View Full Version : What to Carry? Part 4

SGT Rock
04-28-2006, 14:46
What to Carry: The Basics of Putting Together a Kit for Hiking the Appalachian Trail. Part IV – The Bathroom, Navigation, Repair Kit, Luxury Items, and other Miscellaneous stuff

By SGT Rock
Last Edited 28 April 2006

5. The Bathroom

When entering the woods you must decide exactly how much hygiene you are going to perform and how much grooming you want to do. Most men turn into “Grizzly Addams” in the woods with long beards and some only take baths in towns, but again there are exceptions that shave and shower daily. Women can go with hairy legs and shaven heads to keep things simple while on the trail while some still wear make up and deodorant daily. You will have to decide what you can live with for yourself because most other people out there will be stinky and sweaty at the end of the day anyway and probably more worried about eating and sleeping than how you look.

But hygiene is probably one of the best things you can do to keep healthy while on the trail physically and mentally. The feeling you get after cleaning up can boost your morale or wash off some of that tired feeling. And while many people put lots of thought into water purification and treatment in order to prevent illness, simply washing your hands can do a lot more for you. Add to that the fact that a dental problem like an abscess tooth is very painful and would certainly end your hike but can be prevented by daily brushing. And finally, even a simple case of rash (in hiker slang Monkey Butt) can make a hiker significantly uncomfortable day or two of hiking, but simple attention to keeping yourself clean can prevent this from starting in the first place. Hygiene is needed on the trail!

So now that we have determined we need it, how do you do it? Well that is not in the scope of this article. For information on trail hygiene, there is an excellent article on WhiteBlaze: Trail Hygiene (http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/article.php?p=118496&postcount=1). After reading that, you will decide what you need to carry. Here are some ideas:

• Tooth brush. A child’s toothbrush does not take up much space and will still work for an adult. If you feel you need to make it smaller, you can trim down the handle, but be careful not to make it so short you can’t reach your back teeth.
• Tooth paste. There are nice small sized travel tubes that can last you a month or more on the trail. Some people also use tooth powder when they can find it or even baking powder since it can also serve to help when treating rashes. Or one last option: go without toothpaste. The brushing action alone (with some water to rinse) is enough to keep your teeth clean.
• Disposable dental cleaners. Lately there have become available small pads that you put on the end of your finger and use like a tooth brush. These could replace both your toothbrush and paste.
• Floss. Dental floss can be used to clean your teeth and you can also use it as sewing thread when repairing gear. Floss usually sews through nylon easy, is usually tougher than cotton thread, and will not rot when staying wet for long periods.
• Hand sanitizer. Alcohol based hand sanitizer is good because it can be bought in small bottles and is flammable – you can actually use it to help start fires. When you use the latrine or right before cooking and eating you can squirt a little on your hands and clean up quick.
• Pack towel. These super absorbent, quick drying towels are great for backpacking. They work much better for a hiker than a cotton towel would because they absorb a lot for their size and dry quickly. If you can’t find one, you can try a car shamy cloth (the synthetic kinds) which is about the same stuff. One mistake people often make is getting one that is too big – mistakenly thinking they need one the same size as a bath towel. Most hikers can get by with a pack towel the size of a hand towel or even wash cloth.
• Soap. There is some debate about the need for this, but if you decide you need soap, I recommend mint scented soap. The reason is mint is a naturally occurring weed in the Appalachians that bears (and other animals other than grazers) do not eat. The scent of mint soap will not smell like a possible food source to critters and entice them to chew into your bag – or you.
• Razor. If you plan to shave, a disposable razor can work for a man for multiple shaves before it needs replaced – and it weighs very little. Instead of shaving cream, you can use soap to make a working lather.

6. Navigation Group

You may have heard that the Appalachian Trail is one of the best marked trails in the world. It is well traveled, hard to get lost on, and a blind man could navigate it (in fact one already has). That said, it is still very advisable that you have a way to help navigate other than start at blaze #1 and keep going north. There are times when winter snows can cover the blazes, times where weather makes you need to get off the trail and/or bypass some sections, times where emergencies could cause you to need to find help ASAP, and times when you just want to know what you are looking at and what else is around you. Unless you hire a guide to do this for you, there is an easy way to make this happen – trail guides and maps. These documents are like the safety belt of the trail for a backpacker.

