How to Hike Ultralight: The Chronicles of Squirt
I just finished my third week of hiking. I left the Smokies a few days ago with a very hungry and hollow looking belly. It seems that there just isn’t enough food around to satiate this hiker. Although, I will admit, I love the foods I am eating on the trail. My friends looked on in envy as I pulled out my grass-fed beef jerky sticks, liver bars and turkey sticks. I may also be the only person on the trail with this much meat, but I’m really glad that I don’t have to resort to Ramen noodles… yet. One thing I have noticed from being the carnivore on the trail is that I can hike fast, steady and without sore muscles. I seriously suggest all future thru-hikers take a look at the list of foods I brought with me on the trail… you can find that here. I’m pretty sure people are Squirt Blazing (a term that means they are following me, rather than the white blazes that mark the trail), just to get my scraps.
While carrying my pack full of delicious, healthy, nourishing treats, I have pondered all the ways I could possibly make my pack lighter. Let’s be clear, every ounce counts on a 2,000 mile plus journey. That glass bottle of kombucha may look great in town, but while carrying it up 5,000 feet of elevation of 16 miles, you soon regret your impromptu ounce splurges. So, without further ado, I present to you Squirt’s suggestions for hiking ultralight.
How to Hike Ultralight – Squirt’s Suggestions (Please do not try this at home, these suggestions are only recommended for those trying to achieve the master level of ultralight status)
- Buy shoes that are too small (less ounces!), then cut holes out of the front for your toes. Who needs toe socks? Give those bad boys room to breathe. If you’re really serious, forgo shoes entirely, who cares about stepping on poop?
- Cut the sleeves off of everything. Not only will you look cool, but then when people ask you about it you can have a chance to assert your ultralight superior status.
- Get rid of your tent and spend the rest of your trip either freezing cold under your tarp, or trying to be your new friend’s cuddle buddy. If all else fails, call for the magical animals from the forest to keep you warm at night.
- Don’t bring water. It rains. All the time. Just open your mouth and take in nature’s glory. If it’s not raining, just drink your tears.
- Shave every hair off your body. Even your eyebrows… and eyelashes. Aerodynamics are key.
- Take a laxative before you go to bed. Not only will you wake up early with urgency, but you’ll be dropping at least a few pounds each morning. Remember, each ounce counts.
- While shedding pounds with laxatives, why bother with food? Just ask your new animal friends to bring you to their nut stash. Because you are hiking ultralight, you are now a trail God and all of nature will bend to your will.
- Cut off a pinky fingers, and if you are really serious, maybe a couple toes. Have some excess cartilage on your nose? Get rid of it. Who really needs 24 ribs? Think ultralight.
So those are my suggestions, I should mention that I cannot be held responsible for any hiking fails that occur while attempting these tips.
For those who are interested in following the Chronicles of Squirt, here is an update of my second and third week on the trail:
After leaving Hiawasse, GA early last Monday morning, with five plates of bacon and eggs in my belly (yes… five), I had my first 16 mile day, hiking in the beautiful sunshine. It was my first day of full sunlight and it felt glorious. We crossed from Georgia in North Carolina. I finally saw mountains in the background, my feet were healing and my body felt great. That evening, a few miles out from the shelter, I met a retired woman named Janice who was struggling up the steep climb. Later, as I paused for water she passed me and we realized we were heading to the same shelter. I was so happy that my feet felt better, that I offered to take her pack for her. She politely declined, so I made my way to Standing Indian Shelter with tears streaming down my face (not because she declined, but just because I was happy) as I listened to the Wailin’ Jennys sing the word “Alleluia”. I truly felt blessed and connected to the universe as I finished up my long day with joy rather than exhaustion. I dropped my pack at the shelter, greeting my friends Fox, Boogie, Whoopie, Snoopy and Casper. Immediately, I ran back on the trail to go find Janice and help her get to the shelter. After a half mile or so, I found Janice. She had set up camp before the shelter and we had a wonderful chat. Her strength was inspiring, but as the night became colder and I had to run back to my camp to set up and eat.
We all gathered in Snoopy’s tent that evening, trying to keep warm, laughing about the long day. Standing Indian Shelter is at the top of a massive ridge, and the wind was hollowing, blowing around my hammock. As we left to go to bed, I got to my hammock, and immediately started shaking. Fox gave me his sleeping bag liner to try and help, but there was no way I was going to survive the night with my sleep set-up, so I quietly went back to Snoopy’s tent, knocking on his tent like Sheldon does in the Big Bang Theory. Snoopy opened up and let me sleep on the other side of his two person tent. Within twenty minutes, I was tapping Snoopy on the shoulder, asking him, “Snoopy… snoopy, are you awake? It’s really cold.” Snoopy rolls over and goes, “Take my ground pad, Squirt”.
