View Full Version : Beginner Questions

Shoe Leather Express
02-16-2003, 23:06
Hi everybody! Well, I have a few questions (Okay, a lot of questions) and perhaps you folks could answer a few for me. Before I go asking things of you though, I think it appropriate of me to introduce myself. My name is Glen, and I'm from SW Pa. I'm 30 years old, a husband and father of two boys. My passion in life is Ford Power! My new passion is getting back to my roots, hence my interest in the AT. If you'd like to know more about me please feel free to ask. Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, I'll give you a rough idea of what I'm looking to do. :D

I'd like to hike part of the AT sometime in June or July. I'll be starting in Pennsylvania, and going either north or south. (Any suggestions on direction?) I plan on making this a 10-14 day adventure. I'll be alone, so I hope to hook up with someone somewhere along the trail. Hopefully I'll meet a few of you! Anyway, this is my first ever hike (not including Army humps). I am looking to go as light, comfortable, and cheap as possible. I've been doing some research on gear both through this site, and through catalogs/web sites. I have a basic idea of what I'll need. Oh, and I'm looking to stay at a pack weight of 35-40 pounds (including water). I'd like to hike for approxamately 10 days, then rent a car to drive home. (My wife will be dropping me off at the trail head.)

I'd like some suggestions on footwear, packs, sleeping bags, etc. Is my pack weight reasonable for two weeks? Reasonable at all? Are there towns along the way that have car rentals?

Two areas that I dont want to scrimp on are footwear and a pack.

Thoughts? Feedback? Advice? Questions?

SGT Rock
02-16-2003, 23:36
If you want my advise, it's all up at www.hikinghq.net

02-17-2003, 09:41
Lots of questions....

Where in PA will you be starting? The northern part of the state, though more beautiful in my opinion is a more rugged walk. The infamous PA rocks kick in and become a little frusturating. I liked hiking in NJ a lot so i guess it depends on where in PA you start and how far you get.

Southern PA is more homey. The towns are real hiker friendly, Duncannon, Palmerton, Boiling SPrings. The trail goes through some farmland here and there which is pleasant.

For footwear... If you hike the norrthern part of the state and you;re a novice hiker I would go boots. You'll need some ankle and sole support for the rocks. NOthing too heavy though. If you head south a pair of trail runner sneakers would be great.

Pack? Sorry, you are on your own. I recommend going to to various outfitters and trying on everything they have in the store. Check the Internet for prices before you commit. All packs are built differently and fit people better than others. Beware that some pack weigh 7 lbs empty. In addition there are some custom design packs whcih are good. SGT rock raves about the gearskin for example.

Hope this helps

02-17-2003, 09:58
If you have up to 2 weeks to hike the trail, why don't you try and hike as much of your home state as you can? The AT in PA is approx 230 miles. If you could get a ride to Delaware Water Gap, which is the northern terminus of the AT in PA, you could hike southbound. 10-14 days should get you reasonably close to the Susquehanna River where you can catch a ride to Harrisburg, PA to rent a car. Thats approx 170 miles on foot, or slightly more than 12-13 miles a day. You'll be dog tired each night.

You'll hear lots of different stories about the famous (infamous) rocks in PA. I didn't find them as bad as some folks. In fact, I loved hiking in PA, so reserve judgement til you've done it yourself. Your time frame will allow you to pick & eat copious quantities of blueberries!

Although there are prettier places on the AT, I'm a firm believer in understanding your bioregion, or "home turf" before setting off to more distant points.

Regarding gear, you need to spend some time at an outfitter with some knowledgeable staff and try on some packs and footwear. You'll get lots of suggestions here at Whiteblaze on gear. What feels good to one person, may not feel good to another. A catalog doesn't do it either. I will offer a few broad suggestions regarding gear. Suggest you use an internal frame pack vs. external frame pack, and I would not invest in heavy full-grain leather boots. Nor would I buy Gore-Tex boots. Find yourself some boots with a good sole, that offer you the support that makes you feel comfortable, and that won't take a week to dry out should you fall in a stream or walk in a downpour (hint: don't use gore-tex boots).

Good luck!

