for a field guide specific to the area you're hiking. It should include clear, color pictures of edible wild plants, as well as the dangerous ones. With some plants, you can only eat parts of it, like the flower and leaves, but not the stem. Others, like the deadly nightshade or belladonna (pictured above), are lethal from the berries to the leaves. The berries on these plants are also deceptively sweet. Be sure to pay extra attention to the poisonous plants you'll encounter, so you know what to avoid. The book should also talk about habitat and taste. After all, why eat something foul if there's something tastier available?

2. Know the Water Source

Water quality is crucial when foraging and storing food on a thru-hike. If the water feeding the plant is impure, the plant is likely to be contaminated and can make you sick, especially if you're eating it raw. Many hikers believe spring water is safe, but if the spring is near a polluted city, it may contain contaminated rainwater. Water near large farms may be tainted by pesticides and industrial waste. The best way to be sure is to boil the plant before you eat it. You can also soak the plant in a vinegar-water mixture to kill bacteria before rinsing it with clean water.

foraging and storing food on a thru-hike

Photo Credit

3. Get Permission

The Appalachian Trail is protected along 99% of the route by federal or state governments. The Continental Divide Trail is also on federal or state land, while the Pacific Crest Trail includes 300 miles that pass through private land. These three trails are the ultimate thru-hiking destinations, but some rules come with hiking on government land.

In some states, including New York and New Mexico, it's illegal to remove plants without a permit. On land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, you also need a permit to collect plants or plant materials. There may be certain stipulations, like specific locations where removing plants is a no-no. Some rare plants are also off-limits. The likelihood that you'll need a permit is high, so check before you start your hike.

Overall, do your best not to damage the ecosystem. A good rule of thumb when foraging and storing food on a thru-hike is to take no more than 25% of the plant.

4. Consider Insects

foraging and storing food on a thru-hike

Photo Credit

Plants and berries are often what come to mind when you think of foraging and storing food on a thru-hike. Eating bugs may not be your first choice, but when you're thru-hiking, they're a good source of protein. Know which insects are edible before you go. Grasshoppers, ants, cicadas, and crickets top the list. Stay away from bugs with bright colors, like yellow, red, or orange. Also avoid those with eight legs or more, like spiders, ticks, and centipedes. Make sure you're far from areas that have been sprayed with pesticides before you take that first bite. And while many insects can be eaten raw, frying or roasting them will make it a little less daunting.

5. Store Food Carefully

foraging and storing food on a thru-hike

Of course, you're not going to head off on a thru-hike with no food at all. For all but the most experienced foragers, eating wild plants should supplement what you have, not be your sole source of sustenance. Keep your food in water-resistant, ultralight storage bags to make sure its well-protected.

When camping, put the bags in metal food storage bins if they're provided, so bears can't get to them. Speaking of bear protection, some parks allow you to hang food from trees, but there are specific requirements. In other places, you'll want to use a bear canister. Always check before you start your thru-hike on the rules for food storage. Happy hiking, and bon appétit!

Header Image Photo Credit

The Michinoku Coastal Trail in Japan is the New Long-Distance Hike of Your Dreams

The Michinoku Coastal Trail in Japan is the New Long-Distance Hike of Your Dreams

The Michinoku Coastal Trail is the newest long-distance trail for hikers to add to their destination dream list. This trail, which officially opens on June 9, 2019, is a coastal trail stretching along the breathtaking Pacific coastline of Tohoku–the northern region of Japan. It is about 1,000 kilometers, or 621 miles, long and takes about one and a half to two months to complete the entirety of the trail. It's ideal for hikers looking for a short thru hike with endless beauty and culture.

You can find the latest coastal trail route map here: http://tohoku.env.go.jp/mct/english/top/pdf/route.pdf

Michinoku Coastal Trail

Gossamer Gear Explores the Michinoku Coastal Trail

Grant Sible, President of Gossamer Gear, took his friends from Tokyo for a quick tour of the trail in early April 2019.

