Friday, August 23, 2013

The Things We Carried on the Appalachian Trail

From last year's hike
On September first, I'll leave for my annual section hike of the Appalachian Trail with my lifelong best friend from Pittsburgh. We are starting our hike in the cool town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where the AT goes right through old timey streets lined with historic buildings. We will hike a little under sixty miles to the edge of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Our plan is to eventually walk the whole Appalachian Trail one section at a time.  At our current rate this is going to take the rest of our lives, which is fine by me. An annual hike is as good an excuse as any to go back to Pittsburgh and see old friends, and getting to spend a week in nature is pretty nice, too.

I do have a problem this year: knee injuries. Somehow between running and kickball this summer I managed to hurt both my knees, and the injury to my left knee is really hanging around. I was referred to a healthy joint program, but their advice seemed to center around icing my knees regularly, only doing low-to-no impact exercises like swimming or cycling, and also trying to build up the muscle around my knee. I've done these things and the knee does feel better. But on a very easy four mile practice hike last weekend (with no weight), I had some real pain when going downhill.

With the hike only a little more than a week away, I'm not holding out hope for a miracle recovery. So my options now are to build a better engine (me), put additives in the tank (Ibuprofin & Glucosomine), or try to tow a smaller load (my pack). The last item is the one most in my control over the next week. So as an homage to Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, let's take a look at all the things my buddy and I are carrying on our hike and see if we can't eliminate some.  (Note, all weights are my best estimates from using our digital bathroom scale and subtracting my own weight, available info from the package itself or the internet, or my best guess when comparing the item to a pound of dry lentils.)

Gear: (15.8 pounds)
  • One Kelty pack, 4 pounds
  • One down sleeping bag, 2.8 pounds
  • One inflatable sleeping pad, 1.4 pounds
  • Two hiking/treking poles, 1.6 pounds
  • One piece of duct tape, folded, 1 ounce
  • One plastic trowel, 2 ounces
  • One knife & firestarter, 4 ounces
  • One tent, 4 pounds 
  • One flashlight, batteries & spares 4 ounces
  • One headlamp, batteries, & spares 3 ounces
  • One compass/whistle 0.5 ounces
  • One Appalachian trail guide (ripped out unneeded sections), 1 ounce
  • Two packs of chlorine dioxide tablets, 0.5 ounces
  • One water filter (friend will carry)
  • One Jetboil stove & fuel (friend will carry)
  • One lighter, 1 ounce
  • Two bandanas, 1 ounce
  • One small microfiber towel, 1 ounce
  • One deck of cards, 4 ounces
  • Two knee stabilizers, 10 ounces
  • Pack cover, stuff sacks & compression sack, 2 ounces
Toiletries (3.7 pounds)
  • One toothbrush, handle cut off for weight, 0.5 ounces
  • One tube of toothpaste, 1 ounce
  • One razor, handle cut off for weight, 0.5 ounces
  • One mini deodorant, 1 ounce
  • Glasses and case, 2 ounces
  • Contacts and case (backup), 1 ounce
  • One first aid kit with moleskin, 3 ounces
  • One ace bandage, 1 ounce
  • One roll of camper's toilet paper, 2 ounces
  • One vial of spray sun screen, 1 ounce
  • One vial of bug repellant, 2 ounces
  • One vial of spray Purel, 1 ounce
  • Campsuds, 2 ounces
  • One bottle with allergy medicine & aleve/ibuprofin, 1 ounce
  • Biowipes, for simulating shower, 8 ounces
  • Four instant cold compresses, for knee, 2 pounds
Water & Food (14.7 pounds)
  • One 3L water bladder, filled, 6.8 pounds
  • One combo pot/mug with spork, 3 ounces
  • Five dehydrated Mountain House dinners, 1.9 pounds
  • Five cups of trail mix, 1.5 pounds
  • Seven granola bars, 10 ounces
  • One package of turkey jerky, 3 ounces
  • Eight packages of instant oatmeal, 8 ounces
  • Five packages of gatorade powder, 2.5 ounces
  • Four packages of instant coffee, 0.5 ounces
Clothing (4.6 pounds)
  • One pair of convertible pants, 8 ounces
  • One pair of shorts, 8 ounces
  • Two wicking t-shirts, 8 ounces
  • One fleece, 8 ounces
  • One poncho, 4 ounces
  • One Underarmor shirt, 3 ounces
  • One Underarmor pant, 3 ounces
  • One hat, 1 ounce
  • One beanie, 1 ounce
  • Three boxers, 3 ounces
  • Two pair of wool socks, 2 ounces
  • One pair of camping boots, 1 pound
  • One pair of light running shoes for camp, 8 ounces
Total estimated weight: 38.8 pounds

I'll be wearing many of the items above, so that weight should be much easier to carry. And as I go through the trip I'll eat through some of the food, and the water I'm carrying in my stomach by the end of the day should be easier to carry than the water on my back.

