What Makes a Shakedown?

Ahh yes, the old familiar shakedown.  Unlike other hikes, this one is much more significant. Right?

Just how important are shakedowns?

As you probably know, a shakedown hike is where an individual puts their skills and gear to use before their thru-hike to help determine if they will be a go or no-go on trail.  They are undoubtedly essential before setting out on a thru-hike, but what should a typical shakedown look like?  Everywhere you look online says to do this or do that, but what about just going out and doing what you feel like doing?  Take my “not yet a thru-hiker” advice as you may, but maybe your shakedown hike doesn’t need to be so hardcore after all.

Before I go any further, know that I definitely used to be one for making my shakedowns as shitty as humanly possible.  Back-to-back-to-back marathon days in the middle of summer just to make sure I’m capable of big mile days?  Check.  Going for a trip when it’s pouring rain the entire weekend?  Well of course! Need to make sure my waterproof tent is actually waterproof, right?

I’ll be the first to tell you, being sore for days after a weekend hiking trip is super overrated.  And so is being miserable just because you wanted to test out some gear.

Trust me, your brand new tent probably isn’t going to blow away in high winds or leak in the rain.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t experience some challenges on your shakedowns before heading off for the long haul.  You absolutely should, but in my opinion, they shouldn’t become the focus of your hike.  After all, isn’t hiking supposed to be at least a little enjoyable?

I’ve done a handful of shakedowns of my own over the past 7-8 months for my upcoming thru-hike.  Some have been longer sections while others have been simple overnighters.  While the concept for all of them has been the same, the things learned from each of them have been unique.

Here are a few of my big takeaways:

  1. While I was dialing in my gear I wanted to see just how many miles I could cover under the weight of my pack.  My logic was, “If I can do it now then I will be able to do it a year from now.”  Plus, I like things that are physically challenging.  Perfect mindset for a shakedown, right?  It only took two trips like this before my mindset shifted entirely.  My more recent shakedowns have been super easy and much more enjoyable.  Lesson learned: every day doesn’t need to be a big mile day.
  2. All the cool new gear that you have upgraded is going to work the way it was designed to work.  Just get out there and make sure it works for you and that you’re comfortable with it!  Lesson learned: don’t feel like you need to expose yourself to crazy harsh conditions just because you have the gear to do it.
  3. My favorite shakedown so far didn’t feel like much of a shakedown at all.  I hiked from Woody Gap up to Preacher’s Rock on the AT and had a couple of beers on the overlook.  I sat there and chilled out for a few hours before going a little further and making camp for the night.  Lesson learned: don’t always be in such a rush (also beers on trail with a nice view are pretty sweet).

Essentially, I’ve come to find out that shakedowns are just as important for getting your mind right as they are for shaving those few ounces off of your base weight.

So, what makes a shakedown? It’s simple – enjoying the experience!  I’m so excited to carry these and many other lessons learned with me starting in June.  If you’re planning a shakedown any time in the foreseeable future, consider just making it more about the experience than worrying so much about getting ready for your thru-hike.  That part will come along with just being out there!

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