View Full Version : 3 week hike begins in 3 weeks at Springer. Unprepared is an understatement. HELP!

05-13-2015, 23:18
I'm 44 and in OK shape. I run, mountain bike, and hit the gym from time to time. Since my early twenties I've obsessed over thru-hiking the AT, but now I'm married and have an 11 and 9 year old so being away for 6 months is unrealistic at the moment. Over the last few months I've been heavy into watching thru-hike videos and my desire for some AT time is through the roof.

As luck would have it my daughter is doing a ballet intensive in Athens, GA for 3 weeks beginning June 7th and Athens is 85 miles from Springer. My son is going to summer camp for 2 weeks beginning on the same date. I now find myself with the opportunity to hike 3 weeks of the AT. Unfortunately, June 7th is about 3 weeks away.

I have no gear and I have no extended camping experience, but I have much desire.

I've been consuming as much of whiteblaze.net as I can, but it can quickly become information overload.

I realize most people prepare for months or years for a thru-hike. Unfortunately, I find myself in a position where I have very little time to prepare for my 3 week adventure.

I'm not sure what I'm asking other than if anyone has any input. The gear list at http://lighterpack.com/r/50uokc seems to be pretty good, but any advice is truly welcomed.

Tipi Walter
05-13-2015, 23:37
3 weeks is a long time for an extended backpacking trip and yes, I consider your AT hike an extended backpacking trip, with several food resupplies. What others would call a section hike.

I know Mississippi is not the mountains but if you have a backyard or a porch or deck you could help yourself by using your gear and by starting to sleep out every night to see how you do on the ground and/or inside your tent. It takes a while to get used to a sleeping pad and learning how to quickly set up a tent so when it's raining or it's dark you won't get confused.

Thankfully the AT is not a remote location and you'll have a small community of folks to help if things go south. Plus, there are many bail-out points along the route.

George P Burdell
05-13-2015, 23:53
Get the gear online now if you can and camp in your yard a few times. Otherwise, print gear list. Stop at one of the Atlanta area REI stores on your way thru town. Rent or buy gear there; employees are usually knowledgeable and will help you. Drive to Amicalola State Park and camp there the first night. If that goes ok, start hiking next day. Reassess at Mountain Crossings a few days down the trail. Arrange shuttle in X days at Y location, plan out and back turnaround day, or bail out if necessary.

Maybe obvious, but don’t forget to pack food (not on the linked list unless I missed it).
Read up on safety- lightning, hypothermia, dehydration, etc.
Don’t expect everything to go perfect on the trail. Enjoy the good and the bad. Be safe out there.

05-14-2015, 00:24
This is AWESOME!!! I congratulate you for making it work when your family is occupied!!!

--Number one: Bring 3 pairs of socks! One to hike in, one to sleep in, and one to be able to hang and dry (these are interchangeable...just might have all three things going on at once)
--Next: bring Body Glide....good for chafing. MUCH better than Gold Bond (in my opinion). It also works on your feet.
__The reviews on your tent claim it leaks in rain. Pick up either a tarp piece to drape/stake over it....Anyone else - PLEASE chime in on this one! (Note: I do try to only stay in shelters, but have on occasion had to rely on my tent for shelter - usually when it is raining and others who didn't want to tent beat me to the shelter!).

Whoops...I thought that the gear list link you gave was your already owned link. Since you don't already own a tent, hold off on that and plan to sleep in shelters. But DO BRING A TARP - you must have some type of shelter for an emergency...even if it just means hanging/rolling in a tarp.

Don't carry too much food. Plan to complete 10 -12 miles a day with one day per week being either a 5 or below day - (known as nero or zero day). Bring one extra day's food and plan to pick up the rest at the store, gas station, etc.

You will have an awesome time!!

05-14-2015, 03:20
Im gonna agree with you, 3 weeks isnt much time from where you stand now. Without owning gear, especially.

But its not really a long time on the trail either. All you really have to do is arrange a bit of transportation, and start walking. Buy more food when needed. Yeah, some people plan for years, completely unnecessary.

05-14-2015, 05:43
But, but, but the planning for years, and the anticipation of what's coming up next is so much FUN!
Muddy is right, years of planning aren't necessary. Plenty of folks hop on the trail clueless, poorly conditioned, and poorly equipped. A lot of them drop out. But some of them make it all the way. Of course, those who are better informed, conditioned, and equipped tend to have a higher success rate, and enjoy their time more.

