CDT: Preparations around gear, training and nutrition

I’m in the final stages of preparation for my thru-hike of the CDT, with just over a month to go, and I’m feeling the pressure. There’s a whirlwind of tasks to tackle: Fine-tuning our gear and ensuring proper nutrition and training. But mostly it’s about dealing with all the beloved German bureaucracy around subletting my apartment, as well as pausing my health insurance and my business. Dealing with my mental and physical health to be in a good state when I start. Making arrangements for my mom, who has dementia. And finally, packing all my belongings into numerous boxes in my basement to live out of a backpack for the next five months. Each day, the to-do list seems to grow rather than shrink.

To be honest, this is the most overwhelming part of a thru-hike for me and what I’m spending most of my preparation time on. Managing the ordinary demands of life proves to be more challenging than traversing thousands of miles on foot for me. Oddly enough, I find a certain ease in planning for the trail itself. After covering 6,000 miles on trails worldwide, I’ve learned to embrace a relaxed approach to planning. Experience has taught me that things have a way of working out, and excessive planning often only serves to heighten anxiety. I’m confident that once I hit the trail, everything will fall into place. It’s the mundane routines of everyday life that leave me drained and yearning for escape. I’m exhausted, craving the simplicity and freedom that comes with life on the trail.

As Henry David Thoreau famously wrote, ‘A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.’ These words resonate deeply with me as I prepare to leave behind the trappings of civilization and embark on this epic journey.

Gear

My gear selection for the CDT mostly mirrors what I used on the PCT. Once I find gear that suits me, I tend to stick with it.

Big 4

Replacing my beloved Osprey Lumina was a reluctant necessity after it sustained damage over 2,000 miles. Unfortunately, the Lumina got discontinued, so I’ve opted for the newer Osprey Eja Pro 55, albeit slightly heavier but sturdier, which I successfully tested on a short 7-day hike in Spain this winter.

Additionally, I’m considering incorporating an air pad for colder sections. I’m a foam pad girl all the way, and I love the Nemo Switchback as it’s indestructible. I know, I would lose my mind trying to find the inevitable holes in an air pad. I just don’t have the patience for these kinds of things — taking care of materials and fixing them. But when it gets below 32 °F, the R-Value of 2.0 of the foam pad doesn’t quite do it anymore, even I must admit that. So, this is the first time I will try an air pad for the colder sections and risk losing my sanity over finding holes.

I’ll be sticking with my Therm-A-Rest Hyperion 20F sleeping bag, though I have the option to switch to a warmer Nemo Coda 11F when necessary.

Clothing

I try to rebuy the same things if they break — especially with clothes, as I have sensory issues that can drive me nuts if it’s not perfect. Unfortunately, outdoor brands like to discontinue things to get new products out. So, this time I just bought stuff in bulk to not have a replacement turn into a big headache.

For clothing, I’m still going strong with mostly Decathlon as they provide the best price-performance ratio. Their clothes are fairly light, hold up well, and only cost a fraction of the big brands. Maybe one day Americans will find that out, too. This time I can utilize the home base of my boyfriend in California which will make it easier to switch out gear on the go if it turns out to be needed. I’m going to bring a bunch of cold weather gear as well as an ice axe, ready to be shipped out if I need it.

For shoes, I also go with a European brand. Salomon trail runners have accompanied me since the very beginning of my thru-hiking career, and they fit my narrow feet perfectly. Paired with the reliable comfort of Darn Tough socks, I rarely encounter blistering issues.

I’m also very happy to have sponsors like Osprey, Kathoola, Leki, Nemo, Sawyer, and FarOut by my side for this year’s adventure, providing invaluable assistance and gear.

Here you can find my (still work in progress) pack list: https://lighterpack.com/r/9zuq4r

Physical Preparation

What scares me most about a thru-hike is injuries that keep me from completing my hike. The thought of being unable to hike terrifies me more than any challenge the trail, weather, or wildlife could present. That’s why, this time around, I’m placing greater emphasis on physical preparation.

During my previous hike on the PCT, I was in excellent cardiovascular shape. However, I failed to consider the cumulative stress my body would endure over an extended period. The truth is, day hikes and even shorter backpacking trips cannot adequately replicate the strain of hiking eight hours a day, covering 20 miles daily, and bearing a pack weighing 20 pounds, all sustained for five months. I did a 7-day hike in Spain in January and a 3-day hike of the Trans-Catalina-Trail in February, but I know that means nothing. It’s a huge difference when you’re continuing to do this to your body every single day for months.

While good overall fitness is beneficial, it doesn’t guarantee protection against overuse injuries. In fact, being overly fit can sometimes lead to overconfidence and push hikers to tackle excessive mileage prematurely, before their tendons and muscles are properly conditioned. Conversely, less fit hikers are often compelled to adopt a more gradual pace in the initial stages of their journey.

Reflecting on my experience on the PCT, I identified several factors that contributed to my stress fracture after two months: Firstly, I unintentionally shed a significant amount of weight before embarking on the trail, which likely weakened my bones. Secondly, I neglected to replace my shoes promptly, exacerbating the strain on my feet. Lastly, I pushed myself to maintain high daily mileage early in the hike, without allowing my body sufficient time to adjust.

In addition to the stress fracture, I grappled with two episodes of Achilles tendonitis, which I attribute to pushing too hard on uphill sections. My tendons simply weren’t prepared for the intensity. These injuries are common among thru-hikers, along with ailments such as Plantar Fasciitis, shin splints, and knee problems.

Furthermore, I’ve been contending with an unusual case of bone necrosis in my left foot for about a year now. While it has improved, it still poses a risk of further fracture. Consequently, I must exercise extra caution with my foot health this time around, recognizing it as just one of the countless potential points of failure on a thru-hike.

