Gear Before and After Shakedown Hikes

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” ― Julia Child, My Life in France

Malchus, E. Dessert Queen’s First Camping Adventure with her family. Green Coleman Tent. Summer 1970. Author’s personal collection

In the 1970s my family packed up to embark on our first of many summer car camping adventures.  Car camping was sold to my parents as an inexpensive way to discover the USA and for a family of soon to be six to “Get away from it all.”  Mom became the navigator in the shotgun seat and used free state maps, Rand McNally Travel Guide, and AAA triptiks to identify where we would stay for the night. She was quite proficient at knowing the symbols that showed KOAs, state and national parks that had a flush toilet, showers and swimming pools and/or playgrounds (used to run off our pent-up car energy before bed).  My family traversed the country hiking, touring and exploring historical and unique and off-the-beaten-path sites, hiking on trails both in urban settings (e.g., Philadelphia Freedom Trail) and national and state parks (e.g., Redwoods State Park trails).  In hindsight, my parents maybe were ahead of their time by implementing “hands-on-learning.”  I just thought it was cool to stand in the place where: Clara Barton, Laura Ingalls Wilder, George Washington Carver, or Molly Pitcher stood. 

On our first adventure, we pointed the car and gear trailer to Yellowstone National Park and the Badlands National Park.  My family spent the first night at a campground in Iowa and that night lives on in family lore.  Everything went according to plan.  Dad, my brother and I put up the evergreen Coleman canvas tent purchased at Sears.  My toddler brother jumped up and down in his wooden playpen. Mom cooked a “four square meal” with her new aluminum stackable pots and pans over a Coleman’s white gas, two burner stove.  Her recipes were made up from her Girl Scouts days and friends who camped, (Note: In 1975 Mom switched up her cooking by using Harriet Barker’s One Burner Gourmet Cookbook). It was a picture perfect camping experience, until it began to thunder, rain, hail and tornado (yes, I know tornado isn’t a verb.)

If the tornado sirens went off, my seven year old self slept through the whole ordeal.  I only remember the next morning, waking up in a wet sleeping bag and the whole tent basement being one big wading pool. Nothing was dry in our tent including the clothes, because the suitcases had been left open.  A good chunk of the day was spent at a laundromat drying out.  

Malchus, E. Drying sleeping bag due to rain storm first night camping. Summer 1970. Author’s personal collection

The Rand McNally Guidebook promoted good planning before heading out.  My parents didn’t take this advice lightly.  Our shakedown for this adventure had been setting up and taking down the tent in the backyard, blowing up the air mattresses, rolling up the sleeping bags and filling up the 5 gallon thermos.  While Mom and Dad became experts on the stove and lanterns.  Dad had read and re-read the directions to all equipment, however there was a piece of information missing from the tent manufacturer’s instructions: how to waterproof your tent.  As we were drying out after that night of severe weather, a kind camping neighbor told Dad about wetting down the canvas and letting it dry.  “I guess last night’s weather did the waterproofing for us,” Dad said.

The purpose of a shakedown is to evaluate what works and what doesn’t.  One should consider it a trial run, test drive or if you’ve been in theater– a dress rehearsal.  In the continuous quality improvement cycle (CQI): the shakedown hike is the “doing” so you can evaluate and possibly make changes.  Let it be known, the shakedown hike is not finite.  Each time Mr. Rook and I hike, it’s a shakedown hike in a fashion. Returning home, we always review what happened and tweak, improve, or remove an unwanted item.  

You might say, I am following my parent’s example after our first car camping experience.  Before we embarked on our 1971 summer camping adventure, my parents (Dad and pregnant Mom) reviewed what worked and what didn’t work.  See the trailer in the picture, it and its  contents were left at home (including the folding picnic table). My parents had a revised emergency plan that included tornadoes. .  

Malchus, E. Dessert Queen and her family in front of the trailer filled with camping supplies. The trailer was only used on the First Camping Adventure. Summer 1970. Author’s personal collection.

Excerpt: “Be Prepared” by William Letford.