Any recommendations on how to reduce weight by eliminating or substituting items above would be very welcome. What things can I get rid of, readers? (And if any of you happen to have knowledge about knee injuries and how best to manage them, please chime in. This is the first time I've ever had this kind of injury and I'm flying a little blind.)

Thanks for reading, and happy trails!

P.S. - If you are interested in this sort of hike, be sure to read Cash Rebel's excellent articles on the AT as well: Part 1, Part 2.


  1. Glad to see the knee stabilizers are in there! Those may be worth their weight in gold. 10oz gold ~ $13.7K in comfort and injury prevention? I'll let you be the judge.

    As for the knee meds you mentioned, can I recommend what I use?

    I find that hyaluronic acid works better for me than glucosamine (they're related, so not sure about taking both), but as I understand it HA is better for building joint fluid, which helps with shock absorbtion. Glucoasmine is for more longer-term cartilage building. I find I notice the HA working after a couple days of taking it.
    My go-to joint painkiller is now Voltaren gel (req Rx to buy in US), but you can also order the Canadian version (Voltarel) online. Basically it's a topical NSAID. So instead of needing to ingest a boatload of ibuprofen to calm down minor swelling in your knee, a little of the gel spread on the skin of the joint works quicker and more effectively. (Again, for me.) The downside is that if you're pregnant you shouldn't touch the stuff, but I'm presuming you're not preggers. =)

    When my mileage gets crazy high running, I usually take some HA when I'm in high mileage weeks, and then use a little Voltaren before/after runs as needed.

    1. Mrs. Pop, thank you, thank you for the HA recommendation. If I can get any relief over the next few days, it'll be a huge help. I think I may be too close to my flight to try Voltarel but I'll look into it.

      And I agree -- over a 60 mile hike, the knee stabilizers are definitely worth their weight in gold. Though I had to think about it for a while. $14k is nothing to sneeze at.

      Thanks again for the tips. I'm off to buy some stuff. :)

  2. While I don't have any suggestions for you, it's really cool that you go on this hike each year. My wife has been to WV twice and loves it, but I've never made it there. I definitely would like to do something like this in the future.

    1. Thank you, David. West Virginia is beautiful and I think it would make a good visit, though I'm not picky. I love everywhere we go. :)

  3. I have no advice for you (I'm not a hiker), but good luck! Sounds like an awesome trip. It's awesome fun to be able to connect to friends from back home. I'm looking forward to hearing about the experience.

    1. Thanks, Matt! I think a little luck might just be what I need. And yeah, seeing friends from back home is the best bit.

  4. I have never been hiking, but good luck! It's so cool you and your friends go on this hike every year. I also loved reading The Things They Carried back in high school, so I enjoyed that little shout out. Good luck with the hike, have fun, and I hope Mrs. Pop's suggestions work well for you!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, EM, and for commenting. I'm glad you stopped by. Journey to Saving is now in my reader.

  5. I'm too nervous to tell you to get rid of anything. I would hate for you to be up hiking and then not bring something and end up needing it badly. That's the worrier in me ;) Anyways I hope that you have a fabulous time and don't forgot to bring something for pain in case your knee starts hurting.

    1. I'm the same way! The only hard part of the trail is that there are literally no trash cans along the way. Last year we hiked about 50 miles and didn't see a single one. So if I bring too much, I'm schlepping it the whole way.

      Thanks for the well wishes and I'll definitely have some extra pain relievers with me!

  6. I'm not a hiker myself, but the things that you plan taking with you seem to be exactly what you need and I really couldn't think about anything you could cut off the list. At least, as you said, you will eat that food and things will get lighter by the end of your hike.

    Have fun!

    1. Thanks, C! Yeah, I'm having trouble cutting down on the list as well, but maybe that's a good sign.

  7. Oh, the Appalachian Trail is such a pretty place to hike! Hope you enjoy your time back in the Burgh!

    1. Thanks, femmefrugality! I'll only get a couple nights in Pittsburgh but I'm really looking forward to it.

  8. I haven't been backpacking in awhile. I'll need to train a bit to be in good enough shape to do it if I decide to try it again. I would ditch the cold compresses and use some plastic bags filled with stream water. If it's snow runoff it should be plenty cold to hold off inflammation. I usually don't pack much water, but bring along a high-end water filtration system. Unless you're in an environment that doesn't have fresh water available, it's usually a waste of weight. I'll often hike in with some heavier food (eggs, for example) and eat that stuff the first day so the weight is gone for the rest of the trip, but you do get the calorie power.
    I have had a similar knee injury. The doctor just said to take a burst of a LOT of Ibuprofen to treat it. Apparently that is better than smaller amounts for longer periods of time.
    Have a great trip!

