For Family and Friends: Our Thru-Hike Explained

To our friends and families that can’t wrap their heads around the thru-hiker lifestyle, we get it. We understand why you don’t understand. Unless you are a backpacker yourself, you might not know what kind of equipment is out there that makes it possible to live in the woods for months on end. We want to help you understand by breaking down some of the information about our thru-hike.

How Much Will You Walk Each Day?

In our research we have noticed that every hiker is different. We know that we don’t want to exert ourselves to injury by pushing too hard in the beginning. We have to get our bodies used to carrying 20 pounds while climbing up and down steep elevations, and expect we’ll be hiking less than 10 miles each day in the first few weeks. Once we feel strong, we’ll hopefully average 15-plus miles each day. Obviously, we have no idea what our bodies can handle until we’re out there, so these are all roundabout numbers.

Where Do You Sleep?

We’ll be mostly sleeping in our tent at campsites along the trail. The trail passes by or through towns regularly enough that we can stop in every four to six  days to resupply our food, maybe wash our clothes, take showers, pick up or send mail, and throw back a couple beers. When we stop in town we will occasionally stay in a hostel or hotel if we don’t decide to just hop back on the trail before nightfall.

This is the tent we’ll be sleeping in for the next six months.

What Do You Do for Food?

We will rely on two types of food on the trail. For breakfast, lunch, and snacks we’ll mostly have food that does not have to be cooked, such as granola bars, peanut butter, crackers, etc. For dinner we’ll usually have food that has been precooked, dehydrated, and only requires boiling water to rehydrate and heat up. Dehydrated food is extremely light, easy to cook, easy to clean up, high in calories, and usually really satisfying. The trail passes through or near towns pretty frequently, allowing us to buy food along the way. We expect we’ll have to carry between four and six days of food at a time to get us between towns. There are some stretches with very limited food supply options, in which case we’ll have our food sent to us from home. We’ve already prepared several boxes to be sent.

What About Hygiene?

We’re going to smell bad. Really bad. It’s just unavoidable. We’ll pretty much only be able to shower when we’re in towns resupplying our food. While we’re on the trail we’ll have dried-out wet wipes that we can just add some water to and wipe down with if needed. We do plan on washing our clothes in towns as well, and we are bringing multiple sets of undergarments to keep at least a little fresh between washes. For dental hygiene we are bringing toothbrushes and toothpaste powder.

You Carry Everything You Need?

Yes, but understand that the things we think we need and you think we need are probably vastly different. What we need is shelter, a sleep system, cookware, a water vessel and filter, clothes, and electronics. Without food or water Taylor’s base pack weight will be about 11 pounds and Nikki’s base pack weight will be about 16 pounds. Taylor will be carrying all of the food, which means his pack can reach close to 30 pounds sometimes.  Here is a quick, but hopefully thorough breakdown of what we are carrying.


Shelter simply means something to protect us from the elements. This can be a rainfly to go over a hammock, a tent, or some people simply rely on shelters built for backpackers along the trail. We are bringing a tent that we can both sleep in. It weighs less than three pounds.

Sleep System

Generally, everyone will bring a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag. The sleeping pads we are bringing are extremely light and can roll up to be smaller than a Clorox wipes container. They weigh less than a pound each. We also have this cool bag that can catch air and force it into the pad so we don’t have to use our breath to inflate them each night. Our sleeping bags are down-filled and can be compressed to the size a volleyball. They are extremely warm, and should keep us comfortable down to 20 degrees. But since we are starting in March, we are bringing thin liners that can add 15 degrees of warmth to our bags. We are also bringing inflatable pillows. Some hikers see them as unnecessary because there’s usually an article of clothing that can be balled up and used as a pillow. We chose to bring pillows because we don’t want to risk having a kink in our neck while backpacking or not getting enough sleep because we were tossing around all night. They weigh less than half a pound each.

Nikki’s sleeping pad rolled up in comparison to a Clorox wipes container

We’ll use this bag to capture air and force it into our sleeping pads, so we don’t have to use our breath after hiking all day.


There are a lot of different ways backpackers choose to cook their food on the trail. We are choosing to rely on food that either does not have to be cooked (like granola bars and peanut butter) or precooked food that has been dehydrated and only needs boiling water to rehydrate and heat up. This means we only need a stove that attaches to a fuel canister and a pot to boil the water in. The stove folds up to the size of an Advil bottle and weighs three ounces. We are also bringing two small cups for warm drinks like coffee or hot chocolate.

Our stove folded up is smaller than an Advil container.

Our kitchen setup with a sample dehydrated meal, risotto primavera. Yum!


Water Vessel and Filter

We are each choosing to carry our water differently. Taylor will simply refill old Smart Water bottles and use a flexible water bag to hold his water. Nikki is using a water bladder with a drinking tube (like you find in CamelBak bags) as well as a flexible water bag for extra cooking water. We will use water filters that are about the size of a travel shampoo bottle to filter stream water along the trail.

This is Nikki’s setup. We’ll collect water with the CNOC then filter it through that small Sawyer filter into our drinking vessels. She’ll never have to take the Camelbak out of her bag because the filter connects to the drinking tube.


We have done a lot of research on lightweight, warm, and quick-drying clothes that we can layer to easily adapt to the changing weather. We pretty much only have one of each layer, except for undergarments that we will change out more regularly. There are laundromats in some of the towns that we’ll use to wash our clothes.


We are bringing both of our phones. There will be areas that have no service, but we should still have a chance to get online regularly to keep you guys updated. We will also be bringing a Sony E6300 mirrorless camera for Nikki to take pictures with. We have a couple accessories, and it all adds up to 1.9 pounds. We have a rechargeable battery pack that should keep our devices charged between towns.

Nikki’s camera setup.


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Comments 2

  • Karen McCall : Feb 21st

    Do you recommend taking an emergency GPS gadget?

    • Nicole Sword : Feb 23rd

      Hi Karen!

      We’ve gone back and forth on this one, and decided against bringing one ourselves. It doesn’t seem like past hikers ever needed one. The trail is very well marked with constant white blazes on the trees, and we have a book that is very descriptive of all the resources available near and on the trail. We’ll also have both of our smart phones with us, which have some very useful apps and GPS on them. I know that didn’t exactly answer your question, but hopefully it helped!


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