“Are you sure, Snoopy? You’ll be cold.” I said.
“Take the freaking pad, Squirt. I’m trying to sleep.”
So, I did, and I was still cold. Very cold. As in, no-sleep-at-all cold. In the morning Fox said he thought he could hear my shivering all night and kept wondering if I was alive. Clearly, I was going to have to figure something out.
The next day we decided to hike to Betty Creep Gap- chosen for its low elevation. We hoped that the lower elevation would help me stay warm. The hike was beautiful and the day was glorious. Boogie and I hiked together, exploring the deep meaning of the universe (a common topic for hikers, apparently). We met a girl named Jessica, who has a base weight of 8 lbs, making her a super ultralight camper. We all enviously watched her skip over the mountains and we brainstormed how to hike ultralight (see list above inspired by her). As I enetered camp, everyone shouted out, “Squirt!!!!” I finally slept that night, warm and dreaming of bacon and cookies.
On Wednesday we hiked from Betty Creek to Panther Gap. I decided to forgo the trip into Franklin, determined to survive the cold nights. Fox and I hiked with two faces we had met at the Betty Creek camp ground the night before, Thor and Smiles. Smiles was also from my area and as we reminisced about UNH, Thor fed us dandelions. Let me describe Thor and Smiles here because they are characters that should always be remembered. Smiles is a bright, tall young man who does truly always have a smile on his face from ear to ear. He camped with Fox and Casper at Panther Gap that evening, but in the morning was gone, and was never seen again. He is now known as the legend of Smiles. Thor, is a massive beast of man, who carries a giant bottle of fish oil pills, hot sauce, a giant container of peanut butter and family sized packets of tuna. He offered me a fresh carrot and we became best friends. Thor went into Franklin to resupply and I sadly accepted the fact that it was a short lived carrot sharing friendship. Fox, Smiles and I hiked on to Panther Gap. Panther Gap turned out to be on the windiest part of the mountain. We all bundled up and waited for Casper, Whoopie, Snoopy. Around 7:00, the gang showed up declared that Boogie was at the next shelter waiting where there was apparently less wind. I had already set up camp, but the thought of less wind and surviving the night was enticing. At 7:45, Whoopie texted me from the next shelter, confirming that there was less wind and at 8:00, I packed up and set out to hike the 2.5 miles to the shelter in hopes that I would be warmer there. Of course, as chance would have it, as I night hiked over the mountain between the shelter and me, a massive thunderstorm rolled through, brightening up the sky. I sang to myself loudly as I ascended and then quickly descended and made it the shelter in 45 minutes. I set up in the rain and had a very wet and cold night. No surprise. I did meet fellow blogger Superfeet though. So that helps…
I decided to try and hitch into town the next day to get something to help me stay warm- a sleeping pad. I planned to shelter hop and tent hop until the weather warmed up. While climbing Wayah Bald Mountain, I came across a road and a great couple that offered to bring me into Franklin and to Outdoor 76. While in Franklin, someone stopped me on the street to say,”Oh my gosh, you’re Squirt! I know you from Appalachian Trials!” Trail angels as they are, they also took me out to lunch and then happily brought me back to the trail. Thanks Debbie and Joe!
Afterwards, I climbed Wayah Bald were, low and behold, I saw Thor and Superfeet again! Thor and I embraced in the way all carrot sharing friends do and although it was getting quite late and he had already hiked 20 miles that day, he offered to hike the remaining 6 miles to the shelter with me. Together, Thor and I blazed through the miles, rolling into Cold Spring Shelter. Again, people shouted rounds of “Squirt” as I arrived. The weather quickly dropped below freezing and as my fingers went numb, Thor offered up the extra space in his tent. That night, as the cold wind and rain berated the mountain, I shivered in Thor’s tent, wearing every piece of clothing I could find. Eventually Thor made me switch sleeping bags with him (I think he was annoyed by my shaking) and then I finally slept soundly.
The next day we all ran into the NOC, enjoying beautiful views and warm weather. I collected my resupply box at the NOC, ate everything I could find (that hiker hunger is no joke). I slept like a baby, dreaming of many days and nights on the trail.