Little Bear
GA-ME 2000

02-17-2003, 11:37
Some inexpensive & lightweight gear you could buy & not feel guilty if you never use again:

Walmart "Blue Foam" Sleeping Pad. $6
Walmart Ozark Trail Plastic Emergency Poncho. $1

Aquamira & Coffee Filters for Water Treatment. $13
http://www.campmor.com, search for Aquamira.

I would also reccommend that you use boots rather than lightweight trailrunners. If you plan on carrying 40lbs and havent hiked in a while, your going to need ankle support.

Look around on campmor's website. They have everything you would possibly need. Look for clearence and discount items.

02-17-2003, 15:43
SLE, I did last summer what you're planning to do this summer. I got on the Trail SOBO where it intersects Rt. 30 just west of Fayetteville PA and ended up half way or so into Shenandoah National Park two weeks later. Was planning to do 225 miles in 15 days but ended up doing around 175 after taking an extra zero day and slowing down somewhat in the heat. This is a great hike and you can stop in Harpers Ferry at the AT Headquarters. You will most likely meet a bunch of NOBO thru-hikers there and on the trail as I did. Trail is not bad, even the section called "the Roller Coaster. " If you want to know more about the section I did and my hike, look me up in trailjournals.com under those doing a thru-hike in 2003. Also, a lot of hikers, myself included have posted their gear with comments. Good Luck and Happy Hiking!

Shoe Leather Express
02-17-2003, 19:42
Thanks for the replies everyone!

Skeemer, that does seem like a pretty good plan. Also, by hiking south it may be feesable to have my wife pick me up at some point. (We live in southern Pa.)

Good advice and ideas everyone. So far, St. Rock has saved me over $100. I've gotten a few good ideas on direction and pick up points. I think RagingHampster saved me another $30-$50.

TNJed, I know all about the rocks in Pa! :D I used to spend a lot of time in the woods, I just haven't as of late. Everything from day hikes with the boyscouts to hunting deer and turkey. :)
For footwear... If you hike the norrthern part of the state and you;re a novice hiker I would go boots. You'll need some ankle and sole support for the rocks. NOthing too heavy though. If you head south a pair of trail runner sneakers would be great.
Good advice there Grimmace! Another reason that I may end up going south. I could save $50-$100 on a pair of boots.

Well, my plans are still up in the air. Day by day and post by post I'm getting a better idea of what I'm going to do. Skeemer's plan seems to be a good idea thus far though. Hopefully I'll have it figured out by June! :p

02-17-2003, 20:17
Sorry, that was just EAST of Fayetteville PA. And now you know why I get lost on the trail.

02-17-2003, 21:56
Pennsylvania is a pretty underrated state in my opinion, I agree with the above posts about maybe hiking your state, then you will be more familiar with off trail services and renting a car ya know? Although considering you'll be hiking in the dead of summer I doubt you will need to carry a 40lb pack, but to each his own. In PA you can resupply everywhere and the terrain is pretty easy (even the rocks in the north), I had fun in PA. Good luck and get your rattlesnake jumping techniques ready haha. Cheers!

02-18-2003, 09:28
Hey Shoe Leather. I too am here in PA, south central and not too far from the AT. The only thing I would say if you are hiking in the summer is that you should go to PATC's website and check out the water status that they post for the trail. Last year was a bit dry and a lot of springs were non-existant. Although we have had plenty of rain and snow this year ( 25" in my yard yesterday fro the storm) it still is good to check there.


02-18-2003, 10:15
Shoe Leather,

Some advice, But just remember that it is advice and you have to make your own decisions that work best for you...

When you go to the outfitter they have a lot of neat toys that sparkle and shine and at times I swear you will hear the gear call your name in a hushed tone.... My advice is to get what you need not what you want. I have some gear that sparkles and shines but it would take a sherpa to help me haul the stuff and I spent too much money on it that I could have used elsewhere. If you want to keep your pack at a reasonable weight, make sure most of your gear can be used for more than one thing. Another thing too take into consideration is the weight of the item, it does not get lighter on the way home and seems to gain weight on the trail... a couple ounces here, a couple there, all equal pounds that you will have to carry on the trail. I am not one to preach about that though... I am still trying to trim down my pack from 45lbs... I put up my gear list on this site and on the ATL and I was able to trim it down to 36 lbs... ( which is why I am telling you about the gear that sparkles and shines )

Before you go and drop $50- 75 on a stove you should check out Sgt Rock's site on how to build your own. If you want, email me off line with you address and I will be more than happy to send you a pepsi can stove that I built so you have a prototype to look at and see how well it works. No charge, just a returning a little trail magic that was given to me.

