Enabling Exploring…

Doesn’t #vanlife look p sweet bra? Chya.

I am sometimes tempted by the pretty instagram pics and glamorous YouTube videos on #vanlife. Exploration all the time, a life of freedom and fun, not a care in the world, it’s all sunshine and rainbows as far as I can tell. Especially alluring after a dark winter, doesn’t it look like a mirage of sunshine on the horizon?

Ok yeah, realistically it’s probably more like bickering with your partner in cramped quarters, pooping in a vehicle, and trying to hide and pretend that you’re not in there at night so nobody calls the cops. Maybe not wholly glamorous…

Besides, I get the impression that many people drop tens thousands of dollars on a tricked out Sprinter van, hop in, then realize – oh wait… is this really what it’s all about? While there are certainly pros and cons, I still admit, there are some days when I think it would be super convenient to have mobile living quarters to drive to a trailhead on a Friday night, or maybe even crash in spur-of-the-moment on a road trip or impromptu escape into the mountains. But wait – do I need the finest and most-decked out of Sprinter vans with tiled kitchen walls, a vitamix, queen sized bed, swivel seat, and solar shower to find what I seek? Do I? No. I don’t.

Remember – perfect is the enemy of the good. KISS – keep it simple, stupid. Sometimes scraping by and scrapping by with the bare minimum will suffice to achieve the goal. Let’s back up a sec. What exactly is it that I is it that I need to achieve what I’m looking for? What AM I looking for? Goal: mobile sleeping quarters to crash at a trailhead. Needs: privacy in a car. Semi-stealth ability. Moderate comfort. I own a Toyota Matrix. With the seats down, it’s kinda almost long enough for me to sleep when I position my 5’2″ self at a diagonal – which means it’s totally impossible for Jared at 5’10-11″ to get a wink of sleep. I sometimes hang fabric curtains with safety pins in the most rag-tag way if I want to car-sleep. And it’s really not comfortable or cutting it. Unless…

Let’s rethink this…

Problem: Cramped quarters. How can I extend the sleeping space? Solution: Scootch front seats forward as far as possible and use a sturdy piece of plywood across the end to lengthen the space to a grande 77″! Winner.

Problem: Crappy curtains. How do I improve the privacy and minimize the space occupied by curtains? Solution: Window coverings with blackout fabric and velcro. Yessss.

Ok then. A successful solution. I have the plywood. And it’s in the car. Check. Curtains are 70% complete. Just need to sew a few more and add the velcro. Almost check. All I need to do is sew some more, hit the road, and try to sleep!…

 

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Not QUITE Hiking…

As this is a “hiking” blog I feel obligated to stick to the subject! However, I have not been hiking at all lately. Sadly to say. Being a home owner on Vashon Island in the southern Puget Sound is great and all, but it leads to some distance from mountains. Especially in March and April. And winter. I have several hiking trips on the horizon: a few weeks on the PCT in northern OR/southern & central WA, the ENCHANTMENTS! in mid-July (google it. Thank you Heidi for scoring the sweet permit!), and hoping for weekends and who-knows-where/what trips here and there.

What have I been doing, if not hiking? Well – making quilts and wall-hangings, and working a few gigs: gym job (front desk at the local athletic club a few 4 am mornings per week), substituting at the local schools (the preschoolers were particularly adorable the other day), covering shifts at the local consignment store (Luna Bellas), and TEACHING KIDS CLIMBING at the local climbing gym. Hence my post….

Teaching kids climbing:

It’s an interesting and fun job. New to me, teaching and working with kids. It’s 5-6 hours per week. Teaching is fun and hard. Kids 4-11 years old. 3 classes, 2 days/week. We have the beginners, the intermediates, and the advanced. Each class is 45 min-1 hour long.

The kids have a free climb for 5-15 minutes.

Then warm up movements and climbing.

Then games and/or climbing instruction depending on the age group and attention + focus of the individual kids.

Games like: Monkey and Tiger (climbing wall tag), Shark Attack, Pointer, Add-On, Simon-Says, Red-light-Green-light.

Then a few minutes of free time if they stay focused.

Ending with cooldown stretches.

And voila! That’s it.

Anti-Leg Cramp Elixir

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I drank this many cool nights after a 20-30 mile day on the AZT this past October-November. Magnesium, in Natural Calm, is great for leg cramps or generally achy, tired, restless legs as it replenishes depleted muscles and helps with recovery. And of course electrolytes help with hydration and recovery as well.

Ingredients:
1 packet Natural Calm
2 tablespoons Skratch Labs hydration drink mix

Mix the powders into 8-12 oz hot water and enjoy.

