The Ins and Outs of Slacking Off: A Slack-Pack Planning Guide
So you think that slack-packing is easy just because the word “slack” is in it? I’m here to tell you that there is more to the art of slacking than you might think. An ill-planned slack-pack has the potential to set you back more than it can help you, if you aren’t careful. The good news is that it only takes a little bit of planning and common sense to make your slack an ideal one.
For those that aren’t familiar with the term, a slack-pack is a hiker expression that means you hand off either all or most of your pack to another person. You are then able to hike without the burden of your full weight, meaning that you have the potential to hike more miles at a faster rate. Slack-packing can be amazing, but it can go surprisingly disastrous if you don’t consider all of the elements that go into it.
Let’s go over all of the key-points of a slack-pack:
#1: Your Slack-Pack Host
The most essential ingredient is of course the person who will be taking your things. Let’s call them your host. This brings up my first important point.
Make sure your Slack-Pack Host is Legit
While that might seem obvious, there is a chance that you will be offered a slack from someone you don’t know personally. Be sure that this person is of a reputable source. There are sometimes hiker and AWOL approved lists available if you want to seek out a slack-pack host. But there is a chance that a very nice person who is trail-savvy will offer to slack you. Naturally, you will want to say yes. But remember, when you hand over your pack, you are handing over your entire life. Not to mention that your gear is actually worth a pretty-penny. Think of it as letting a stranger house-sit for you. Okay, yes, your house is essentially a dirty, smelly, sweat-covered mess, but it’s your mess and you have to trust that your host will respect it.
I once let a questionable host handle my things and I ended up losing a perfectly good pair of Crocs. While this host denied it, I’m still certain to this day that they weren’t keeping track of everything I gave them. I learned the hard way.
Communicate with your Host
Once you are comfortable with your host, it is important that the two of you establish a set plan. Make sure you have their phone number and vice-verse. Know your host’s name, and make sure they know yours. Will you be calling them when you’re done with your hike, or will they be dropping off your things at a set location? Again, I know this is all basic, but keep in mind that you will not be together for the majority of the day, and it’s common courtesy to be as detailed as possible.
Another personal story for you; I set up a slack-pack with a reputable source I found through AWOL with my hiking-partner. We were so happy that we forgot to ask about where exactly he would be setting our packs. He simply told us they would be a the trail-head hidden away behind a sign. Cut to us taking longer than expected, getting to the drop off point at 1 in the morning, and not being able to find our packs at all. We searched in a blind-panic wondering if we were at the wrong spot or if our seemingly friendly host had actually high-tailed it out of town with our things. We called his number and he graciously (albeit grumpily) called us back and clarified. Thank the Trail Gods that he was understanding enough to even call us back.
Don’t Take Advantage of your Host
Your host is doing you a favor by carting around your gear, so give them as much respect as they are respecting your things. Please don’t assume that just because they are offering you a slack, that they will want to slack every hiker-trash body that comes their way. Always ask permission before offering their services to others. How big is their car? What is their schedule like? You were once a normal-person too, and there are those out there whose life isn’t all consumed by the AT.
So at the very least,
Thank your Host
You might be paying for you slack-pack, or you might be lucky enough to have found a free one, but either way thank your host profusely. Offer them anything you can to show that you are grateful. If they don’t want money, perhaps you can ask for their address or email so that you can send a thank-you card or update. Maybe in exchange for their services you can take the time to answer any questions they have about your personal experience, or trail culture. Who cares if they are the millionth person to ask if you carry a gun or if you’re worried about bears? Share with them, thank them, be appreciative.
#2: Your Preparation Details
After you’ve established a set plan with your host, it’s your responsibility to know the details of your hike. First and foremost, what exactly you’ll be carrying with you, and how you’ll be carrying it.
Know which Pack you’re Taking
Some slack-pack hosts are kind enough to provide you with a day bag or smaller backpack for your hike. If they don’t, you’re going to have to decide how you’ll be carrying your lighter weight. Does your pack’s brain come off and convert to a smaller bag? Will you just collect all of the things you don’t want and take your normal pack? If you’re going to be slacking with another person, you might want to consider taking only one pack and switching off between the two of you. The options are plentiful. Just make sure that you have one.