WhiteBlaze is a good resource, but information is sorta random here. You need a concentrated organized source of info:
For an overview of the AT, and lots of basic advice and information about backpacking, go to www.appalachiantrail.org and read everything.
For quick answers to the "how far from A to B" questions, go to www.atdist.com - it also will keep a record (on that computer & browser) of what sections you've completed.
For detailed info about the trail (where's the water? how steep is the next hill? where can I bail out?), get a copy of the AT Guide, www.theatguide.com - available in NOBO (northbound) or SOBO, looseleaf or bound, updated each year. Also there are some electronic versions to carry on a phone - not my thing, so somebody else will need to help with that if you're interested.

Best of luck to you!

05-14-2015, 05:56
Since you don't already own a tent, hold off on that and plan to sleep in shelters. But DO BRING A TARP - you must have some type of shelter for an emergency...even if it just means hanging/rolling in a tarp.

A caution here:
It's fine to "plan on" sleeping in shelters, but understand that this limits your itinerary. Say you arrive at a shelter at 3:30, and you don't really want to stop, but the next one is 8 miles away. If you don't carry a tent/tarp/hammock, you don't have the option of hiking on for a couple of hours and setting up camp when you want to. Also, shelters sometimes fill up, especially during a hard rain - which is when you'll really want to be in a shelter.
A tent is pretty basic. I haven't used a tarp or hammock, but I've read that there's a significant learning curve to using them well. Keep that in mind if you decide to go that direction.
Bottom line - staying warm and dry is vital to your safety and to your comfort. Don't skimp.

05-14-2015, 07:04
oh these are shinning times...have a goodn' :sun

05-14-2015, 08:38
Hey, Outlier, hope you have a fun trip.

If you are willing to spend some money on gear, honestly the best thing to do is to show up at the outfitter at Neels Gap at the beginning of your 3 week trip and let them completely outfit you for gear. Those folks specialize in long distance AT hiking -- your local REI does not. I've met several hikers who have done that, and they got good advice and solid gear. They will also show you how to use everything before you hit the trail, and 4 days after you start you will walk right through the store again and you can make any tweaks you need.

You'll need to buy one of the trail guides and a couple of maps - the first two, from Springer to Fontana Dam ought to be plenty. The AT Guide and the ALDHA Companion are both good. (I'm a volunteer editor for the Companion but use both.)

Make arrangements to stay at The Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega. You can drive up there after dropping off the kid, spend the night, take the next day to hit the outfitter and get your gear squared away, spend another night, then get a ride to Springer to start hiking. You can leave your car at the hostel and they will come get you when you are finished hiking.

I'm going to PM you my summer gear list. Take it as a starting point, nothing more. When looking at gear lists, think of things in broad categories, not as specific brands and models -- for example, we can argue all day here on WB about the "best" pack, but notice that all the models mentioned in those threads tend to be packs in the 50-liter range with internal frames weighing about 2 pounds. Same with shelters -- there are a lot of choices, but they all tend to be about the same weight and with similar features.

Good luck with the preparation and the hike.

05-14-2015, 12:03
I appreciate the help so far. Thanks bigcranky for the spreadsheet. How this is going to work is myself, my wife, and kids will drive to Athens to drop my daughter off. They will then drive me the 85 miles to Springer MT and kick me to the curb. In 3 weeks when my wife comes for my daughter they will then travel the 200 or so miles north to get me wherever I may be. I anticipate I'll be somewhere outside of the smokies.

I can spend reasonable amounts of money on gear. I've seen where some people have spent thousands on gear and others a few hundred. I'm in the middle somewhere.

My one concern is hiking the smokies. I realize I have to get a permit as well as possibly make reservations to sleep in specific shelters while traversing the park. It's my understanding that if you approach the smokies from 50 miles out and hike away from the smokies by at least 50 miles you can get a thru-hiker permit which relieves you from having to make reservations at specific shelters. I'm not technically a thru-hiker, but I think I may meet the criteria for a thru-hiker pass. Is trying to get a thru-hiker pass something I should do or is it bad form since I'm not actually a true thru-hiker?

How should I handle the smokies?

05-14-2015, 12:25
After a little further reading and calculations, getting beyond the smokies may be pretty optimistic for 21 total days on the AT by a total noob. It seems a more realistic end point may be Fontana Dam which would negate dealing with the smokies this go around. Thoughts anyone?

05-14-2015, 12:59
it's 166 miles to Fontana Dam, so about 8 miles day on average. if you take three zeros, that just over 9 miles/day.

if it were me, i wouldn't plan on more than that, but take it for what it's worth.

what kind of shelter are you thinking about?

05-14-2015, 13:07
If I recall, Springer to Fontana was 13 days for me. The Smokies another five. I didn't rush. I took one rest day at Hiawssee.

Smokies - I would just plan on getting a thu-hiker permit and not worry about it.