The Next Hike

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After feeling antsy last week, low in the winter blues, things are a bit on the upswing now. The increasing light has been nice. I feel like a cranky bear coming out of hibernation. Or the groundhog. Light is peeking on the horizon. I visited my close college buds this past weekend and the NW escape plus time with friends was uplifting. I also revamped my resume and applied to a few jobs close to home within the past week – and in the process realized that many of my resumes from previous years have also been created in February – a pattern in my life that has surely been driven by the seasons. Late winter is time for change and reinvention. (Note to self: how to spend all winters in New Zealand to get that perpetual sunny disposition?)

So I thought that with this more optimistic attitude and creative energy I would delve into planning my next hike. My thought is to keep it to a section of the PCT. After all, I started the PCT in 2014 need to finish it. Time to make a little more headway. Jared and I hiked the southern 1,100 miles in 2014 and I’ve since hiked a few hundred more miles in Washington. (Only ~1,200 miles to go!) This summer could be a good opportunity to hike a slightly bigger 250-700 mile chunk. The section I hike will ideally be easily accessible by bus or train to get to the trail (a ride that is relatively inexpensive, reliable, not terribly inconvenient for anyone, and no sketchy hitches necessary).

The hike I’m thinking will start somewhere in Oregon and I’ll hike northbound to Snoqualmie Pass. Start as far south as Ashland or as far north as Cascade Locks. Snoqualmie Pass is at mile 2,393 northbound on the PCT. The starting point options and numbers look like this:

  • Cascade locks at mile 2146 (247 mi hike)
  • Government Camp/Mount Hood at mile 2091 (302 mi hike)
  • Santiam Pass/Bend and Sisters at mile 1983 (410 mi hike)
  • Willamette Pass at mile 1907 (486 mi hike)
  • Crater Lake at mile 1823 (570 mile hike)
  • Ashland at mile 1718 (675 mi hike)

I’m leaning toward starting at either Government Pass, Santiam Pass, or Willamette Pass, which would mean a 3-4 week hike. A start in late June would mean wrapping up in mid-late July.

The terrain of that section would be the usual ups and downs, maybe more. The elevation ranges from near sea-level at Cascade Locks – actually the lowest point on the PCT – to a high around 7,000 feet around Sisters, Timberline, and Goat Rocks. Lots of volcanoes would be en route. Could be a solid hike. A good tentative plan…

Trail Antsy Wanderlust Junky

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It’s mid-February and I find myself sitting in a coffee shop writing about hiking. Talking about moving. Thinking about doing. But not. Idling. Inactive. Dreaming and wishing and wanting and waiting. Waiting for the weather. Waiting for the season. Waiting for the snow to melt.

An unprecedented 18″ of snow fell here at home outside Seattle, adding to the pent-up late-winter antsy gotta-do-something-or-I’m-going-to-explode feeling. Flipping through Cascades and Olympic Peninsula hiking guides reminds me that the season for so many trails is limited here. Trails limited to the far-off months of July through October – or August through September, even. And this is February. February! How am I going to make it though this winter?

This winter. These winter blues. Low Vitamin D. Low sunshine. Reading books about hiking and trails and adventure. Living vicariously until I, too, can fulfill this need to walk through the woods. This need to move. To be in nature. Sleep under the stars, move with the strength in my legs, feel the rocks and dirt and roots underfoot, the warm breezes. Be bleached by the sun. Whipped by the wind. To be hungry and thirsty and tired. Open vistas, mountain views. Trail endorphins.

That old thirst for wanderlust. It’s most noticeable in winter when I’m antsy and cooped up. The fact that I’m currently sans job isn’t helping either. Each day I paint a new wall in our home – aghem, dome – and sew a new section of quilt and that keeps me “out of the bars” as grandma Beverly would say.

Growing up in the New Hampshire mountains I feel certain that it was the air flowing between Owl’s Head and Wyatt Hill in Glencliff and the Mount Moosilauke water that infused my bones with a mountain spirit and a lust for the hills. The geology classes in college and earth science degrees kept me fascinated, outside, and in awe of the natural world. My career in environmental consulting was interesting. But eventually the environmental consulting job meant sitting in a cubicle and reading and writing reports. Which hurt my back and drove me mad. I don’t think I’m crazy when I say that people do not belong in chairs under fluorescent lights and in front of screens. I admit, I’m poorly adjusted to our mode of living – to technology and programming and consumerism and cubicles. For me it’s like wearing an itchy, drafty sweater that’s five sizes too big but really tight around the neck and wrists. I mean it just doesn’t fit. Sometimes I wish it did, but it just doesn’t.

