AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Fitness

My fitness level was pretty good! I may change up a few things for a future hike, but overall I felt I was well prepared.

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To prepare for my SOBO Fall 2018 AZT thru-hike, I made an effort to get in shape and be trail ready. My goal was to hit the ground running as much as possible. I wanted to be able to hike 20+ mile days out of the gate without a second thought about an overuse injury.

I prepared by walking, running, and lifting weights – and one backpacking trip. I started getting into shape about 1-2 months prior to starting my hike. I hiked PCT WA Section J 1-2 months prior to hiking the AZT, but did no other backpacking. I walked or ran 3-6 miles/day, 3-5 days/week. I lifted weights 3-5 days/week. Lifting prepared my tendons and fascia for repetitive use. My lifting was as follows:
– Dumbbell Split Squat. Lower down slowly on a 3-count. 3 sets of 5 reps.
– Goblet Squat. Lower down slowly on a 3-count. 3 sets of 8 reps.
– Cook Hip Lift. Push through heel. Hold at top 3 seconds. 3 sets of 10 reps.
– RDL. 3 sets of 6 reps.
(I also did upper body-focused lifting, but it didn’t prepare my legs for the trail, obvi)

How did my fitness prep work out? Quite well. I was able to hike quickly from the start of the trail. My first day of hiking was a 30-mile day, even. My body felt fine. No major issues or overuse injuries to contend with. As my body eased into the long days of hiking and lots of miles on my feet, I felt normal aches and pains (e.g., sore, aching feet), but nothing that I felt I could have better prepared for.

What would I do differently next time? I’ll start by saying, if I followed the same plan for a future hike, I would be happily well prepared. That said, in the future I might like to incorporate more day hikes and backpacking trips in order to get my feet and back accustomed to the weight of my pack.

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AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Water

Water sources were abundant! An atypical year for sure though. Wayy more water than usual was flowing. My longest carry was probably 25 miles and up to 5-6L.

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I finished up my AZT thru-hike over a month ago now and I think I’m fully acclimated to “normal life” at this point.

Here’s a rundown of the water situation from my Fall 2018 sobo hike. The weather was much wetter than expected. It was the rainiest October on record in AZ! This meant water sources were fine and there were no droughts to worry about. I went into the hike very nervous about water! I had read that there could be long, waterless stretches and that the only way to make it was by caching water. I reached out to several trail angels in advance with the hopes that they could help me out with water caches – which was stressful in the planning stage but also successful in practice. I had successful help from a few trail angels listed on the AZT website as well as folks on the Arizona Trail Class of 2018 Facebook page. I lined up a few water caches – which were great – but I would have been completely fine without them. Once I realized how much water there was in reality, I stopped stressing and relied on natural water sources along the trail.

A few words of water advice to anyone planning to hike the AZT: don’t stress too far in advance. If you see the entire list of water sources in Guthook and have a mental meltdown, then break it into smaller chunks. One stretch at a time. Before getting on trail, focus on the first 50 miles. Don’t fret about the rest of the trail until you’re on the trail. Then just deal with it as it comes.

That said, I managed to hike the northernmost 100 miles of trail without having to filter water at all! I relied on existing caches, filling water in town, and personal caches. It wasn’t until I was in the bottom of the Grand Canyon that I had to use my Sawyer Squeeze for the first time!

My longest water carry was between Picket Post (leaving Superior) and the Gila River – a 21 mile carry. Another Long stretch was on the way into (north of) Roosevelt Lake between Shake Spring and town – a 20 mile carry. Each of these water carries was about 6L. Both of these sections – for me – were extra heavy because I chose to dry camp between the water sources (I carry an 1.5-2L of water for cooking). However, these – and other – “long”, dry stretches can easily be lightened by camping at the water sources and hiking the distance between in one day.

 

 

 

AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Food & Resupply

All of my food prep efforts for my 2018 SOBO AZT thru-hike paid off! The meals themselves worked pretty well – many were delicious, a few questionable. The locations also worked mostly – a few errors but mostly without a hitch.

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Tasty food I never tired of:

Breakfast:

  • Oats with coconut milk powder + freeze dried strawberries and blueberries + brown sugar
  • Grits with cheese powder, bacon bits or bacos, veggies
  • Ramen with veggies and/or seaweed
  • Trail mocha: instant coffee, hot chocolate, coconut milk powder

Lunch:

  • Tortillas with cheese and hot sauce
  • Tortillas with salmon, olives, and hot sauce

Snacks:

  • Snickers (I didn’t have too many, maybe why I still like them)
  • Salt & Vinegar chips
  • Variety! Something continually different is always good

Dinner:

  • Bare Burrito: rice, beans, cheese powder, veggies, hot sauce
  • Thanksgiving-on-the-Trail
  • Hot chocolate

Food failures:

  • Falafel oats – what was I thinking?!
  • Dehydrated potato pieces. They really don’t rehydrate = potato rock bits
  • Falafel mix as falafel. I added too much water which was a mushy mess. However, when executed properly – rehydrated well and fried in oil – it’s delicious.

A better resupply strategy:

If I did it again, I probably would have sent a little less food to most locations. It’s nice to have food pre-prepared, but it’s also great to get that Snickers or chips or whatever snack I’ve been craving and also not have too much food. Generally I overpack food and have too much anyway. In the future I’d pack less, on the skimpy side, and buy extra in town as needed.