There is a plethora of trail information out there. The Appalachian Trail is probably one of the best documented trails ever. You can get trail guides that tell you what you will see almost every 0.1 to 10 miles, and you can find some guides that tell you just enough info to know where re-supply and shelters are along the trail. The choices are yours to make, and maybe you don’t want to know too much about the trail before you get there. It is you choice. But just like wearing a seat belt in your car is something you can decide not to do and take the chance you never need them.

Navigation Gear:

• Maps. Maps are always the first thing people think of when planning their navigation equipment. Unfortunately the entire set of maps needed to cover the AT is large and they are not cheap. This leads people to often ask if they can do without them. The answer is yes, but at a risk. Just as you can drive for 20 years and never need a seat belt, the one time you do need it you will be glad you had it. Maps are not a magical aid that can tell you where you are either. If you carry them, you should have some idea of their usage. One thing to consider when hiking the AT – it is free to hike the AT, but the AT is built and maintained by local clubs and the money spent on maps go to support them. So for the price of the maps, you help your safety and support the maintenance of the trail you are going to walk.
• Compass. It could be reasoned that without a compass, a map is useless. Well it isn’t totally true. There are methods using stars or the tips of shadows to determine north and orient a map. There are even ways to use a watch dial to do this and even figure out azimuths to travel on. BUT a compass can weigh a half once, so why not splurge? You can even get a compass that has a thermometer and a whistle so you can play tunes on it when it gets hot enough…. But seriously, get a compass to go with a map. You can get them that pin on your pack, attach to your watchband, or like me – get a watch with a built in digital compass.
• Guide Books. As discussed before there are many different books out there you can choose from. Some of the standard ones are:

o The AT Data Book. This book small book simply tells where some things like roads cross the AT, where water can be found, and basic info about some of the shelters and towns along the AT. It is published by the ATC so money spent on it supports the trail.
o The Thru-Hikers Companion. This book from ALDHA is made to work with the AT Data Book. It gives more detailed information about things along the trail that thru-hikers are interested in: Shelters and trail towns. ALDAH members along the trail collect the data and then ALDHA works with the ATC to provide this data so some of the money goes back to the trail.
o The Thru-Hiker’s Handbook. This book is slightly larger than the data book and contains the information found in the Data Book with the author’s information he collects about the trail via phone and mail with various service providers along the route. It is published by a private individual.
o ATC Section Guides. These books (and there are a lot of them required to cover the entire AT) can be fairly thick and usually cover a section of the trail for each volume in detail – giving a great deal of information about logistics of each trail section and detailed information about places you will encounter in the section. Sometimes it even gives historical information about the places you will pass. Because of the size and quantity required to cover the AT, they are usually not carried by long distance hikers, but they can be fun for some section hikers needing to know something about how to get in and out of a section of trail and have time to “smell the roses” along a section. Information for these guides comes from the section maintainers of the local AT clubs and they are printed by the ATC , so the money paid for them go back to the trail.
• Mapdanna. This recent invention is a bandanna that includes the data from the AT Data Book with an overview map of the part it covers. Since you get it all on a bandanna, it can be a dual use item and prevent you from needing to carry a Data Book. A part of the profits from the Mapdanna go back to the ATC. Note, these maps are not detailed enough for real navigation.
• Light. One thing you may not associate with navigation right away but should is a light. The light is used when you find yourself on the trail after dark trying to find that campsite or shelter. It helps you in the late evening or early morning to read you map or trail guide. And it helps you to find your way to the privy and back in the dark. It can be as simple as a small keychain LED or as big as a headlamp. Your preference.
• Paper and pen/pencil. Something that can be included is a way to write notes about places as you go for your journal later. They can also help you to leave messages for people at shelters in case there isn’t a shelter journal (not all of them have one).
• Watch. A watch can be a navigation aid. Depending on the watch, you may be able to use it as a compass (see above) but you can also use it to determine when you need to be somewhere and where you are in relation to that place/time while doing so. Say you have to be at the Post Office by 1200 on Saturday or end up staying two extra days in town – a watch would help you keep track of that. It is easy to forget what day of the week it is let alone the time of day when you are in the woods and a watch is the simple solution. But, if you don’t need to worry about when you are supposed to be somewhere, then maybe you might want to slip the handcuff of civilization and live without one. Also, the longer you hike, the better the feel you will gain for estimating the amount of trail you can cover in a given time. So by using a watch, you can estimate how far you have walked, and may even be able to guess with some certainty how many miles you have left to cover to get where you are trying to go.

