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Thread: Lessons Learned

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    Registered User j03210's Avatar
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    Default Lessons Learned

    I just went on my first solo hike this past weekend at Myakka State Park in Sarasota, Florida and learned a lot about backpacking that will help me to make it through the Appalachian Trail on March 1st, '09. First, I'll run through a list of the gear that I currently own and tested out this past weekend, then I'll talk about what I learned.

    On my trip to Myakka, I ran with an Osprey Atmos 50 backpack, low-top Merrell Moab Ventilator shoes with Superfeet insoles, a Slumberjack 40 degree sleeping bag, Princeton Tec LED headlamp, Vargo 'Ti-Lite' mug 'Triad' stove set, Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter, 2-liter Platypus, raincover, 250 ml denatured alcohol container for stove, four 1-gallon ziplocks, a 4-liter Sea to Summit stuffsack for clothes, a Marmot PreCip shell, a Hennessy hammock, and a bunch of other random trinkets (lighters, TP, soap container, etc). For the most part, aside from the sleeping bag and hammock, these are the items that I plan to bring with me on my AT thru-hike. My list of gear is not nearly complete as of yet, as I still need maps, clothes, a sleeping pad, and tent, among other things that I am currently in the process of researching. When I get my full list of gear together, I'll post it for critique on this forum.

    My adventure through Myakka was a learning experience. It was a six-day journey through straight wilderness with neglected and overgrown trails, lackluster trail markings, and abundant wildlife trails passing through the actual trails that'd confuse even the most experienced hikers. Overall, the park has some serious character, in an ancient, labyrinth-like way. As I was trudging through knee-deep wetlands during the fifth day of my excursion, on one of my many unplanned off-trial diversions that had arisen throughout the weekend, I remember having the recurring thought that there should be a slogan for prospective long-distance backpackers at Myakka: it should go something like, "Myakka State Park Primitive Camping - You Will Get Lost." I think I'm gonna propose it to the park rangers .

    The main difference between Myakka and the AT, from what I can gather, is that the AT is pretty much a straight shot - either you are on the trail or you aren't - at Myakka, there is plenty of (much needed) room for error. At Myakka you are wandering around on a large plot of land in a maze-like manner, turning onto side-trails and intersecting trails and bicycle trails and main roads, and often times bushwhacking your way to the nearest trail. On the AT you are still wandering around on a large plot of land, but in a more focused and linear fashion. I'm hoping that the AT doesn't require quite as much concentration and map-dissection as Myakka - it gives you a headache after awhile - but who knows, maybe. This is not to say that the AT is actually straight, as I'm sure some people will point out, but what I mean is that it's straight-forward, whiteblazes or no whiteblazes, you're either on your way to Katadhin or you're not.

    For the first three days of the six-day hike I went with a partner, a girl from my school who was super enthusiastic about the idea of spending 3 days in the wild. For the last 3 days I was solo. Many people have asked me so far which one was better, being alone or with a partner, and all I can say is that it's not a fair comparison to make; it's not a matter of better or worse. The experience is just different, way different. I took in my experiences more deeply when I was alone, but at the same time had no one to share them with. When I was with a partner, things did not sink in quite as deeply and sort of rested on the surface, but I was able to share them with someone else who could reify them. Both have their benefits and disadvantages, and it's a matter of personal preference, of what you are attempting to make of the hiking experience, that should determine whether you choose to go solo or duo. For me, a solo hike it is.

    The weather at Myakka was sunny and mild for the most part. It rained on the first day, which made the entire park wet for the next five days, but it made the experience all the more valuable. Since it rained on the first day, I realized what a big impact the weather can have on a hiker's morale. Morale should be nurtured and placed high up on the list of a hiker's priorities, because once morale begins to falter, all other things diminish shortly thereafter. In order to keep morale high, it was important for me to maintain a good, healthy diet - to eat warm food on cold days, for example - and not to push myself too hard, but to take a moment to relax and look around every so-often when the inspiration struck. Getting from one place to another, whether in backpacking or by any other means, is an experience that is fulfilled through both pushing and releasing - through going that extra mile, as well as through taking a moment to oneself. It seems to me that, while hiking, a positive morale is closely tied with one's relationship with the the conditions of the day, including terrain and weather, as well as personal factors.

    Here is an example of what I mean:
    The nights at Myakka were freezing cold, dropping down into the 30s for the first time this season. I didn't expect for the weather to be so severe, so I was really unprepared. First, my sleeping bag was a 40 degree bag that wasn't keeping me warm at all during the cold nights. Also, I regretfully didn't bring pants on the trip, so I was sleeping in shorts for the entire night. Needless to say, the nights were sleepless and frustrating. In the mornings, I would pack up all my stuff right away and hit the trails to warm myself up. The happiest and most uplifting day that I had on my trip was the last day, after the coldest night, when I woke up relaxed, lied in bed for a little while and watched the sunrise, and started a fire and cooked a hot meal in the morning before hitting the trail. This was one of the most important lessons that I learned at Myakka: that it is okay and often wise to take it slow.