“wear three T-shirts and one hooded top

layers are important

they can always come off

remember your oilskins

it’s always raining somewhere”

To read the full text:  Scottish Poetry Library Be prepared by William Letford – Scottish Poetry Library


Shakedown Hikes

This past week I have been reading the AT 2023 posts on Facebook.  Someone wrote that they had believed the bloggers and vloggers that showed the AT as having only sunshine and butterflies.  It’s been cold in Ohio and the weather on the trail has been experiencing the same.  Others wrote about how they chose gear based on the lists of “what folks were using;” and they confessed their gear’s maiden voyage has been on their thru AT hike.  They had never implemented a shakedown hike. Now, many are off the trail, because they discovered the gear wasn’t working for them.      

Mr. Rook and I have always felt that gear should support the hiker’s needs.  Each hiker is different, thus what they need for their hike to be successful may be the opposite from Mr. Rook or mine.  For example, 

  • I am allergic to tuna and the recipes for tuna bombs sound fabulous, but a trip to the emergency room off a mountain doesn’t sound less fabulous. I need to use recipes with other protein sources.  
  • Parking at a trailhead may be a good idea for some.  Our vehicle was broken into.  We now pay to park or get a shuttle ride.  
  • My seven layering system may seem extreme compared to Mr. Rook who only needs to wear five.  It has taken me several months and weeks to discover what I need to keep warm outside in 20-30 F degree weather. 
  • Arizona Eagle loves hammocks whereas we prefer tents.  
  • Not to beat people over the head with this point, but on several of my Women’s Backpacking Meet-ups and Facebook groups, there has been a large discussion over gear lists that only include two pairs of underwear.  This may be fine for one person, but for a hiker who has urinary incontinence they may need four pairs of underwear and an extra pair of pants.  

Gear is personal.

A hiker will not discover their gear needs or what they can leave at home, unless they “do a shakedown hike.” 

Mr. Rook and I have conducted several weeklong shakedown hikes and some mini shakedowns too.  The first, The Laurel Highlands Trail was a big wake-up call or maybe a rude awakening.  Mentally, we’re two twenty-year-olds hiking 16-18 mile days with our fully loaded backpacks seen on the front cover of the 2005 Planning your AT Thru Hike.  Physically, our bodies are in their 60’s.  I admit, there was a disconnection between our brains and bodies as big as The Grand Canyon.  Thankfully, our son, Arizona Eagle, didn’t say, “I told you so.” 

Disclaimer: We aren’t hyper-light hikers.

The following is what we intend to bring.  Using the CQI framework, these items are what is best for us right now.  Mr. Rook and I are not rushing through our hike to get the AT certificate of completion.  We’re on the trail for the experience. Some folks may classify us “section hikers” based on what is in our backpacks.  If so, we embrace the label.        

Our checklist:


    1. Compass, Map
    2. Cell navigation app: Far Out
    3. Garmin Mini 2
    4.  AT AAA TripTik otherwise known as The AT Guide (Mr, Rook’s humor)

Malchus Stafa, B. Dessert Queen’s and Mr. Rook’s Navigation. Mar. 2023. Author’s personal collection.


    1. Sun Screen
    2. Hat (Team Ohio Chess ball cap for Mr. Rook, Spalding University ball cap for Dessert Queen)


    1. Rain jacket
    2. Rain pants 
    3. Enlightened Women’s Torrid Jacket & Arcteryx fleece (Dessert Queen)
    4. Fleece, (Mr. Rook)


    1. Headlamps: Biolight & Penzl
    2. Biolight 
    3. Mr. Rook’s gadget: Midland ER Ready Emergency Crank Weather Radio… also is a recharger

Malchus Stafa, B. Dessert Queen and Mr. Rook’s illumination


    1. Whistle (on pack)
    2. bug spray
    3. bug net… 

Yes ours is big.  Over the thirty years, I’ve had to help seven hikers with major injuries:  1 hiker fell from a 3 story high cliff, 1 hiker with a broken wrist, 1 hiker heat exhaustion (didn’t bring enough water in the Grand Canyon) and 3 hikers stepped on ground nesting bees. On all four occasions the Girl Scout, Dessert Queen, was the only hiker with a first aid kit.

