9 Lessons Learned from My Shakedown Hikes

My first overnight shakedown outing was actually in our backyard using camping equipment from the 1990s.  It was a total failure, with me waking at 1 a.m. believing that I’d never get back to sleep and so heading back inside to my warm, comfortable waterbed. To be fair, the backyard trial was to determine if our Goldendoodle, Bodhi, would actually sleep in a tent and in that sense was successful. Subsequent shakedowns involved newer, more appropriate equipment and a few trips far from home. Here’s a summary of what I learned.

There are great places to backpack, even in Ohio.

AllTrails, Hiking Project and Gaia GPS pointed us to several backpacking trails within easy driving distance from home with very cool features. Twin Creek, Germantown Metropark, Zaleski Forest, and Archer’s Fork were just a few that we explored during our shakedown hikes.

Practice using all your equipment before heading out on the trail.

On one of our first mornings camping together, Chris set up the stove to boil water and then went to pack up the tent. I misjudged how much water I needed for my cream of wheat and emptied out the pot. Unfortunately, I had not yet learned how to work our stove so Chris came back and had to heat more water for his breakfast and coffee. Did I mention it was raining? To say he was an unhappy camper is an understatement.

It’s easy to get lost.

We intended to hike from Big Pinnacle to Little Pinnacle in Grayson Highlands and ended up in a parking lot — not even the one where we parked our car. Retracing our steps, we discovered that we turned off the trail too soon and missed the correct intersection. We hadn’t paid close enough attention when we took the spur tail to Big Pinnacle. An important lesson — pay attention especially when leaving the main trail!

My beautiful, warm puffy wasn’t suitable for backpacking.

I got a beautiful lavender-colored, Columbia Sportswear puffy with thermal-reflective lining on sale and it appeared to be the perfect insulating layer. Wrong. It didn’t pack down small, was a tight fit under my rain/wind jacket, and was uncomfortable to sleep in. Three strikes and you’re out. I replaced it with a one that ticked all those boxes. Still love my lavender puffy, just not for backpacking.

Be careful when choosing ultralight equipment.

After reading a gazillion reviews I purchased a very highly-rated, ultralight sleeping pad. I may as well have been sleeping on a stack of newspapers. At one point I woke up and thought I must have rolled off my pad. Nope. Still under me just fine but not cushioning my butt worth a damn. It took me two separate trips of poor sleeping before I decided to replace it with a pad that weighed a few ounces more but let me sleep through the night. Worth every extra ounce!

Items stored in the tent vestibule overnight should be in plastic bags.

The sun was setting and clouds rolling in when we arrived at our campsite so we choose a site quickly and set up our tent. We woke up in a literal puddle. Luckily everything in the tent was dry but my shoes that had been left in the tent vestibule were absolutely soaked. The good news is that the expensive merino wool socks that I grumbled about purchasing are worth every penny, keeping my feet warm even inside soaking wet shoes.


Making breakfast on the privy porch is not as gross as it sounds.

We camped at the Scales on our Mt. Rogers trip and awoke to a steady rain.  We could either start hiking without coffee (horrors!) or make coffee and breakfast on the porch of the privy! It sounds funny, but the pit toilet stalls were both really large and the structure had a huge front porch that was under cover. We propped open the doors to shield us from the wind (we obviously weren’t the first ones to do this…) and had breakfast and coffee before packing up and heading out on the trail.

I love camping!

Even with all my missteps and challenges, I discovered that I truly love camping. It’s wonderful to sit outside as evening falls, sip piping hot coffee in the morning, and waking up in the tent next to my love and our pup. Of course the backpacking part is cool too, but the best news is that I’ll get to camp out nearly every night on our thru-hike!

Finally Lesson … I Can Do This!

During our shakedown hikes, I successfully climbed my first 4,000 ft. peak at Cascade Mountain, slept outside in a tent in 24 degree temperatures, and hiked back-to-back double-digit mileage days with a 28 lb. pack! While I can’t say that I’m definitely ready for the AT in March, my confidence was boosted by these accomplishments. Springer Mountain, here I come!




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Comments 4

  • Charles Moffitt : Jan 1st

    My wife and I thru hiked the AT in 2002. We were Flame and Papa Smurf. I was 55 and she was 50. Greatest adventure of our life. We are still section hiking it. Can’t get enough!! We are on Trail Journals.com. Hike your own hike. Take it slow at the beginning. Don’t worry about your miles they will come when you hit Virginia. Have fun!!

  • Tim Hockenbury : Jan 3rd

    I’m 56 and have planned to thru hike myself with a start date of March 7 as well. Maybe we might run into each other. Good luck.

  • Yvonne Fochesato : Jan 24th

    Hello….good luck! Wanna be AT thru hiker 2028, when we are both retired. We day-hiked 45 miles in 4 days, and we were hooked. We did several camping trips with adding new equipment and more trips this year. We down-sized a trailer to a backpack tent. Happy trails..yvonne


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