Gear List, Shakedown Hike, and Other Prep for the Long Trail
I can’t believe I’m putting this in writing but… I leave for the Long Trail in two days. I know, right? My friends and family have asked if I feel ready, and my response has been that I am, but I’m also a little anxious. I think it’s natural to be feeling some type of way right before you leave on a three-week-long trek, but I’m confident that I prepared well. This is my first backpacking trip that’s longer than a week, and my first solo backpacking trip, period. I won’t have a group to depend on, meaning I’ll have to carry everything I need on my own back, for about 21 days. Here’s how I prepared.
Testing My Gear (and Myself)
A few weeks ago, I dragged my best friend on an overnight trip so I could be sure I liked—and knew how to properly use—my setup. We hiked a short section of the Appalachian Trail and camped behind a shelter near Sunrise Mountain in New Jersey. I’m always shocked how close the AT runs to my home in New York City, and the recent addition of a vehicle in our lives (one good thing that came out of quarantine!) made getting there easy.
Since my hiking companion doesn’t have all her own gear yet, I carried food, snacks, wine, and a few other items for both of us, which probably came close to simulating what my food weight will be at its heaviest on the LT. Despite my somewhat lax workout habits since COVID-19 shut down my gym in March, plus lingering knee pain from a water skiing mishap (yes, really), I felt great physically. I’ll have to average about 15 miles per day on the LT to finish within my allotted time off from work, which seems doable for me.
Besides having a grand old time with my buddy over a weekend blessed with incredible weather, this short trip really bolstered my confidence going into my LT hike. A few admittedly small mishaps taught me some valuable lessons, like always make sure you bring your tent stakes (I must have lost them on my last trip and didn’t realize it!) and always carry extra batteries for your headlamp (no excuse on that one… whoops).
I used my Sawyer Squeeze filter and MSR Pocket Rocket 2 stove for the first and second time, and I got to use the Guthook app all weekend for navigation. Other than the few hiccups I mentioned—and just completely over-watering the LIVING SHIT out of our Mountain House meals—everything went smoothly and I’m happy with the stuff I brought. Said stuff can be thoroughly ogled by clicking the link to my gear list, but I’ll elaborate on the Big Three a bit here.
Obligatory Gear Rundown
A few years ago I started to acquire gear in the hopes that I would eventually thru-hike the AT. Luckily, the gear required for a Long Trail end-to-end isn’t that far off from what someone would bring on the AT. (In fact, the first 100 miles of the Long Trail run concurrent with the AT!) It is a bit later in the season—all the better to catch that fall foliage—so it’ll be cold during the night. I’m slightly concerned about warmth, but also want to make sure my base weight is as light as it can be despite carrying cold-weather gear.
I had so much fun researching gear over the past few years—for funzies at first, and then more seriously this summer once I decided to actually Do The Thing. The Trek was my number one source for stalking other people’s gear lists, devouring product reviews, and nerding out on thru-hiker surveys. I was inspired by Badger’s Long Trail gear list for some late-in-the-game purchases like my Anker battery pack, and learned A TON from Julia Sheehan’s YouTube channel, just to name a few. Let me know how I did in the comments!
Last year during REI’s spring sale, I splurged on a Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 2 using my member dividends and some leftover birthday card money. I’ve only used it a few times, but it’s super easy to set up and break down. It’s pretty small for a two-person tent (just ask my aforementioned best friend who watched in disbelief as I set this baby up for the two of us on our recent overnight). But since my Long Trail hike will be solo, it’s got plenty of room for my 5-foot-3-inch bod, my backpack, and then some. I thought about a trekking pole tent, but since I’m not an experienced backpacker it was honestly a little intimidating to commit to. Besides, there’s always room in my gear-loving heart for an upgrade down the line.
After much deliberation, I went with the universally beloved Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60. The small fits my short torso perfectly, and it carries well even when loaded up with an excess of food, a bottle of wine, and the card game Phase 10, which I now know from experience! I’ll be lining it with a trash compactor bag and stuffing my Crocs in its generous-sized front mesh pocket.
To keep me from freezing my ass off on those cold Vermont fall nights, I’m bringing the NEMO Women’s Rave 15 degree “spoon” bag. Not quite a mummy, this bag gives me a little more room to sleep on my face like a strange starfish creature while keeping the warmth inside. Unfortunately, I don’t know if they make this bag anymore; I got it on clearance at REI last summer. I also have a sleeping bag liner (mostly to keep my bag from absorbing all of the inevitable hiker stench), a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite sleeping pad, and a little inflatable pillow. Sleep is important to me!
COVID-19 Restrictions Entering Vermont
Also important to me is not contracting or spreading coronavirus. A good chunk of my planning revolved around this little logistical nightmare, which is to say I “planned” loosely and knew that, at any time, I might have to cancel and head home. That still stands, even this close to leaving. I won’t put my health and the health of others at risk just to finish a hike, and I’ll be following the state and federal guidelines closely.
As of now, residents of Northeastern states whose counties have a similar active COVID-19 caseload to Vermont (defined as less than 400 active cases per million) may enter the state for leisure travel without quarantining if they do so in a personal vehicle. Great! Except New York County, where I live, currently has just over 500 active cases… not so great. But not terrible, either. I’ve just had to quarantine at home for 14 days before heading to Vermont in my personal vehicle. No need to quarantine once I arrive, which would have basically flushed my LT plans down the drain. Because who has an extra 14 vacation days and money for lodging to waste doing literally nothing? Not this girl.
While on the trail, I plan to make town visits only when I need to resupply, about every five days or so. I do plan to book one overnight stay; the promise of a shower, freshly washed clothes, a real bed, and a warm breakfast is too enticing to miss out on. But I’ll wear a mask, practice physical distancing, and only linger in town for as long as necessary. Am I a little bummed to miss out on some iconic attractions like Ben & Jerry’s and the Long Trail Brewing Company? Of course, but here’s to hoping I’ll be back someday when I finally get around to thru-hiking the AT—in what will hopefully be a post-COVID world.
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