A better SOBO resupply strategy
(including mileage and how many days it took me to get there):

START – Northern Terminus

SOBO mileage: 0
Miles to next resupply: 21.7

Pack food for 1-2 days on the trail. Don’t forget the FUEL CANISTER!

Jacob Lake

SOBO mileage: 21.7 (2.5 mile roadwalk to “town”)
Miles to next resupply: 33.3-44.8 ish to the North Rim Country Store

I enjoyed going into Jacob Lake although most hikers skipped this town. It’s less than 30 miles from the start and a 2.5 mile road walk each way. I ended up sending a box here, which was later returned to sender (turns out, there’s no post office! Although you can send a package to the campground if you have the correct address). If I did it again, would buy enough food here to make it to the North Rim Country Store. The store has a good snack selection with some meals. I ate dinner (a burger) and breakfast (egg casserole) at the restaurant which was tasty. The restaurant is also well known for it’s pastries and milkshakes.

North Rim Country Store

SOBO mileage: apx 55-66.5 depending on access point
Miles to next resupply: apx 33.8-45.3 depending on how you get here

The North Rim Country Store is great! They are very hiker friendly and super helpful. I sent a box here and would again. I actually sent myself too much food here and ended up mailing ahead (which only worked because I had a preprinted UPS label). If I did it again, I would send enough to make it to the South Rim. There was a fire closure when I hiked through, making it convenient to walk to the store. However in a normal year, the store is out of the way and isn’t as convenient to access – it can be accessed by walking the dirt roads mostly (but then you miss a pretty stretch walking along the north rim), or hitching from the south.

Grand Canyon Village – North Rim

SOBO mileage: 76.3 (1.5 mile national park road walk)

The store here at the North Rim Visitor Center is a great place to get snacks.

Phantom Ranch

SOBO mileage: 90.7 (on trail)

In the bottom of the Grand Canyon you’ll find Phantom Ranch. It is also a great place to get an expensive snack. It’s well known for it’s lemonade which is refreshing on a hot day.

South Rim of the Grand Canyon (near Mather Campground)

SOBO mileage: 100.3 (0.6 miles off trail)
Miles to next resupply: 4.7 to Tusayan/105.7 to Flagstaff

The Canyon Village Market here is actually one of the best stores along the AZT – everything a backpacker could want and more – plus it’s very close to trail. I picked up a few snacks and meals here when I stayed at Mather CG for 3 nights. If I did it again, I would buy resupply food at the store instead of sending myself a box to Tusayan.

Tusayan

SOBO mileage: 105.0 (about 0.5 mi off trail to visitor center)
Miles to next resupply: 100.0

I mailed a package to the National Geographic Visitor Center, which was fine. However if I did it again I would just buy food at the store near Mather Campground before getting to Tusayan instead. Besides, the “town” is a collection of overpriced touristy things anyway.

Flagstaff

SOBO mileage: 205.0 (mileage varies on urban route vs equestrial/original route)
Miles to next resupply: 50.0

I bought food here (the most convenient option while I had vertigo was just to supplement what food I already had with snacks at the Walgreens, which worked). There are lots of options to buy food I suppose, so buying instead of mailing seems like a good plan. Mary and Dan sent a package to Flagstaff, but there are several post offices and they sent accidentally to the wrong one, so heads up on getting the right location.

Mormon Lake

SOBO mileage: 255.0 (1.1 mi on spur trail to “town”)
Miles to next resupply: 72.6

I sent a package here, which worked well. If I were to do it again, I’d likely do the same. The hike off trail to Mormon Lake is a mile, so it’s not that bad. The post office is run through the small store and I believe they will get your package any time the store is open. It’s also a decent place to get a greasy burger, but the restaurant is only open Thursday through Sunday (or was when I was there) so if you’re planning on a hot meal it has to be the right day. You can make do if you want to buy food here for resupply.

Pine

SOBO mileage: 327.6 (0.5 mi roadwalk to brewery)
Miles to next resupply: 113.4

I sent a package to THAT Brewery which worked well. Would do again. Many hikers resupplied at the store in town, which worked for them too, but they don’t have the widest variety of options.

LF Ranch

SOBO mileage: 350.9, but don’t go here

Originally I planned to send a box here, but never heard from them, so I didn’t. The owner is nearly impossible to get ahold of, so don’t count on sending anything to or staying at the LF Ranch.

Payson

SOBO mileage: 396.7, but not worth the effort

While planning, I thought I might stop here, but ended up not bothering. Instead I went with a long resupply from Pine-Roosevelt Lake which was the way to go. Technically you can hitch to Payson, but it’s a difficult hitch on a fast highway.

Roosevelt Lake

SOBO mileage: 441.0 (1.6 mi roadwalk to marina)
Miles to next resupply: 45.4

I sent a box here to the marina, which was a good plan (otherwise you have to hitch to a mediocre place to get food). The marina is as described – not hiker friendly with only a few expensive snacks. I actually sent two boxes here, but for some reason the person looking for my second box (with my new shoes) couldn’t find it at the time even though it was there – kind of odd. They returned it to me once I got home after the trail.

Superior

SOBO mileage: 486.4 to Hewitt Station Rd TH or 487.6 to Hwy 60 (then a hitch), but you’ll probably get back on trail at Picket Post at mile 488.2
Miles to next resupply: 37.7 to Kearney, or 95.3 to Oracle

I sent a box to the post office, but once I realized I was going to arrive late on a Saturday, I called and they brought my packages to the Copper Mtn Motel which was super nice! If I were to do it again, I’d probably buy food instead of sending – the Family Dollar and Save Money Market are good and easy spots to resupply.

