Confessions of an Armchair Backpacker

I cannot emphasize enough how inexperienced at backpacking I am.  I am an armchair backpacker, replete with theoretical backpacking expertise.  I have read the gear reviews, watched the how-to-hang-your-bear-bag YouTube videos, consumed approximately every “ten things I wish I knew before I started hiking” list available on the internet.  I even read the comments.

I’ve done a fair number of day hikes (with friends), and a good number of car camping nights (alone and with friends).  I’ve practiced setting up my tent in my office and my living room.  I walk a lot. 

I have not actually backpacked much at all.  I have never planned my own backpacking trip.  I don’t even cook my own food when I car camp–I generally camp near a town and use nearly free lodging as an excuse to splurge on good restaurants.  I haven’t even tested my new stove system outside of my cozy apartment (and I can’t figure out why it just stops sometimes. Help!).

The Numbers

Two: Backpacking trips before my AT thru-hike attempt.

Nine*: Days spent backpacking.

Seven: Nights spent backpacking.

When I was 15 in the summer of 2005, I completed a five-day,, four-night section of the AT with a gang of ten or so high-schoolers and two grownup guides.  At the time, the guides seemed to be 35 and infinitely knowledgeable, but in retrospect, they were probably 21 or 22.

This past summer (I was 28 if you’re counting), I completed a four-day, three-night guided trip in Rocky Mountain National Park with the Wildland Trekking Company.

*And in the true spirit of confessionals, I will admit:  We only packed our stuff in, set up camp, did two days of day hikes without all our gear, and then packed back out on day four.  So my numbers may not even hold up to a close audit. 

In both these cases, I was surrounded by good friends (in 2005 my cheer squad members and Latin class classmates, and in 2018 my best friend/cousin/confidant/support system).  In both cases, an experienced hiking grownup planned my route, supplied my gear, cooked my meals, coordinated my schedule, navigated the trail, and basically tucked me in at night.

The Plan

Learn! From everything and everyone.  Through questions, through trial and error, through comments by you nice people on my posts.  I plan to consume as much information as I can, pay attention to my surroundings and my body, and remain flexible and open to changes in my gear, in my goal, and in my outlook.


…. also I should probably organize a shakedown hike one of these weekends.

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Comments 11

  • Thom Jerky : Dec 12th

    Definitely do several multi-day shakedowns. No car camping allowed. Be safe but figure out what you can do without and get to know your gear. They don’t need to be high-mileage days, in fact they probably shouldn’t be. Figure out if you need a pillow or if your puffy will work, etc. There’s substance behind the cliché “Hike Your Hike”. Good Luck.

  • Dave Mizelle : Dec 12th

    Great post, Emily! Love that you set up your stove indoors as well, we just made mashed potatoes tonight with ours, lol. Hope to see you out on the trail!

  • Jane Lyerly : Dec 12th

    Emily, this is so exciting!!! I am eager to follow your blog!!! I had no idea this was something on your radar, and I admire your tenacity!!! You will definitely be in my prayers for safety and good health!!!

  • Bruce : Dec 13th

    You’re on the right track. What you cannot prep for is what most people struggle with. Relentless bugs, relentless rain, constant pain, sleep deprivation. Not being a killjoy. Just factor in those challenges when you think about your trek. A thru-hike is 50% physical and 90% mental/emotional.

  • Greg : Dec 13th

    There is a reason that such a low percentage of people actually complete the whole trip. Inexperience. Get out and do several consecutive days and nights. Learn about your gear now. Toss what you don’t need to reduce weight. Learn how to take care of your feet, dry your gear, filter water and repack your bag a dozen times. And most important get the proper footwear and break them in. You will take 5 million steps to complete the whole trail. Good luck.

  • Ed : Dec 13th

    As a guess you’re using a BSR stove with a Coleman canister. The Coleman canisters have a longer threaded stem that only works with a Coleman stove. Other canisters i.e. MSR, Jetboil etc. will work with the BSR.

  • Yermo : Dec 13th

    So glad you wrote as you did. Gives old guys (especially me) even more hope!
    Well written and engaging.
    So glad you wrote as “Armchair Backpacker”.
    Thanks much.
    • looking forward to your next posting.

  • Bean-AT'17 : Dec 16th

    My wife and I thru hiked in 2017 with about as much experience as you have, and we made it all the way to Katadhin. You can do it!!! Don’t listen to any nay sayers. Just a small tip though, in our experience Coleman fuel sucks in the cold. MSR and Snow Peak work way better.

  • Flower power : Dec 25th

    I love this post! I had 2 overnight trips under my belt before I SOBOed in 2016. I was essentially clueless and learned everything along the way! You will be just fine. Good luck and enjoy the journey!!

  • Colleen : Dec 25th

    I am in much the same boat as you, albeit quite a bit older (I have kids your age!). I have done a lot of bicycle touring with camping, but have never carried all my gear on my back. I’ve hooked up with a local hiking group, and am learning from their wisdom.

  • Bob Churcher : Dec 25th

    Dont touch Coleman canisters, rubbish….. even if Walmart stocks them…… and dont over think your prep, just get on with it, you can always change stuff as you go, starting with Neels Gap


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