So, my plan this time is the following:

1) Doing specific exercises for my feet, calves, and hips to strengthen tendons and help them adapt to the daily stress of hiking.

2) Adopting a slower start, aiming for 15 miles per day initially and gradually increasing mileage until reaching my desired distance. Unlike some hikers who push for 50-mile days, I’ve found that my optimal comfort level tends to cap at a marathon distance of 26 miles.

3) Implementing exercise routines during breaks and in camp to maintain flexibility and strength throughout the hike.

4) Scheduling zero days at least every 10 days, regardless of how good I feel physically. These rest days are essential for recovery and injury prevention.

5) Regularly switching out shoes. Even if the tread still appears intact, they should be switched out around every 500 miles. Additionally, I’ll be using specific orthopedic insoles and customized orthoses in my shoes to address my bone necrosis condition.

6) Prioritizing a lightweight backpack to minimize strain on my body. Carrying excess weight increases the risk of injury, so I’ll be mindful of keeping my pack as light as possible.

7) Taking a more proactive approach to nutrition, recognizing its crucial role in sustaining energy levels and supporting overall health during the hike. Further details on my nutrition plan are outlined below.

Last but not least, I’m doing my weekly pleasure and training hikes in the Alps which are in my backyard.

Weekly hikes in the Alps are keeping me fit and happy

Nutrition

Recognizing the critical role of nutrition in supporting overall health and well-being, I’m placing a greater emphasis on proper fueling for my CDT thru-hike. Despite hiking over 6,000 miles in my life, I’ve come to understand the significance of nutrition only after facing its impact firsthand.

On my first thru-hike on the Te Araroa, I was fortunate to avoid injuries, which led me to overlook the importance of nutrition. However, on the PCT, I experienced weight loss before even setting foot on the trail and struggled to consume adequate calories during the hike. Stress and excitement often lead to a loss of appetite for me, exacerbating the challenge.

Thru-hiking inherently leads to a calorie deficit, with daily energy expenditure ranging from 4,000 to 5,000 kcal, compared to the typical 2,000 to 2,500 kcal in daily life. While it’s impossible to carry enough food to match this demand, there are strategies to mitigate the deficit.

Firstly, I’ve resolved to prioritize eating even when not feeling hungry or experiencing nausea. Skipping meals is a luxury not afforded on a thru-hike, regardless of circumstances.

Secondly, I’m aiming to create more balanced and nutritious meals, moving beyond the usual fare of ramen and mashed potatoes. To achieve this, we’ve invested in a used dehydrator to prepare a variety of dehydrated meals. These meals will focus on incorporating proteins, whole-grain carbohydrates, and dried fruits for sustained energy and nutritional value.

Furthermore, I plan to supplement my diet with essential nutrients like Magnesium, Calcium, and Q-10 to support overall health and address any potential deficiencies.

By prioritizing nutrition and adopting a proactive approach to fueling my body, I aim to optimize my physical performance and well-being throughout the duration of the hike.

Dehydrating food for the CDT

Dehydrating food for the CDT

Let’s go hiking!

I’m excited to embark on yet another adventure on the trail, knowing full well that whatever challenges lie ahead, I’ve proven time and again just how resilient I am.

I hiked a week with pain in my foot on the PCT without knowing it to be broken, took three weeks off, and was back on the trail. On my very first backpacking trip on the West Highland Way, I suffered from terrible knee pain after just a few days. In the end, I could barely walk anymore, but I didn’t even think of quitting, even if I needed to crawl to the finish line. And I did it, I finished. I struggled badly with the cold and altitude of climbing the 9,870-foot-high Chachani Volcano in Peru, but I pushed through and made it to the summit. I’ve been at the height of a major depression while hiking the Te Araroa and I successfully finished that one, too. Each trail has only reinforced my belief in my capabilities and the boundless strength within me.

It’s harder for me not to be out there and hike than to actually hike. For me, the trail isn’t just a place to hike; it’s where I find my truest self and live fully in the present moment—a feat I struggle to achieve in the mundanity of everyday life, no matter how hard I try. To be honest, I find more awe in those who navigate daily obligations with grace than in hiking thousands of miles.

I’m a firm believer that mental fortitude outweighs physical prowess on a thru-hike. Your body will adapt, but it’s your mind that must weather the storms — literal and metaphorical. If you can embrace discomfort, weather the elements, and cherish the connection with nature, you’ll thrive.

I’m really convinced that mental strength is so much more important on a thru-hike than everything else. Even more critical than your body because your body will adjust, even if you haven’t been hiking much before. If you’re okay with being not okay sometimes, if you’re able to push through uncomfortable things like bad weather, rough terrain, and boring road walks, if you have the love and connection for the outdoors, you will be fine.

I’m not one to give up easily. If I ever do, it’ll be for a reason of utmost seriousness. Nevertheless, every mile and every minute spent on the trail is a gift — one that enriches the soul and leaves an indelible mark on the heart. Embarking on such an adventure is a privilege that few undertake in their lifetimes, and it’s an experience that remains unparalleled, regardless of the outcome.

I have no doubts regarding my outdoor skills and my ambitions. The Te Araroa prepared me for some serious wilderness hiking, including tough river crossings and extreme weather like a snowstorm on the top of a pass. While my interactions with fellow humans may sometimes be awkward or a simple visit to an IKEA can send me into a meltdown, in the great outdoors, I find my confidence and embrace every challenge with open arms.

So let’s lace up those trailrunners, hoist our packs, and venture forth with unwavering determination. The trail awaits, and I’m ready to meet it head-on, with gratitude in my heart for every step of the journey.

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