Kearney

SOBO mileage: 525.9 (hitch to town)
Miles to next resupply: 57.6

I didn’t stop here, but it’s possible to resupply in Kearney – although it’s pretty close to Superior, so I’d recommend either one or the other. However, Old Time Pizza delivers pizza to the trail which is mindblowingly amazing to any hiker. Sadly Tarek, Andrea, and I mistimed our hike in this stretch so we missed out the pizza 😦 I hear it’s great though.

Oracle

SOBO mileage: 583.5
Miles to next resupply: 86.0 to Colossal Cave

I met Jared here and we spent a few days in Tucson where I picked up food at Sprouts for the next stretch. If I wasn’t meeting someone but still planning to stop in town, I probably would have sent a box to the Chalet Village Motel or bought food at the Dollar General. If not stopping in town, I would have sent a box to Summerhaven on the top of Mt Lemmon.

Summerhaven – Mt Lemmon

SOBO mileage: 604.9

The Mt Lemmon General Store and Gift Shop is a great place to get snacks and freshly made fudge. You can resupply or send a box here, too. It’s a half-day hike from Oracle.

La Posta Quemada – Colossal Cave

SOBO mileage: 669.5 (1.2 mile slightly confusing road walk)
Miles to next resupply: 68.0

Old info indicated that La Posta Quemada Ranch was the place to send a box. They no longer accept hiker packages. What I did, which is the way to go, is to send a package to the Colossal Cave Gift Shop. Hitching is not super reliable around here, so I would recommend sending a package.

Patagonia AZ

SOBO mileage: 737.5
Miles to the end: 51.2

I sent a box to the post office here, which was fine. If I were to do it again, I’d maybe send a box or maybe resupply at the Patagonia Market or Red Mountain Foods natural food store.

Southern Terminus – END

SOBO mileage: 788.7

AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Terrain and Trail SOBO

The terrain was about as expected: easier in the north, more challenging in the south. Some portions are a little harder than the PCT but some are easier, I would say that in my experience, the overall difficulty is probably on par with the terrain of the PCT.

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The highest points on the AZT are over 9,000 feet. The lowest point around 1,700 feet. The Arizona Trail is divided into 43 passages (which can be somewhat confusing as they seem to be a tool designed for day and section hikers) which are numbered from low to high, south to north – or backwards if you’re SOBO. Southbound, the elevation gain is 110,683 feet and the elevation loss is 111,597 feet (total 222,000+ feet). A few overview maps can be found through the aztrail.org website. A profile can be found on the Guthook AZT app. I used the Guthook AZT app and carried the paper maps as a backup, but never once used them. If I did it again, instead of the paper maps, I would download the GPS track to my Garmin InReach as a backup to save weight.

Most trail descriptions are oriented for those hiking south to north, or NOBO. I’ll break down the trail for you north to south, or SOBO.

North to south, the AZT starts at the Utah-Arizona border on the edge of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. You traverse across the Kaibab Plateau and reach a high point over 9000 feet on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Down and then up, you climb into and out of the giant gash in the earth that is the Grand Canyon. From the south rim of the Grand Canyon you traverse across the Coconino Plateau. North of Flagstaff you climb up onto and then down off of the flanks of the San Francisco Peaks then south across the San Francisco Plateau. South of Mormon Lake you will “come down off the rim”, the Mogollon Rim, and begin the transition from high desert to low desert. South of Pine, you alternate descents to rivers or low spots and climbs into mountains. Down to the East Verde River, up into the Mazatzal Wilderness, down again, then up into the Four Peaks Wilderness, down to Roosevelt Lake, up into the Superstitions, then down into Superior. South of Superior you will briefly climb near Picket Post, then descend to the low point of the AZT – around 1700 feet – at the Gila River. Continue across the Sonoran Desert from here and into the “sky island” terrain. First you’ll go up into the Santa Catalinas, northeast of Tucson. The next sky island is the Rincons, southeast of Tucson, where you will enter into Saguaro National Park. Then down into Rincon Valley near Colossal Cave Park. Up into the Santa Ritas and onto the flanks of Mount Wrightson. Then traverse south and east into and out of the Huachuca Mountains, then at last you’ll find yourself at the US-Mexico border! You did it!

The easiest parts of the trail tended to be in northern AZ, where the trail is flat. There were several harder parts of the trail. The Grand Canyon was challenging, especially since I did it in a quick 2 days. It would have been easier if I had camped first at Cottonwood Camp and then a second night at Bright Angel campground. Although either way, the uphill has to be tackled in one go so be prepared. The stretch south of Pine, getting into the Mazatzals and before the East Verde River was more difficult than expected, mostly because the footing was rocky, largely volcanic, and unstable. Hiking through the Four Peaks Wilderness was also hard because the trail is a lot of up and down as it hugs the steep mountainsides. I also found hiking up into the Rincons difficult as portions were very steep. The trail is quite steep on the stretch into the Huachucas, too. Some portions of trail are a bit overgrown with cats claw and other rough vegetation, but not totally impassable.

I’m happy I hiked the AZT SOBO because my body was able to get used to the miles on my feet before having to push my endurance levels up and down mountains. It’s also nice to be able to hike on the north side of mountains, often in shadow on the uphill – definitely a SOBO advantage. I felt that mostly the downside to SOBO was the decreasing light levels every day.