The last thing I will say is that even though you may have a stack of maps and an entire guidebook for the trail, you don’t have to carry it all at the same time. You can divide your maps for someone to mail you as you move along, and even take the guidebook apart and have it mailed with the maps sections the pages cover. This can save weight and it can keep you from destroying all your maps and guidebook for the entire trail in case something was to ever happen to that stuff while on the trail.

7. Repair/First Aid Kit

I lump these into the same area because some items from one may work for the other – like duct tape can be used to make a bandage or prevent blister, or it can be used to fix a pack strap or broken sandal. I don’t intend to go down the entire list of what should be in a first aid kit because it has already been covered in What Makes a Good First Aid Kit (http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/article.php?p=96993&postcount=1). Instead I will add to that with what you can carry for repairs without needing to add an entire socket wrench set.

• Floss. As mentioned before it can serve as water resistant thread when stitching up your pants or tent.
• Super Glue. This stuff can fix many things temporarily or even permanently. I have even fixed a broken wire connection to a circuit board of someone’s CD player using Super Glue.
• Duct Tape. But who didn’t already know that.
• Safety Pins. These are good for quick fixes on things, or holding together material as you sew it. There is even a good technique to put draw cords back where they belong when you accidentally pull one out using a safety pin.
• Sewing needles. These are needed with the floss when sewing something up. It doesn’t have to look pretty, it just has to work.
• Extra batteries. A technique I use is to make sure all my electronics use the same sized batteries. So my light, MP3 player, camera, and whatever else I may carry can share batteries. This way if my camera batteries die, but I need that one good photo shot – then I can grab the AAAs from my headlamp to make it work. Since these could be in the repair kit a while and not be used until it is critical, I like to use lithium batteries because of the 10 year shelf life. Nothing sucks quite like needing your flashlight when the batteries are dead, and finding out your spares are just as dead.
• Fire starter. I throw this in there because occasionally you will need a fire for heat in a safety situation. A couple of cotton balls soaked in Vaseline will usually do it even in the rain if you know what you are doing. There are other things you can use for this, but that one is my favorite and it is easy to re-stock it in a trail town. Ohh, and they weigh next to nothing.
• Knife or multi-tool. I like a tool like the Leatherman Micra or some of the small Victonox Swiss Army Knives. With these I can usually make a new stove, rip stitches out of material, change a watch battery, trim my nails, cut sausage (clean it between the nail thing and the sausage thing) and other tasks that happen throughout the course of a hiking trip.
• Repair kits for specialty items. Often a stove or inflatable mattress will come with a repair kit. This may be a hint that you might need this sometime in its use. It would suck to be out with a punctured mattress and think about that repair kit they even gave you with the product that is sitting back at the house while you sleep on the hard shelter floor.
• Extra fire source. Someday your lighter will give out, you will run out of matches, or your reliable lighter/matchbook will be wet and need to dry out before it will work again. Simply add something, either a small disposable lighter or some matches, to your repair kit so you have a back up.

I am sure there are other good ideas for multi use items to include in a repair kit that I have not even begun to hit. The idea is to find a few things that can work for multiple items in as many situations as possible. The strategy should be to get it fixed until the next town and evaluate there whether you can continue with it, get it repaired better, or totally replace it.

8. Luxury Items

Now for a can of worms…

There are those that believe you do not need luxury items and then there are those that will not go on a trip without a chair, cards, tunes, lounging hammock, fishing gear, crossword puzzles, journal, camera, video games, musical instrument, stuffed animal, college homework, poetry books, animal identification cards, or whatever. The goal is to find out what you want to carry that will not kill you on your feet and back. And when you do this, it is probably more important when starting to think of what you want to do at the end of a long, hard day of work where you just had the worst day of your life. What is it that you need to bring your spirits up without a lot of effort to get out and use it? For me it is a drink of whiskey, some mellow music by Jimmy Buffett, and the chance to read a little in a book that isn’t about work.

Just think of this: when you go camping, you like to have things to do that occupy your time since you aren’t programming computers, tarring a roof, or watching TV. When you hike, you spend a lot of hours walking and thinking, and sweating and thinking, and thinking about food. The simple fact you stop walking and fix something to eat is going to already be something for you to do and something to look forward to. And the less you carry, the better you attitude may actually be once you get to camp.

After you start hiking a few days, you may always get rid of something you thought you needed. You can always have something you didn’t think you needed but you now miss sent out to you in a mail drop. If it is something simple, you may be able to get it at your next re-supply in town. So before you kill yourself with things that sound like fun, take only what you think you can get away with, and then decide what to change as you go. It isn’t rocket science – you don’t have to think too long or hard on it.

