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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Thru-Hiker Gear List


Here is a list of specific gear that was hand selected by Appalachian Trail thru-hikers keeping weight, durability, and comfort in mind. Keep in mind that every hiker is different and there is no list which can fit the needs and desires of every hiker. This list attempts to cover the essentials items needed for a long distance thru-hike and offers well thought out reasons for each item chosen based on experience.

Water Filter: SAWYER SQUEEZE. Filtering water along a thru-hike becomes a very different routine than on a short weekend hike. Speed and efficiency becomes a high priority. Because of this, pump filters and chemical sawyertreatments fall short of the Sawyer Squeeze. With the Sawyer Squeeze you can fill up at the source and have drinkable water right away. Care for the Sawyer is easy. Back washing the filter every time you are in town ensures your flow will never slow and dirty water will never leak through. One drawback of the Sawyer Squeeze is that during freezing temperatures, you must pay close attention to the filter freezing. This means hiking with the filter close to your body in a pocket and sleeping with the filter inside your bag. The weight and cost efficiency of this filter triumphs over other filter types. 3 ounces and a filter that lasts up to one million gallons is a fantastic deal.therma

Sleeping Pad: THERMAREST NEOAIR X-LITE. This pad provides not only incredible comfort but astonishingly high insulation for its weight and size. At 12 ounces, 3.9 R value, and the size of a Nalgene bottle this is the lightest, warmest, and most packable full length mat.

Tent: BIG AGNES FLY CREEK UL1. Knowing that a thru-hiker needs a light weight, bombproof and versatile shelter the Fly Creek UL1 is the best answer to these requirements. At 1 pound and 11 ounces the UL1 does not sacrifice any comfort or protection. Check out the RRT Gear Review here for further details on the tent.UL blog

Sleeping Bag: SEA TO SUMMIT MICRO III. Temperatures range widely along the Appalachian Trail. If you hike North Bound starting in March or April you will experience temperatures of 80 degrees to subfreezing during the night. Instead of having two different bags to fit your needs, the Micro III is a highly versatile bag that will match any temperatures along the way. This sleeping bag can be fully opened into a blanket for warm evenings and cinched tight for the colder nights. The Micro III only weighs 1 pound and 8 ounces making it the lightest and most compressible sleeping bag at that temperature rating.

Backpack: OSPREY EXOS 58. Over 2,000 miles you and your backpack will become very close. The pack goes Exos 58everywhere you go and just like a friend you want them to be good company. A pack that digs into your shoulders and rubs your hips will quickly sour the relationship. But the Osprey Exos 58 is a perfect partner with comfortable shoulder straps and hip belt. Your friend, the Exos 58 has a suspension system strong enough to handle your baggage, as long as its under 40 pounds. The Exos 58 will listen to you and change to suit your needs. If you find that 58 liters is more room than you need then the top lid of the pack can pop off to become a 48 liter pack.This pack doesn’t have unnecessary bells and whistles that weigh you down, but still has all the features a thru hiker requires.

Stove: JETBOIL FLASHLITE. Like all other gear there is not one stove that fits the preferences of every hiker. FlashliteWith weight, volume, boil time, fuel consumption and fuel availability taken into consideration the flash light is the best balance of all. Without fuel the stove weighs 11 ounces and has a volume of 0.8 liter. That 11 ounces includes the burner, igniter, and pot. The boil time is 2 minutes and 30 seconds for every half liter of water. The fuel efficiency of this stove is fantastic with 12 liters of water boiled ever 100g of fuel. This stove uses white gas which is readily available along the entire Appalachian Trail.

Headlamp: BLACK DIAMOND SPOT. Whether you are rolling into camp a little late, cooking a midnight snack, SPOTor fumbling around a snoozing shelter, you need a headlamp that can serve all functions. With a 130 lumen max power capability you will have plenty of light to go out on a night hike. The Spot also has the red light option so you don’t disturb others while leaving the shelter early in the morning or to answer natures call while at a hostel. A super simple lock system on the Spot headlamp makes sure the light will not turn on in your pack during the day leaving you with a dead light source.