PS for pics see my Instagram

AZT Post-Hike Gear Review

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Going into the AZT thru-hike I managed to get all of my gear together beforehand, obviously, and a lot of it worked out really well. Some things didn’t quite work. And I changed up a few minor things along the way (if you want to see more details about my gear prep read this post AZT -4: Gear Prep).

I’ve assembled an official AZT gear list of all the items I carried – it only includes the gear that I finished with, not stuff I ditched or only had for a short time. Also I recently discovered lighterpack.com for keeping track of gear lists and have to say it’s really amazing and convenient.

So how did the gear work out? Let me tell you…


The AZT-specific items I added:

Reflective umbrella. I’m very happy I had this at the beginning as my pale PNW skin got accustomed to the constant sun. I realized I didn’t have much sunscreen at the start and so this was my sun protection. Without it I would have been burnt to a crisp. The umbrella provided much needed shelter from the rain in a few storms also. I loved having it hiking up the Grand Canyon in the afternoon. Hiking out of Superior I was glad I had it on a particularly blazing day. That said, I found that I only used it a handful of times – and it weighs 8 oz which is heavy, so good riddance. Once I felt that I had gotten used to the sun and there wasn’t any rain in the forecast – in Oracle – I sent it home. Overall: I’m glad I had it, but also glad I ditched it. Would I carry it again? If I was getting used to a harsh sunny environment or there is rain in the forecast – yes.

Tiny black light. I definitely used this to illuminate a scorpion and it was very cool! I never did use it for safety reasons personally, just entertainment, because my tent fully zipped up and scorpions could never crawl in. I did give one to Oklahoma, whose tent zipper was broken and he couldn’t zip up, and he was very happy to have it. Overall: very happy I brought these! One weighs 0.25 oz, which is well worth the entertainment and safety. Would I bring again? In AZ – yes!

– Panty hose prefilter. I carried this to filter algae goop out of the water prior to filtering. I think I used it once. Mostly it made filtering painfully slow. But at the same time it weighs less than 0.1 oz, hardly breaking the back. Overall: I barely noticed I had it, and mostly forgot that I did. Would I bring again? Maybe if I could find a more loosely woven pantyhose piece that would filter faster.

– Backup Aquamira. I never had to use my backup water treatment, and for that I am grateful. The Sawyer squeeze was great and fast, I never froze my filter, so I didn’t have to use the backup. Overall: a great safety net to have. Would I carry again? Definitely.

– Extra water bottles/bladders. I carried enough bottles and bladders for an 8L capacity, which is a ton. Specifically I could carry 4L dirty and 4L clean. I never carried more than 6L at a time, but I did at different points carry either 4L dirty or 4L clean, so I definitely made use of these bottles/bladders. At a few points I thought about ditching one of the 64oz capacity “dirty” bladders, but since each weighed only 1 oz each, I decided to keep both for safety. Overall: glad I had all the water containers. Would I carry again? On a trail where water sources are sparse or unknown, yes.

Garmin InReach Mini. I tracked my progress every 30 minutes while on-trail, every 4-hours at night, and every 10 minutes to 4 hours while in town depending on the situation. I was able to send messages to Jared when I didn’t have cell service. And I had the peace of mind that if I got into trouble, I could push the SOS button and help would be on the way. However, the downside was that this little guy sucked way more battery than expected/advertised – but I have a suspicion that I have a faulty beacon because I have literally tried everything to increase battery life. Overall: very happy that I brought this! I should have carried a backup battery from the start or exchanged it for a new one to save the hassle of figuring out battery power on the trail. Would I carry again? Yes, definitely. Especially if hiking solo. And even if not solo, the map tracking feature is really fun, too.

Pepper spray mace keychain. While I never used it, I’m very happy I had it. It gave me such peace of mind, especially on “Day 0” when I caught the sketchiest-hitch-ever with the biggest-creep-ever. I had it on hand whenever I hitched, whenever I encountered unknown hikers or strangers on the trail, and when sleeping nowhere near any other hikers. In fact, after hearing a story from Phantom about her encounter with sleezy hunters, I decided to up the ante and carry a full-on 11 oz can of bear spray. Heavy, but worth the weight for the peace of mind and safety. Overall: I’m very happy I had both the mace and the bear spray. Would I carry again: hell yeah!


Gear I added to my pack while hiking the AZT

Bear spray. (see above paragraph)

– A sit pad. I cut up a foam sleeping pad for a sit pad. The sit pad weighed 1.1 oz – which is hardly anything – and protected my butt against the cold ground while I ate dinner or sat near ants or scorpions. It cushioned my knees while I kneeled to rummage in my tent. Overall: happy about my new piece of gear! Carry again: yes, definitely!

Anker backup battery. Once my phone battery and Garmin InReach batteries began to run super low, and my solar charger failed to get enough juice (it only works when in solid sunlight, shade from a single tree will turn it on and off) I had to get something more powerful and more consistent. Jared so wonderfully ordered this battery for me and had it sent to Tusayan. It weighs just over 8 oz and costs just over $35 – reasonably priced with a good weight to power ratio. It provided enough power to charge my phone multiple times in addition to charging the InReach several times – plus my headlamp, although that didn’t need a ton of charging. I used it conservatively but found that I never used it up and always had plenty of power left whenever I got to town. Heads up: it needs around 8 hours to fully charge, so plan ahead. Overall: I loved it. Carry again: most definitely.