Michinoku Coastal Trail

"Hiking along the coastline will most definitely fascinate many hikers from all over the world. While enjoying the hiking itself, hikers will get to see the cultural aspects of Tohoku, too, by stopping at the local fisherman's market for fresh seafood, or at an Izakaya (local pub), and interacting with locals. Local people are very friendly and generally welcoming towards foreigners," Sible describes.

At the same time, it is also important for hikers to keep in mind when interacting with the locals, that many of the villagers still have a vivid memory of the 2011 tsunami. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Tohoku area during this time, and was followed by a tsunami sweeping away most of the small villages along its Pacific coastal region. However, those villages have now mostly been rebuilt, and welcome tourists and hikers from around the world. Visiting the trail and exchanging greetings with the locals will not only be a delight for hikers, but also for the locals. Many never had much thought on hiking culture before building the Michinoku Coastal Trail, but now realize its impact to the region's economy and people.

Michinoku Coastal Trail

What Can You See on the Michinoku Coastal Trail?

Hikers will experience a great variety of sights along the Michinoku Coastal Trail, including beautiful cliffs, rias, and coastline, along with traditional shrines and temples located near the trail.

Michinoku Coastal Trail Michinoku Coastal Trail Michinoku Coastal Trail

There are six visitor centers located along the trail, providing information and resting areas for hikers. Day hikes or section hikes are also a great way to experience the Michinoku Coastal Trail. The trail comes and goes from the coastline to small local villages, providing hikers easy access to public transportation.

Michinoku Coastal Trail

Information on the Michinoku Coastal Trail

Accessing the Tohoku region is easy using bullet trains from Tokyo station, which is connected to Narita International Airport or Haneda International Airport by airport limousine bus. You can find additional maps and more detailed transportation information at the following websites:

Michinoku Coastal Trail

The trail officially opens on June 9, 2019. Throughout the year, hikers can enjoy their walk on the trail. However, the snow season in the northern part of Tohoku starts in December and continues through April.

Hikers will find many accommodations along the trail, varying from campgrounds to luxury hotels. You can find the latest list of trail accommodations here: https://www.michinokutrail.com/accommodation

Michinoku Coastal Trail

At this time, no hiking permit is required for the Michinoku Coastal Trail.

For more information about the Michinoku Coastal Trail, see the contact information below:

Management Office of the Michinoku Coastal Trail NPO Michinoku Trail Club Address: 5-300-31-1 Yuriage, Natori Citiy, Miyagi Prefecture 981-1213 Japan Tel: +81-22-398-6181 Email: info@m-tc.org

Hiking Umbrella: A Must for Sunny, Blue-Sky Days on the Trail

Hiking Umbrella: A Must for Sunny, Blue-Sky Days on the Trail

Mom never said, "Make sure to have an umbrella for sunny days," but after thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with one, I know now a hiking umbrella is a brilliant idea.

Before I left for the PCT in 2017, I inventoried my gear from my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine the previous year. Nearly everything I had on the AT would come with me on the PCT with a few other necessities for record snow pack in the Sierra (i.e. crampons and ice axe).

However, one last-minute addition also joined my journey– Gossamer Gear's LightTrek Hiking Umbrella. And, it ended up being the most unexpected source of joy and relief along my many miles.

hiking umbrella

Discovering the Hiking Umbrella–and quickly buying two!

A few weeks before flying west to California to start hiking north from the trail's southern terminus in Campo, I came across a former PCT thru-hiker's blog with a video that caught my attention. She was hiking through the Southern California desert section–the first 700 miles of the 2,651-mile trail. She hiked with a shiny, silver umbrella. I took note because I hadn't read about or seen any other hikers with an umbrella, especially in the desert where it may sound counter-intuitive. What a practical solution for exposure and strong sun,I thought. Why aren't these on everyone's PCT gear lists?

My fair skin (the tan-challenged sort of Irish and Scottish descent), my planned protection against the sun–a hearty supply of SPF 50 sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and long-sleeved shirt–and the refrain of my mom's friendly insistence–"Laura, you can't afford another big sunburn"–had me considering what I saw. So, I googled: "Silver Umbrella Hiking PCT."

