Lessons From My Shakedown Hike

On March 8, 2020, I stood on Springer Mountain in Georgia ready to start my two-week shakedown hike. As a 17-year-old girl about to begin her longest solo hike yet, I was ecstatic. I almost ran past my first white blaze out of excitement for the two weeks to come. My shakedown hike was preparation for my planned 2020 Appalachian Trail SOBO thru-hike, which was later changed to a 2021 NOBO hike. The shakedown hike taught me about gear, friends, and resupplies that will be vital to the success of my thru-hike as I head out in February. 

Gear

Bear Canister

When I started the shakedown hike, my backpack was 42 pounds which was overwhelmingly heavy as a 5 foot 2 woman. My first mistake was that I brought a bear canister. I had tried to hang a bear bag on a  hike the summer before, and it took me 45 minutes. I didn’t have the energy to learn how to do a proper bear bag hang before my shakedown hike, and I was too scared to sleep with my food. Although a bear can is a good seat for mealtime and can save a few minutes in the evening, it weighs about three pounds which isn’t worth it for me on a thru-hike. I plan to learn how to hang a bear bag before I start my thru-hike. 

Sock Liners

My next gear lesson from my shakedown hike was my lack of sock liners. I had heard about sock liners years ago from a friend, but I thought they were useless and would make my feet hot. I could not have been more wrong. After suffering from horrible blisters during the first week of the hike, a fellow hiker recommended that I buy Injinji toe socks at my next resupply. He told me to wear them under my Darn Tough hiking socks to stop the friction between my foot and the sock. Within two days of buying them, all of my blisters magically disappeared. I was amazed. Having always struggled with blisters no matter what shoe I wore, I had assumed blisters were an unavoidable side effect of hiking. I will be bringing two pairs of Injinji socks on my thru-hike, and can’t wait to hike blister-free.

Dealing with my blisters before buying Injinji socks

Inflatable Pillow

My last gear lesson was my lack of a pillow. I have always used my extra clothes as a pillow when hiking. However, during my shakedown hike, it was so cold that I wore all my clothes and had none left to use as a pillow. On the cold nights, I barely slept because my head was so uncomfortable on my sleeping pad. After seeing a friend use a Sea to Summit inflatable pillow, I decided to invest in one. I can’t wait to use it on my thru-hike. The pillow weighs 2.1 ounces, which makes it worth the weight if it means getting a good night’s sleep.

Friends

When I started my shakedown hike, I was solo and planned on staying that way. Because I started my hike in Georgia in March, I was surrounded by thru-hike hopefuls starting on their northbound journeys. On the first day, I ate lunch with a group of seven other hikers, who soon became my first tramily. Although they were all thru-hikers and I was a section hiker, they quickly welcomed me into their bubble. We were a mix of ages ranging from 17 to 50 years old, but we quickly bonded over our love for hiking. I hiked with them for the next week until we got to Hiawassee, Georgia.

In Hiawassee, I found out that one of my friends was heading home and the rest were taking a nero and then continuing on. I was devastated. Only one of my tramily members had planned a full zero day. I had pretty bad blisters and felt the need to take a zero, yet I wanted to keep the tramily together. The next day, my tramily headed back to the trail while I took a zero with the one remaining member. While on the shuttle back to the trail after my zero, I met five other thru-hikers. I hiked with this new group for the next week and they became my second tramily.

From this experience, I learned that tramilies come and go and that’s okay. It’s more important to take care of yourself and hike your own hike than try to keep a tramily together. Additionally, I learned how fast and easy it is to make friends while hiking. On trail it truly doesn’t matter how old you are, your level of education, or your profession. All that matters is that you have a passion for the outdoors and hiking.

Part of my second tramily at the 100-mile marker

Resupplies

I have done lots of three-day backpacking trips all over New England, but none long enough to require a resupply. My only experience with resupplies was on a month-long NOLS course in Alaska in which a helicopter dropped our weekly food rations for us. Obviously, that was not happening on the AT.

On the third day of my hike, I reached Neel Gap. While all of my new friends went into Mountain Crossings for their resupply, I sat outside eating my snickers bar while staring at my still full bear canister. First lesson: I do not need to pack seven days’ worth of food at a time. Even when I reached my next resupply in Hiawassee, Georgia, I still had about three full days’ worth of food. I learned to count out how many meals I would need between resupplies. I also learned that salami and cheese do not keep well when being squished into my backpack for multiple days. Although salami is easy to give up, cheese is my favorite food off the trail. I plan to continue playing the game of “is this cheese too sweaty for me to eat?” 

My final destination was Franklin, North Carolina. When I got to Franklin, I had about two days worth of food leftover; mostly food that I now know I don’t like to eat on the trail. The pile of leftover food included tortillas and pop tarts (they are too crumbly). Although I did better with the second resupply after having counted out every meal in Hiawassee, I still overpacked. The skill of knowing how much food to pack in a resupply comes with time and practice. Hopefully, after my hiker hunger hits on my thru-hike, I will be able to eat all the food I pack.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 36

  • Avatar
    Dennis : Dec 25th

    Trjaipping to the south west in January 6 weeks alone.looking for rider lots of hiking grand canyon and Utah photography and artist

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Stephen : Dec 25th

    Split the difference between a bear can and hanging your food – get an Ursack. It’s a game changer. Good luck!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Hannah Goodman : Dec 25th

      That’s a great idea, I will definitely look into it!! Thanks!

