10 Things I Sent Home from my Thru-Hike
All hikers do it. They throw that extra [insert whatever] into their bag, just in case. On a weekend jaunt this is no big deal. A few extra pounds are good for you. They give your legs a better workout and justify the three packs of instant noodles you’re having for dinner again and the post-hike pizza and beers that are sure to happen in the nearest town on the way home. On a long-distance hike, however, you get pretty sick of every last ounce that you’re carrying and the time comes when you have to ask yourself, “Do I really need any of this?” The answer, of course, is yeah, you do. But not all of it.
I got to wondering what most hikers end up sending home after a little bit of time on the trail. So I got in touch with some of my hiker buddies, racked my brain for trail memories, and came up with a list of 10 things that seem perfectly sensible to take on a multi-month hike that, after a while, got sent back home in a stinky box to unsuspecting loved ones.
I’d like to thank Jubilee, Iceman, Tundra Wookie, Cincinnati Kid, Shinbone, Treegasm, Sockless, Blazer, the Bartender, Blue Tick and Ado for their contributions. The following interpretation of their data is my fault, not theirs.
What? Your camera? You’re hiking one of the most iconic trails in the world and you sent home your camera? What about the memories and the romantic sunset photos? What about proving to the world how cool you are by taking pictures of yourself standing in front of summit signs? Well, cameras are heavy. Even small cameras are heavy. It’s better to just let day-hikers take your pictures and send them to you when they get back into WiFi range. You’ve got hiking to do; delegate! Not to mention the fact that most phones have built-in cameras these days. Just put that sucker on airplane mode and snap away. (I was going to suggest sending your cellphone home as well, but didn’t want to put up with the backlash. That being said: send your cellphone home! No one wants to talk to dirty Hiker Trash anyway. What are you going to talk about, walking and eating?)
#2: Big Knife
It’s fun to think that you might need a 5-inch blade to pierce a bear’s heart or build an igloo with while in the woods. If you are hiking within the Arctic Circle, you are probably justified in your choice of blade. However, most of the long trails in the U.S. are near enough to roads and thus civilization that the likelihood that you will need a Bowie knife is slim to none. Now, if you plan on getting into a lot of knife fights at the local watering holes along the trail in defense of your honor, don’t let me tell you how to live your life. However, if you’re on the trail just to hike, your knife will get used more to clean your thumbnail before a tough hitch (gotta get that baby shining in the sun if you expect anyone to stop!) than it will anytime else. Toenail clippers are much more useful and, in a pinch, you can totally cut Trail Magic pizza into slices with the nail file they always have attached.
And by extra, I mean any clothes that aren’t worn everyday. Think you’re gonna need a nice pair of town clothes to impress the locals? You can’t hide the stench of your filthy body with a clean shirt. If anything, they may not trust you if your garments don’t match your disheveled beard and noisome body odor. Extra socks are nice, especially a specially protected, sacred Clean Pair for the day you decide you would rather cut your feet off than put them into the same pair of wet socks for the 5th day in a row. A base-layer for unexpected chilly nights is a good idea. But both pants and shorts? Two shirts? A flowery dress for whimsical barn dances by the light of the harvest moon? Send ’em on back. The trail ain’t New York City. There’s no one to impress out there but me (and I will be impressed just to see you out there hiking, clothes or not.)
#4: Games and Toys
Grow up. You’re a hiker now. Think you might bring a pack of cards to while away a rainy day? You’ll be hiking. How about a frisbee to toss while waiting on a shuttle? You’ll be eating. A chess board to challenge opponents around the fire at night? You’ll be sleeping. You will pretty much be hiking, eating, and sleeping exclusively. Taking a zero day and thinking about getting a Magic: The Gathering tournament started at the hostel? Everyone else is at the bar eating, drinking, and sleeping. The others are hiking. Don’t worry. You won’t be bored. You’ll soon learn fun trail games like “Look at that Stick for a While” and “What’s that Noise in the Night” or my personal favorite “Am I Too Tired to Pee?”
Along the same lines of #4, books seem like a great way to relax before bed and get some education at the same time. I read constantly at home. If I’m not working or actively involved in conversation, I’m probably reading. When I’m on the trail, however, I may get 3 pages read before I pass out. Are these few minutes of peace and quiet worth the pound of paper and glue? Probably not. Even the guidebook gets no love. I ripped out every page as I came to it. A lot of hikers end up sending entire sections home as mementos. Think a Kindle or other e-book is a better idea? Well, e-books pages don’t make good tinder for a fire in Maine when its been raining for two weeks.
Any food that needs cooked can be packed up and sent home. Never had cold noodles soaked in stream water? Welcome to hiker cafe. I know what you’re thinking: what about the comfort of a nice, hot meal after a dreary day of socked out views and less than ideal stream crossings? There’s a nice, hot meal waiting for you in the next town. And the town after that. Imagine how good that cheeseburger is going to taste after eating barely rehydrated oatmeal and crumbling protein bars for a few days. You can’t have joy without sadness, you can’t have light without darkness, and you never truly taste a well cooked meal until you’ve been eating partially frozen peanut butter with a tent stake for breakfast for a week.
#7: Stuff Sacks
So you’re gear is all nice and organized and you’re ready to hit the trail. You’ve got your toothbrush and soap separated from your sleeping mat and your rain fly is conveniently in its own bag to keep it from getting everything else wet. Good for you. Now dump all that stuff out of its tiny bags and shove it in your pack anyway you can that’s comfortable. Every time you get to a shelter, your bag is going to vomit all of its contents onto the ground anyway. Your toothbrush will be full of mud, everything will be slightly damp, and individual bags for everything will only stave off for so long the eventual mingling of smells that you will become.
This one might be a bit AT specific, but unless you plan on bushwhacking down the sides of mountains or following strange creeks to their sources, you probably won’t need a map (the CDT is another story, of course.) Here’s how you find your way on the trail: You wake up. You look at the way you came into camp. You go the other way. If you don’t see a blaze within a few hundred feet, you turn around and try again. You can also sniff the air and follow the scent of the early risers that have conveniently already cleared the spider webs out of your face. Want to see what exists along the side trails and blue blazes? Just keep in mind that every step off the trail is a step you have to do again. And it’s usually a climb.
#9: Back-Up Anything
Think you might use that extra tent stake? That’s what sticks are for. Have an ounce of iodine in case your water pump breaks? Giardia is for the weak. Just swish some dirt around in your mouth, you’ll be fine. Tent repair kit? Pole Splint? Mat patch? Shoe Goo? Duct tape. Duct tape might even clean your water. You never know until you try. Back-up food in case of emergency becomes extra snacks on the day before town. Anything you need while you’re on the trail can be traded for with hot sauce. Let others carry it for you. You just hang on to that hot sauce and everything will be fine.
Shelters were built for a reason. Cowboy camping makes your soul tough and your ears sharp. Caught out in bad weather? That’s why night hiking was invented. Just walk to town, curl up under a train, and sleep like the hobo you have become. Like the privacy of your tent? You’re in the woods. Walk 30 feet in any direction that’s not the trail or a campsite and you’ll have all the privacy you could ever want. Besides, you can always curl up under someone’s vestibule in the middle of the night if you get cold or lonely. They will probably just think you’re a bear and start clanging stuff around to scare you away. If you refuse to move, they’ll pass out in fear and both of you will get a good night’s sleep.