05-14-2015, 13:09
it's 166 miles to Fontana Dam, so about 8 miles day on average. if you take three zeros, that just over 9 miles/day.

if it were me, i wouldn't plan on more than that, but take it for what it's worth.

what kind of shelter are you thinking about?I was thinking the same thing. Unless you really get in a groove you may want to think about stopping at Fontana. I guess you could always go on to Newfound Gap or even to Standing Bear farm on the northern exit of the Smokeys but the Smokeys are tough and with your limited experience and the need to make reservations for the shelters there you may not want to tackle that just yet. Just something to think about.

05-14-2015, 13:10
You don't have to be a "true" thru-hiker to go through the Smokies on a thru-hiker permit. The 50-mile rule is their rule. If you are in compliance, go for it.

05-14-2015, 13:13
If I recall, Springer to Fontana was 13 days for me. The Smokies another five. I didn't rush. I took one rest day at Hiawssee.

Smokies - I would just plan on getting a thu-hiker permit and not worry about it.

Keep your end point flexible. Stop at Fontana, stop at Newfound gap, or stop at Standing Bear or beyond - plenty of options to play it by ear. Enjoy yourself instead of being a slave to your schedule.

05-14-2015, 13:18
If you start at Springer then there is no problem with getting a thru-hiker permit for the Smokies, BUT you'll need to buy it in advance before you leave your home, print it out, and take it with you. The cost is reasonable ($20 IIRC), so if you don't get to the Smokies you won't have lost much. If you do get there, though, you will NEED that permit, preprinted and in your pack.

No worries on the "50 miles before and after" if you start at Springer - you well exceed the "before" and at that point the "after" doesn't matter as much, since you won't know how far you can go in three weeks. In any case, some thru-hikers quit in Gatlinburg and thus don't make it the "50 miles beyond" and they don't get into any trouble....:)

All that said, if it were me in your position, I would hope to get to Fontana Dam and be pretty darn happy with that. Georgia is tough on beginners, and the Nantahala Section, the whole ~60 miles before Fontana, is one of the toughest in the South. You'll want to start at ~8 miles per day, and you'll need some zeros, or at least some very short days when going into town for resupply and showers and all that, so given your time frame Fontana would be a good goal.

05-14-2015, 14:22
Save some weight call jacks r better...they had some seconds...40 deg down quilt..$100....great quilt...lighter than the bag..trekking pile supported shelter cause u will end up using them...I can't hike without them....just my $ .02

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05-14-2015, 15:21
I attached a gear list I did up for a good friend who had zero gear. He had a pretty good budget, but I have some relatively inexpensive choices as well. My advice, if you think you will really keep backpacking, is to buy nice stuff, and cry about it only once.

I'd get shoes/boots asap and start wearing them around, and do some hiking in them. Order all the gear online, or get to an outfitter, pretty quickly so you have time to figure out how to set up your tent, pack your pack, etc.

Good luck! I envy you getting 3 weeks away!

05-14-2015, 15:31
Don't sweat the gear...get quality big 4...pack..shelter..bag/quilt...pad...remember less is better...and no cotton...john Muir took only bread and tea on his extended Sierra trip.....

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05-14-2015, 18:59
Nice! Looking forward to a trip report, good, bad or ugly.

Sounds like a perfect setup for a great trip.

Or Murphy could show up and make it miserable.

Either way if you walk away with life, limb and eyesight it will be worth it.

05-14-2015, 20:37
Don't use an alcohol stove the first time out. Despite looking simple they take a lot of practice and patience. Especially in windy conditions. Try to keep your pack weight down(15 pounds before food and water is reasonable). Be prepared to dump or change your gear once your out there. It happens to every novice. Good luck.

Biggie Master
05-14-2015, 20:48
the best adventures are the ones you don't have time to overthink... like the commercial says "just do it". You're going to have a blast!

05-14-2015, 21:57
Like many have said - focus on the 'big-3' (pack / shelter / sleep) as soon as possible.