That said, I will leave this list alone. You make it what you want.

Miscellaneous Items…

OK, this wasn’t one of my categories. But I will be finishing the series with the next article on clothing. So before I go there I want to cover some stuff on the example packing list and maybe even a few items that make it into packing lists you may have seen on the web. This is the place where I will throw all those other implements in like hiking poles, wallets, and other assorted items.

• Hiking Poles. A lot of hikers are using trekking poles lately, and you may think that you absolutely must have them – well you don’t. Of course you may want to save your knees on down hills or use a tarp-tent that needs a hiking pole for support. Or maybe you just want to use them. In any case, they are actually somewhat controversial as their use can cause extra damage and erosion to the trail. There are rubber tips that are available that help prevent that – so if you are going to use poles, think hard about getting some tips.
• Bandanna. Even thought this could be listed under clothing, a bandanna is used for so many things that it really is a standard piece of gear for most hikers. You can use if for a towel, pot holder, pre filter, hat, dishrag, etc. Also of note, since most people will avoid cotton for all their clothing, they may do the same since there are now synthetic material bandannas available. But if you try to use a synthetic bandanna in some of these applications you will end up with a melted bandanna.
• Lighter or matches. You may need to light a stove or build a fire, melt a nylon cord end, or whatever. I prefer the disposable lighters that you can adjust the flame, others like matches.
• Pot Cozy. This is a piece of kitchen gear some hikers have to keep food warm. Others just use a fleece hat.
• Zip lock bags. One of the most helpful pieces of gear you can get. There are all sorts of ways you can use these to keep your gear sorted and dry. Freezer bags are tougher than normal ones, and can last a long time. Avoid the ones with the pull handle like you find on zippers – they don’t seal well and the zip handles can break off making them useless.
• MP3 player. The new “cool gear” for hikers. These very small music storage and playback devices can include FM radios for hearing local weather and can store many, many hours of music for very little weight and space.
• Camera. This helps you to save the memories of your trip and share them with others. They can be as simple as a disposable one use camera, or they can be as complicated as an SLR 35mm camera with lenses, flashes, and tripods. The favorites lately are the digital cameras that can do it all while being light and easy to use, use small, easy to get batteries like AAAs, and use removable media like data cards which are easy to mail and light to carry lots of spares.
• Journal. Some hikers like to keep a journal of their activities so that later they can read them and remember things that may fade over time. Some will share their journals on-line or make a nice scrapbook after the hike using the pages. I once thought I would never forget the things I saw and did, but eventually started keeping a journal. Now looking back I am amazed at how quickly you can forget the details.
• Pocket Mail. These devices allow hikers to record their journal and e-mail them in towns. It also allows them to store personal e-mails and review them or answer them later.
• Wallet. In any case, you will probably want some form of ID. You will also probably need to carry some cash, and maybe some phone numbers, calling cards, insurance cards, or whatever. Instead of a full up leather wallet, many hikers use a small zip lock bag for their wallet to keep the stuff in it dry and to keep items in it from falling out. One company even offers a bi-fold zip-lock wallet that is made out of sturdy plastic and weighs very little.
• Carabineers. These are the metal snap link devices used to secure one piece of gear to another piece of gear. They were originally designed for climbing, but now there are many small ones out there that weigh less which are not designed for holding the weight of a climber. These small carabineers are good for attaching water bottles, keys, or most anything to the outside of a pack while making them easy to attach and remove as needed.

I am sure there are more possible items that could be added to this list. But instead of trying to include everything, I will just say that the forums WhiteBlaze are a great resource. If you do a search on a piece of gear, you will probably find more information and opinions about it than you were interested in reading in the first place.

And finally, on to the last article in the series: What to Wear.

Next Article (http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php?p=198663#post198663)

04-28-2006, 17:47
Great article!
... two comments.
Don't forget, lighters cannot be carried on airlines, they will empty your pack if they see it on x-ray.
Be careful using a fleece hat as a pot cozy and sleeping in it, Mr Bear may think you are a melon-head snack :) when he smells food on it (especially in the West).

04-28-2006, 20:51
you can carry matches on a plane though but they have to be strike on the box brand...like that makes a lot of sense

SGT Rock
04-28-2006, 23:40
Well the same could be said of fuel - but there are places close to the trail head to get fuel and matches or lighters before you start.