Thor and I decided to set out the next day together, to try and make it to Brown Fork Shelter. On the way, we passed a group of 6 single women, all hiking the trail, calling themselves the “Loosely Affiliated”. They told us the weather was supposed to be terrible and we should stay with them that night. It was tempting… I had never seen so many women on the trail before. We shared the kombucha I brought up from the NOC and sang “Girl’s Just Want to Have Fun”. Looking at the gray sky, Thor and I decided to push on, declaring that although this may be the stupidest decision we made all week, it would at least lead to epic adventures. The sky, however, never ended up darkening and we avoided the thunderstorm. We watched the sunset as we hiked over Jacob’s ladder- a very steep hike. We would take a couple steps, declare how painful this climb was, then look up at the sunset and immediately smile. That night, we arrived after sunset at Brown Fork Shelter, were I met Squirreltooth. Squrieltooth then informed me that his mother is a big follower of mine!
Thor and I hiked the next morning to Fontana Dam where we met up again with Fox and Snoopy. Thor and I invented a new dish called the “Mixed Fish Dish”- a delicious combination of Swedish adn Fox and Snoopy had been behind but somehow in the morning had passed us, leaving a note! That night we all enjoyed a warm shower (the first in 7 days), a warm meal… and dry, warm beds.
First off, I’ll start by saying the Smokies were incredible cold, icy and beautiful. I’m so grateful to have friends to shiver next to as we all try to sleep and hike in snow/sleet. I love hiking in snow while I’m home in NH, but that’s because I have winter gear up there. I survived the Smokies dressed in donated clothing and space blankets. I looked quite special and although my high fashion was documented by others, I have yet to see the primary evidence.
The highlight of the Smokies for me was my sunrise hike to Clingman’s Dome. My friend Snoopy woke Thor and me up at around 5:15 were we set out from Silers Bald Shelter. We had about a 5 mile hike to the Dome, and although the Dome was covered in fog, we caught the sunrise on our way up, right before the fog. The views were glorious and there was so much hope and life in the air. We continued to hike through the morning, when eventually we came to Newfound Gap, the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. I was starving at the time, and happy to see a group of men providing trail magic. I quickly ate 3 apples, 1 orange, 2 mini snickers (gasp!), 3 boxes of raisins and some of my meat sticks. An hour later, I was hungry again (and that’s pretty much the story of my life now). We decided to make the day a 23 mile day, and hike through the afternoon to Peck Shelter. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize an ice storm was coming our way… Around 7:30 pm, I ran into Peck Shelter (I was too cold walking). Thanks to everyone in the shelter, I was able to shed my wet, frozen clothing and shiver through the night. In the morning, everything was covered in ice and I thought I had been transported to the Whites!
After the Smokies, we hiked for a day before hitting a place called Max Patch. We hit it in the afternoon and decided to stay to watch the sunset. I have never, in my life, seen anything more beautiful. A group of us (including 4 Appalachian Trials Bloggers!!), played frisbee and had dinner together. Ukulady and I played and sang. It was perfect. After the sun set, my friends Redlock, Thor, Fox and I decided to try and night hike to Hot Springs (a good 20 miles away). I was very tired from the hot day and after an hour or so, I realized I would definitely not be up for the challenge. They dropped me off at the next shelter where I climbed into my sleeping back and passed out. In the morning, as I was hiking to Hot Springs, I found Fox, who had also dropped out a few miles after me. Together, we hiked into Hot Springs, hoping to find our friends Casper, Snoopy, Thor and Redlock. That evening, as I got into Hot Springs, I found out Thor and Redlock at made it the whole way, strolling into town around 7 am. These guys amaze me. In the evening, the happily reunited group of Snoopy, Casper, Fox and myself sat in a hot tub full of mineral water, laughing at the fact that we all felt like hell and heaven at the same time.
I’m about to head into the woods again, ten pounds lighter, full of bacon and ready to tackle the next few weeks. I have never loved my life more and I’m excited to see what secrets and adventures are ahead of me!
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max patch is my favorite place that I’ve ever been 😀
Good article and tips on being Ultralight.
Squirt I’m loving your posts! As an aspiring nutritional therapist it’s reassuring to know that not everyone out there’s eating easy Mac! However I think you being cold and hungry all the time is a sign that you aren’t getting enough calories. Even though I’m grain-free and legume-free in real life, for my 3 month SOBO section hike this summer I’ve been making and dehydrating my own food and I’m including Brown rice, quinoa, Mung beans, and lentils, all of which I’ve soaked or sprouted to increase digestability. In the absence of lots of fresh veg you body may need carbs to keep your temp up! Keep up the good work, and maybe we’ll cross paths!
I am Thors momma and so appreciate being able to hear about his adventures with you and friends! Every time he calls, he sounds so very happy! God watch over all of you on this most wonderful adventure!!!!