      Reply
    • Avatar
      David Joseph Keating : Dec 27th

      Watched a bear eat right through one of those in New York

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Orange : Jan 3rd

        The adirondack bears are good at that that why the DEC only allows opaque bear cannisters

        Reply
  • Avatar
    pearwood : Dec 25th

    Go for it, Hannah!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Hannah Goodman : Dec 25th

      Thank you!!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Shocktop : Dec 25th

    I laughed out loud at your sweaty cheese question, because I flashed back to a cold day in April when I asked myself the same question and ate ALL the remaining cheese because I could not face it another day. Thanks for the laugh, and Happy Trails!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Hannah Goodman : Dec 25th

      I’m so glad you got a laugh and were able to relate to this dilemma! Happy trails!!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Dave : Dec 25th

    Best of luck! Have dreamed of hiking the AT. and will do so one day. I’ve subscribed and look forward to your updates along the way. Good luck and enjoy the woods experience!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Hannah Goodman : Dec 25th

      Thank you so much for your support, I am excited to share my journey!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Ron DeTullio : Dec 25th

    Wrap your cheese in paper from a grocery bag. It will never go bad just get dryer with time

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Hannah Goodman : Dec 25th

      That’s such a good idea, I definitely need to try that!

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Robert Almanza : Dec 26th

        Asiago cheese, a dry cheese keeps well for at least ten days wrapped in a damp bandana. I can have a unique fragrance but you’ll appreciate it with the last of your salami and on day right.

        Reply
  • Avatar
    Stephen Mckelvey Boyd : Dec 25th

    Hannah, Best wishes as you prepare for hiking the Appalachian Trail. It has always been a dream of mine to walk the Appalachian Trail. I was born with cerebral palsy and I learned that I am not capable of walking the AT. Enjoy your adventure and stay safe. If possible keep in contact and let me know of your progress. Merry Christmas!!!!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Water93 : Dec 25th

      Bears hibernate- you will not see a bear till you reach new york – when you pass the bear cage at the bear mountain zoo. Good Luck

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Hannah Goodman : Dec 25th

      I will definitely be posting regular updates on this blog so make sure to subscribe so you can follow along. Thanks for the support!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Lavonna Skeans : Dec 25th

    In addition to the toe socks, vaseline every morning on your feet. Also, shoe 1 to 2 sizes larger. I walked the last 2 miles into Damascus in my socks. And treking poles are a must if you don’t have them. Saved me from numerous falls!
    Vagabond and Weisbaden trail journals.com

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Hannah Goodman : Dec 25th

      Thanks so much for all the wonderful suggestions!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Ryan Ferris : Dec 25th

    Hiking poles would have made little sense to me at 18. At 58, they are critical equipment. The main reason for this is that you can use poles in such a way as to reduce the impact on knees and ankles and thus reduce daily fatigue. Youth gives us some magic hormones that repair damage and maintain flexibility during sleep. But it is easy to abuse this repair capacity and damage joints for life. Now ,you can purchase lightweight, collapsible hiking poles for when you don’t need them. I am convinced lots of subtle ligament tears come with small slips on the trail. These add up. Poles can stabilize or prevent these slips, particularly in wet, ice, snow. Also, the physics of poles allows you to actually ‘remove’ weight going up the trail and prevent too much impact to the knees going down.

    Youth is impossible because you can’t imagine aging. Aging is impossible because you can’t reclaim your youth. But at least you buy a kick ass pair of hiking poles…no matter what age.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Andrea Stilwell : Dec 25th

    I hiked the AT for 2 weeks 5 years ago. One day I hope to complete the trek. I realized early on that you do not need to fill your bladder to the max. Water is pretty readily available. Good luck!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Karl Goodman : Dec 25th

    If you make it to Maryland be sure to stop @ Rocky Run Shelter in central Md. I was it’s overseer from 1986 – 1998. Was a member of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. This was before the new shelter was built. Never ending spring @ the original 1940-41 site.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      john simpson : Dec 26th

      good luck. I’ve only hiked the MD section of the AT from Harper’s ferry to Caledonia state park, Penn. while backpacking the Grand Canyon in 1997 I found that hiking sticks were worth the money I spent.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    jack schrumpf : Dec 26th

    I liked your idea about the socks. I have hiked four states of the Appalachian Trail and never had a blister. Amazing to me that low cost Columbia boots fit me perfectly but I’m contemplating a through hike in the near future. The socks may be a game changer. Be safe out there and good luck.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      SoCalHiker : Dec 28th

      I can completely agree to the Injinji toe socks being amazing, also someone else mentioned upping your shoe size by 1-2 sizes, good advice on that too.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    John Longino : Dec 26th