My urge to move and create led me from environmental consulting to working as an assistant brewer at a micro-brewery, which didn’t work for a host of reasons, but it did push me in the direction of my pursuit of long-distance hiking – aka, chasing the trail-dragon. Then I set my mind to hiking the PCT. Since then, sales at REI has tangentially connected me to the outdoors, as has making and repairing outdoor gear.

But what makes me feel most whole is not thinking about the outdoors, but actually being immersed in it. The VT Long Trail, northern PCT sections, around the Cascade volcanoes, the Arizona Trail. Wherever it is – moving and falling in the dirt, pounding my feet against the soil and sand – that’s what gets my wilds fix.

So how do I get through this winter of fog and cold and snow and couches? Just when and where can I get outside and on a long trail? An Oregon section of the PCT in June? Originally I’d been hatching a trip scheme for May, but no there will be far too much snow that early. Rethink the plan. Maybe Northern California late May? There’s a chance it could be a place to go slightly early season, but more research is needed… I envision one or two WA PCT sections for a week here and there in July and August – south of Snoqualmie Pass and north of Rainy Pass. Or perhaps the Colorado Trail from July into August if the cards align? The CT is one of the “triple jewel” trails (or small, beautiful trails that originate from each of the “triple crown” trails – the AT, PCT, and CDT. I’ve hiked 2/3 of the “triple jewels” – the Long Trail in VT and the John Muir Trail in CA. So it’s high time to hike the 3rd).  Or maybe a people-filled-overcrowded stretch of the AT…hiking season could be a bit earlier on the East coast. And it might satisfy my lingering homesickness, having grown up in New Hampshire. The crowds may sound annoying, but with lots of people come trail culture and camaraderie, and less loneliness than I experienced on the Arizona Trail this past fall.

So I’ll keep dreaming and scheming. Plodding through the snow. Training for a 12k in April. Trail running. Distracting myself with painting walls and sewing quilts. That’s how I’ll make it through to the sunshine…

Arizona Trail Thru-Hiker Survey 2018

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The first annual AZT thru-hiker survey results are finally in!

A huge thanks to everyone who contributed to the survey! The information would not exist without your time and helpful answers.

This survey was created in an effort to aid future thru-hikers in their planning and journey. After reading the similar survey results about the PCT conducted by Halfway Anywhere, I was eager to know the same information about the Arizona Trail. (Disclaimer, I am not Halfway Anywhere. I am Double Orca. While I have participated in the past PCT surveys, I did not conduct them.) I wanted to know what the experience of other hikers was like, how they prepared for their trip, where did they stop, what did they eat, etc. The AZT is a much less frequented trail with a lot fewer people on it relative to the PCT, therefore a lot of the specifics seem to be shrouded in darkness and secrecy. In an attempt to cast a light on the thru-hiking community and experience, here are the results from NOBO and SOBO thru-hikers from 2018. At last we have a few answers to some important AZT questions. I was surprised by a few of the answers, too! And hopefully some of these results are helpful to future AZT thru-hikers as they prepare for their upcoming adventure.

Disclaimer: the results and statistics are not extremely scientifically rigorous. More like approximately pretty good. Results are based on the memories of thru-hikers who may or may not have been in Snicker-induced sugar-high states while hiking. I tried to sort out any outliers or obviously bad data to the best of my ability as a thru-hiker.


NOTES

  • The survey was conducted into two parts, I and II. Part I focused on basics and resupply. Part II focused on gear, health, and other details.
  • 30 hikers responded to Part I of the survey. 20 hikers responded to Part II.
  • The survey was created at the end of the sobo hiking season and may be biased toward sobo responses
  • Hopefully 2018 is the first of many years of survey results!

THE DEMOGRAPHICS

First, who hiked the AZT in 2018 and where are they from?

  • 64.5% Male
  • 35.5% Female

How old are the AZT thru-hikers? Average Age: 37.5

  • 20-24: 22.5%
  • 25-30: 22.6%
  • 30-34: 9.7%
  • 35-39: 16.1%
  • 40-49: 6.5%
  • 50-59: 3.2%
  • 60-69: 19.4%

Where do you consider home?

  • Home Country: USA 83.9%, Australia 3.2%, Canada 3.2%, Japan 3.2%, New Zealand 3.2%, Russia 3.2%

US folks – Which state do you hail from?

TOP 6 HOME STATES: Arizona 18.5%, Texas 11.1%, Michigan 7.4%, Montana 7.4%, New York 7.4%, Washington 7.4%


THE HIKE BASICS

Was this the first thru-hike for hikers? What other trails have folks already hiked? Which direction did hikers go? When did they start? How long was their hike? Did they start alone? Did they camp and hike alone?