    As for my gear, the Atmos 50 held up really well. It's a sweet bag, and a perfect size for a solo hiker: not too big, not too small, and not too fancy. It's basic and simple, and that's why I like it. My Merrells held up really well in the cold rain, especially after trudging through knee-high water. They dried out quickly and are still in good condition; dirt and debris worked their way off of the shoes really well. They are also lightweight, flexible, and comfortable, which I hope will make them good thru-hiking shoes. The Superfeet insoles are durable and good for your feet and I'd recommend them to anyone. As I write this thread, a Mountain Hardware Phantom 32 sleeping bag is making its way to my doorstep by mail; I believe that this bag, along with a silk liner, will be more than enough support to get me happily through the AT. The Slumberjack 40 is sweet for sleep-overs, but not for anything long-term in the wilderness. The Princeton Tec LED headlamp is nice; it has 4 different intensities to choose from to prolong battery life, and an indicator that shows when the batteries are running low. The Vargo 'Ti-Lite' mug 'Triad' stove set is nice because it's small and lightweight, but it's tough to balance the mug properly on the stove. If you have to stir the contents of the mug, you have to hold the handles while doing so, and if flames are crawling up the sides of the mug, this can be a very painful endeavor. I'm still recovering from several burn blisters on my hands that resulted from my dealings with this stove. I'm hoping that with a well-fitted windscreen most of these problems will work themselves out, but I'll have to get back to you on this. It's a great possibility that I'll end up sending the whole stove set-up home and going cold at some point along the AT. The idea of warm food is nice, but once I'm out of the really cold weather, I think I'll be able to do without it. Also, my 250 mL container for denatured alcohol is too big to fit in the mug with the lid on it, so I need to find a smaller one. I think a squirt bottle for fuel would also be better instead of an open-lid design, because it's a pain when you're trying to fill the stove and you spill fuel on the ground and have to move it so you don't start a forest fire. I'd rather just get all of the fuel in the canister with minimal concentration and effort, and light it up. The Katadyn Hiker Pro is an awesome water filter; it's a great design, easy to use with the Platypus bladder, and it seems very durable and reliable. A 2L bladder seems to be more than enough for a day's hike.

    If anyone has any comments, advice, or suggestions about clothing or gear, please share.

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    Sounds to me like if you could keep hiking in those conditions you won't have any self-inflicted problems on the trail. If you can maintain good health, sounds like you will do just fine.
    Yahtzee

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    I have hiked both the AT and in Myakka River St. Pk. BIG difference. AT is up and down in elevation and MRSP is flat flat flat.

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    Registered User Joe8484's Avatar
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    If I read your post correctly you will be switching from a hammock to a tent. If that is correct, you should know the difference between the two regarding keeping warm. Sounds like a great trip though
    "Impossible just takes a little longer"

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    I see U live in St. Pete. I used to live in Tampa. The "freezing temps." most Floridians talk about R quite a bit different than the freezing temps. encountered on the AT. For the Mar 1 start date of your hike I would be prepared for some nights with nighttime low temps. in the teens, maybe even upper single digits. A 32* bag, even with a liner, is really pushing extremes. Be prepared.

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    Teddy Bear in a hammock HikerRanky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dogwood View Post
    I see U live in St. Pete. I used to live in Tampa. The "freezing temps." most Floridians talk about R quite a bit different than the freezing temps. encountered on the AT. For the Mar 1 start date of your hike I would be prepared for some nights with nighttime low temps. in the teens, maybe even upper single digits. A 32* bag, even with a liner, is really pushing extremes. Be prepared.
    Just as an example, tonight's low at Clingman's Dome is going to be in the low 10s......

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    Registered User Doctari's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dogwood View Post
    I see U live in St. Pete. I used to live in Tampa. The "freezing temps." most Floridians talk about R quite a bit different than the freezing temps. encountered on the AT. For the Mar 1 start date of your hike I would be prepared for some nights with nighttime low temps. in the teens, maybe even upper single digits. A 32* bag, even with a liner, is really pushing extremes. Be prepared.
    Indeed! Especially if you are native to Fla. My work/hiking partner Matt is a S fla Native, he stops shivering at 70 & is not really happy till it's about 88 or higher. So like Dogwood says: "freezing temps." most Floridians talk about R quite a bit different than the freezing temps. encountered on the AT.

