Backpacking 101 Recap

Written by Michael Jefferson

Last week Mappy Hour returned to RVA! With fall fast approaching, our event was all about hiking and backpacking 101. Thru-hiker Travis Gray was our guest and he shared with us his tips and tricks for backpacking as well as his takeaways for thru-hiking the AT. I was going to attempt to sum up his experience, but I believe it is best told in his own words.

Travis: Things I wanted people to take away from my talk:

  • Commit to your adventure – “The trail will provide”
    • Once you make the decision that you’re going to hike and really commit to it, it’s amazing how things fall into place
      • I talked about how, while I was ready to quit if I absolutely needed to in order to make my hike happen, when I asked my employer was willing to work with me to take two consecutive Leaves of Absence in order to make my hike happen
      • On top of that, my flight to a conference got delayed and I was comp’d a free one-way ticket. I used it to get me to GA to start the trail!
  • Smiles > Miles 
    • A lot of the greatest memories I have of the trail revolve around the people I met, especially in the second half when I slowed my hiking pace
      • Last 2 nights on the trail with fellow thru-hikers Stats, Yellowtail, and Sunroof. One at a shelter with a fire sharing memories, and another next to a lake playing a dice game that Sunroof taught us
  • People, even strangers, can be amazingly generous
    • No explanation necessary
      • Woman in a coffee shop in CT gave me $10 to “buy a cup of coffee”
      • On the way up Katahdin I met a family that was on their way down whose daughter went to Va Tech. They had a VT flag that they took with them everywhere to take pictures with. Being a VT grad myself, I asked them if I could borrow the flag for my summit and catch up with them to return it. They gave it to me, thinking I’d never catch up and they’d never see it again. I got a picture on the summit with the flag, and I was able to catch up with them and return it.
  • Your everyday frustrations really aren’t that big of a deal
    • Once you hike a long distance with only what’s on your back and your main concerns are food, water, and shelter, it puts things in perspective and the everyday problems in life don’t seem so bad
      • After finishing my hike I lost my “hiker wallet” (driver’s license, health insurance card, credit card) when it fell in a lake. My wife was worried about whether I would be able to board the flight home, but I wasn’t worried. I knew things would work out. A day later, I had a printed copy of a temporary license and a utility bill which, as it turns out, was enough to get me on my flight home.
      • To this day, while I don’t do as good a job as I would like to, I try to remind myself “If I were hiking, this wouldn’t matter” to help me put things in perspective.

Tips for people getting started with backpacking:

  • Do your research – “Know before you go”
    • Important for both long hikes as well as weekend hikes
      • I did a lot of research into what gear to take, what my pack weight should be, etc. 
      • I planned out mail drops (mailing food and supplies ahead)
  • Lightweight gear
    • This doesn’t matter as much for weekend hikes, but on long hikes the weight of your gear can make a big difference. And even if you’re starting out with weekend hikes, if you think a long-distance hike is in your future, it might be worth it to get lighter gear so you don’t have to swap it out later.
      • Research has shown that lighter weight leads to higher probability of success
      • Focus on the big 3 – Pack, shelter (i.e. tent), sleep system (i.e. sleeping bag)
      • Lighter gear doesn’t need to be more expensive. Top-of-the-line cuben fiber gear is pricey, but there are options that are both cheap and light.
  • Know why you’re hiking
    • Especially important for longer hikes, this will keep you on the trail. After the first few hundred miles, it becomes much more of a mental challenge than physical.
      • I had wanted to do the trail for >10 years and knew that this was my chance, so I didn’t want to waste it. I had also told everyone that I was going to do it, so returning home and having to explain to them why I stopped wasn’t something I was going to do. Nothing short of a hike-ending injury was going to stop me. 

Stay tuned for information about our next event. 

Cheers!