For a pack there are some really good options, if you have any store where you can try a couple packs on I'd really recommend checking it out there. An Exos 58 is a solid pack, pretty lightweight - but there are other options. If I were starting 'new' I'd definitely look at the Exos-58 first, and branch out from there to other economic packs (such as the Flash45 or Flash62). You really can't beat walking into a store (like REI) and trying on a pack to see what 'fits' you best; they are also very happy to assist. As a side-note, REI has a member-sale (20% off a item) starting tomorrow - $20 lifetime membership can save you a lot of money.

sleeping system is also pretty easy - I'd 'feel' a couple of the air mattresses at a store, and pick one you like that was under 24oz or so. The xlite is a good mat, used by a lot of people. Or you can go with the fold-up styles; they're lighter, just bulky and usually wind up strapped on the pack. For a bag, a good 40 degree down bag would work fine. I'd be tempted to spend a bit more and get a 20 degree I could use for 3 seasons, and it really wouldn't be much more expensive. key is down, and decent (somewhere at least around 600-pwr fill)

as for shelter, that one is tough for me - I hang in a hammock. i know there are LOTS of tenting options, the tarptents are really popular, light, and not too badly priced. I wouldn't try to go too light on this, especially for the first-run at a 3-week trip, but if nothing else one of those little Eureka one-man tunnels are like $69 on sale nowadays and would do in a pinch. Just try to keep it under 2lb, preferably one that uses trekking poles.

Those three items (well 4 because of pad / bag) will (in my opinion) be the hardest to get 'right' and many people spend years trying to get what works best for them. That's why I would definitely recommend that if there was any way possible, to walk into a store and try some rucks on. You spend most of your waking time wearing a pack, and without a decent sleep it's really going to suck the next day. It sounds like you've done a lot of research, so if you can narrow it down to a couple options - walking into a store and handling product will probably steer you in the right direction.

the rest of the items are no less important, it's just easier to select a cooking pot than a backpack. I really like Breve's inexpensive list, and it's definitely a good baseline. no one list works for everyone. Would recommend you build a list for YOU, with anticipated options for each item that you want to select from. Keep your choices to no more than 3-5 for bigger items, 2-3 for smaller. So for pots, a 900ml Snow Peak, 700ml, and the ever-famous WalMart GreasePot for example; then out of that list I would probably select the 900ml. As you buy gear, you could mark it off. Amazon is a great resource if you want to purchase stuff.

getting the tent / pack / sleep system earlier is better - you can set up the tent in the backyard, sleep there overnight (or go to a local campground) to get the kinks worked out - guy lines, set up process, etc. You can throw 20-25lb of stuff into the pack, carry it up and down the road for 4-5 mile walks 2-3 times a week to get used to it (this is where having your boots or shoes would also really help).

good luck, and definitely keep us updated! I'd love to have 3 weeks in a row to hike - heck I'd join you. entire month of may has been shot even though I just retired (inbetween jobs now), we have events every weekend the entire month of may (two kids graduating- one from high school, one from college). Hoping to get out in June at some point. until then, I'll have to be happy with 3-5 day treks.

05-14-2015, 23:50
You guys have been a ton of help so far. I appreciate it. The problem of course is my inexperience in all manners hiking. Gear is the big issue when you don't know anything at all. We have no outfitter here in Hattiesburg unless you think Academy Sports or Gander Mountain is one. Everyone has their own opinion about gear, but I think I have enough information to at least keep me alive a few days on the trail.

05-15-2015, 07:12
Hiking is like a lot of hobbies where some sort of gear is required, and so folks (usually guys) end up spending more time fetishizing the gear than actually doing the hobby. Other examples include photography, high end audio (which used to be called "listening to music"), fishing, etc. My God, man, you can't possibly catch any fish without the latest $500 carbon fiber nanocoated fishing rod.

So gear is important - heck, it can be crucial for survival - but it's also a distraction from the main endeavor. You will be hiking in moderate weather, in the summer with long days, in a well populated area with plentiful towns for resupply. As long as you have some sort of shelter, some food, and something to carry it all in, you can be successful. Long distance hiking is much more mental than physical anyway.

05-15-2015, 12:13
...or Gander Mountain is one. Everyone has their own opinion about gear, but I think I have enough information to at least keep me alive a few days on the trail.

Friends don't let friends buy gear at Gander Mountain (or reloading supplies....but that's a different forum)

Make sure you do something nice for the wife.

05-25-2015, 23:13
Less than 2 weeks away from my 3 weeks on the trail. Whiteblaze has been fantastic, but I still feel I'm severely unprepared. 3 weeks ago I had zero gear and now I have pretty much everything. Fortunately I'm an older guy with a little money and ended up dropping about $1500 on gear mostly from Amazon as there is no outfitter near me. My base weight is around 15lbs maybe a little less. I've been hiking my local mountain bike trails while increasing mileage. Unfortunately in MS it is FLAT so hiking with any meaningful elevation change is not going to happen. I keep relying on the "you'll figure it out on the trail" idea as to resupplying. We'll see. I created a youtube channel really for friends and family, but I'll share it here if anyone cares. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7C1Dtp3lqB0.

05-26-2015, 06:32
Watched your video. My bet is that you do just fine.

