To Shakedown or Not to Shakedown?
That is the question.
After a few thousand miles and numerous end-to-end thru hikes, you’d think the words “shakedown” wouldn’t be something I would use to describe an extended backpacking trip, something which is also very common for the two of us. Surely I must have mine and Winnie’s gear for the most part dialed in with a heightened understanding of both of our physical needs during a long hike.
I even had a couple of friends crack jokes that I was only using the term “shakedown hike” as an excuse to go out on a 12 day backpacking trip during the Thanksgiving season, something I would normally just refer to as a vacation. But there’s only a half truth to any of that.
Going into this trip I found myself a skeptic. Was I really going on a shakedown hike like I said I was or was all of this an excuse to spend 12 days on trail with my best friend? By day 12 I unequivocally knew that this was absolutely a shakedown hike, and I firmly believe everyone looking to tackle a long trail should go on one. I’ll take this a step further and state that I now know that I’ve been going on shakedowns before a long hike for years now and never even consciously knew, but they have made all the difference.
So what exactly is a shakedown hike?
In it’s simplicity it could be characterized as a hike where you test out your gear and food, stamina, and if what you’re carrying suites the comfort level that you as an individual needs for more than a weekend trip.
Weekend trips are always fun because even if the weather turns on you or you didn’t pack the right food it doesn’t matter because you’re headed back to your car the next day to warm up, dry out, and stuff your face at the nearest diner, but what if you were out for a few days? A week? A month? Half a year?
Pooping in the rain is whatever but what about when it rains for 3 weeks straight? A tarp is amazing when the weather is amazing but what about when it just plain isn’t? “I’ll pack whatever for food” works for a weekend but what about when you’re burning 5,000 calories a day months on end? How will you and your body respond?
A shakedown hike is designed specifically to address all of those concerns and more. How will I feel about hitchhiking? What are other hikers eating? Will my setup be comfortable to me during the day and during the night? Can I do this for 5-7 months? These are questions only a shakedown can answer.
If you have a long hike coming up and you have the means to go on a shakedown go on it now!
What did I learn?
That’s the beauty of a shakedown hike, it’s part of the personal journey. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you but I definitely need to refine some of the things that already work for me.
Each hike is different and I’ve gone into each hike knowing that. Different pieces of gear, different obstacles, different challenges. For this hike I saw lows in the 10s and highs in the upper 50s, and I set out to test gear that will last the duration of a long hike whose extremes will rival those extremes. I also set out to challenge pack weight, food prep, and a physical conditioning that resulted in Winnie and I not backpacking at all for over 2 months after getting home from the Allegheny Trail. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into but was glad I did; the rain, the snow, the ice and the wind.
What was the result?
Ultimately we ended up hiking 143 plus miles in 11 days and then hiked an 8 mile day hike with some friends to celebrate on day 12. As much as our setup is dialed in I have some adjustments to make. I’m also looking forward to heading back out to put some of these adjustments to the test.
If you’re wondering if you should go out on a shakedown hike regardless of experience I highly recommend that you do. Worst case you realize some things and make some adjustments that result in a successful thru hike and best case you simply go out and have a lot of fun for 2 weeks ❤️
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