Gossamer Gear claimed the hiking umbrella could reduce temperatures up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit under its canopy. Any human who has spent a hot summer day outside–hiking or not–knows that the difference between 100 and 85 degrees is the difference between hot and unbearably hot.

hiking umbrella

Knowing I had many very hot days ahead on an exposed trail convinced me to order two–one for me and one for my then-boyfriend who would hike the first 250 miles with me. The irony was laughable, as we had hiked all 2,189 miles of the AT without hiking umbrellas, a trail known for being rainy and damp. But, by the end of my first day on the PCT, I was very happy to have a hiking umbrella.

Falling in Love with the Hiking Umbrella

It's mid-May on the PCT, day one of my thru-hike from Mexico to Canada in 2017. By 10am, and five miles in, I'm walking under a perfect bluebird sky. The sun is strong and shining overhead. The desert rock along the trail is absorbing and radiating the sun's heat.

It is bright–really bright. It is dry–really dry. It is hot–really hot.

For an east coast girl who imagined the dry heat would be tolerable compared to the oppressive heat and humidity of my native and humid east coast, I am humbled immediately. My face and arms form a dry film of salt left by sweat robbed of its moisture from instantaneous evaporation in the intense dry air–a happening that will characterize every day in the desert.

hiking umbrella

The intensity of the sun and lack of tree canopy means the rest of the day will only be more intense. This is one of the practical, elementally-aware ways PCT hikers quickly learn to schedule each day's miles in the desert in the early morning or late afternoon. The middle of the day is simply impossible to hike through some days. I sip water sparingly from the hose of my water bladder inside my backpack and ration it judiciously until the next water source in 10 miles.

Time to see what this hiking umbrella can do, I think. I take off my pack, slide the umbrella out of my backpack's side pocket, finagle its foam handle into an elastic strap on my pack's shoulder strap, open the canopy, hoist on my pack, and continue walking.

Holy cow,I exclaim. This is so much better. Thank goodness I have this.The relief under the shade of the hiking umbrella is immediate and just that–relief. I exhale a breath of gratitude for what feels like a small miracle. I smile wider. My head is shaded, my neck, too, even my arms that are shielded by the umbrella's coverage. My very own mobile canopy!

My head cools and my pack, which became a radiator accumulating the sun's rays, is no longer doing so. Everything from the waist up is under the shade and now able to hold onto some of the valuable perspiration on my skin.

With this relief and protection, I am able to think more clearly and less like a survivalist. I notice how the shiny silver of the hiking umbrella is doing its thing–reflecting the sun as opposed to obliging me alone to absorb it. The physical relief I feel mirrors a lighter mindset that comes with it. I am freed from exerting attention or worry to defend against sun. I am reminded of the enormity of this relief when I meet a weekend hiker at a water source convulsing from heat stroke only to be aided by a fellow hiker trained as a nurse.

hiking umbrella

Under my umbrella, I focus on the beauty in front of me. I can be my friendly self with passing hikers and acknowledge the thoughts passing through my mind rather than concern for the strong sun. I look out and enjoy the long horizon ahead of me–the trail winding around the golden California hills of desert chaparral, scrub oak, pines, blonde boulders, poodle dog bushes, and showy purple flowers. The natural spectacle the PCT is known for is a true nature lover's delight, and I am attuned to it.

The shadow of my silhouette on trail reminds me of Mary Poppins. My hiking umbrella, which Gossamer Gear affectionately calls the "chrome dome," sits above my figure bobbing in sync with the cadence of my footsteps. The hilarity of the scene and my shadow force a smile across my face and I start singing one of Poppins' best known songs, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down… the medicine go down… in the most delightful way… "

Progress and Perspective with the Hiking Umbrella

After my first month on the trail, I notice my hiking umbrella keeps me cooler–and perhaps a bit fresher–than fellow hikers without a hiking umbrella. By early June, I'm making progress up the trail, a little over 500 miles in, and it's getting hotter and brighter with each day. It's also happening earlier and longer each day.