As far as selecting a pack and sleeping bag, well, that is personal taste too... just like you like Fords, someone may favor a Chevy product. I love Gregory because the way it hauls the load, the construction... what I don't like is the price and the weight, but I would not trade my pack in for anything... just a personal preference. The best advice I can give you ist to go to an outfitter with NO MONEY, NO CREDIT CARDS, pockets empty, mind open and with a few hours to kill and look around. Most, if not all, will let you put on a pack with weights and walk around the store.

Sleeping bags are another issue, It depends on if you are a cold sleeper or a warm sleeper. I am a cold sleeper which mean to me that I need more sleeping bag to keep me warm Do you want down ( more money less weight) or synthetic ( more weight less money)? There are more upsides to each as well as down sides to each... again it is all personal preference. . What I suggest that you do is to pick out a few bags at the outfitters ( and go to more than one outfitter if possible to get a wide selection) and ask them to try it out. They should let you crawl in and try it. But just don't lay there on you back, move around in it, lay on your side, on your belly, make sure your feet are not pressing against the bottom, and that you have enough shoulder room and wiggle room. At first you may feel a bit uncomfortable doing this but the outfitters expect you to do this, really! You would not buy a car without test driving it would you? The outfitters would rather you try out the floor/display items than have you buy something that does not fit and return it. The outfitters around here want a good reputation and go to great lengths to make sure what you are getting fits right.

Shoe/boots.... Again, go to your outfitters, have on the socks that you will be wearing on the trail and go at the end of the day when your feet are a bit more swollen. Go there knowing that your shoe size does NOT matter, what matters is how well it fits on your foot. Make every attempt to get someone who knows what they are doing when they show you the shoes/boots or bring someone who does. You won't have a good time backpacking with raw feet full of blisters! Have a list of criteria that you want... Mine was to be light, waterproof, with a rand, and fit well. I decided upon the Asolo GtX 95, and I LOVE them, they are light, strong, keep my foot stable, waterproof and have taken a beating on the PA rocks and keep coming back for more. But it again boils down to what is right for your feet and your needs and your wants.

Be ready for some sticker shock! I was when I first started and still am at times. You could look for bargins on line, REI-Outlet has some good bargins now and then, Sierratradingpost.com has a LOT of bargins, look at you local department stores for gear too. I believe someone mentioned Wal-Mart for rain gear which is a good idea.

This is just my two cents worth, and what works for me, glean what you want from it and throw the rest away. Hope to see you around the southern AT trail here in PA,


SGT Rock
02-18-2003, 10:39
I would add before you go and buy boots that you look at your shoes you have now and decide if you really need boots.

I bet you have some running shoes you wear a lot that are already broken in. If you keep your pack weight around 30 pounds or less, then try using the running shoes instead of boots. You will need to do some training first.

02-18-2003, 11:19
Check out http://www.antigravitygear.com/index.html, it is run by a BSA troop (I think). They sell a nice Pepsi can stove for $12 and a pot cozy (a must have) for ~$6.

Windscreens are easy to make as are pot stands. I believe SGT Rock has a few "how to's" in this area.

You didn't mention shelter in you original post. Are you planning to stay in the lean-tos the entire trip? If so, you should still bring a simple tarp and ground cloth in case a shelter is full (happens quite often on the weekends). I'd also look into some sort of "Bug Hut" so your face doesn't get distroyed by bugs at night.

If you want to go the tent route, check out http://www.sixmoondesigns.com/products/europa.asp, the Europa I is going for $135 now. And, at 36oz including stakes it is quite light and roomy for 1 person. Find a nice walking stick along the way, and you won't need to purchase a trekking pole.

02-18-2003, 11:29
Sgt Rock is right about the shoes, I have seen some hikers on the AT trail here in PA with them on and it may be an option for you to explore. I would strongly endorse Sgt Rocks recommendation of training with them prior to going on a long hike.