04-29-2006, 00:37
toothpaste is not necessary for good dental hygiene, the mechanical action of brushing with a tooth brush is sufficient to ward off the baddies. I.e. plaque and the caries that cause tooth decay.

This is particularly true where for just a few months. I don't recommend this as a lifestyle, as you do lose the flouride benefit, but for a few months on the trail . . .

Leaving the toothpast at home is one less potential mess and attractant and less weight and there will be no temptation to spit it into the springs or around the campsite/shelter.

04-29-2006, 08:14

Great write-up. But do you really need spare batteries? With LED lights, batteries last so long, I no longer carry spares. Now, for my digital camera, then that's another story. Other than that, I don't carry anything that need batteries.

SGT Rock
04-30-2006, 08:14
toothpaste is not necessary for good dental hygiene, the mechanical action of brushing with a tooth brush is sufficient to ward off the baddies. I.e. plaque and the caries that cause tooth decay.

This is particularly true where for just a few months. I don't recommend this as a lifestyle, as you do lose the flouride benefit, but for a few months on the trail . . .

Leaving the toothpast at home is one less potential mess and attractant and less weight and there will be no temptation to spit it into the springs or around the campsite/shelter.
Good comment, maybe I will add that as a statement since it is true you can get by like that. For me personally, I like the way a fresh mint flavored brushing helps me wake up in the mornings, and since the scent is mint - it is the same as the mint plants that grow wild in the area anyway. Simply move some duft, spit, and cover it back up. As for the mess possibility, that is another good point - I keep mine in a heavy duty zip-lock like bag some HMMWV part came in, I got it from the motor pool about 6 years ago and it is still alive and strong. Ohh, and one more thought about the going without the toothpaste: I have found when you do it without paste for a while, the tooth brush can get a funky taste and smell from all the old bad breath it scrubs away. Using toothpaste keeps it pleasant until the bristles wear out.

SGT Rock
04-30-2006, 08:16

Great write-up. But do you really need spare batteries? With LED lights, batteries last so long, I no longer carry spares. Now, for my digital camera, then that's another story. Other than that, I don't carry anything that need batteries.
I haven't had to change my headlamp batteries since I switched to my new headlamp (Zipka Plus) but I normal go through camera batteries and MP3 batteries. Since I started using all the same type (AAA) this has made re-supply and packing easier. So I do carry spare batteries for the camera, but they also work for headlamp, MP3, or whatever else I will add since I intend to always get stuff that runns on the same power source for simplicity.

04-30-2006, 08:40
Hand sanitizer- thats what I was thinking of when I mentioned anti bacterial soap or hand cleaning goo;)

04-30-2006, 11:10
Ohh, and one more thought about the going without the toothpaste: I have found when you do it without paste for a while, the tooth brush can get a funky taste and smell from all the old bad breath it scrubs away. Using toothpaste keeps it pleasant until the bristles wear out.

That funky taste/smell is caused by bacteria. You need to rinse your brush better. Why not carry along/soak your brush in some Listerine? Probably weighs less than toothpaste and can be reused (dip your brush in it) as it is antibacterial. You don't need to gargle with it, just give your brush a quick rinse. Maybe after brushing take a small swig and stick your brush in your mouth, rinse the brush in your mouth, then swish the mouthwash around.

For added benefit, use a mouthwash that has alcohol. The longer you swish, the better your morning. :rolleyes:

04-30-2006, 16:15
Carry your lawyers business card with you in case you run into any Ridge Runners or Cops with a Barney Fife attitude.

05-01-2006, 00:33
I probably should've added, that for good health you need to brush longer w/o toothpaste than you ordinarily would with toothpaste,

and Roger the need to rinse the brush.

11-08-2007, 01:29
Carry your lawyers business card with you in case you run into any Ridge Runners or Cops with a Barney Fife attitude.

For what reason?

11-08-2007, 15:02
Sorry, is this series being released in reverse order? I see this part (4) and part 5 but no others.

11-08-2007, 15:34
Sorry, is this series being released in reverse order? I see this part (4) and part 5 but no others.

It starts with Packing list Part 1: The 10 Essentials, the "What to carry" series starts at Packing list Part 2 in the menu list above.

11-08-2007, 16:07
Ah, sorry I see. Since this one didn't have "packing list" as part of the title, I thought it was another series.

11-08-2007, 19:12
No problem. Glad to help clear that up.