We will be hiking south in the fall during the start of hunting season.  A drop box will be sent to us with hunter orange fleece hats and bandanas to cover our backpacks indicating we are hikers and not deer, turkeys or Rocky and Bullwinkle’s animal friends (Mr. Rook’s humor).  


    1. Lighter (found in repair kit)  
    2. Cotton balls soaked with petroleum (Found in cooking kit)


    1. Swiss Knife (Mr. Rook) 
    2. duct tape
    3. Cord 
    4. tenacious tape repair 
    5. Superglue 
    6. rubber band 
    7. 2 small paper clips (good for holding raincoat hat to ballcap) 
    8. water purification tablets 
    9. sewing kit
    10. Syringe for backwashing water filtration and for washing out cuts
    11. Extra caps for water bottle
    12. O ring for sawyer filtrations

NUTRITION: Cook System:

    1. MSR Pocket Rocket
    2. GSI Kettle (Vintage before they put the stamp on it) 
    3. Large Olicamp pot (Mr. Rook’s vintage stackable cookset)
    4. 2 Lock & Lock containers for cold soak and eating in
    5. 2 GSI Outdoors Infinity mugs
    6. 4 silicone cupcake molds (Dessert Queen likes to make cupcakes on the trail)
    7. Gadget bag that includes: spices, Mr. B soap, strainer, sporks, scraper, knife, spatula. NOTE: We will do a separate post on food.
    8. Bear Canister (All smellables including ditty bag).  Mr. Rook carries this.
    9. Ursack Major with rope and D clip (We like to hang our cooking system in this at night.  We also carry our lunch in this during the day). Dessert Queen carries this.

Malchus Stafa, B. Cook system field tested. Mar. 2023. Author’s personal collection.


    1. Smart water bottles
    2. Vintage Nalgene bottles 
    3. Sawyer mini (Dessert Queen)
    4. Sawyer Squeeze (Mr. Rook)
    5. CONC bag. 


    1. Emergency blanket – found in first aid kit, 
    2. Big Agnes HV UL3 Tent and matching ground cover.

KINDNESS AND EMPATHY – to quote Jamil Zaki: “Empathy is our ability to share and understand one another’s feelings—a psychological “superglue” that connects people and undergirds cooperation and kindness.” Mr. Rook and I believe this type of skill is needed in an emergency. 


Malchus Stafa, B. Dessert Queen’s before and after backpack. Mar. 2023. Author’s personal collection

Sleep System:  

Malchus Stafa, B. Before and after sleep system. Mar. 2023. Author’s personal collection.

Ditty Bag (This will go into the Bear Canister) 

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Brush with mirror – mirror for first aid for signaling (Dessert Queen)
  • Comb (Mr. Rook)
  • Floss
  • Vitamins and meds.
  • Foot lotion 
  • Dyneema Dog bowl 
  • 2 Towels 

Poop Bag

  • Deuce #2 with Duct tape
  • Doggy bags to carry out our TP & Compressed towelettes…Good Public Health Practice to keep poop and food waste separate.  
  • TP
  • Compressed towelettes
  • Hand sanitizer (on backpack)

Sea and Summit Daysacks – that are used as dry sacks.  Slackpacking and keeping other bags from getting lost.  



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Comments 3

  • Sir Lostalot : Mar 20th

    I see you are smart enough to carry a good compass. I got my trail name because I was cheap and bought a Tate Compass. They were on sale because they were defective and the Tate Compass company went out of business. That is why the old timers day He who has a Tate is lost.

    • Beth Malchus Stafa : Mar 22nd

      Hi Sir Lostalot thanks for your comment. I have loved compasses since Girl Scouts. I carry one when I travel to a new town or city. It helps orient me to the city map and lets me know east and west. I know from experience in Western PA and traveling out west…cell service goes in and out. To rely on my phone for directions could be bad. And if it is a cloudy day… you really don’t know east and west. Keep hiking and trying out new things.

    • Mr Rook : Mar 22nd

      Well played Dad joke.


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