Each night, I write in a journal with entries like: "It's a lucky life I am leading out here… Today included gorgeous walking and views… a sunset of mango, strawberry and peach colors and the blackest sky I've ever seen, crowded with stars… in the desert, especially recently, there are days when I feel a little like I'm racing the clock–I wish I didn't have to–to beat the midday sun at its strongest… my umbrella saves me from that and then some each day."

Shade on the trail in the desert is so rare that an infrequent boulder, cedar, or Joshua tree is the only promise for momentary relief. On many midday siestas, I put up my hiking umbrella and curl tightly under it, like a turtle in its shell, with only my feet or calves outstretched from beneath it. Under the umbrella's canopy, my head, neck, and shoulders are cooler, my sweaty (or intentionally water-soaked) clothes stay damper longer, my skin is protected from burning, and the temperature is noticeably cooler. I stay hydrated better, lose less moisture from my head, am able to conserve my scarce supply of water judiciously between sources, and stay stronger longer. Without a doubt, I smile more easily and keep a positive attitude.

In moments when other hikers appear to wilt like a flower without water, I feel blessed with this proverbial "leg up." On the hottest days, I marvel at fellow hikers without a hiking umbrella. It leaves me feeling a little guilty with this advantage. So, I share my love of this special hiking umbrella when anyone asks–and even when they don't.

Around mile 285, north of Big Bear Lake, I camp with another PCT thru-hiker known as "Invisible Man." His trail name is a play on trying to cover his fair skin with a wide cowboy hat and a generous buff covering his entire face and neck–except his eyes for sight and nose to breathe.

"I saw you walking with that umbrella today. Seems smart," he says. "Do you like it, and do you think I could still find one?"

I respond with enthusiasm and evangelism, "Yes! Order one to the next trail town. You won't regret it."

The next time I see him on trail, he, too, is sporting a silver chrome dome over his shoulder. In an unspoken code, we smile at each other. He points at me and then up at his hiking umbrella. He gives a thumbs-up. I smile and know how good he feels under his personal canopy.

Trust Me–The Hiking Umbrella is Worth It

My hiking umbrella became an extension of me on the PCT–an oversized hat, a portable canopy, a companion when I didn't see other humans on trail (including the 36 hours hiking out of Tehachapi during a heat wave with nearby Los Angeles's hottest recorded day in history).

hiking umbrella

When I think back to the PCT and read my journals, there are days when I wonder what might have happened to me without my umbrella. Would I have been ok? Probably. Would I have smiled so much? I hope so. But, I am happy knowing I had a magic hiking umbrella, like Mary Poppins, that made a really big difference.

Heat exhaustion, sunburn, and dehydration are a real risk and occurrence in the desert on the PCT. A piece of gear that can protect a hiker against these things is utilitarian, but also a lesson in using a piece of gear to one's advantage. My umbrella allowed me to ration water more easily, deflect and shield against the sun, reduce overexposure to my skin, keep me stronger longer, and lessen the air temperature from the waist up "… in the most delightful way."

And, most importantly, my hiking umbrella enabled me to stay present for what was around me. I was lucky to be able to enjoy a life outside, walking one of the most well-known and beautiful long-distance trails in the United States. As in the rest of life, being present on trail allows one to experience it fully.

hiking umbrella

I hiked at least 1,900 miles of the 2,651-mile PCT without my hiking umbrella, but for the first 700 in the desert section, it was a crucial piece of gear. Oh, and as a bonus, it is also works for rain or snow–it's an umbrella, afterall!

I will never give up my Lightrek hiking umbrella, but I will let anyone borrow it, which I did for my mom when we took a week-long hike on the Camino de Santiago in 2018. After those six days, she started saying, "How nice to hike with an umbrella on a sunny day!"