Trekking Poles: BLACK DIAMOND DISTANCE FLZ. Choosing the Distance FLZ was not an easy choice amongst trekkingall the trekking pole options in the market. What is best about the FLZ is how durable they are for their weight and the awesome pack down size. Including trekking poles with all this gear is crucial for a thru hike. This is because trekking poles save you energy. It’s a very small amount, but over the distance of 2,000 miles that amount becomes noticeable. Your legs will be spared some of the abuse from walking down the harsh trail and will use less energy stepping up the steep climbs that you encounter.

Shoes: SALOMON XA PRO 3D. Just like your backpack, the shoes on your feet can either be your best friend or XA PROworst enemy. A shoe that can match all terrains and temperatures along 2,000 miles of trail is hard to find. The XA Pro is a flexible but durable, non-water proof, low top trail runner. By wearing a trail runner you spend less energy each step and move more naturally. See RRT’s blog “Trail Runners Dominate Long Distance Hiking” here for an in depth look at why trail runners are the best choice for the Appalachian Trail.


For more information on thru-hiking prep, feel free to visit us at RRT as we offer thru-hiking assistance and planning help. Refer to some of our other blogs:

10 Things I Sent Home from my Thru-Hike

Light Weight Backpacking Series: The Big Four




Thru-Hiking Options for the Rest of Us

By: Jim Rahtz

Despite the growing popularity of long distance backpacking, it is still a very select group that has completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail. The commitment required is immense. Not only does the hiker walk over 2,000 miles, they give up the comforts of home, family and friends for five months or more. They often also give up their jobs or even the potential of a job for that same period.

Those that have hiked all three of the trails are members of an even more exclusive club. The few that have completed this “Triple Crown” of hiking have covered nearly 7,000 miles and have a total hiking time of around a year and a half. This level of dedication to hiking is not possible for most. It is however, possible to experience the best of these trails and still have a life. That’s right, it is possible to be a thru-hiker without major disruption to your career or family. It’s even possible to hike the Triple Crown; just the Junior version.

The Junior version of hiking’s Triple Crown? You might be saying to yourself, “Where did he come up with that?”

I hadn’t been interested in taking a 2,000+ mile hike. Being in your late 50s with titanium in your foot can do that to you. However, I was still looking for adventure. Known as “the most beautiful long trail in the world,” the 486 mile Colorado Trail seemed to fill the bill. I had enjoyed shorter backpacking trips, loved the scenery of the Rockies and felt my life needed a new challenge. It was one of those “bucket list” kind of things. The hike itself turned into a great experience that I was glad to have undertaken. The trail was everything that I had hoped as I spent a month in an incredible mountain environment on a path often shared by both the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.

divideIt was near the finish after a tough 22-mile day that I found myself sharing a campfire with several other thru-hikers. Gimpy, a guy in his 60s who had a long history of hiking, was talking about his other thru-hikes. At one point he asked me about hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). I replied that I didn’t have the time or a strong desire to hike the whole AT. I was however, thinking about hiking shorter “long trails” such as the John Muir Trail (JMT) through the Sierra Mountains of California. He suggested that after the JMT I should hike the Long Trail in Vermont. That way I would have hiked some of the best of the three foremost cross-country trails.

Not a bad thought. That’s when a plan was born for a new challenge. I could do the Triple Crown of Hiking, only the Junior Version! The Colorado Trail is considered by many to be the best part of the Continental Divide Trail. The John Muir Trail is an iconic hike that shares much of its length with the Pacific Crest Trail. And the Long Trail, which runs through Vermont and shares 100 miles with the AT, crosses the very spot that inspired the AT. Thru-hiking this Triple Crown would not only be epic, but achievable.

