I was a complete outdoors novice when I started preparing for my 2017 Appalachian Trail thru hike. I had never backpacked more than two consecutive days, and I didn’t own a single piece of the necessary gear. Much of the guidance I came across assumed a certain level of back country proficiency that I didn’t have.
To make matters even less approachable, internet hiking forums tend to be overtly judgmental, mistaking personal preference for hard fact. Answers to questions can register more as dick-measuring contests than actual advice. This domineering mentality, largely from men, persisted throughout my time on the AT. “How far did you hike today?” really meant “I bet you’re slower and less ambitious than me.”
A couple weeks before starting the AT, I was talking with an outfitter employee about the pros and cons of hiking books versus trail runners. I asked simple, common questions. He might as well have rolled his eyes when I said I planned to thru hike. He was helpful enough, with a clear underlying tone: You’ll never cut it, but it’s cute you want to try.
I became increasingly self-conscious to ask necessary, mundane questions (“So like….you filter the water…then you just…drink it? And it won’t taste like dirt?”). Without any experienced backpacker friends to practice alongside, I learned largely through trial and forehead-slapping error. The less said about my first night camping in the rain, the better.
Questions are good. They mean you’re engaging with something new. And you should never be made to feel small for seeking assistance.
So ask away!
Whether you’re a new hiker looking forward to some trails this spring, or you’re planning a long distance hike, I’d love to soften the learning curve by answering your questions. Hey, even if you have no desire to hike but you’ve always wondered why people carry trekking poles, you’re in the right place.
Anything is fair game. Trail etiquette, what to pack on a day hike, setting realistic distance goals, finding discounted gear, reducing wear on your body, solo hiking, bears, tips for hitchhiking, going to the bathroom outdoors, waging war against foot trauma, the ideal camp spoon, whatever. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll try my best to point you in the right direction.* Hopefully other readers will respectfully chime in, too.
I can offer personal advice from nearly six months living on trail, and anecdotal info from dozens of fellow outdoorsy folks. I’ve had the pleasure of assisting a couple prospective thru hikers. It’s such a treat passing knowledge forward to get more people outdoors. It feels right.
Ask questions, especially if you’re embarrassed the answers might be obvious. Especially especially if you feel compelled to test your boundaries.
Let’s chat in the comments below!
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*Homemade Wanderlust is an awesome resource for hikers of any skill level. Dixie’s videos are chock full of practical, down to earth information and wisdom. I saw her in a crowded Subway in Damascus, VA after Trail Days. Everyone was starstruck. She’s such a badass.