Winter Weather Shakedown


Howdy Y’all! Since this is my first post I should probably introduce myself and my dog Jetta for those who don’t know us (so everyone right?) but you are just going to have to be patient and check back later because right now I want to talk about the weather. Yes you heard that right, I’m going to start this off by talking about the weather. Last Saturday in East Tennessee the weathermen and women were calling for partly cloudy skies, a low of 18 degrees, and 0% chance of rain. What does this mean for most people? It’s a great night to stay in and watch a movie, read a book, or given that it was Valentines Day Eve, make love on a bearskin rug in front of a roaring fire with glasses of Champaign. What did this mean for me? It was the weekend AND perfect weather for a winter gear shakedown!

Winter is almost over right?

Wrong. I will be starting my Northbound thru hike of the Appalachian Trail on March 6th and anyone who thinks this is not a winter start is kidding themselves. Maybe it has something to do with my Texan blood, but I start to get chilly when the mercury drops below 80. Every time someone asks me if I’m scared of bears, or bugs, or serial killers, or being alone, or wolves, or zombies, or flesh eating bacteria or any of the other irrational dangers people think I will encounter while thru hiking the AT I think to myself “No. I’m afraid of being cold!”.

Staying warm, hopefully…

Our last shakedown was on Max Patch in November and the low dropped to the mid 20’s. Jetta and I were both pretty cold and got less sleep than we would have liked. I made some adjustments to our gear, mainly better gloves for me and a sleeping pad for Jetta, and decided to have another go. For some reason no one would agree to come sleep outside with us in the frigid temps so we decided not to leave the safety of our own back yard, or rather the back of our apartment, lest we freeze out in the wilderness.


Thawing out in the morning sun after a night of camping on Max Patch. That’s Jetta and I in the middle.

My gear

So what do I have planned to avoid mild discomfort or more importantly hypothermia? On cold nights, which for me will probably be every night for the first couple months, I can eat a fatty snack before getting in my sleeping bag to help fuel my internal furnace as I sleep. I can do something aerobic like going down a hill to get water, doing jumping jacks, or hanging a bear bag (I really hope my aim improves) to get my blood pumping before getting in my sleeping bag for the night. Aside from these strategies, I will be depending heavily on my gear to keep me warm and cozy. I will have a dry set of camp clothes that will be reserved for camp only. These consist of Stoic wool briefs, Icebreaker 200 leggings, Patagonia Capeliene 3 ¼ zip top, Acorn fleece socks and Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket.


camp clothes

If this is not enough I can add gloves, buff, balaclava, hiking clothes, rain gear and boiling water in my bladder (water bladder not urinary bladder) for added warmth. I will be using a Zpacks 20 degree down bag, Cocoon Silk bag liner, and Big Agnes Insulated Q Core SL sleeping pad. Finally my Tarptent Double Rainbow which will afford protection from wind and rain or snow.


Double Rainbow set up in my “backyard”. Note the AC unit.

What about the Mutt?

Jetta and I have about the same level of cold tolerance, but she is more difficult to shop for since Z packs doesn’t make sleeping bags in her size and she is not a fan of air mattresses. She has a cut down section of a Thermarest Z Lite Sol, a Kurgo Loft Jacket, a Turtle Fur neck warmer, and Pawks dog socks and baby leg warmers from Amazon.


Testing the new Thermarest, its a hit!


Mom, Im ready!

The Verdict?

Well I won’t die in 18 degree weather with low humidity. In fact, I won’t even be too cold (except my nose). I will however have a very bad nights sleep anywhere along the AT that has a dozen AC units kicking on and off all night. Jetta won’t die either, but she was a little shivery in the wee hours of the morning. Her sleep pad definitely made her more comfy than our last shakedown, but she needs more. I’m going to look into some type of lightweight down or fleece blanket or a second coat for her.


Do we look cold?


Next time…

Keep an eye out for an official introduction post coming soon! Also more detailed posts about our gear and my Appalachian Trials (the book) inspired lists of why I’m hiking the AT.

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Comments 13

  • Uncle Jim : Feb 16th

    Looking forward to hearing more from the trail. Wish I was 26 again!! When you make it to New England, we’ll be waiting to greet you, re supply, hose you and Jetta down because of the summer heat and maybe trot along for a bit. Happy Trails!

    • Sara Ecay : Feb 23rd

      Thanks so much for your support! I’m lucky to have such a cool family 🙂

  • Meshell Lloyd : Feb 16th

    I’m so excited for you and to see your journey unfold!

    • Sara Ecay : Feb 23rd

      Thanks for following!

  • Mathina Calliope : Feb 17th

    Omg those doggy legwarmers!

    • Sara Ecay : Feb 23rd

      If you don’t have a baby, why not put clothes on your dog! 😛

  • Greg : Feb 20th

    I thru hiked with my dog last year and started on March 4th, definitely got some cold weather the first month or so. I suggest a cheap fleece blanket for Jetta like you mentioned. I got one that was less than a pound and under $5 at a local discount store. It worked so well I kept using a fleece blanket even when it got warm (sent home her pad and kept the blanket for her to sleep on). When ticks come out I sprayed the fleece with Permatherin, any ticks that got on her despite the flee/tick treatment I put on her (and a surprising amount did) died over night due to the blanket she slept on. When the blanket got grungy I just threw it away and got a new one.

    • Sara Ecay : Feb 23rd

      Thanks for the tips and congrats on your thru! It’s great to hear from someone else who has done the trail with their dog. I hadn’t thought about spraying her stuff with permethrin but now I won’t forget to do her things too. Ticks are scary buggers! I am looking into getting her fleece jammies because I was worried about a blanked sliding off during the night. I have found a company that makes them and will be posting a review when the product arrives.

  • Tim : Feb 20th

    Is there any areas on the AT that Jetta can’t go?

    • Different Tim : Feb 20th

      3 national parks, Smokies, Shanandoa(sp), baxter.

      • Sara Ecay : Feb 23rd

        They are actually allowed in Shenandoah but there is a leash law there as well as other parts of the trail.

    • Sara Ecay : Feb 23rd

      Yes. Dogs are not allowed in the Smokey Mountains, Baxter State Park, and a small portion in NY where there is some kind of urban zoo (I have just read about this not really sure what is going on here…). I have arranged for her pick up for these sections.

  • pam g : Mar 16th

    Hi, Sara! This is Danny’s mom. Danny’s sister, Camille, just started out on the AT 2 days ago, on March 14. So exciting, and I love seeing the pictures you posted on FB. It helps us to know what she’ll be experiencing.

    Good luck and stay warm!


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