    I think you will have a good trip, but just be prepared to get a little cold! I have hiked in GA & the other S states in March in temps down to 20. Add rain & wind,, well you get the picture. I have also seen temps when the daily high was just over freezing.

    My cold weather gear gets me down to 20 easily, Matt can't use my winter gear in the summer, not enough insulation. As another example: Matt uses a 40 degree bag for summer hiking, temps only expected to drop to 70. I carry a thin fleece blanket, we both sleep comfortable & warm; him totally covered, me, on top of the blanket.

    Everyone is different, but I thought the examples may give you a "heads up". Do you need to change gear? I can't tell you that, you know what you need to keep warm, take that!
    I know you know this but: Bear in mind when you set up camp: Location Location Location!!
    Camp out of the prevaling wind.
    Even a slight elevation change can improve/worsen your ambient temp.
    Face your door/tarp opening away from the prevaling wind, ot across it.

    As to the rest of your gear, Looks good, & you can always change as you go if need be.
    Curse you Perry the Platypus!

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    Registered User j03210's Avatar
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    I really appreciate the advice and will take these things into consideration when getting the rest of my gear together. I still plan to do a few more hikes before March 1st, most likely the FT for a few weeks in February, and maybe a few others, so hopefully I'll have the chance to test out some of my gear in some colder weather. As for being a Florida native, I just go to school in St. Petersburg, I'm originally from Syracuse, NY, so I have a decent idea of what colder weather truly feels like, although, I'll be honest, my tolerance for cold weather has changed significantly since coming to school here. I think that the cold weather will be a challenge, probably the challenge, for the first few weeks, but will be something that I can work through. Since I'm using a 32 degree bag with a liner, is there anything else that you would recommend that I look into as far as warming up? Should I look consider more layers, thicker layers, better thermals, or maybe a blanket? What's the best and most functional approach to take? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Also, I've heard from a few people that a free-standing tent is the way to go, so you can move it around as needed once it's set up, what are your feelings about this?

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    AT 4000+, LT, FHT, ALT Blissful's Avatar
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    Just get a lower rated bag than that. A 20 degree with a liner (many seem to like the Campmor down bag, though I have never used it). It can get down to single digits in March and often the teens. And the dampness makes it feel colder than it really is. Then you have the Smokies. Snow. etc. And the Whites later on.

    You're going to need different gear than a FL hike to stay warm in the mtns. Though your gear will work fine by mid May until Glencliff.

    I used a tarptent for the first half of the hike by I do like a free standing tent. Esp when up north.







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    Registered User j03210's Avatar
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    My bag just came in the mail today and I sent it back. I did some research and talked to a few people and decided that a 32 degree bag really is pushing it on the AT in the cold season. Thanks for the recommendations; they came just in time. As of right now, I'm looking at the Marmot Sawtooth 15 and the Campmor 20 bags, but I'm gonna wait a few more days and do some more research before I make a decision. If anyone knows of any other bags that I should consider that are reasonably priced, please let me know. Again, thanks for the advice, and any more comments and suggestions are more than welcome.

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    Kilted Thru-Hiker AT'04, PCT'06, CDT'07 Haiku's Avatar
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    I used a 30 degree bag on the entire AT. I definitely shivered a few nights in the south, but remember that you can wear clothes inside it too! Definitely don't wear your hiking clothes, but if you have a jacket, or long underwear, that will help bolster the rating. Also, a hat is essential.

    Haiku.

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    Default Keeping warm in NC..

    I would second the recommendation on bags a 15-20 degree bag is needed.
    I'm from Syracuse originally also, (Now in NC). The wet cold in the southeast can be surprisingly uncomfortable. In NY and NC, I've found that you can really extend a sleeping bags range with (dry)long underwear, or even fleece pants and/or tops. I have a fleece vest that I really like. I wear it under a rain jacket when cold and in a sleeping bag.

    It's not a bad idea to carry some "insurance" fleece for when you stop for the day, and extending your bags warmth. Snow is not uncommon at Mt.Rogers in April. The right sleeping pad will make a big difference also. It might not be a bad idea to use a thicker/warmer (unfortunately heavier) pad for the first 8 weeks or so. After that you can send it home, along with your fleece.

    Since you survived your trip in Fla you should be okay. The main difference between Syracuse and GA/NC in the late winter is the wetness. Down here it will rain/sleet around the freezing mark, making 33 degrees feel very cold. A Syracuse native "laughs" (ha ha) at 33, but the wetness makes a huge difference.

    Have fun!

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    Registered User Doctari's Avatar
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    Ahh, from NY you are used to the cold, so: Nevermind!

