My First Backpacking Trip!

If you’re expecting a seasoned backpacker to follow for the next six months, you have mistaken me for someone else. When I registered my AT start date with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the only backpack I had ever worn was one  filled with a laptop, textbooks, and the aura of existential dread that circled around me until I defended my thesis.

My Bold Assumption

I have hiked long hikes, and I have camped two nights in a row before, so I should be able to backpack easy peasy…right?

I tried to look up how many people had finished the AT with zero prior backpacking experience. Turns out that data isn’t widely available. One major source of comfort was reading “Appalachian Trials” and seeing that Zach, founder of the Trek, hiked the AT without any backpacking experience. If such a pinnacle voice in the backpacking community began his journey this way, I certainly can too (at least that is what I’m telling myself).

Big Brother Intervention

It’s easy to forget that hiking the AT is a stressful thought for your family. This is a grand adventure! It can only be a good thing! Thank God for older brothers who prefer to think more practically.

In March, at his insistence, I visited my brother, Federico, who is studying at Appalachian State University to go on my first overnight backpacking trip. We hiked a small section of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina from Iron Mountain Gap (Mile 364.8) to Carvers Gap (Mile 380.8), a total of 16 miles in two days.

Day One

We started the day by waking up at 5:30 a.m. in an attempt to drop off one of our cars at Carvers Gap by 7 a.m. and then drive the additional 30 minutes to Iron Mountain Gap to start our hike around 7:30 a.m.

We didn’t make it over there till 8:30 a.m. Turns out, I am incredibly slow at packing up in the morning.

While backpacking with a buddy is usually easier since you can divide some of the weight of shared items, Federico and I agreed that I should take everything that I planned to take on the trail in April. I wanted to be able to ensure that my body was physically capable of carrying all my gear.

Federico and I at the start of our hike at Iron Mountain Gap.

My initial thoughts

  • Oh my God, it is March, why is it so cold???
  • My hands are freezing, I need to buy better gloves.
  • This is so fun! I love sibling bonding!!!

It’s not very often Federico and I get one-on-one time to hang out, and within five minutes of walking, I knew doing this overnight trip together was a good idea.

Federico had been backpacking at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico when he was in high school with his Boy Scout Troop and had plenty of experience backpacking with over 80 pound packs during his time as a U.S. Marine. In his experience, he learned about taking regular short breaks, 10 minutes every hour, to sit down, drink water, or have a snack if you wished. We took this philosophy into our hike, which really helped the miles go by faster for me. We hiked over nine miles before we stopped for a long lunch comprised of peanut butter and jelly tortillas.

Federico and I at Little Rock Knob vista.

The great thing about hiking with family is that comfortable silence comes naturally, but deep meaningful conversations do as well. Throughout this day, Federico was perfect company. The only problem is that at a whopping height of 6 feet 4 inches, the man’s legs are significantly longer than mine, which pushed me to hiking speeds I don’t think I’ve ever accomplished on my own. Once we both realized what was going on, Federico insisted that I set the pace for the remainder of the trip.

We carried on hiking a total of 13.7 miles, including 12.6 miles of the trail itself and a mile blue blaze trail to get some water. This was the longest I had ever hiked with my backpack on, and while I was tired as we were setting up camp, I felt strong as well.

Me showing off my tent setup

While I set up the tent, Federico grabbed us some more water. The two of us then boiled water for our MREs, ate dinner, and called it a night. I think we were in our tent around 7:45 p.m. and falling asleep by 8:30 p.m.

I had never craved sleep more… yet for me, it never arrived. It turns out that if you have to use the bathroom, it is practically impossible to fall asleep. With the temperatures below freezing, I really wanted to avoid getting out of the tent in the middle of the night, and I was certain that I would be able to wait till morning. When morning finally came and I did leave the tent, my relief was soon followed by a wave of exhaustion. I got back into the tent and took an hour-long nap before we packed up our things. Good to know for future me – it’s always worth it to go instead of holding it.

Day Two

Posing with shelf mushrooms that were the size of my head!!

After a 13-mile day, hiking less than four miles to make it to Carvers Gap seemed like it would be an easy morning. We were wrong. It took us over two hours to hike 3.64 miles that day due to the immense ice on trail.

Ice on trail is already a difficult thing to deal with, but we were also going downhill. At some points the trail seemed like it was a straight slip n’ slide. It was then that I felt extremely grateful that I had chosen April to start my thru-hike, as opposed to March.

I’m happy to announce that despite many many many close calls, neither Federico nor I fell on our way down the mountain!

When we finally made it to Carvers Gap, we celebrated the fact that Federico’s car was still there and headed back to Iron Mountain Gap to pick up mine.

My main takeaways

  • I am physically able to carry the weight I’ve packed and walk (at least 13 miles in a day).
  • I need to always get up in the middle of the night if I have to go pee.
  • I need warmer gloves.
  • I can do this!!!
  • Plus, I have a pretty amazing brother 🙂

Was it a week long shakedown hike? No. But it was exactly what I needed to feel confident in my gear and myself. I’m looking forward to starting the trail, and I can’t wait to share my journey with all of you!

Talk soon,


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