April 18, 2019 — Gossamer Gear
Great Divide Trail + Continential Divide Trail: A Challenging Epic Thru-Hike from Mexico into Canada

Great Divide Trail + Continential Divide Trail: A Challenging Epic Thru-Hike from Mexico into Canada

Lead-Up to Connecting the Great Divide Trail with the CDT

On September 19, 2017, I reached the northern terminus of the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail after 3 years of dreaming, 7 months of detailed planning, and 148 unforgettable days of hiking. As many thru-hikers can testify, there are simply no words to describe the experience of a long-distance hike and the gift of celebrating life together.

My first steps off the PCT felt like graduation. The tassel was turned, and the thrill of completing a multi-year project rushed in my veins. Standing at the northern terminus, pride for my trail family ran deep, tears were shed, and it was a cinematic end to a wonderful story. But, dang y'all, I was exhausted. Mentally, physically, and spiritually. It was time. Standing at Monument 78, I told my friend Linnea Otter, "I'm never thru-hiking again." That's it. Doneso. Kapeesh. Sayonara. Adios. Next chapter.

great divide trail

On my flight back to Texas, I flew over Washington's Goat Rocks Wilderness, a PCT highlight, and the oh-shit-I-didn't-expect-theseemotions flushed in. Pride turned into loss and frustration, joy into mourning, exhaustion into an electric hum. I was being taken back to Texas by strangers, having mistaken my eviction as a graduation. Immediately, I knew thru-hiking wasn't leaving my life anytime soon.

Skip forward 9 months to June 2018, and you'd find me back on the summit of Mount Whitney, now with my dad, celebrating our father-son thru-hike of the 210-mile John Muir Trail. This trek affirmed a dream to cover more ground in 2019, with a penciled-in idea of what the project would look like. When 2018 came to a close, the familiar reality of dreams making way to plans set in.

Making Plans for the Great Divide Trail + CDT

On April 22, I'll begin my third long trek, connecting the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in the United States to Canada's Great Divide Trail (GDT) for a 3,800-mile traverse along the spine of the Rockies. Unlike the PCT, my route will cover a few hundred miles of route finding, including a next-level alternate on Wyoming's Wind River High Route.

Long-distance hiking has become a tool to re-sharpen senses and better understand self. It has pressed me to be curious about Creation and its planetary relationship with the Cosmos, while giving me space to strengthen my spirituality and mature my faith. The world of thru-hiking has introduced me to some of my all-time favorite people. Plus, living outside is just freaking rad. It is a joy to get to share the journey.

great divide trail

My good friend and absolute badass hiker woman, Danielle "Giggles" O'Farrell, will also be attempting this route across the Rockies with me. We plan to connect before hitting Wyoming, finishing the back half of the route together. Our hope is to provide beta and backcountry information where there has previously been little, while challenging the limits of what's feasible in a typical northbound hiking season.

The Great Divide Trail + CDT Route

As I mentioned, the route exists through the connection of two scenic pathways, the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and the Great Divide Trail. I'll also be tacking on Wyoming's Wind River High Route (WRHR), but more on that later.

Let's start with the CDT in the United States. The trail is a biggie–it stretches 3,100 miles from the U.S./Mexico border in New Mexico to Montana's border with Alberta, Canada. The CDT boasts world-famous landscapes through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, following the spine of the American Rockies. Alongside the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, it makes up one of the Triple Crown trails of hiking, and is the créme de la créme of backcountry experience.

Spicing things up, my plan is to link the CDT to Canada's Great Divide Trail (GDT). This trail picks up at the northern terminus of the CDT at Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. Banff, Yoho, Jasper, and Lake Kakwa are just a few of the many national parks through which this route passes. Unlike the Pacific Crest or Continental Divide Trails, the Great Divide Trail is a route that requires GPS navigation, bushwacking, and the ability to say "see ya" to any type of trail for hundreds of miles. Rumor has it, the Great Divide Trail offers pretty gnarly terrain and ecology over its 750 miles. Guess we'll see, eh?

great divide trail

So, if you're counting, that's 3,850 miles to cover in the 5-month hiking season between April and September. Calculating this linkage (plus the WRHR) has already brought a beautiful frustration the Rockies are rumored to give.