  • Of the 2018 thru-hikers, a whopping 32.3% were on their first long-distance thru-hike!, while 67.7 had already hiked another long-distance trail.
  • Other trails hiked by 2018 AZT thru-hikers: Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Colorado Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Long Trail, Te Araroa, John Muir Trail, previous hikes of the Arizona Trail, Cohos Trail, Pinhoti Trail, Northville Lake Placid Trail, Sheltowee Trace Trail, Wonderland Trail, California Coast Trail, and Oregon Coast Trail.
  • Did you begin SOLO or with others?
    • 54.8% began SOLO (so many!)
    • 45.4% began with other(s)
  • Percentage of time solo starters hiked alone: 75%
  • Percentage of time solo starters camped alone: 34%
  • Began with others: with a friend 22.6%, with a romantic partner 16.1%, with a sibling 3.2%, with a friend of friend 3.2%

So NOBO or SOBO?

  • 58.1% of respondents hiked NOBO while 41.9% of respondents hiked SOBO

NOBO STATS

Here are the some numbers for the 2018 NOBO thru-hikers that started their AZT hike in the Spring:

  • NOBO start month:
    • February 12.5%
    • March 50%
    • April 31.3%
    • May 6.3%
  • Average NOBO Spring start date: 3/18/18

SOBO STATS

Here are the same numbers for the 2018 SOBO thru-hikers who started in the Fall. October appears to be the month to start!

  • SOBO start month:
    • September 16.7%
    • October 75%
    • November 8.3%
  • Average SOBO Fall start date: 10/6/18

To train or not to train? Is it actually important? I always make an effort get in shape prior to my long hikes – often so I can “hit the ground running” – but do others do the same? What percent of thru-hikers prepared for their hike by getting in shape?

  • 65% trained for their hike, 35% did not train

Here’s how thru-hikers trained for their hike before hitting the trail:

  • 25% Hike/backpack, 25% walk, 15% lift weights, 10% run, 5% cycling, 5% stair master

Length of a thru-hike is important – are you in a time crunch and can you do it? Are you going to have to hurry your way through Arizona? Can you relax and spend a few days off in town? Here are a few numbers that may help inform how much time you may want to dedicate to your hike.

How much time did hikers spend on trail? How many zero days did they hike (full days off)? How many near-o days (partial days off)?

  • Number of days on trail: average 45 days (min: 23, max: 79)
  • Miles per day: average 19.6 mpd (min: 10.1, max 34.8)
  • Number of zero days: 5.2 days (min: 1, max: 10)
  • Number of near-o days: 4.9 days (min: 1, max 14)

Would you consider hiking the AZT again?

  • Yes 55%
  • Maybe 25%
  • No 20%

Did you finish your AZT thru-hike?

  • Yes 90.3%
  • No 9.7%

Reasons for ending hikes include: injury and lonely/stress/limited time/snow


RESUPPLY

TRAIL TOWNS

So who went where? These are the towns and/or locations that the AZT Association lists on its website – and a few that aren’t listed but are visted. A lot of day and section hikers may visit some of these towns, but do thru-hikers really stop at Winkleman and Dudleyville? Nope! But a few folks did swing by Phoenix, Sonoita, and Sahuarita, which surprised me. Here are the important towns for thru-hikers:

So just how popular are each of the trail towns and trail stops? I broke the trail town popularity down into the following categories, color coded for easy-viewing: hardly visited (0-20%), some people went here (20-40%), visited half the time (40-60%), often visited (60-80%), you gotta go there (80-100%)

Kenab (22.6%)
Fredonia (0%)
Page (16.1%)
Jacob Lake (38.7%)
North Rim Country Store (35.5%)
Grand Canyon North Rim (29%)
Phantom Ranch (25.8%)
Grand Canyon South Rim (77.4%)
Tusayan (45.2%)
Flagstaff (93.5%)
Mormon Lake (48.4%)
Pine (83.9%)
Strawberry (6.5%)
Payson (38.7%)
Tonto Basin (19.4%)
Roosevelt Lake (61.3%)
Phoenix (3.2%)
Superior (67.7%)
Globe (16.1%)
Kearny (45.2%)
Riverside (0%)
Kelvin (0%)
Florence (0%)
Hayden (0%)
Winkleman (0%)
Dudleyville (0%)
Oracle (90.3%)
Mammoth (3.2%)
San Manuel (3.2%)
Mt Lemmon (51.6%)
Tucson (51.6%)
Colossal Cave (38.7%)
Vail (25.8%)
Sahuarita (6.5%)
Green Valley (0%)
Patagonia (93.5%)
Sonoita (9.7%)
Sierra Vista (12.9%)

Trail town favorites

Respondents chose these towns as the four top favorites:

  1. Flagstaff (77.4%)
  2. Oracle (58.1%)
  3. Patagonia (54.8%)
  4. Pine (48.4%)

Why did hikers like these trail towns and why did they top the list? Generally speaking, they were cute, friendly, accommodating, welcoming, had helpful trail angels, good food and drink, good amenities and services, or were easy to access.

