Shakedown hikes, the case for and tips

A shakedown hike is a typically shorter hike you go on to help prepare for a longer distance hike. This article has some good reasons to do a shakedown hike, what one can help accomplish, and some tips to make your shakedown as successful as possible.

Why do a shakedown hike?

The answer may be obvious to some but it’s definitely possible to do the entire AT with no shakedown hikes at all. In my opinion and the 20 pages of articles on Appalachian Trials website detailing shakedown hikes, shakedown hikes can be one of the best tools to judge both physical/mental readiness as well as gear selection for different weather scenarios for your long hike. Also, a shakedown hike will help to combat one of the actual threats of being unprepared mentioned in the how to thru hike 101 to 101

A shakedown hike helps you judge to some extent is physical readiness for the AT. This shouldn’t discourage you from wanting to attempt a longer trail but if discovered early on it could prompt you to do more endurance or high intensity training that could better prepare you for the long haul. This extra preparedness could possibly keep you from ringing the bell and heading back home early before you touch that hallow sign on the mountain Maine. If you attack your first 1000 ft climb and are sucking wind and feeling like death use this information to help you be prepared for the day that comes when you are going to have to do this day in and day out for months. Even if all you do is walk around your block a few times each day this will help.

A shakedown hike, depending on duration, can also help you gauge your mental readiness for an extended period in the outdoors especially if you do it alone. As those who enjoyed the Appalachian Trials book recall the mental aspect is a vital part of success in hiking long distances. Being in the woods alone can be a very strange experience at first so better to get a little exposure so you will know a little of what to expect prior to embarking on the long hike.

Sometimes you get lucky like I did on a shakedown hike and run into a test that’s both physical and mental. On a shakedown hike I took to Springer Mountain GA after driving 4 hours I got what I only imagine was food poisoning which caused me to loose pretty much all the fluids I had in my body the night before I planned to get up and hike up Springer Mountain. Its times like these that you need to be able to deal with these problems in the outdoors when you are your own caretaker. Luckily after I got rehydrated I was able to finish the hike. I took this experience as a good learning since I have read that most of the people that thru hike run into at least one sickness that causes them to get dehydrated while out on the trail.

The second goal of a shakedown hike in is gear testing. No one wants to get 50 miles into their thru hike and have a vital piece of equipment fall apart or be such a pain to use they want to send it home. If the hike is short enough you could even bring two options you are trying to decide between for example your lightweight tent and hammock. The information you get about what sucks and what doesn’t suck will give you valuable data about what to bring and what to leave at home on your hike.

Planning tips 

1.) Bring all your gear even if it’s just a day hike.

Make sure to use your shakedown hike to get a feeling of carrying your full load across hills, valleys and everything in between. Even if you are sleeping in your own bed bring everything you need to camp. This is also helpful if you get in a weather situation that forces you to camp where you are and wait the weather out or spend the night.(See 3.))

2.) Keep your miles per day lowish

If you are doing a multiday shakedown I’d recommend keeping your miles under 10 per day and if doing a day hike under 15 per day. These numbers should be reasonable for most. You don’t want to do a 25 mile day hike for a few reasons. The first reason is its really going to beat up your feet since well most desk/couch dwellers(myself included) just don’t usually pull that kind of mileage in one day. Another reason would be safety. Taking super long day hike may cause you to have to night hike. I know a lot of folks are fans of night hiking in certain areas but to me that sounds like the perfect way to find an animal not expecting you or to lose the trail and end up in someone’s back yard.

3.) Be prepared

I understand if you are new to back packing or general being in the outdoors but if you are going for a day hike make sure you have the means to be in the woods longer than you expect. Bring enough water for the day and also make sure to bring your water filter one because you want to test it, see above, two because hiking out dry in the middle of the summer is one of the worst feelings you can have on any hike. Make sure you have enough food and maybe a little extra incase you cant really hit that 4 mph pace you planned on. Make sure you have rain gear for you and for your pack. Again because no one likes hiking when they are soaking wet and you don’t want to ruin any of your new gear you are testing on a shakedown hike. If the area you are going is not well marked I suggest going somewhere that is. If this is not an option get a map and compass and learn the basics of how to use them BEFORE you go off on your own.  Also as mentioned above and in the 101 article being underprepared is an actual threat on the AT or any trail.  After you sleep in wet clothes in freezing conditions once you will never want to be underprepared again.

4.) Tell Someone

If I need to explain why just watch the movie 127 hours and you will understand why. If the SHTF(Stuff(excrement) hits the fan) and something happens to you on your shakedown hike the chances of being found are increased almost 100% if they know where to start looking and how long you have been gone. Make sure to tell someone where you will park using road names or landmarks nearby every time you go hiking with GPS coordinates if available.

5.) Take Shakedown hikes in weather extremes to be expected on the trail

The point of this is to test your gear in hot weather as well as cold weather. In the hot weather you can figure out how many items of clothing you need to be comfortable and it may help you decide what you need to send home on the trial once you reach warmer days. The cold weather hike will be the gut check to help you mentally prepare for waking up and climbing out of your sleeping bag into frigid conditions. If possible I’d go as close to freezing temperatures as possible to simulate what it will be like in the early part of the trail as a north bound ATer. I don’t recommend going out in freezing temps since water is hard to drink out of your water bladder when the hose has a piece of ice in it. Don’t ask me how I know.  If you do plan to go out in freezing weather make sure you have a method to melt the snow or defrost your ice if needed to get water. Also the cold weather can help you figure out which layering scheme works best to keep you from shivering in the cold but also to keep you from excessive sweating which can be very dangerous in cold weather due to the evaporative cooling that occurs as sweat evaporates from your clothing stealing your body temperature.

Hopefully this article pushed you over the edge of taking your first or another shakedown hike to help you get prepared for that big one in the future. If you have any comments or questions that I may be able to answer let me know below.

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