– Water scooper. After watching fellow hikers use a scooper, I made one for myself. It seems to be an essential tool for 9 out of 10 water sources. Unless it’s a rushing stream, a scooper is needed to fill a small-mouth water bag. I cut the bottom off a gatorade bottle and would use it to scoop water into the Sawyer water bags prior to filtering. Very, very useful. I could have changed my entire setup and used a bladder/pouch that could more easily be filled in a small pond or puddle, but I never had a problem with the Sawyer bags so kept them and picked up the scooper. Overall: essential and great. Carry again: yes!

– Vertigo pills. Well after getting a silly and frustrating bout of vertigo, I carried an anti-nausea and anti-motion sickness medication. After a few days I had no more need for the pills, but continued to carry them just in case. Overall: a good safety precaution. Carry again: probably not. Fingers crossed I’m past the vertigo…

– Advil PM. I had trouble sleeping several to many nights and picked Advil PM up to help me get more sound sleep. The ever-shortening days meant less daylight and with that came more dark hours spent in the tent, which I think meant more restless sleep. Plus the uncomfortable ground and less-than-stellar pillow led to interrupted sleep, too. Sometimes anxiety would keep me up as well. Given the conditions, I would sometimes take a single Advil PM to help with sleep. (Btw the active ingredient is the same ingredient in Benadryl.) Overall: helpful! I don’t think I’d take such sleeping meds in “real life” but found that on the trail it was useful. Take again? if I anticipated uneasy or restless sleep, probably yeah.

– Sharpie. I picked up a black sharpie on my way to the trail. I used it for writing on bottles of cached water that had my name written on them, cached by trail angels. Once I had my fill of the water and there was some left to share, I would write “Public” on the gallon – typical AZT protocol. Overall: I used it a few times. Take again? Only if I’m in a cached-water situation.


Gear ditched from my pack

Solar charger. The solar charger just didn’t work as fast as needed or as consistently as needed. I found it to be useful on the PCT. The rechargable by the sun part is cool. It just doesn’t work as well as I’d like it to. I sent this home in Tusayan. Overall: glad I ditched it. Carry again? I doubt it.

Collapsible Sea-to-Summit mug. I brought this as a “luxury item” thinking it would be luxurious to drink coffee while my breakfast rehydrated or hot chocolate while my dinner rehydrated. But then I decided to stick to the ol’ ziplock bag rehydration of meals (in a freezer bag) and realized I could just drink my coffee or hot chocolate straight outta the pot. Goodbye 2.7 oz. I sent this home in Flagstaff. Overall: glad I ditched it. Carry again? On a shorter backpacking trip, yes. On a longer thru-hike, nah.

Sports bra, pair of underwear, stuff sack, etc. While shaking down my gear in Flagstaff I got serious about ditching those extra non-imperative things. I was totally fine cutting a bra and pair of underwear – the single sports bra and 2 pairs of underwear were all I really needed. I also ditched an extra stuff sack which I can’t even remember what I used for anyway… Then I shaved few more grams from other places – e.g., I cut off the corners of my bandana, trimmed down my sit pad, and cut out some tags and labels, etc. Overall: happy to trim the excess grams.


Gear I changed on the hike

Sleeping pad. Unfortunately my sleeping pad was changed out of necessity. My Thermarest NeoAir XLite popped the night before I hit the trail while I slept on a gravel pad in an RV park. I picked up a thin foam pad (Thermarest Ridgerest) at the outfitter in Kenab, UT, thinking I’d try to make do, but if I hated it I would pick up another Neo-Air in Flagstaff. Well I immediately hated it and picked up an inflatable pad as soon as I could find one – which turned out to be the Thermarest Trekker which was at the store at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I cut off a chunk of the Ridgerest for a sit-pad then gave the rest of the pad to another backpacker in Mather Campground. The Trekker is a bit heavier than the Neo-Air and has a slightly lower R value, but I was happy to have 2.5 inches of mattress under me once again. In Flagstaff I trimmed down the pad to be a little shorter than my body length in order to shave off some ounces (bringing the pad down to 13.1 oz instead of 1 lb+). While still a few ounces heavier than I would have liked, the Trekker held up really well. I believe it’s also a made of slightly tougher material than the Neo-Air, was reassuring when setting up camp near cacti, on rocks, or atop pinecones. Overall: I’m happy with the trekker. I think Thermarest will repair my NeoAir if I’m unable, which will mean a backup sleeping pad. And it was a few $ less than the NeoAir too. Carry again? If I can get the NeoAir fixed, I’ll carry it (it’s lighter and longer), but in the meantime, the Trekker is a good option.

Pillow. While ordering a new headlamp from LiteSmith (because I thought the one I had was broken but later realized I was mistaken), I also ordered a super cheap $2.60, super lightweight 1 oz inflatable pillow. I ditched my old “heavy” airplane pillow (like the kind they sometimes give you on the plane) which weight at least a few ounces more while in Tucson and subbed for this uber ultralight one. While happy enough considering the weight and price, I kinda missed my old lump of cotton. Overall: happy I switched to something lighter, but it’s not the perfect pillow for me as a side sleeper. I’ll continue to search for the perfect camp pillow. Carry again? Yes, until I find a better inflatable pillow.