If you have an opportunity, spend a few nights sleeping in your tent/bag. Even if you can only do it in the backyard. Simulate arriving at camp, and start to develop a routine for setting-up your tent and sleep system, filtering/treating water, cooking/eating dinner, clean-up, sleeping, cooking/eating breakfast, packing-up and getting underway at a reasonable time in the morning.

Knowing how your tent, stove, sleeping pad, etc work BEFORE you are depending on them 100% will be invaluable to both your efficiency and confidence when on the trail for the first couple of days.

Beyond that, don't pack too much food. Most folks do not have much of an appetite the first few days. Just plan out small to moderate meals for the first four days, add in a morning snack, afternoon snack, and an evening snack. Then throw in a SMALL (less than 1/2 lb) bag of trail mix to fill in any light meals. I'm betting you will have plenty of food with this packing scheme. This is one of the areas that many folks have a problem - taking way too much food. Most of us will be in no danger at all missing a meal or two or being a BIT hungry for a couple of days.

Finally, take it easy, especially the first week, remember, your goal is to enjoy yourself. Listen to your body. My theory is that if aches, pains and twinges are moving around my body on an hourly or daily basis, then no problem - to be expected. If, however, pain and serious discomfort settles into one particular spot, then address that. That may mean covering a hot spot, stopping early to rest, altering your schedule to slow down, soaking a body part in a nice cold stream, or even seeking out a Dr's advice. Being out for three weeks, you will have time to potentially need to do any or all of these.

Again, I bet everything goes fine and you enjoy the experience tremendously. Keep in mind rain , some cold weather, and mosquitoes are all part of "goes fine". :)

Good luck and HAVE FUN!!!!

05-26-2015, 07:10
Yeah, for resupply you really can figure it out on the trail. You've seen this page, right? (http://whiteblaze.net/forum/content.php/15-resupply)

05-26-2015, 10:26
Sent you a PM.
I have a ULA Circuit (Large/Large) that is to0...large for me.
Used one night and will let it go for a song if you are interested and it FITS.

Have a great hike.

05-26-2015, 12:09
so, let's hear what your big 4 are -- shelter, pack, bag/quilt, pad?

excited? nervous? I'm totally jealous.

05-26-2015, 16:10
your list made no mention of a cellphone and/or camera.

start out easy the first few days as you acclimate yourself to the trail. With any luck you might make it to Hot Springs, that would put you into a nice trail town north of the Smokies

good luck!

05-26-2015, 20:07
Sent you a PM.
I have a ULA Circuit (Large/Large) that is to0...large for me.
Used one night and will let it go for a song if you are interested and it FITS.

Have a great hike.

For what it's worth....Ula will swap out waist belts if it's unused....I'm 5'11" @ 215lbs...large circuit w med waist belt fits me perfect...

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05-26-2015, 20:55
@Lyle - I plan on staying 100% outside for 24 hours sometime this week (in the backyard). Breakfast, training hike, lunch, hike more, dinner, then tent for the night. I've already put up and torn down the tent several times so I feel pretty good about that. I've used my sawyer mini on a training hike so I'm good with that. I have not cooked in my jetboil yet, but will very soon. I feel pretty good about my odds of staying alive for 3 weeks. I'll definitely have fun.

@bigcranky - I actually found that page last night and printed it out. My biggest unknown is resupplying, but I'm sure I figure all that out on the trail.

@Ashepabst - The big four huh? Ok...

1. Shelter - Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
2. Pack - Osprey Exos 58
3. Bag - Kelty Cosmic 40 degree
4. Pad - Thermarest NeoAir Xlite (full size) I cherish my sleep.

Hammocks intrigue me, but I really like having four "walls".

@Praha4 - I will be taking my Galaxy S5 and a Sony Cybershot W830 camera. Getting to Hot Springs hasn't even crossed my mind. I'm hoping to get to Clingman's Dome. My must get to point is Fontana Dam. If I made it to Hot Springs I would be shocked. I did print out my GSMP thru-hike permit just in case. You never know.

05-27-2015, 04:37
Things that I've seen that force people off the trail on a long distance hike:

1) Trying to carry too much weight. Makes them miserable or injured and they have to stop. Strained backs, torn muscles / ligaments, damaged knees and ankles. Normal falls become dangerous - balance becomes difficult.

2) Trying to hike too far / too fast with untested footwear. Feet ground to hamburger meat in the first few days. Painful blisters that make normal walking hard..

3) Trying to hike too far / too fast before protective callouses develop on feet.

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05-27-2015, 16:46
I don't know if this will help but it is worth checking out. I have used this company for my resupplies along trail and found it to be cheap and reliable.

Good luck with your preparation. You will truly enjoy the hike and be back out there again in no time :)