Wisdom from the Wisest: Thru-hiking Secrets Exposed

I met this incredible specimen of a man early on during my thru-hike of the AT. His name was Fig Newton. Or Pretzel. He was some type of edible substance. As I struggled with my overweight, UL pack, he wisely suggested that I permit him to give me a shakedown in the morning. He was convinced my bag would burst if I didn’t make some dramatic changes. I consented, heeding his subtle warning. The next day, as I spilled the contents of my pack, he graciously divided my gear into piles of DOs and DO NOTs. As we prepared to dispose of nearly all of my belongings, he filled my mind with the following nuggets of wisdom, which followed me all along the trail:

Check the windowsills of gas stations.
There’s an unwritten code in the thru-hiking world. It’s one of the many brilliant systems they have developed to pass along some magic and shed a few ounces in the interim. For the archaic human beings that still use cash, check the windowsills before you make a purchase in convenience stores near the AT. You’re likely to find some rogue coins. Contrarily, if you purchase something in a gas station and end up with a handful of change, leave it in the windowsill for another poor soul to stumble upon. I found this system to be most prevalent in the south.

Smart Water squirt tops can be used to back flush your Sawyer. And you really probably should backwash occasionally. It makes a difference, trust me. Also, you’ll find back flushers in nearly every hiker box between GA and ME. You don’t need to carry one.

*Note: some Propel water bottles are compatible with your Sawyer as well.*

“I realize this is pretty intimate information, but I only wear one pair of underwear”
I’ll admit that by the end of the trail, I was only sporting a single pair, myself. I just remember thinking it was another piece of fabric that I’d have to watch the sun dry so I threw out any duplicates.

Ask for Hiker Rates when you’re trying to get a room for the night. A lot of trail communities offer discounts or free food for weary travelers (i.e. Hanover,NH offers a slice of free pizza and a donut). AWOL is good about marking those types of things, but it never hurts to ask.

Additional secrets:
Nalgenes are like bricks. Cotton kills. You don’t need a pack towel because you won’t need a shower. The stench is permanent. You never need two of anything.

Ok I lied. You should carry two lighters but don’t pack them in the same place. Divorce them.
You’ll thank me after you’ve experienced a few hours of relentless rain.

Baby wipes and Boudreaux Butt Paste: The baby wipes are really nice to have but you have to pack them out. So some people love them and some people don’t. As for the butt paste, my male friends can attest to its value. They suffered terribly through the Smokies. I, myself, only required its services once or twice.

Don’t sweat the rest. You’ll be fine.


And yet –
and yet, this New Road
will some day
be the Old Road, too

Neil Munro (1863 – 1930)


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Comments 5

  • Sl : Dec 16th

    By pack out the baby wipes you mean you can bury them?

    • Sl : Dec 16th


      • Mary Beth : Dec 16th

        Correct. Most baby wipes aren’t bio degradable. And you’ll see this on signs all along the trail but if you leave them in the privies, some unfortunate soul has to pick them out because they interfere with the decomposition process.

  • Slack Packhiker : Jan 2nd

    Make your own with damp paper towels and a tiny bit of essential oil. Doesn’t leave an icky sticky film like most wipes.


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