TEST TEST TEST…This is a TEST

TEST, TEST, TEST…this is a test of the Appalachian Trail Thru Hike equipment and gear!

One of the key aspects of getting ready for a Thru Hike is TESTING your gear!

Some key items to TEST before going “on trail” is how to setup your tent, cooking on your camp stove, carrying your weighted backpack and wearing your trail shoes.  As I’ve read over and over from hiker aficionados, you need to KNOW how it works before you get out there and need it!  If you can remove obstacles, those self imposed or imposed by the trail, before they happen, then you are on the correct path to a successful hike.

Tent

You really, really need to know how this thing works.  This one item is your shelter for the next 6 months and being familiar with the various instructions of how to set it up, how to take it down, where to stake the tent, how those poles go together, which side is the “outside” for the rainfly, and on and on!  You’ll be using this piece of gear from day 1…and after arriving on trail, you will be tired after your first day’s hike.  So it needs to be automatic.  If you need to KNOW how this thing goes together.

In late March along the AT, it gets COLD…brrrrr!  It is possible to experience some cold white stuff (snow) as you prepare for camp.  If you’re cold, tired and ready to bed down…having to deal with a tent you can’t get together easily, can result in a bad attitude and change how you look at this experience.  More negatives can result in leaving the trail…so bone up on setting up that tent.  Take confusion and frustration out of the equation.

Cooking

Have you used that camp stove yet?  Have you even light the fire and tested out the various aspects of cooking.  Do you have an automatic sparker on your stove?  If you do, what’s the backup if that sparker malfunctions — Bic Lighter, water proof matches, or other tool to get a spark and get that fire going?  You need to “test” each of your plans for getting the fire going…  No need in learning to light the stove when the winds are blowing with heavy gusts or you are tired, wet and cold!

In addition to lighting the fire, have you tried out those Knorr Rice & Pasta Sides or Ramen Noodles!  Remember, the “normal way” on trail is to boil water, then add the meal to the hot water, cover and let it sit!  Most hikers try to save a little fuel  by not following the directions on the meal package and keep boiling!

If you are the kind of hiker who adds water to your meal and lets it sit…you need to test this out!  If the directions say “Bring water to a boil then add meal and boil for another 4 minutes” — how does this translate to “add boiling water to meal and let it sit for ## minutes!”  If you don’t want under cooked rice or pasta (I mean we all like Al Dente, but not HARD pasta), how long will it take to cook those pasta noodles?  4, 5, 6,or 10 minutes?

It’s BETTER find that out, because when you are tired and ready for your hot meal after a long day on trail, you will tend to lean to 4 minutes vs 10 minutes unless you KNOWN the cooking time.

Backpack

Over the past few months (since I decided to do a Thru Hike) I have been doing a few “test runs” with some of the equipment.  At first, I was just testing myself as I carried some substantial weight in a backpack for up to 12 miles.  This was eye opening to say the least!

With a load in the backpack, I quickly found the Hot Spots and various other uncomfortable aspects of my pack.  Does the belt stay tight?  Since this is where most of the pack weight is carried (on you hips vs your shoulders), a secure belt is paramount to hiking long distances.  Then you’ll need to look at  how it’s secured and work to ensure it doesn’t come loose while hiking.

How about those shoulder straps.  Are they comfortable?  How do they feel after 12 miles with 30 pounds?  Do they still feel comfortable?  If not, you need to start looking for a new pack or start working your adjustments.  Remember, this will be 30 pounds on your back for 6 months (180 days)…that’s a long time to be uncomfortable.

Finally, is there anything sticking through the pack into y0ur back?  If there is, time to adjust your packing method and move this item.  I’ve seen lots of ways to pack a backpack.  No one way is right or wrong!  It’s what works for you.  But remember the standard is bulky items in the bottom, heavy items centered and near your back, and finally secure your load with the cinch staps.

Again, if you can remove any obstacle which makes hiking “no fun”, then you help guarantee your success for a Thru Hike.

Shoes

How do those shoes fit?  Are they tight and secure on your feet?  That sounds awesome…but what happens after you been on your feet for days, weeks, and months?  Your feet will begin to “spread” and then how will those shoes feel?

I’ve moved to a new shoe recently.  I like the Altra Lone Peak 2.5 Trail Runners because they are light with a zero drop and have an integrated gaiter.   I did buy a size larger than normal…and we’ll see over the next few months how this works.  On my first hike, I noticed my foot slides around a little bit in the front footbed.  This could be dangerous on the trail, so I’ll be making a few adjustments like tightening my laces to see if it fits that.  However, I really like the way the Altra’s feel on my feet…large footbed.

As an AT Thru Hiker, you don’t need to be “learning your equipment” on trail.  Take a few moments to learn how it works…it will definitely make for being a Happy Camper!

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