With that said, My son, 13 at 5'9", 130lbs, wore his Nike cross trainers on a backpacking trip from Pine Grove Furnace State park to Caledonia State Park this past summer, which is not as rocky as some parts but still had its share of rocks. In his words.. "Never Again, Dad!" LOL

His pack weight was at max about 25lbs and he was doing great on the groomed trail both going up hill, down hill and flat. That was until we started hitting the large rocks and boulder fields... The bottom of his feet took an aweful pounding as well as the sides of his feet and toes... But keep in mind, I am constantly telling him to pick up his feet as we hike the trail. So he now backpacks in Nike ASGs boots which he loves. I think he was also use to wearing boots that he did not really have to think of where he was walking or placing his foot.

Again, it is all personal preference.... That is what is so great about this sport!


02-18-2003, 11:52
TLBJ is right about the tent.. .good tent, I saw it at the PA Ruck
( A hiker gathering every year at Pine Grove Furnace) Good for one hiker and his gear of two hikers who are really close. The Eurpoa II is wider with more ventilation and cost $250. This tent weighs 2 lbs.

My first back packing tent was a Coleman Sundome ( Did you hear all the gasps? ) It weighs 7 lbs! But I needed something that big because I brought my son and daughter with me... It cost me $55 and worked great, it was the best that I could afford. I carried the body, my son carried the fly, and my daughter carried the stakes and poles. I now have a Cobra Peak 1, ( the Inyo now ) and weighs 4lbs. It is a great solo tent but still a little weighty. My son and I fit in it but it is a little tight and when we saw the Europa's we really liked them.

The shelters here in southern PA are pretty nice, I posted some pictures in the shelter section of the gallery of the shelters I have been at minus one that we arrived late and left early. But remember that you will be competeing for shelter space with thruhikers, weekend hikers and a lot of Boy Scout troops.

There are people who love sleeping in the shelters and some who don't. I fall in to the ranks of those who don't... I like to relax in my own tent, read or write in my journal, and have space to be comfortable and I am not feeding the next generation of biting insects. But the trade off is pack weight, finding a flat spot, setting up my tent in the pouring rain and then hauling a wet soggy tent the next day until I stop for lunch to dry it out. See... again.. personal preference... everything has its pros and cons and you have to decide what is important to YOU!!

Hope I have helped...


Shoe Leather Express
02-18-2003, 15:16
OK, here is my initial equiptment list. I'm sure that I'll change it a few times before I even purchase anything. Some stuff I already have with my other outdoor gear, I just have to determine whether the cost/weight ratio justifies buying something new.

I'll be hammock camping. I love the versatility of the idea. I also snore pretty bad, so I'll take the courtesy of sparing those in the shelters. :D I also already own a nylon hammock that I bought while in the Army. All I need is a tarp. After I get a postal scale, which will be my first purchase, I'll determine if it would be cost effective for me to go with something like a Hennesey. My total cost for shelter could feesably be around $60 (as long as I only have to buy the tarp).

Sleeping bag - Walmart special. I just bought one last year. I'll weigh it and see how small I can stuff it. If I must, I'll buy a new one. I may luck out and get away with free.

Esbit Stove - Thanks to Sgt. Rock. I'll be stealing the V-8 can stove idea. Total cost will be around $6 for twelve Esbit tablets (which I'll cut in half). My wife already drinks V-8 Juice.

Lemonade cup/bowl - Another idea provided by Sgt. Rock. I keep looking at the one on the counter waiting for the kids to drink it all! Another freebie!

Backpack - Probably either a Jansport or Gregory. (Most likely Jansport because of price.) Everything I've read so far on these two has been good. I'll go to my local outfitters and try them on, then go to Campmor and buy it for a savings.

Boots - So far I'm planning on boots, but undecided. Boots = money, shoes = free.

Water purification - Coffee filters and purification tablets (or maybe boiling, which means more Esbit). I'm not spending $100 on a filter system. :rolleyes: Water bottles will be empty soda bottles. For my water needs that should be about $5.

Cook wear/utensils - I already have an aluminum mess kit. I'll just take what I need out of it (probably the pot and skillet). I'll swipe the Lexan spoon and fork from work. :D All free! I'll make a cozy too.

Tentpegs - 100% Sgt. Rock's ideas here. I'll use the aluminum gutter spikes, rock bag, and 50 ft of gutted 550 cord.