    I have quite a different paradigm but my experience might be of interest to you. I started solo NOBO 1/31/17 from Springer. My goal was to hike as long as it was fun. I completed 444 miles before I fell and tore cartilage in both knees. I am 70, not 17. I learned on the trail the same food lesson you describe. And in February-March there is water everywhere. No need to carry water to the spring. At 6’3 and 210 my pack weighed 33 pounds. Weigh everything on a gram scale before you decide. The heaviest thing I carried other than food was the giant tarp for my hammock. And I highly recommend hammock over tent for winter hiking: while it is colder than a tent, you can prepare for cold. It is also much, much drier than a tent and if you get wet you will be miserable. Pack the tarp on the outside of your pack. A couple of times I had only 60 seconds or so notice of a sudden shower. But needing 2 trees to lasso to get under the tarp can be done in 30 seconds. That twice resulted in a warm, dry early stop to the day whereas if I had been in a tent, I would have been soaked before I even found a spot to pitch it. Also I packed a half fleece to go under my pad so my shoulders would stay warm. Imagine. I was hiking a ridge just past Firescald in the Zen of solo hiking. Had not seen a human all day (largest animal seen in 444 was a squirrel – no food up where the AT runs). A crash of thunder brought me back from Shangrilla. A wall of rain was moments away. I lashed two trees, two bushes with the guys, and a torrent hit. I lashed two more from (mostly) under the tarp, then took my time unpacking. The rain continued for hours but – after cooking a meal and stringing the hammock, I got in the silk liner in a bivy sack in a Big Agnes Zero bag on my pad and on my fleece, all in a mosquito net (which – even in winter – greatly increases the inside temperature). I used my extra socks doubled and over my toes. The storm raged, the deluge was 2″ away. The hammock slightly swayed. The rain changed to sleet then snow. But I was unaware: I was warm and full and happy and sound asleep.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      SoCalHiker : Dec 28th

      All great advice! I’m in Southern California myself, have a few multi day backpacking trips under my belt & have thought about going to hammock backpacking (when possible).

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Galen : Jan 3rd

      Hannah, John brings up a good point about a camping hammock being awesome when rain is about to hit and nowhere to set up a tent. Less privacy, but good sleep! One gal I met tented but kept an ultra light tarp over it to keep the tent dry if raining at during setup or tear down. I’ve used that a few times too. Enjoy.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Doug : Dec 26th

    Hannah, I really enjoyed your article and admire your sense of adventure. What a great way to start a life. At 63 and retired in the Southwest I am finally able to recommit to hiking and the outdoors and loving it. Good luck with the hike and I will look forward to your updates.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Hannah Goodman : Dec 27th

      Thank you so much for your support! I am so excited to share my journey with you.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Click : Dec 27th

    Things I learned from Spring during her shakedown hike:
    1. It’s better to have too much food than not enough (unless you’re lucky enough to be friends with someone who has a grocery store in her bear canister).
    2. Sometimes a duck is a frog*.
    3. Even though Crocs are the dumbest looking footwear ever created, having them is a whole lot better than having no camp shoes.
    4. A few drops of pool chemicals in a 5 pound Nalgene bottle (mini-bear canister) will purify water well enough to drink it (although it doesn’t help with the chunks).
    5. She’s an amazing person. Good job to the Trek for publishing her blog because her awesome attitude and fun perspective on life is going to make for some fun stories!
    *This deep statement is best contemplated while eating Ramen from a pouch, sitting on the cold wooden edge of a shelter, watching someone attempt to hang their bear bag.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Hannah Goodman : Dec 27th

      CLICK!!! You just made my entire week I laughed so hard at your comment. I think we both had lots of important learning moments throughout those two weeks (most importantly my frog who is now having an identity crisis). I can’t wait to see you out on the trail and make lots more mistakes with you!! Much love, –Spring

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Click : Dec 27th

        I’m starting to look at my watch to see how much longer until I can be back on the AT. I made some jokes (and a truth) in my list above, but one thing I really am going to change this time around is to not just capture the moments in pictures, but also words. I loved that you journaled and am going to do the same. I can’t wait to see you out there and I can’t wait to read your blogs!!

        Reply
  • Avatar
    sve : Dec 27th

    GOOD LUCK, HANNAH! I remember when you went on your very first day trip at camp and came back to our cabin beaming and totally hooked! I’m so excited for you! I can’t wait to follow along!!
    sve

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Hannah Goodman : Dec 27th

      SVE! Camp Whip made me fall in love with backpacking and without it I wouldn’t have found my passion for hiking and the AT. I am so excited to start this journey and share it with you!! Thanks for being the best counselor ever :)))

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Terra Candiloro : Dec 28th

    Thoroughly enjoyed your shakedown! Haven’t had the opportunity to do a long hike yet, just a few multi day backpacking trips. I feel ya on many things you mentioned. Injinji toe socks, awesome right?.. who would’ve thought!
    Overpacking food 🤣.. my 2nd backpacking trip was also my 1st solo. I have a bad habit of not eating enough then just being drained. For my Yosemite 4 day backpacking hike, I had enough for 3 people! Luckily the PCT passes through, so I left a bag of “FREE” food. I’m sure someone appreciated it.
    Wishing you the lightest trip! Have fun!

    Reply

What Do You Think?