One month on trail: What worked, what didn’t

Night hiking out of Gatlinburg.

Night hiking out of Gatlinburg.

Well, it’s been a solid one month on trail for me.  I hiked out from Springer on March 31 and got into Damascus yesterday May 2.  Lots of hiking and not TOO much else.  I thought I’d do a little summary of what’s been working and what hasn’t.

What worked:

Ultralight setup

So far I have not seen anyone else with a “truly” ultralight setup on trail (the common definition being a base weight under 10 lbs- this doesn’t include food, water, fuel).  I am not as young or strong as a lot of people out there, and technically have spina bifida (a very minor form labeled as occulta, which hasn’t acted up in a while.  The AT is certainly something that could act that up though).  With the ultralight setup, I’ve been able to do biggish miles and had no pain whatsoever.  This is important as I am trying to finish before my brother’s wedding in mid August, for a 4.5 month thru.

My base weight is 9 lbs.  Yes, I have a tent (same Big Agnes one as many), a quilt, a stove, etc.  I just don’t carry extra things.  My luxury items are a package of Wet Ones and my upgraded DIY camp shoes out of hiker box flip flops and shock cord.

Superstars of this setup that are new for me Zpacks Zero cuben/dyneema backpack which is incredibly comfortable  (36L + 7L mesh pocket, 9 oz) AND virtually waterproof.  Bonus points for answering my 1379 questions, giving me $25 discount unasked, AND expediting my order by a week to get it for the trail….Zelph stoves Starlight alcohol stove which is under an ounce and super fuel efficient….Fizan trekking poles through Massdrop.

I spent around $900 out of pocket for this setup though over the course of two years and with a bunch of Amazon credits not included.  This does however constitute the bulk of my worldly possessions at the moment, however.

Samsung S4 mini

I had to replace my phone and opted for this phone as it was cheap and light.  Bought 2 replaceable batteries.  6900 of power at 6 oz all in, $83 out of pocket.  Win.

Nearos not zeroes

Want to hike a fast hike, on a budget?  Not a particularly fast hiker (I’m looking at you, 3+ mph folks)?  Limit your time in towns.  I took one zero in Fontana mostly because I wanted a rest but couldn’t just hike a couple miles into the Smokies because of camping restrictions there.  Even hiking 2-3 miles out of town gets a couple miles in and saves money on accommodation.


It was crazy to get 4+ months of food dehydrated, sorted, and boxed up in roughly the 10 days I had available when I got back to the US before starting, but totally worth it.  I spent under $500 for this food, which is gluten and dairy free, and in many cases grain-free, organic, grass-fed, Paleo etc.  I got a huge help from the many sponsors I contacted about my trip.  I’m sure that feeling pain free is due in large part to not eating foods thay cause me inflammation on trail.   It’s also letting me take advantage of “cheating” on this with trail magic or in towns without TOO much effects.

What didn’t work:

Ting/Sprint phone plan

I’ve loved using Ting in the past because of its adjustable, super cheap rate plans, but my current plan that uses the Sprint towers frankly sucks.  I have had cell service a total of 4 times between Springer and Damascus including in towns, and only roaming a handful of other times.  Do yourself a favor- buy a Verizon phone.


Because I have no service, blogging hasn’t been doable for me.  I’ve been taking notes and hope to do more posts later (also to write a book or two..we’ll see!)


These still super suck for me. I feel like everyone passes me all day long because of this.  I’m getting to 20ish mile days now, but I leave early and hike late.  This is my number one frustration one trail, it’s only gotten a TINY bit easier – maybe 5-10%.  15% if you give me a piece of hard candy or LifeSaver.  My health professional self gets super perturbed about that, however.

Overall it’s been a great month on trail!  I’m definitely having a great time hiking, meeting people on trail and off, and trying local food.


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Comments 3

  • josh : May 14th

    i realize the personal nature of this topic as well as the common sense regarding any procedures… however i never see any writings about basic shitting on the trail. Could there possibly be some must do / haves and donts? Are leaves the best materials… do you pack tissue etc etc. Would you mind commenting?

    • Dawn Webster : May 14th

      No problem at all…I’m a Chinese medicine practitioner and BM is something we use as a major diagnostic tool, we always talk about it! I am sure there is something out there…for a humorous look check out Mike Clelland!’s “Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips” including comics. There are privys (simple outhouses) at most shelters if your “schedule” is coordinated. Personally I need to hike a bit first usually. I use a trowel (awesomely named Deuce of Spades), maybe a couple leaves, and a wet wipe that I pack out. I think most people use TP. For me all this isn’t a huge deal; I spent much of last year in rural Asia where this stuff is the norm.

    • Therese : May 14th

      There are many articles on this. But, basically, carry a trowel and dig a hole 6-8″ deep and BURY.YOUR.WASTE. Carry the toilet paper out. Stay away from water sources. Hike under the “leave no trace” philosophy. Most of all, have fun!!!!


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