Reflections – What I Would Have Done Differently on My Thru Hike

Now that it’s been more than two years since my Katahdin summit and the end of the journey that has changed my life, I feel like I’m finally distanced enough to take a look back and see the things I wish I had done differently and will be applying to my hikes in 2015. While this list isn’t all-encompassing, these are my big three:

1) More nutritious foods

Before going starting the AT I did something not many other people seemed to do – I trained to hike the trail. I spent every single weekend hiking or backpacking for nearly 6 months. I lost 50 pounds. I learned how my gear worked. The only thing I didn’t learn was how to eat on trail! I mostly ate only Enertia Trail Foods and never actually attempted to cook anything else, mostly due to all my backpacking friends only eating dehydrated meals or packing in fresh foods or leftovers for dinner. My first resupply in Franklin, NC had me terrified. I just bought whatever I had seen other people eating in camp every night and had no idea how to prepare it. What I didn’t take into account was the lack of nutritional value or the sky-high levels of sodium. After eating well-balanced meals for so long leading up to my hike, a daily diet of honey buns and instant rice wreaked havoc on my body. My stomachaches got worse the further up trail I got and my body began the breakdown that most NoBo’s experience in New Hampshire in North Virginia. I ate children’s chewable vitamins like dessert after dinner for months. For me personally, after eating so much garbage food for 5 months, for my next hikes I’ve purchased a food dehydrator and I’m making a lot of my own food for mail drops.  I’m also looking to do some meals by Outdoor Herbivore and my snacks from Picky Bars.

I'm supposed to eat this?!

I’m supposed to eat this?!

2) Take more photos of HIKERS, not views

A fun fact about me – I have a near-photographic memory. I remember all the views. Two years after the fact I can still remember where a view was just by looking at the photos. I mostly only have photos of nature and not people. I wish I would have taken more photos of the people who made up my small little trail world. I still get excited when a random trail photo of me gets tagged on Facebook. Some of the photos from the trail that mean the most to me are taken of me by other people and truly capture the sprit of what it was like to be on the trail.

Sprinkles & NoKey at Birch Run Shelter - Photo Cred to Tubesocks

Sprinkles & NoKey at Birch Run Shelter – Photo Cred to Tubesocks

3) Less town time

Like many hikers, I got sucked into the town vortex. What was originally a plan to go in for a quick shower/laundry/resupply usually ended up to be a nearo and a zero. In fact, I took more than 50 zero days on my thru hike. Thankfully (or woefully depending on my mood), the trail towns on the trails I’m choosing next summer are fewer and smaller than AT towns. NoKey and I have both decided that the focus should be more on getting in and getting out most of the time. I feel like every time we went into town you did less socializing and more “real world” activities, like calling/texting home, updating blogs/social media, and basically ran around maniacally to the point of exhaustion.

In the mantra of hiking your own hike, these three things may be totally different from your list of “things I wish I had done differently” and that’s okay! As a former thru hiker who worked in a hostel, I was asked quite frequently how I wished I had done my hike differently and these three answers always came up. I’m excited that this list will be put to use in my 2015 thru hikes and I’m interested to know what others wish they had done differently. Leave me a comment below or find me on Facebook and we’ll talk about it!

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 8

  • Laura : Mar 4th

    Thanks for sharing these! I’m having a hard time and keep flip-flopping between whether I want to get most of my food nutritiously through mail drops or just say “screw it” and buy all my food in towns. My boyfriend, who thru-hiked in ’09, says he actually wishes he DIDN’T send so many mail drops and bought more stuff in towns (so, unhealthy, right?). It’s nice to see someone else has a different view!

    • Sprinkles : Mar 4th

      It’s definitely a “six of one, half a dozen of the other” situation with mail drops. Since I didn’t do any drops, I bought all my food in town. Sometimes I wished I had the drops and sometimes I didn’t mind so much. That’s all hindsight I suppose. NoKey did drops and pretty much always hated everything in them. He usually traded/hiker boxed half of the drop for other things.

    • Sprinkles : Mar 4th

      It’s really a “six of one, half a dozen of the other” scenario with food drops. NoKey sent himself something like 15-16 boxes and most of the time he gave away or hiker-boxed half to 3/4 of the drop. Being on less busy trails this year, I feel like sending myself food will be helpful and I really feel like if you try hard enough the AT has so many good options now. A real grocery store is only a hitch away if you’re really wanting something a little better for you! Good luck on your hike!

  • Bushy : Mar 4th

    Hi, I agree with your school of thought, it is another way to insure we complete the hike by staying healthy. Hope your hikes are excellent and we love your spirit.

    • Sprinkles : Mar 4th

      Thanks, Bushy! Happy trails 🙂

  • Kate Balano : Mar 15th

    Hi Sprinkles, I have nowhere near your experience, but, based on my eating habits, I know I would never survive on ramen and such. I have dehydrated over 100 meals and an equal number of fruit leathers and snacks. I know the last thing I will want to do at the end of the day is cook, so I will use the freezer bag cooking method. If you have not already found it, I highly recommend Linda Frederick Jaffe’s book “Backpacking Gourmet.”

    • Nichole : Mar 26th

      Kate, I’d love to see a post about your meal prep (if you haven’t done it already – I’m behind in my blog readin’!)

  • Doctari : Jun 6th

    WOW! Nothing I didn’t really know, but it is often good to have it reinforced & you did good! Thanks.
    As a special reminder: TAKE PICTURES OF HIKERS NOT SCENERY! AND: label them (in your notebook, journal, on your phone, something like “Guy in grey shirt & green kilt is Doctari, taken 5/6/17 at XYZ bald”) I know this, yet am terrible at doing so,,, maybe next time I’ll remember. Hiked with Patches for over 2 weeks in 16, have 1 sort of good picture of him, accidently taken when taking a pic of a shelter.
    As much as you can, be selective of your food, and, weather you like it or not, eat what you have, even if you have to (as a friend once told me) “take it like it’s medicine!” because for us, it is!
    Town stops are WONDERFUL! However: I prefer to do a nero in, supply & town chores, then a nero out. No more than 24 hrs in town for me, no matter how fun it is. If hurt naturally stay till healed, I was in Damascus for 3 nights due to knee pain. It was hard to leave, had begun to think of the bunk as “Mine” LOL.


What Do You Think?