OK, any critique? :-?

02-18-2003, 15:53
For my water bottles, I use a single 1L pepsi bottle for the wide-mouth cap, and platypus bags. You can carry a whole bunch of plastic soda-bottles, but when theyre empty it sucks cause theyre bulky. Bring one wide-mouth soda/gatorade bottle, and I'd highly reccommend a platypus bag. You can also use it as a pillow at night. Just fill it 1/3 of the way with air, and you'll be comfy.


A 3L bag runs you $10. I use two of these and my 1L Pepsi bottle. Just coffee filter the water into the bags, and then do all actual chemical treatments in your soda bottle. That way if you boil water for a meal, you don't waste chemicals. I don't use the hose/straw adapter. You may need a lightweight plastic funnel for bottles/bags if using coffee filters.

I'd use aquamira over iodine. Safer and no nasty tastes.

I'd also consider making an alcohol stove from two pepsi cans rather than an esbit stove. Or try cooking with esbit tablets before you leave...

Shoe Leather Express
02-18-2003, 16:10
Thanks for the advice RH. That sounds like a better plan that what I had in mind for water storage.

Now, about alcohol stoves. What kind of alcohol do they burn? Is it the isopropyl rubbing alcohol that you buy at Walmart, or is it a special stove fuel? And how do you measure the small amounts of fuel that you use on the trail (like 25 ml)?

02-18-2003, 16:25
Hammock Camping around the trail in Southern PA will not be too much of a problem. If you like the Hammock then go with that. There are a few sites, Sgt Rock's being one of them, that talk about how to make it work.

The Walmart sleeping bag may be a too bit heavy and I don't think will compress too well. I had some for car camping and I had a Jansport Tatoosh backpack and it took up half of the bag.

I have never used Esbit as a fuel but I heard that it does have an odor. I would look into a alcohol stove... I think my total cost was around $5.... It is posted on another thread that Sgt Rock, Raging Hampster and a few others of us were talking about alcohol stoves.

Lemon aid cup bowl is not a bad idea but why?. I drink out of my gator aid bottle ( use to be nalgene bottle ) and eat out of my pot. I usually plan one pot meals... less mess to deal with and less to wash.

I have owned both a Jansport Tatoosh and a Gregory Wind River. The Gregory is by far a better pack as in reference to comfort, workmanship and durability IMHO but you are right... you pay for it!! My Gregory also weighs 7lbs empty too ( Did you hear the gasps again? ) But it fits like a glove and the pack is fantastic for hauling heave loads. The bottom of the Tatoosh I had blew out and I sent it back to Campmor and they gladly repaired it and no problems since then. The padding around the shoulders and hip belt are really lacking, you will feel it with heavy loads going up hills... If you go with the Jansport, make sure you dont go beyond 35lbs IMO.

Try the shoes first, if they work then you save yourself some $$$. If they don't work then you can justify the expense. It cost you nothing to give it a try. Like I said, I have seen a few hikers with them on around this neck of the woods.

Water purification... I am a wimp.... I use a filter. One time I filled up at dusk and took a swig and got a mouth full of decomposing leaves and God knows what... After that I said ( sputtering and spewing ) I would filter my water from here on out.

The mess kit will work... You may want to see about getting a bigger pot to use. Some here swear by the wal-mart grease pot. If you are going to use the little pot in the mess kit it may be a little too small. Also, a lesson learned, the little handle on the mess kit pot is not stable. I ended up with a lap full of ramen noodles... use your bandanna or something vice the wire handle.


02-18-2003, 16:26
No, not Isoproply. Here is a quote from Brasslite's (a great stove) instructions regarding fuel...

Pure methanol (such as HEET brand auto gas-line de-icer, or its generic equivalent), Ethanol/methanol mixture (a.k.a. Denatured Alcohol sold in paint and hardware stores), Pure ethanol (i.e. 200 proof grain alcohol sold in liquor stores and pharmacy supplies (very expensive!). Note: Isopropanol (ie. ISO-HEET, or rubbing alcohol) is NOT recommended because it burns with a very sooty flame that will prematurely clog the jets. NO OTHER FUELS ARE RECOMMENDED.

