Walking with a Face Mask: Hiking During Corona

There is one piece of gear I am carrying backpacking that I have never used before. Face masks. Now I carry two masks in my backpack in separate plastic bags in case one gets wet or lost. 

I am hiking during corona and doing what I can to keep myself and others safe.

When I first planned to hike the AT in 2020 I had imagined myself starting in Georgia, and hiking till I had completed all 2,193 miles. This pandemic has changed that. Instead I will be doing sections, which will allow me to bring my own supplies and minimize contact with others.

I just completed my first section from Shenandoah to Harpers Ferry. I only stayed in a tent so that I wouldn’t be touching surfaces. I had family pick me up and drop me off so I didn’t have to take public transportation. I didn’t share food and I didn’t stop at any stores. 

There are seven principles I live my hikes by. They’re inscribed on the inside of my backpack and are a constant reminder that when we go into the woods we are its caretaker and without consideration can become its adversary.

During this pandemic these principles have become even more critical: 

Plan ahead and prepare.

Before embarking on this 80-mile hike I spent time reviewing maps, updating family of my location, packing and planning a safe supply drop, and reviewing Shenandoah’s updated guidelines. 

Travel and camp on durable surfaces.

Bringing my own sleep system was crucial to ensuring I could mitigate my impact when staying near shelters and campsites. Sleeping in a tent meant that I could distance myself from more highly trafficked shelters.

Dispose of waste properly.

Digging catholes and avoiding privies in highly trafficked areas was important to me in minimizing exposure. 

Leave what you find.

Many rural areas do not have the infrastructure to support a health care crisis. As a backpacker it is my responsibility to not exacerbate this crisis. It is my obligation to leave towns with the same security as I entered them.

Minimize campfire impacts.

Just like fire, disease can spread quickly. I minimized campfire impact by only making small fires in preexisting fire rings and I minimized my impact by safely social distancing

Respect wildlife. 

I hiked this section with my dogs. My dogs were always on leash. They are visitors too! Fewer people outside means wildlife has had an opportunity to recover. (Check out these cool photos!) I will not infringe upon that newly found space.

Be considerate of other visitors. 

Whenever I saw other hikers I always notified them of my and my dogs’ presence and protected their own personal space and mine by keeping six feet apart.

Hiking during a pandemic is both different and in many ways the same.

I will continue to follow these principles both during COVID- 19 and after. And in the meanwhile I will hike on!

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Comments 2

  • Avatar
    Quiet Storm : Jul 2nd

    Hi Risa,

    I met you last week at Raven Rock Shelter in MD. I appreciate you writing this article. I think it’s important that long distance hikers realize they’re not invulnerable to possible infection. But it’s important to practice what you preach. If you choose to stay in a shelter with another hiker you don’t know, you’re taking a risk. And not wearing a mask around camp is a bigger risk than hiking past someone. This is challenging for all of us. Good luck with the rest of your hike.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Risa Fruchter : Jul 3rd

    Hi Quiet Storm, it was nice meeting you last week. Hope your summit in September is amazing! You are right. I’m pretty early in my hike and still trying to figure out the best way to keep myself and others safe. Tonight I tented outside of a hostel because it felt too crowded to social distance. Shelters, resupplies and hostels sometimes feel inevitable and I am working on striking the right balance. Happy hiking!

    Reply

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