AT Prep: Opinions are exactly that… opinions


For anyone diving into the world of extended backpacking, odds are, countless hours of your life have been consumed in search of the “right” way to approach this newfound lifestyle. If you are like myself, and many other newcomers, you’ll probably find yourself eating up every bit of information you can find. From spending your free time reading every backpacking related book you can get your hands on to devoting your entire evening to surfing sites such as whiteblaze. This might possibly be the most time you will ever dedicate to researching something in your entire existence.

The Dilemma:

The virtual world of backpacking holds a never ending source of information. Enough information to make a newcomer think he is a certified expert on the subject. With this newly acquired imaginary certification, one might decide it is time to step into the local outfitters and browse for gear.  Obviously this story is about me, but trust me… I have met plenty of other people in the same boat. So, back to the story…. As I strolled through the isles I couldn’t help myself. There I stood staring in awe at the magnificence that had been set before me. Everything I was researching was right in front of me and it was all mine to gawk at. I was like a kid in a candy store…. a very… very… expensive candy store. So, there I was in the midst of all this glorious backpacking gear and it was finally time for me to get an idea of what some of these items were like in person. The only problem is after all the researching I had done it dawned upon me that I had the faintest clue as to which gear I actually needed…. We will discuss why in a minute….

In my mind I was casually browsing the selection of awesomeness, but in reality I looked like a chicken with my head cut off. This was an issue because experienced backpackers seem to sniff out newcomers as if they have a stench about them. They are the hunters and I was the unsuspecting prey. As I lifted my sights above these glorious items I began to notice what seemed to be all eyes in the room hovering in my general direction. It was at this point a feeling of dread came over me. I wasn’t ready to talk to a real backpacker and be made a fraud. I looked around and saw the exit. This was it… do I bolt? …. or do I man up and take my punishment? …. Oh wait! what is that neat looking trinket? and that’s when it happened. As i stood in awe of this majestic piece of gear a shadow rolled over it and the items that lay before me. As I turned in horror to the direction of the individual I knew that I was not only busted, but now trapped since he stood between me and the only exit. So, I did what any polite individual would do. I asked for advice on the items I had been browsing for the last 45 minutes.

Turns out he was just a backpacking enthusiast trying to help out a newcomer. Yep, he spotted me from across the store and decided to lend a helping hand. Not such a bad thing after all. I spent nearly 30 minutes chatting with the fellow and received some valuable advice on gear selection and the trail. Much more than I learned from all the flip flopping I had seen online…. by flip flopping I mean every person having a different stance on gear and how to use it. This is the reason I had no idea what I actually needed…..back to the story…. again… So now that I had solid, real world advice it was time to follow through with some purchases. Only, I made it two isles over before another individual stopped me. Guess what…. another… backpacking enthusiast. Well, what do I have to lose. “More valuable advice,” I thought to myself. Can you guess what the issue was? Most of the advice this fellow gives me contradicts what the other guy just told me… Here I was nearly 2 hours later back to square one due to the same kind of flip flopping I read online.

In the end I would have 5 different tents recommended as the best and most widely used tent on the AT, told I was an idiot if I carried a trowel, and then told it was a necessity all in the same week. This list of advice goes on to include: getting yelled at for even considering a tent, told hammocks are useless junk, assured I would starve to death unless I used the mail drop system, offending another hiker for wanting to bring a camera on the trail, told to not bring a shelter and only sleep in AT shelters, suggested I bring what amounted to 5 pounds of spare clothing or I would most certainly die of hypothermia, then told to only bring what I am wearing plus a shell layer, looked at like I was in need of a mental examination for hiking northbound and sequentially told 90% of hikers travel southbound(obviously not the case), told the pros wear waterproof boots only and that rain protection below the waste is pointless by the same person, predicted to be a successful thru hiker, then told I would never make it if my pack had a base weight of more than 10 pounds, and much more.

An Epiphany:

The fact is the amount of information relating to backpacking is as vast, and in depth, as it is opinionated. For the newcomer this library of knowledge can come at a price. The price of being even more confused about what to do than when you started. When you look for advice you will be told how to hike, sleep, eat, and shit in the woods countless ways. The reason there is so much variation to this lifestyle is because this advice is not a set system of facts, but rather the opinions of individuals and how they prefer to go about backpacking. Opinions are just that… Opinions. Don’t stress over it too much. Research it, welcome advice, respect everyone’s opinion, and test out everything yourself. Use this vast web of knowledge to find out what works for you. Hell, this entire blog is an opinion and this is after all your hike. So hike it the way you want to!

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Comments 2

  • Jerry Prendergast : Aug 30th

    I just started and finished a hike 21 miles later. I packed too much(food), the tempts & humidity did me in, along with an associated hip problem.
    I did the same research, trained with a 35 lb pack, was did in by unusual weather. Go Figure.
    My advise keep it basic, no extra’s, 4 days food tops, extra water container(empty) in case you need it.

    Hike your way.

  • Nadine : Nov 2nd

    Your posts inspire me and this particular one reminds me of the many, many, varying opinions and personal preferences (AKA unsolicited ‘advice’) I received during my pregnancies and impending births…and the horror stories…all of which I allowed to float over and around me, in order to make my way through without more worry and fear than I already had. I informed myself guided by my gut and listened closely when I could tell someone else’s words aligned with my feeling and thoughts and intentions. I had three AMAZING pregnancies, three beautiful and difficult (but not outrageously impossible), natural births…and subsequently am raising and supporting three AMAZING teen daughters SOLO since they were very little! After my first (she’ll be 16 in December) was born, in a tub of warm water after 8 hours of labor…I remember saying out loud, with tears of pride and a huge smile “there’s NOTHING I can’t do”. I had forgotten this until just now. I will hike the AT, with some gear and some food and water.

    This book contains a favorite mantra of mine…as well as many wonderful words and drawings…

    We can’t go over it.
    We can’t go under it.
    Oh no!
    We’ve got to go through it!

    keep on… be safe 🙂 -N


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