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Preparing for a Long Distance Hike

Prospect Rock, Vermont Long Trail

In the summer of 2012 my son and I set out to hike the entire 270+ mile Vermont Long Trail. The Long Trail was the first long-distance hiking trail in the United States, and it spans the high peaks of the Green Mountains through Vermont from the Massachusetts state line to the Canadian border. We started planning for this trip about 18 months before our journey.

We read extensively about hiking and backpacking. We experimented with different types of food we could eat (and would want to eat) during our epic hike. We exercised and got in shape. We did P90X. And we hiked… and we hiked… and we hiked. We put as many miles on our legs as we possibly could.

Practice Hikes
In the spring of both 2011 and 2012, while the mountain trails were too fragile to be on, we hiked on a local “rail trail”. The Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail “wanders through the farms, forests, fields, and wetlands of Franklin County at a railroad’s pace – slow, steady grades with sweeping bends. For the full length of the Trail, you’ll see the postcard images of Vermont you’ve grown to love.” As that description from the rail trail’s web site implies, the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail is pretty flat. Since it isn’t very challenging from an elevation standpoint, we went long. We would hike anywhere from 6 to 12 miles, at least 5 times each week.

We are fortunate enough to live very close to the Long Trail. So during the summers of 2011 and 2012, we hiked on the trail as often as possible. We primarily did day hikes, but we also went on several trips that lasted 2 or 3 days. The hikes on the rail trail and the day hikes on the Long Trail helped us to get into shape and get used to hiking for hours at a time, but it was the “overnighters” on the Long Trail that enabled us to get comfortable with our gear and hone our skills.

Before deciding to hike the Long Trail, I had hiked and backpacked quite a bit, but I had never been out for more than 2 nights in a row. I have to admit I was a little intimidated by the amount and variety of gear I would have to carry on a multi-week hike. I spent a good deal of time researching different types of gear. I used books such as The Complete Walker IV and The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide; magazines such as Backpacker and Outside; YouTube videos; and other online resources.

I broke down my gear needs into the following categories. There are definitely other ways to categorize your gear, but this is how I did mine:

  • 1) Maps and trail guides
  • 2) Tent
  • 3) Footwear
  • 4) Sleeping gear
  • 5) Water filtration and storage
  • 6) Mess kit (cooking and eating gear)
  • 7) Food
  • 8) Backpack
  • 9) Clothing (and gear carried on-person)

I then spent time, money, and effort on each of these categories. By doing sufficient research, I was able to minimize (but not completely eliminate) buying unnecessary or ineffective equipment. Anyone preparing for a multi-week hike should expect to buy some gear that will end up being left at home. The goal should be to minimize these types of purchases, but don’t expect to eliminate them completely. And please, if you buy a piece of equipment and then find out it is not going to meet your needs, don’t let your ego or your wallet prevent you from finding a better piece of gear. You’ll end up spending a little more money, but it will be worth it in the long run. For example, I bought a JetBoil Flash stove, which I really like, but it just takes up way too much room in my backpack. I ended up buying an MSR Micro Rocket stove that is so much more compact and worked out much better than the JetBoil. I still have the JetBoil, and I still use it, but only on shorter hikes or when I go kayaking. I simply did not buy the right piece of equipment the first time, but I was smart enough to correct the mistake before our hike.

For more details about the gear we used, check out the videos I’ve created on YouTube.  I created one video for each of my 9 gear categories. Here’s a link to a YouTube playlist featuring all 9 videos.  While you’re over there check out some of my other videos and consider subscribing to my channel.

YouTube Playlist – Preparing for an Epic Hike

So for 18 months my son and I prepared.  We got in shape.  We studied.  We practiced.  We refined our gear.  We were extremely well prepared when we set out for our journey on Saturday August 11, 2012.  What could  possibly go wrong?  Well as they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men…”  Find out what happened to us in my next post: Epic Hike Becomes Epic Fail

Do you have any epic hikes planned for this summer?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

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