Normal socks swapped for toe socks. I started using normal hiking Darn Tough socks which led to annoying and neverending blisters on my toes. I was finally able to track down Injinji toe sock liners at SummitHut in Tucson. I would put a thin hiking sock over top the liner, and voila, instant blister protection (the socks rub each other and reduce toe to toe friction). These socks were more comfortable than I imagined, and it meant I didn’t have to tape my toes in order to prevent blisters (not only was it time consuming to apply, but the tape would inevitably slip and slide off). Overall: very happy with my new toe-sock-liner + thin wool sock combo. Wear again? Yes, definitely. Especially on long (multi-day) trips to avoid those blisters.

Shoes after 500 miles. Train runners typically last 500 miles, give or take. More if you don’t mind wearing a shoe that’s breaking down. The upper material can get holes and tears, the outsole will wear out and the tread will disappear, and the internal structure will break down – sometimes leading to shin splints or plantar fasciitis. I decided not to risk it, and after 500 ish miles I swapped my Altra Lone Peak 3.0’s for Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s. I went with the 3.5’s because they were on sale (the 4.0’s are out now) and I couldn’t find the 3.0’s in my size. I found that the 3.0’s were slightly bigger and fit a little better, but the 3.5’s were fine enough and my feet were happy. I really wanted the Hoka Speedgoats to work for me, but they didn’t feel that great on my feet – hence sticking with the Altras. Overall: Altra Lone Peaks are good shoes that fit my feet. Wear again? Yes! I’m quite happy with these shoes.

Baseball hat. In Tucson I tried to swap out my baseball cap for a sun hat, thinking that the neck protection would be better. I quickly discovered that the neck coverage also meant less air flow and I quickly overheated. I picked up a new baseball cap at the Mt Lemmon gift shop and was happy. Overall: I learned the lesson of if the hat aint broke, don’t fix it. I really wanted the sun hat to work for me, but ultimately I ended up sticking with an old, trusty, tried and true baseball hat for the remainder of the hike. Wear again? Definitely! I have another sun hat at home that I’d like to try (it doesn’t have a neck flap) but we’ll see how it goes…

Backflushing Method – from Sawyer plunger to cleaning coupling. I didn’t even know that the cleaning coupling existed until I found on in the hiker box in Flagstaff at Melody and Tim’s. What a game changer! The plunger is big and bulk and single use. The cleaning coupling is light, compact, and can be used while filtering and while cleaning. Overall: great! love it! Carry again? Definitely.

Gloves. I lost my thin fleece gloves as I was hiking into Flagstaff. When in town I picked up new gloves at REI – splurging on the fancy and relatively expensive Salomon Fast Wing Winter Glove. These gloves are great – they have a windproof flap that goes over the gloved fingers, turning it into a mitten. At last, temperature regulation in gloves. Overall: very happy with these gloves! Wear again? Absolutely.

Nyofume pack liner. While ordering other things from LiteSmith, I thought I’d try this cheap ($2.50) and lightweight (<1 oz) pack liner. I was using a trash compactor bag, but not everything could fit inside, just the most important stuff. I wanted a bag I could fit everything in my pack inside. Luckily, it wasn’t rainy after swapping out my pack liner in Tucson, so I never had to use it, but I look forward to trying it in the future. Overall: happy with the bag. Carry again? most definitely.

Pee Pot. (WARNING: You’re about to read an overshare. If you don’t want to know about pee, skip to the next paragraph). So I hate – often refuse – to leave my tent in the middle of the night to pee especially if I’m solo. But the problem is, I usually have to pee every night at least once. Especially after drinking a big ol’ mug of hot chocolate. I’ve heard of men carrying gatorade bottles or women peeing in ziplock bags (extreme ultralight!) to avoid confronting the cold, dark unknown at night. I refuse to pee in a ziplock bag (just think of the possible puncture danger!). Instead I was carrying a ziplock twist loc container with screw-top lid which I would just set out in my tent vestibule at night. Upon recommendation, I switched to the Uribag (I think the name says it all: the latest in geriatric/thru-hiker technology!) which is much more compact and even more spill-proof than the Ziploc container. Bonus: they make a male and female version so you too (no matter your gender) can have a compact and leak-free pee pot. Overall: quite happy with it! Carry again: of course!


Gear I’d like to change in the future

Tent. I carried the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2-person tent. (I did not carry my new hammock – it just did not work without trees!) This tent is the 2014 model and weighs nearly 3 pounds, which is “heavy” for a thru-hiking tent. At the same time, it’s a good tent and I haven’t yet been able to justify spending another $200-$550 on another tent. Yet. The Fly Creek has held up really well over thousands of miles, it’s spacious, and the muted green color means it’s easy to blend into the forest incognito style. If I do end up changing up my solo tent in the future, I would go for a fully enclosed tent (not a tarp). These are my top picks for a solo fully enclosed tent:

  • Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape + Serenity Net Tent. The combo would weigh 21 oz and also double as my raingear. Six Moon Designs gear is reasonably priced and the tarp/poncho plus net tent costs $208 (currently on sale)! A steal! And it can be set up as just the mesh or just the tarp. Well made gear from a family run business. Downside: the two pieces might be complex to set up? But not a bad option.
  • Z-packs Plexamid Tent. This fully enclosed single wall tent weighs a mere 14.8 oz! Unbelievable. However, it costs $549, which is not cheap. And it’s made of Dyneema Composites (formerly known as Cuben Fiber) which is extremely light but not very durable or abrasion resistant – which means that a tent like this is designed to only last about the length of a thru-hike. A spendy option from a good cottage manufacturer but just think of the weight savings…
  • Gossamer Gear The One. This single wall fully enclosed tent weighs in at 21.6 oz for $239 (currently on sale). About the same weight as the Six Moon Designs tarp+nettent and not much more expensive, also from a good cottage gear company.