    Sorry, can't help much with the sleeping bag & tent questions, I'm a hammocker. But, lots of room to move, within reason is great.
    I have used (& still own) a bivy tent, with room for me & some of my gear OK for spending the night in, but hiding from a storm can be a bit tight. My new shelter actually allows me to walk around some if I need to: Spent 14 hrs hiding from a storm in May, not once did I feel cramped, can't imagine spending that long in my bivy tent witout loosing my mind. My shelter is a little heavier 3 Lbs instead of 2, but I can set up for 13.5' x 10' in the right places, & I think a backkpacking shelter with 135 square feet of space isn't too shabby at 3 Lbs
    My first bag was rated at 35deg, & kept me warm to 25, my new Ray J quilt is supposed to work to about 29, & I have easily used it to 19, sounds like your set up is fine.

    Quote Originally Posted by j03210 View Post
    I really appreciate the advice and will take these things into consideration when getting the rest of my gear together. I still plan to do a few more hikes before March 1st, most likely the FT for a few weeks in February, and maybe a few others, so hopefully I'll have the chance to test out some of my gear in some colder weather. As for being a Florida native, I just go to school in St. Petersburg, I'm originally from Syracuse, NY, so I have a decent idea of what colder weather truly feels like, although, I'll be honest, my tolerance for cold weather has changed significantly since coming to school here. I think that the cold weather will be a challenge, probably the challenge, for the first few weeks, but will be something that I can work through. Since I'm using a 32 degree bag with a liner, is there anything else that you would recommend that I look into as far as warming up? Should I look consider more layers, thicker layers, better thermals, or maybe a blanket? What's the best and most functional approach to take? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Also, I've heard from a few people that a free-standing tent is the way to go, so you can move it around as needed once it's set up, what are your feelings about this?
    Curse you Perry the Platypus!

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    Just finished the Myakka as my first overnight hiking trip and couldn't agree more with the original post. They need to do a better job, especially at the trail head! There is an orange blaze marking the trail, a few blue blazes and nothing but Forrest surrounding. I had to search quite a bit to find a sign leading to my camp or an orange blaze. The prarie is where id assume most get lost, that was ridiculously confusing. Overall, had fun and averaged 15 miles a day!

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    Registered User Philip's Avatar
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    Default Sleeping Warm

    I too am going to school in a warm climate (south Texas) and wanted to be sure I had enough warmth until I get re-climatized to northern temperatures. Here's what I bought for my 2010 SOBO:

    Marmot Helium 15 degree down bag
    Sea to Summit silk liner
    Closed-cell foam pad

    If that doesn't do it, I'll also have along a pair of silk thermals and possum-down socks, gloves and hat (thermals and socks are dedicated to sleeping only so they stay dry and clean).

    The best part is I've got all this warmth and it's all super lightweight stuff!

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    I usually sleep in my panties, I have thermal underwear just in case though.

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    In my experience adding clothing inside a sleeping bag doesn't mean you will be warmer, I know this is a long standing debate so you might want to try this out before heading to Springer with a 35 deg bag and freezing your ass off wearing everything you have.

    In 1995 we had lows in the teens in March and had a cold snap near Mt Rogers some 6 weeks later, in 1996 it snowed on 1 March at Hawk Mountain, last year I left 9 April and it was snowing at Dicks Creek Gap a few days later. Two weeks later we had low's in the 20's in the Smokies. I'm not talking about wind chill either.

    I would spend the money on a good down bag, and bring along a nice warm hat. Forget about one bag doing the whole trip, the sooner you accept that the better, or be prepared to shiver in the south and sweat buckets in Pennsylvania - just my view.

  18. #18

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    Myakka is a great place...I've spent quite a bit of time there on the river and in the woods and on the prairie...15 miles a day is not very impressive for the flat terrain, so don't use the mileage you can cover there to gauge how far you will make it on the AT. I've done day hikes there that were over 30 miles. I was doing 10 to 15 mile days there to prep for the AT and my 55 pound pack was easy to carry on flat ground...on the AT I averaged about 5 miles a day for the first week. Don't be fooled by the easy miles.

    And you're right, the trails there are not maintained very well...the fact is they aren't used all that much for the speed at which things grow, rot and wash away in a sub-tropical climate. Most people just drive through the park...some rent a canoe...very few camp there unless they are car camping or have an RV.

    And just a tip about water there...they are all shallow wells, about 20ft deep, so you will still need to boil or filter your water...I was told by an oldtimer once while camping at Bee Island that the well at Bee Island is contaminated with arsenic...he said the farm that used to be there many moons ago had dug pits and filled them with an arsenic solution to run their cattle through to kill parasites and the arsenic had gotten into the water table. The guy said he was one of the ones who helped build most of the trails at Myakka, so I think he probably knew what he was talking about. So if you plan on camping at Bee Island pack your water in.

  19. #19

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    Well sounds like you learned your lesson bud

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