Frustration aside, I'm stoked for the opportunity to attempt this linkage. I'm optimistic about the road to come, and hopeful it will develop into a project beyond another white male hiker "crushing miles." Similar to my last two major hikes (PCT '17, JMT '18), I have a good feeling about this one.

If [the Great Divide Trail] were tacked onto the northern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT)–as some believe it should be–the combined routes would create, without a doubt, the most eye-popping, jaw-dropping, challenging wilderness trail on Earth.

Backer Magazine

Concerns about the Great Divide Trail + CDT Route

There are fears that I won't like it, or that the pace the linkage demands will take away from things I found most valuable on previous thru-hikes–friendship, stillness, and a pressure off of performance. My brain has been asking itself the same questions, which only leads to a higher level of concern:

  • The CDT is already the "wilder" long trail, so if I'm already to Wyoming in June, will there be any hikers in my area?
  • Will I experience the Wind River Range solo?
  • What if I feel like the Rockies just aren't my jam?
  • Would I sacrifice a healthy mind to achieve a goal if it came to it?
  • Can I really eat ramen and mashed potatoes for another 5 months?
  • Are these miles actually doable?
  • What if I have to take 10 days off unexpectedly?
  • What if I did the Appalachian Trail and the Te Araroa instead?
  • Is it worth it to go through post-trail depression again?
  • What is my motivation for thru-hiking?
  • Am I trying to hike away from something?
  • What if I fail?

Regardless of my concerns, I'm pumped to share the journey with ya–and hope you'll explore some of these questions with me. My desire is to share stories well, stir up some conversation, brain dump, and hopefully make a life outdoors seem a little more close to home. Let's do this!

Details of the Great Divide Trail + CDT Route

Here are some additional details on my journey ahead.

great divide trail

Length

  • Continental Divide Trail: 3,100 miles - New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana
  • Great Divide Trail: 750 miles - Alberta, British Columbia
  • CDT + GDT: 3,850 miles - New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia

Timeline

  • Northbound GCDT start date: April 22, 2019
  • Estimated CDT end date: August 22, 2019
  • Estimated CDT + GDT end date: September 23, 2019

Map found here (excluding Skurka's WRHR alternate).

CDT estimates made on 27 mile/day average, with 5 built-in Zeros. GDT estimates made on 24 mile/day average, with 2 built-in Zeros.

My Non-traditional Thru Hike: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Flip-flop

My Non-traditional Thru Hike: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Flip-flop

Stepping onto the Bridge of the Gods, I crossed the Oregon-Washington border and began my thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It was 80-degrees and cloudless with a slight breeze–just perfect. Meanwhile, my hardy southbound compatriots were battling near-freezing temperatures, intermittent rain and snow, and a dangerous windchill. The first of July was a drastically different day for me than for others starting at Hart's Pass towards the Northern Terminus of the PCT.

So, why was I startingmy hike from a seemingly inauspicious place? Well, in a term, I was "flip-flopping." Flip-flopping is a non-traditional thru hike worth a closer look. Essentially, it is when you hop around to different sections of the trail to complete it, rather than walking continuously from top to bottom, or vice versa.

non-traditional thru hike

Benefits of a Non-Traditional Thru Hike

For several reasons, I enjoyed my flip-flopping, non-traditional thru hike. Below are some of the benefits of this option that other hikers may want to consider when planning their thru hikes.

Soaking in the Sunny Weather

Completing my thru-hike in a flip-flop fashion allowed me to follow the most favorable weather. Typically unheard of, I smiled my way through Washington having absolutely picturesque conditions. In fact, I stopped setting up my tent somewhere in the middle of Washington and simply cowboy camped the rest of the way–yes, all the way to Campo, even through the Sierra Nevada.