Tent stakes. I carry the 6.5 inch ultralight titanium shepherds hook stakes. They’re very light, but are starting to bend. They are a bit flimsy in hard ground. A better option – and something I’ll likely switch to in the future – are the MSR Groundhog tent stakes. They weigh about same, around 0.3 oz each, but the MSR stakes are much stronger.

Trekking poles. I’m currently carrying a Black Diamond flick-lock style trekking pole (similar to these) that I picked up on sale on steepandcheap.com in 2013. They are my least favorite color – purple (I find it maddening that “jewel tones” are the only color options for women. Don’t even get me started…). But more importantly the poles are wearing out. I realized too late that the tips are replaceable…and now one is just a nub of plastic which I put a cap over. So they need replacing eventually. I don’t need a “women’s specific” trekking pole, but I suppose I’d like a lightweight pole designed for short people with adjustable height, flick-lock preferable. Black diamond makes an Alpine Carbon Cork Women’s trekking pole (cork allegedly feels better in the hand) for the steep price of $170. But Montem Life makes these ultralight carbon poles for only $80. Perhaps my next trekking purchase.

Sleep top. I carried and wore the Patagonia Capilene 4 (no longer made) which is a very warm baselayer and weighs 7.25 oz. If I had planned better I could have swapped it out for a lighter not-quite-as-warm shirt during the warmer AZT stretches. In the future I probably will carry and sleep in my Icebreaker 200 baselayer top which weighs 4.7 oz.


It’s not a completely exhaustive review of my gear, just exhausting 🙂 If anyone has any other gear-specific questions, feel free to leave a comment below.

As always, see my Instagram pics

AZT Post-Hike Thoughts: Climate and Weather

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Well, I just so happened to hike the AZT during the wettest October on record! Normally it’s quite dry, but not this season. So as you might imagine, that meant more rain and moisture than usual! Most days were dry, but there were a few rainy days, thunderstorms, and snow events. When I started my hike at the end of September, there was one fire closure I had to contend with (which is probably a much more typical occurrence during a “normal” dry rain year). Once I got south of the Grand Canyon, Hurricane Rita hit – which meant several days of rain and thunderstorms. In my first 30 days on trail, there were 7 or more rain events and 2 snow events. After that, I don’t think I encountered any more rain for the latter 22 days. The 2 “snowstorms” hit at night – the first time there was ~1″ of snow on my tent at 8346 ft and north of Flagstaff, the second time there was 3-4″ of snow on my tent at 7664 ft and south of Mormon Lake.

Temperatures along the trail were generally warm during the day and cool at night, and also very sunshine dependent – your average desert environment. My hike spanned late September through mid-November. Lows at night across the entire trail generally ranged from mid-20’s at night to 50’s at night, and averaged in the 40’s probably. There were a few cooler nights north of the Mogollon Rim (for me around Flagstaff and Mormon Lake) and later in the season (early-mid November) in the mountains (south of Tucson for me). Warmer nights were typical of lower elevations – e.g., in the bottom of the Grand Canyon and the section around the Gila River. Days ranged from 60’s to 80’s for the most part. The warmest temps that I experienced were in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, around Roosevelt Lake, and around the Gila River.

What went well for me with gear and decision making regarding weather: 1) Having rain gear was essential. I had a rain jacket and water resistant (not fully waterproof) rain pants. 2) My silver umbrella was useful both during rain and in the sun (especially when I was out of sunscreen). 3) It was great to have a pair of hiking pants as an additional layer during the snowy days south of Mormon Lake. 4) My 20 degree Feathered Friends bag (in conjunction with my thin down jacket and other warm layers like a Patagonia capilene 4 top, very warm wool socks, hat and gloves) was warm and cozy for 51 out of 52 nights. 5) On very cold nights I made sure to have a handwarmer to put in the bottom of my sleeping bag for warmth. 6) On very cold nights, drinking something warm, eating chocolate, and “battening down the hatches” on my tent (decreasing wind gap between tent and fly) helped keep me warm.

What I would have done different for gear and decision making regarding weather: 1) After ditching my hiking pants in Superior, I kind of wished I had them on a few occasions, but was mostly fine without them. 2) I wish I had been more alert to low and cold camp spots – I wasn’t always hyper vigilant about avoiding such cold spots and as a result was very cold one or two times. 3) I wished I had some handwarmers with me on cold nights in southern Arizona.

 

The Best Camp Coffee: A Taste Test

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A good cup o’ joe on the trail is hard to come by. Especially if you’re going lightweight or ultralight. No fancy backcountry french presses or aeropressed coffees here. We’re talking good old instant coffee grounds. Fast, easy, and lightweight.

We assembled a savvy crack squad of Seattle-based coffee taste testers to blindly assess the aroma, flavor, and overall drinkability of 6 major instant camp coffees: Cafe Bustelo Instant EspressoFolgers, Mount Hagen, Nescafe Tasters Choice, Starbucks Via – Columbia, and Starbucks Via – Pike Place Roast. We confirmed some assumptions but also uncovered other unexpected results. Our findings may surprise you…

The assessment also includes a cost-analysis in order to determine if this camp coffee is a “Bang-for-your-Buck”. The Bang-for-your-Buck (or BPB) is determined by dividing the Walmart, Target, or Amazon cost per packet (in cents) by the drinkability score. An average BPB would be around 1, a good BPB above 1, and a bad BPB below 1.