And for a fuel bottle, I'd suggest the 16oz one from Brasslight...


Shoe Leather Express
02-18-2003, 16:26
I think I found the answer to what kind of alcohol the stove burns. Is this the kind that I need? (http://www.rei.com/online/store/ProductDisplay?productId=3258&storeId=8000&catalogId=40000008000&langId=-1) I assume that it is carried in a Pepsi bottle and an eye dropper is used to measure?

02-18-2003, 16:33
The alcohol that you can use varies... Some use Denatured Alcohol which can be found at Walmart in the paint section... It cost about $3.50 for 32 ounce... Or you can use dry gas... the brand name is HEET, Methenol is the blue label HEET and does not produce much soot, the Iso-??? kind is the red label HEET. It runs for about .79 for a 12 ounce bottle. I use Sgt Rock/RH method.. I put mine in a 16 ounce soda bottle and use three cap fulls for the stove. A 12 ounce bottles will give you roughly 8-10 burns.

I learned a lot about the stoves from this site... The guys here are great about sharing what they learned.


02-18-2003, 16:34
Yup, that be some of the stuff... But you can pick it up at Walmart cheaper and without the shipping.

Shoe Leather Express
02-18-2003, 16:35
Pure ethanol (i.e. 200 proof grain alcohol sold in liquor stores and pharmacy supplies (very expensive!).

HAH! I will go alcohol then. I just happen to own a reflux still and make my own alcohol. Man, does that stuff burn good too. :D Free fuel!

02-18-2003, 16:40
I was taking part of a discussion on the subject... search "Titanium/Aluminum Simmering Pepsi Stove!" and you will have more information than you could shake a stick at.



SGT Rock
02-18-2003, 22:08
Good choice, I would probably only say that the Wal-Mart bag is the only choice I would change. Maybe you should look at the Campmor 20* down bag that weighs 36 ounces and costs about $110.

02-18-2003, 22:58
Pa. is a nice state to hike in. Leaving Lehigh Gap going north gives you some good views and lots of straight ridges as I recall. I would go with boots and good socks. Some outfitters will rent equip if you dont want to break the bank on a test run. I think forty lbs is ok. Just make sure that you get someone to show you the proper way to wear the pack so that the weight is on your hips and not your shoulders. Also carry duct tape or the Campead (I think thats how its spelled) heal patch from Johnson and Johnson. It will make a miserable blister bearable.

02-18-2003, 23:04
Also on the water. I used the aquamere. Worked good for me. One kit is $12.00 and will last about 2 -3 weeks

Trail Yeti
02-19-2003, 01:12
Pennsylvania...how I hated it! well, from boiling springs north I hated it. I wore trail runners through PA and my feet did indeed take a pounding. If you are gonna wear trail runners I recommend some gel inserts for the ball of your foot, that's the part that hurts. If no trail runners and you don't want a heavy boot, try the Lowa Tempest LO....I wore mine from Mass to Maine and they still have lots of life left in them, and they are tough! Just as good as a boot, except not as heavy and they last! Also, you cna usually find these on sale somewhere.

02-19-2003, 01:36
I've used a home made esbit stove for the last couple years and it works great. In fact I really think that the windscreen is more important than what stove you use. I have found through trial and (mostly) error that the closer you keep the air gap at the top to 1/8 inch the better it works. Mine is made with aluminum flashing with notch for snapping it together. It fits in my Ti pot wrapped around my "stove". I have at least one of every other kind of stove but think I'll stick to this one.

02-20-2003, 01:22

You might try to hike all of South Mountain, Harpers Ferry to Boiling Springs, a distance of 98 miles. If you feel more ambitious than that try Front Royal to BS, 151 miles. I think you are about 3 hours drive from either of these places, a bit less to Harpers Ferry.

I try to walk N to S on section hikes. Avoids running into waves of people some days, though I enjoy meeting people. There may be a better chance of finding someone to walk with for a few days.

02-20-2003, 06:36
If your going to do this in the summer and the temps arent going to go below 50 then grab fleece bag for 10 bucks.

if your able to sew convert it into a blanket or zipperless mummy and save yourself a pound or so by getting rid of the zipper.

If your going to do this on a long term basis then do a lot of research before you buy your bag and save yourself a lot of money re-purchasing bag after bag....