Know what you’re Packing
The gear that you won’t need is fairly obvious. You probably won’t need your sleeping bag, tent or hammock, your clothes, or anything that you normally need at the end of the day. But you will still want to plan what food you’ll be eating, you’ll most likely still need your water treatment system whatever that may be, and at least a few emergency supplies. Do some research on the terrain, because you might even decide to leave your hiking poles behind. Again, if you’re slacking with a partner, you can potentially divvy up the important gear between the two of you. One person could be in charge of maps, while the person with the more convenient water treatment system could carry that. Everyone should have a phone.
It’s common sense like this that can save you a lot of trouble later. Here’s another slack-packing story: a group of us went on what we thought would be a nice day hike where we would finish with plenty of daylight. However, one member of our party ended up having to leave the trail because she was too sick to continue. We waited for her ride and ended up hiking later than we expected. None of us had brought head-lamps. We hiked by the light of our cell-phones for the last 4 miles and it was not fun.
This leads me to another valid point.
Know your Exits
Emergencies happen; It could be a weather emergency, a physical injury, or an unexpected complication that nobody predicted. Killer rabbits maybe. Therefore, studying your map, and finding potential points of exit should be found and shared with your slack-pack host. Not a lot of places on the AT are accessible by car. Pick a spot that your host will be able to get to, or that you will easily be able to walk to. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the desired end-point is clear too. You don’t want to stop too short or too far away from the agreed spot (see “Communicate with your Host).
#3 Your Slack!
Once all of the aforementioned details have been properly taken care of, you will be ready to go out and have yourself a good old slack-packing time! There are just a few more details you want to be aware of when you’re actually on your slack-pack adventure.
Don’t be a Dick about it
You will basically be walking around feeling like a GOD. You will have barely any weight, and you will feel phenomenal. But please, don’t go around bragging about how wonderful you feel right next to someone who is clearly in pain and tired. I was fortunate enough to get a slack going over a particularly tough accent, and I passed a lot of hikers on my way. I practiced the proper hiker etiquette and respectfully made my presence known, passed them, and made no reference to my lack of pack. It was only if they wanted to acknowledge my obvious slack that I stopped and shared details of my hike.
On the reverse side, if you are hiker who doesn’t want to every slack-pack, I ask you not to make the situation awkward. I know that some hikers don’t like the concept of slack-packing because they want to say that they carried their weight the entire way. I respect that. But if you become elitist about it, the hiker who is slack-packing is going to feel shamed. Hike Your Own Hike.
Enjoy Yourself, but do so Wisely
Just because you don’t have a full-pack doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continue to practice basic trail safety. I’m not saying don’t have fun. By all means, take advantage of your weightlessness. Run! Jump! Climb those hills with vigor and enthusiasm! But don’t be stupid. Don’t just go wonder off on an unmarked trail or mountain because you can. Don’t run too hard, or you could injure yourself somehow. If you’re planning a long slack, say 30 miles, be sure to pace yourself so that you’re not exhausted by the end of it. A long slack-pack can be just as grueling as a typical 15 mile hike with a full pack.
Speaking of timing there is a good chance that on your slack you might be tempted to take longer than normal during your stops. Slack-packs are like vacations, so you tend to stop and smell the roses more. Smell those roses! Take a luxuriously long lunch, or spend longer than you normally would at a vista. Take pictures! Take a side-trail that is longer than .2. Embrace your inner day-hiker. All you have to do is make sure that you keep yourself on track. If you loose sight of the time, you might not get to your end point on time, and that ruins everything for everyone.
My hope is that all thru-hikers will be able to enjoy a slack-pack at least once during their journey. It’s a great way to get in miles, and can be just as fun as a zero-day in town. The extra thought that you put in to a slack-pack is worth it, I promise. Just be sure to pick the right slack-pack host, be meticulous about your route and gear, and don’t leave your common sense behind with your pack.
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Comment on Slacking.
Thanks for the post Sriracha – good advice.
I spent few weeks in 2013 slacking my friends during their thru hike. A great experience.
My experience was a little different because i camped with my friends at the end of the day. That meant not only bringing their gear, but in some cases playing trail angel to bring in food.
The key for a successful slack from a host standpoint is planning — specifically knowing where your going to meet your hikers and how your going to get there. Even in some more accessible areas meeting up with hikers can mean you have to hike some distance to intercept the trail. That means either you have to carry their pack or make them hike off trail to your car to get their gear. Sometimes it felt like I hiked as many miles as they did.
If you have the chance do it. Like I said it was a great experience and it made me feel like I shared just a little in their experience.