    1. Those are great tips, Nick. I may end up only carrying 2L of water and refilling along the way, if needed. And the tip on the bags filled with water is great...I doubt there's snow run off this time of year but the spring water will still be cooler than my body temperature.

      I'll definitely be taking some ibuprofin, too...I will do that big burst, maybe right before I start the day. Thanks for all the good tips!

  9. Sounds like an awesome hike. I used to live in Maryland and spent a lot of time in the Harper's Ferry area. I think the Fall was my favorite season there. I didn't see much in your inventory that I would get rid of. As you know, water is heavy. You could cut back, as you already mentioned, but it would not be good to hit a dry stretch and run out. You could leave out the razor but the weight is tiny. That said, I always let the old beard grow when backpacking or camping.

    1. I was thinking of letting go of the razor as well. It probably won't help a lot but every little bit. Still, without showers for a week, little things like a freshly washed & shaved face can feel pretty nice...

  10. Wow, this hike sounds really great! Except for the dehydrated dinners but I understand why they're necessary! I hope you have an amazing time. I'm not sure what you can cut back on though, it seems like you've listed the things that you really need. Take it easy with your knees!

    1. Yeah, the dehydrated food isn't like what mom used to make, but they're better than I thought they'd be. I'm always pleasantly surprised, and I'm usually so hungry that anything sounds good.

      I'll definitely try to take it easy on the old knees. :)

  11. I don't have much advice as I'm not much of a hiker, but I'd ice that knee every single night at the very least up until your hike. I also use MSM cream which I find sometimes helps. Good luck! What an adventure!

    1. Thanks, Tonya. I'll try to find that MSM cream as well. And while I'm traveling for work now, I've got a ziplock filled with water getting ready in the freezer, thanks to your advice!

  12. No advice from me either....but have a fantastic time. Good luck!

  13. Figuring since you already cut off the handle of your toothbrush, you've probably eliminated what you can! Good luck on a momentous hike!

    1. Ha! Yeah, my toothbrush and razor are just little nubs. It's pretty funny when I practice brushing my teeth...I've got to get my whole hand in there to get the molars. :)

  14. Great list, I'm a fan of the food bags (MH) as well - so much sodium and energy for the next day. I also like tuna packs and Cliff bloks, but it looks like you have a pretty balanced food list. Good luck with your knees and hope you have fun!!

    1. Hmmm, tuna packs do sound delicious. Fish would be a great change of pace. I may need to sub in a couple of those for some granola...

      Thanks for the well wishes, Anna!

  15. I do not have much to say here as I am not a hiker. I wish you good luck for your AT hike and hope you enjoy with your best friend

  16. Love that pic! I think I would love to do something like that!

    1. Thanks, Holly! My little crumby phone camera didn't do it justice but it turned out okay. :)

  17. Good luck! That part of the AT is very pretty (and practically in my backyard). I know you're carrying a tent, but would it be possible for you and your buddy to share a tent? Our two person tent is 5lbs 2oz (and it's not even a "hiking" tent), so that's a little bit more weight, but it'd be spread among the two of you. Also, not sure where you're leaving the trail (Front Royal?), but if you go very far into Shenandoah, it can still be pretty cold at night in Sept in the northern part.

    1. Hi there...I didn't know you were in that part of the nation. We'll be exiting along Chester Gap (near Chester Gap Baptist Church, I think).

      We'll actually be sharing that tent but we're sharing the weight of some of our common items, like the tent, filter, etc. I was debating getting rid of the tent all together but couldn't pull the trigger...

      Thanks for the tips, especially the one about the weather!

    2. We went camping in the southern part of Shenandoah (Loft Mountain campground) mid-September two years ago, and it snowed on us - we were not well prepared for that! Check for availability of huts along the trail to see if you can ditch the tent. I've never done an overnight hike on the trail, but friends tell me that the huts are well spaced for folks making multi-day trips.

    3. Yeah, I may consider that. It'll take some convincing, as my buddy is pro-tent, anti-shelter (due to the spiders/bugs) but maybe I can cite my bad knees as leverage...