Gorgeous weather was my norm on this non-traditional thru hike because I was hitting every part of the trail at the absolute best time. Not being constrained to a linear footpath allowed me to pick the optimum times to be in places that can pose serious threats to traditional thru-hikers–namely the North Cascades and Sierra Nevada. In fact, I had no precipitation for my entire hike. Hard to believe, right?

non-traditional thru hike

Avoiding Overburdened Resources

Full hiker box, after full hiker box was my norm on this trek. I didn't bother to travel off of the trail for the whole of central California (Tehachapi to South Lake Tahoe, or almost 600 miles). It simply wasn't necessary to leave the trail, as every hiker box I encountered was overflowing with food that I would never be able to afford on my meager hiker trash budget.

Access to trail amenities didn't just extend to hiker boxes; trail towns and other indispensable resources weren't overburdened by what I term "the hiker horde." I never had a problem with empty convenience store shelves, pilfered Darn Tough socks at outdoor shops, or any of the other mainstays of "the bubble's" descent on these unsuspecting trail towns, resorts, ranches, and lodges.

non-traditional thru hike

A True Wilderness Experience

Another unexpected perk of walking against the grain and out of normal hiking season was that the PCT felt like a true wilderness experience. I went seven days without seeing a soul on my longest stretch, and deeply cherished the solitude and introspection that allowed. This certainly would not have been possible hiking in a traditional way.

Keeping Flexible

Walking in a flip-flop fashion on the PCT also made me much more agile. No, I wasn't frolicking or trail running, but I was extremely flexible around closures and unforeseen circumstances. For example, when the Hirz fire closed down 50 miles of trail south of Castella in northern California, almost every southbound hiker was forced to skip that section. Although I got to Castella the very day the closure went into effect, it hardly made a dent in my hike, as I simply flipped again and walked a different section while hotshot crews brought the fire under control. An added bonus to this was being in the Sierras before they became unbearably cold. This strategy allowed me to walk every mile of trail that year–a feat not many can boast.

non-traditional thru hike

Improving Leave No Trace

The last, and perhaps most salient, point to be made about choosing to do a flip-flopping, non-traditional thru hike is the impact every hiker has on the trail. Big trails like the PCT, Appalachian Trail, and other popular routes are literally being loved to death from overuse. It's incredible to see the surge in popularity of hardcore outdoor pursuits, but this shouldn't come at the expense of these national scenic trails.

Even with the best Leave No Trace ethics, thousands of hikers continuously passing through such a small corridor has a serious impact on the trail. Evidence of this appears in compacted non-durable surfaces, improper disposal of human waste, and disregarding fire safety and regulations. All of these were on full display, along with other detrimental proof of past hikers, throughout my hike. By flip-flipping and avoiding the crowds, I was able to limit my contribution to this and help ensure these incredible outdoor gifts can be shared for a long time to come.

Drawbacks to Consider for a Non-traditional Thru Hike

While I enjoyed the many benefits afforded by my non-traditional thru hike, this choice is not all rainbows and snicker bars. There are some definite drawbacks to a non-traditional thru hike that prospective hikers may want to consider.

Loneliness on the Trail

Traveling distinctly on your own trajectory can be alienating at times, especially if you've met and had connections with hikers who no longer share your same intended path. Personally, I enjoy the solitude that comes from being in nature and seek it out whenever I can, but this may not be everyone's objective.

non-traditional thru hike

Navigating the Flow of Traffic

As a flip-flopper, you'll have the unfortunate task of hiking against the flow of traffic for both the southbound and northbound bubbles. This can mean passing upwards of a hundred people a day. This can be exhausting and demoralizing for some.

Lack of Continuity

This is probably the biggest obstacle in convincing someone to pursue a flip-flop thru hike. For a strange reason, there is a huge romanticization around starting at one border and ending at the other–even if that means missing or skipping sections, as was the case for nearly all northbound and southbound hikers this past year.

However, I will end with this thought: While there is definitely something to be said about a continuous footpath, the rigidity of these made-up "limitations" are the exact reason why we escape into nature in the first place. Afterall, as author Peter Thiel puts it, "the most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd, but to think for yourself."