Shakein’ It Down In North Carolina
Shakedown (or practice) hikes are important for a number of reasons. First of all, they help you to learn what gear you need and what you can go without. They help you to learn what works best for you on the trail so that when the time comes you don’t just assume you’ll be happy eating ramen for weeks on end (trust me, more than likely you will not). They help you to learn the difficulty of the terrain, at least in the sections you have hiked, in a way that no topographical map or elevation profile ever can. They help you to learn if long distance backpacking is really for you; surprisingly, some people aren’t alright with pit toilets and no showers. But perhaps most importantly, they teach you real quick how much weight you can handle on those punishing ups and downs.
This weight is different for everyone so you can’t just assume you can carry 40 pounds because that guy over there is. And you also can’t assume that just because you bought all the same gear as someone who formerly thru-hiked, that that same gear will work for you. Maybe it will, but more often than not you need those practice hikes to tweek things and really lock it down.
Take my tent for example, many successful thru hikers have used it. I hate it. I complain about it constantly. It’s a pain to put up, I can’t figure out how to do it properly despite many attempts, YouTube tutorials and having an engineering friend looking at it. A lot of people swear by this tent but it’s just not for me. I’m glad I figured that out now, when I can easily shop around and find a replacement that I like and am happy with rather than having to deal with this stupid thing for a few weeks until I come to a town with a decent outfitter and scramble to find a new one that doesn’t weigh a ton and will probably cost way too much. I’ve also learned that I don’t like the sawyer filters even though they weigh 3 ounces, have become extremely popular, and tons of people swear by them. They just aren’t for me.
But tent aside I think I’ve finally figured out the system that will work best for me. I don’t know exactly what the weight was but my pack was pretty comfortable even with 8 days of food. Ultimately we pulled off the trail half way through at the NOC because of my hiking buddy’s knee and I was lucky enough to go to Outdoor 76 in Franklin for new shoes that offer some stability to my weak ankles (because the Merrells I was wearing before sure didn’t), so it all worked out in the end.
Now all I have to do is replace my tent before March 19th and I’ll be all set!
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