In order of worst to best, here are the findings and rankings of 5 major camp coffees (rated x out of 100).

6. Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee Crystals – 41.25/100

Coming in last place, with a score of 41.25/100 is Folgers.

Aroma notes include: hot chocolate, dish water, burnt, “smells like Folgers”, none, coffee, coffee/nutty, and weak/burnt.

Flavor notes include: gross but finished sweet, bitter, medium roast, slight coffee & almost non-existent, tastes like gas station coffee but that’s still coffee, and burnt/dirt/dry.

Drinkability comments include: nope, is this more than water?, balanced and weak, and good smell…yeah, no. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 60 with an average of 41.25

Cost analysis: Folgers costs $1.09 for 7 packets, or $0.16 per packet. Bang for your buck? Folgers BPB rating: 2.58.

5. Starbucks Via Instant Medium Roast Coffee: Columbia – 45/100

Coming in second to last place, with a score of 45/100 is Starbucks Via Columbia.

Aroma notes include: pee, sour smoke, dark roast, bacon, burnt dark, bacon food, smoke, and bitter.

Flavor notes include: burnt, dark, bitter, dark & robust, bitter/watery/sweet, bacon, kitty-litter, and bitter.

Drinkability comments include: gross, bacon, pretty good/would drink, strong & flavorful, and lacks taste. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 80 with an average of 45.

Cost analysis: Starbucks Columbian Roast is listed for $6.29 for 8 packets, or $0.79 per packet. Bang for your buck? Starbucks Columbian Roast BPB rating: 0.57.

4. Starbucks Via Instant Medium Roast: Pike Place Roast – 50/100

In the middle of the pack, with a score of 50/100 is Starbucks Via Pike Place Roast.

Aroma notes include: also pee, sweet/round/nutty, burnt, yo dis via, coffee, caramel-y but bad, and nutty.

Flavor notes include: sharp taste, bitter, neutral & slightly bitter, nutty & smokey, burnt, bitter/a bit sour, and burnt.

Drinkability comments include: bland, balanced weird flavor, good, basic, and no thanks. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 80 with an average of 50.

Cost analysis: Starbucks Pike Place Roast is listed for $6.29 for 8 packets, or $0.79 per packet. Bang for your buck? Starbucks Pike Place Roast BPB rating: 0.63.

3. Nescafe Tasters Choice House Blend – 52.5/100

Second best, with a score of 52.5/100 is Nescafe Tasters Choice House Blend.

Aroma notes include: burnt/chocolate, chocolatey with fruity notes, fruity & nutty, light/nutty/cocoa, mild/bland/non-existent, good/real coffee, bitter, and acid/bitter.

Flavor notes include: bitter but finishes ok, weak coffee/flat water, bland/not too bitter/mild, smokey & chocolatey, watery, dry tree bark, and weak.

Drinkability comments include: not bad it would be better with milk, probably the most that tastes like coffee, not bad would add more grounds for a full flavored cup, not good, and harsh. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 100 with an average of 52.5.

Cost analysis: Nescafe Tasters Choice is listed for $1.09 for 6 packets, or $0.18 per packet. Bang for your buck? Nescafe Tasters Choice BPB rating: 2.92.

2. Cafe Bustelo Instant Espresso – 65.6/100

Second best, with a score of 65.6/100 is Nescafe Tasters Choice House Blend.

Aroma notes include: roasty, nutty, smells like coffee, slightly sweet and roasty.

Flavor notes include: good, especially nice finish, mild, pleasing coffee, not bitter.

Drinkability comments include: Tasty! Good. Drinkability scores ranged from 60 to 70.

Cost analysis: Cafe Bustelo is listed for $7.99 for 6 packets, or $1.33 per packet. Bang for your buck? Cafe Bustelo BPB rating: 0.49.

The winner!

1. Mount Hagen Organic Fairtrade Instant Coffee – 75/100

Clobbering the other coffees and coming in first, delicious place with a lead exceeding 25%, with a score of 75/100 is Mount Hagen.

Aroma notes include: pleasing chocolate, it’s fine, sweet caramel, good coffee, smokey & cocoa, medium/nutty, vanilla/nutty, and weak coffee.

Flavor notes include: decent & smooth, smooth, smooth, sweet chocolate, not very bitter/mild/roasty, weak, light & fruity, and smooth.

Drinkability comments include: best so far, good!/best, basic but ok for camping, and I would drink this. Drinkability scores ranged from 30 to 95 with an average of 75.

Cost analysis: Mount Hagen costs $13.48 for 25 packets, or $0.54 per packet. Bang for your buck? Mount Hagen BPB rating: 1.39.

Bang-for-your-Buck Rankings:

Worst to Best. The bigger the number, the better Bang-for-your-Buck

0.49 – Cafe Bustelo
0.57 – Starbucks Via Columbian Roast
0.63 – Starbucks Via Pike Place Roast
1.39 – Mount Hagen Organic
2.58 – Folgers
2.92 – Nescafe Tasters Choice

So, which coffee should you buy?

If cost is no issue, buy Mount Hagen. Duh. It’s tasty.

If cost is the most important factor, buy Nescafe Tasters Choice. It has a decent flavor and is a good deal.

Update: If your conscience is important (or the earth or children or women, etc) then don’t buy Nestle/Nescafe Tasters Choice. Pollution with my coffee just doesn’t taste all that good…