The Silent Killer: Emotional Pack Weight

At this point in the year, many aspiring 2020 thru-hikers are gearing up for their long-awaited trek. They are scrambling to find the best deals on sleeping pads and tormenting REI outfitters with questions. They are diligently researching rain jackets and learning the difference between down insulation and synthetic insulation for the first time in their lives. They are up to their eyeballs in outdoor brands and agonizing over what could possibly work best for them. Ultimately, they are acquiring the many items needed for their six month or longer sabbatical in the woods, which is no easy feat.

At the forefront of it all lies the age old question long-distance hikers have been trying to answer for centuries: How do I shed pack weight? It feels as if this is what all newbie thru-hikers are concerned with as next year’s trail season comes into view. This is most certainly valid; I’m in the same boat! Getting to a low base weight is a delicate dance when you factor in the financial burden of lightweight gear. It’s important to think about each ounce you carry on your back, considering you’ll be living with the weight of that decision for the duration of your hike.

Unnecessary Weight

But there is something a lot heavier than a seven-pound tent weighing me down as I make my way to the trail. Nestled next to my sleeping bag lies a dry sack full of doubt. Yes, you heard me. I have my doubts about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail next year. Along with the undeniable excitement I feel toward having the adventure of a lifetime, I also hold a hefty amount of anticipatory anxiety. On one hand, I feel like this is totally normal. I’m about to do something different, unknown, and out of my comfort zone. However, the fear of tackling a beast like the Appalachian Mountains has been debilitating. 

 Questions bombard me as I let my mind spiral into a self-deprecating war zone. Will I be good enough? Am I far enough into my recovery? Can I really do this? What if I can’t? Have I prepared enough? What if I break down physically? What if I break down mentally? The list goes on and on. Beating yourself down with worry and expectation is not fun at all. It really messes with your “hiking mojo,” so to speak, and makes it difficult to enjoy all the reasons why you love to hike in the first place.

Emotional Support People

As for ways to help curb some of my pre-thru-hike distress, I’ve started outlining a few plans to have in place when apprehension strikes. Reaching out to friends, texting or calling loved ones, and having conversations with those around me is a tremendous way to feel less alone. The awesome part about this is I get to decide how much information I divulge. While it can be incredibly helpful to get to the root of your woes with an audience of supporters, it’s not always possible (or opportune) to completely bare your soul to them.

Some of the best support I’ve ever received has come from people who simply listened to me. I think this form of help will be easily found on the AT, especially because it’s such a social trail. I will meet so many different people to jive with when times get hard out there. When it rains for five days straight and we have no dry socks or I’m all chafed up and feel like shit, it’ll be nice to have people to lean on and laugh with through the experience.

Independent Skills

Another way to lessen the load of emotional pack weight is by having a creative outlet while on trail. It could be journaling, drawing, sketching, doodling, typing furiously into the notes app on your phone, or writing a funny poem. Anything to help process some of the more negative emotions built up throughout the day. This is the perfect way to spend some time after setting up camp, at night by a fire, or in the tent before bed. Building time into your trail schedule to reflect upon each day will lighten the load in your pack and provide more space for positivity.

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