Over the next year I was fortunate enough to complete all three trails. For those with weeks, not months, available to hike; I recommend them highly. But which trail is the best? It all depends on what you are looking for.

bromley-viewVermont’s “footpath in the wilderness” is the oldest long distance hiking trail in the country. The Long Trail was not only the inspiration for the AT, it shares 100 miles with its more famous cousin. If you are looking for an AT type experience, this southern portion is the trail for you. Expect plenty of shelters, convenient resupplies and lots of company. While parts of the trail fit the AT description of “walking through a green tunnel” there are also numerous big views. The trail runs the very spine of Vermont’s Green Mountains, crossing the bare peaks of Camels Hump and Mt Mansfield, along with several mountains with cleared ski slopes. One such spot is Stratton Mountain, where Benton McKaye conceived of the idea of the Appalachian Trail.

Once the AT and LT split though, the crowds are gone and hiking becomes significantly more challenging. There were many slopes where hiking involves climbing ladders or metal rungs drilled into rock walls. There were spots where I saw blazes and thought someone had to be kidding. It was on the LT that I realized that hiking could be an adrenaline sport. Oh, and the famous “Vermud” does exist. If just going backpacking is not enough of a challenge, the Long Trail is for you.

The newest and longest of the three trails, the Colorado Trail wanders through eight named mountain ranges, six wilderness areas and some of the most beautiful scenery in the Rocky Mountains. The CT shares approximately 235 Miles with the Continental Divide Trail and traverses open coniferous forests, aspen groves, high mesas and rugged alpine passes.

Designed to be accessible by horse (no ladders), the trail is well constructed and maintained. There are not shelters along the way so a tent is a necessity.  With the average elevation over 10,000 feet, the trail spends extended stretches above tree line (with no spots to hang a hammock). Altitude is a significant consideration as snow can remain well into the summer months and afternoon thunderstorms are a real danger. Despite some rain and hail during my 29 days on the trail, the sun shined at least part of every day.

Don’t expect crowds on the CT. In the more remote sections I was more likely to see a marmot on the trail than another hiker. Convenient resupplies can be far apart. I typically hiked 70-100+ miles between town stops.

marmot1Beyond the aforementioned marmots, wildlife is prevalent on the trail. While hiking, smaller critters were abundant, plus the occasional deer, bighorn sheep and elk. Where else would you need to share the trail with two bull moose at 12,000 feet? There are also sightings of black bear near the trail.

The 210 mile John Muir Trail shares 170 miles with the Pacific Crest Trail and by most accounts is the most scenic section of the PCT. The path travels from Yosemite National Park to Kings Canyon National Park through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the top of Mt Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States. The scenery in the Sierras is just spectacular, earning the label of “The Range of Light” from John Muir.

The trail is full of iconic views such as Half Dome, Cathedral Peak, Evolution Valley and several high passes. Despite hiking during the 2015 drought, water was never an issue. Much of the trail appeared very dry, but enough melting snow was left to keep countless clear creeks flowing and abundant alpine lakes reasonably full. There is only one mountaintop view, but it’s outstanding. At 14,505 feet, the summit of Mt Whitney is the official endpoint of the JMT. On a clear day, the view goes on seemingly forever.

As the entire trail is within either National Parks or wilderness areas, the wildlife sightings were incredible. Deer were plentiful through the lower elevations and seemingly oblivious to hikers. Most impressive to me were the close encounters with predators. I stumbled within feet of coyote and even a bobcat there. Multiple encounters with bear left no doubt as to why bear-resistant canisters are required.

Like the CT, the JMT has high elevations and big climbs. The hike crosses 11 passes before the big climb up Mt Whitney. However, also like the CT the JMT is well constructed with switchbacks when prudent. It’s a good thing due to the need to carry a tent and the extra weight of the bear canister.

bear-w-cub-tcbBeyond the topography, the JMT provides some additional challenges. Resupplies go from easy to non-existent as you travel from north to south. The last relatively convenient resupply option is at Muir Trail Ranch, halfway through the 220-mile hike. (Yes, I know the trail is 210 miles, but you still have to get off Mt Whitney.) Stuffing enough calories into my bear canister to supply 110 miles of hiking was interesting to say the least. It involved some tough choices as well as standing on the lid before it would close.

Perhaps the biggest challenge with the JMT is just scoring a permit. If you want to start in Yosemite, plan on faxing in an application 24 weeks before your planned start date. By the end of the day, you will find out if you were successful. You probably were not. Apparently, there is such demand that over 97% of all applications are denied. One hiker I met on the trail had been denied 22 times before she received a permit to start at Happy Isles Trailhead.

The National Park Service is in a difficult position. They have a legal duty to protect the wilderness from overuse and want to provide access to a true wilderness for those that do receive a permit. Based on my hike, the existing quota system seemed to result in a quality experience. While I was not always alone, the trail was not crowded and I always found a good spot to camp. That does not makes getting the permit any easier, however. You’ll need to plan ahead, yet be very flexible.

mcclure-meadowtcbookHow did I do it? After multiple unsuccessful attempts to secure a permit from the starting point (Happy Isles), I changed my approach; literally. Scoring a permit from Tuolumne Meadows, I arrived at the park early and used the free bus service that runs throughout the park to day hike the 20 mile section I would have otherwise missed. On the plus side, I was able to hike that section backwards, exchanging a 6,000 foot climb for a 6,000 foot drop.  It certainly wasn’t the perfect way to do it, but I’d rather have walked the entire trail “imperfectly” than not do it at all.

So, just because you can’t, or don’t want to, spend half a year hiking doesn’t mean you can’t be a thru-hiker. There are viable options to have a life changing experience without abandoning the life you already have. America’s three foremost cross-country trails have shorter options that are achievable, yet still epic. Fair warning though. Once you pick one and hike it, your bucket list may get longer. Perhaps you’ll even hike the Triple Crown; just the Junior Version.

authorCincinnati native Jim Rahtz is an outdoor author and photographer whose work has won multiple awards from the Outdoor Writers of Ohio. His newest book, Backpacking’s Triple Crown: The Junior Version is available at Roads Rivers and Trails as well as through



Local Explorers: Tom and Sarah Swallow

by: Brandon Behymer

For most of us riding a bike is a fun, relaxing thing to do. A lot more people these days are choosing to commute by way of two wheels instead of four. Some others have discovered the freedom that their bikes provide to see the faraway places we all dream about. The Swallows’ are a prime example of the ‘some others’.

The couple, native to Cincinnati, operated a bike shop in Loveland for five years before deciding to pursue adventure by bicycle. I first learned of them by stopping in their shop and then again a few years later after reading an article about the owners who closed a profitable business to ride the Trans American Trail.  Their reasoning? “To gain a fresh perspective about what we were doing and what we wanted.” In the summer of 2015 they rode the TAT; a dual sport motorcycle route that spans roughly five thousand miles from North Carolina to the Pacific coast of Oregon. The Swallows are the first known people to complete the route by bicycle.

Though this is their longest ride to date it is definitely not the only extended ride they’ve completed. From crossing the state of Ohio, to riding in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Hawaii, California… You get the point. Most recently Washington and British Columbia piqued their interest and every picture is incredible.

With so much experience already I couldn’t help but ask for some friendly advice for getting started in bikepacking.  “There is so much to bikepacking! First you actually have to ride the route you want to do fully loaded with all of your stuff, but then you have to find a camp spot, filter your water, set up camp, then cook your food! It’s a lot of work in a day so our best advice is to start off with half as many miles as you would normally ride unloaded and enjoy the day. Go swimming or fishing, take pictures, talk to people, and camp early. Don’t be in a rush.”

You may ask someone who has seen so many places from the soft, ever comfortable saddle of a bicycle, where their favorite trip has been so far. Understandably the Swallows couldn’t mention just one. “The Great Basin of Nevada, Northwestern Oklahoma (No Man’s Land), The Manti La Sal Mountains of Utah, The Canadian Rockies, The San Juan Mountains, South Central Washington, and Southwest Virginia”, are among the top picks.

As far as the future goes for this young couple, I can only imagine success and adventure. They’ve proven they can run and manage a profitable bike shop as well as wrangle any unpaved route in the United States. You can check out their website to read about all the awesome rides they’ve done.

P.S. @swallowbicycleworks is a pretty killer Instagram account.

Read more of Brandon’s Local Explorer Series here.





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