Respondents chose these towns as their four least favorite:

  1. Roosevelt Lake (33.3%)
  2. Superior (19%)
  3. Tusayan (14.3%)
  4. Page (14.3%)

Why didn’t hikers enjoy these towns? General reasons these trail towns were not favored among thru-hikers is because they were: expensive, had limited options, few amenities, not much for food, were difficult to access, not hiker-friendly, or somewhat sketchy.

Resupply Strategy

So how did folks get their needed food and supplies? Some sent all of their boxes ahead of time, others sent a few, while others didn’t send any at all. Here’s how the resupply strategy breaks down for the AZT class of 2018. How did thru-hikers resupply?

As far as mailing resupply boxes go:

  • 12.9% of thru-hikers mailed all of their boxes
  • 45.2% mailed some boxes
  • 41.9% mailed no boxes

How would you change your resupply strategy if you hiked the AZT again?

  • No change: 26.9%
  • Send fewer boxes: 23.1%
  • Send more variety: 19.2%
  • Send less food in boxes: 15.4%
  • Send more boxes: 7.7%
  • Send more food in boxes: 3.8%
  • Send healthier and/or better food: 3.8%

Respondents recommend buying food in town over sending resupply boxes generally on the AZT. However, there are a few spots where sending a box ahead may be helpful.

Where would you recommend future hikers send a resupply box? These are the top 5 suggestions (and the percent of hikers that would recommend sending a box there). Note: anything over 10% is mentioned here:

  1. Roosevelt Lake (43%)
  2. Colossal Cave (23%)
  3. Patagonia (20%)
  4. Mormon Lake (17%)
  5. Oracle (13%)

Where would you recommend future hikers definitely BUY food in town and not mail a box? Here are the top 8 answers (and the percent of hikers that recommend it). Note: anything 20% and over is mentioned here:

  1. Flagstaff (50%)
  2. Grand Canyon South Rim (37%)
  3. Pine (33%)
  4. Superior (33%)
  5. Patagonia (33%)
  6. Kearny (23%)
  7. Tucson (23%)
  8. Oracle (20%)

Looking for resupply nuggets of wisdom? Here are a few tips from the class of 2018:

  • Subways 6 for $18.
  • No need to send boxes.
  • FYI Jacob Lake does not accept packages!
  • Mail only the essentials in resupply boxes and pick up snacks in town depending on what you crave.
  • It’s possible to either send 100% of packages or buy 100% of food in town so do what you are comfortable with.
  • Use an electrolyte powder instead of Gatorade powder, and try chia seeds with electrolyte drink.
  • Variety is good.
  • Carry between Roosevelt Lake and Pine – it’s a hard hitch in the middle.
  • Would not use an alcohol stove, HEET was hard to find in Oracle, North Rim, and South Rim stores.
  • Resupplying in towns works well.
  • Skip Payson.
  • If you’re sending bars, mix it up – Clif bars get old fast.
  • I sent hot sauce/mayo/olive oil/coconut oil packets in our boxes which we really liked having.
  • You could get by with never mailing a resupply, but it is hard to find nutritious bars at some locations. We ordered bars through Amazon Prime and had them delivered “general delivery” in areas that had small grocery stores – it was cheaper and turned out to be a good option for us.

Hitchhiking

How did folks get from the trail to town? When asked if they hitchhiked, here’s how respondents answered:

  • 74.2% of hikers hitchhiked at least once, while 25.8% did not hitchhike at all.

As for difficult locations, the following places were mentioned as challenging spots to catch a ride (in geographical order from north to south):

  • Getting to the Northern Terminus
  • Payson on Highway 87
  • Tonto Basin from Roosevelt Lake
  • Out of Roosevelt Lake in general
  • Sahuarita on Sahuarita Road
  • Vail
  • From the Southern Terminus.

Navigation

How did hikers find their way along the trail? Who used the AZT Guthook app? What about paper maps?

  • 85% app only
  • 15% app plus paper maps

GEAR & EXPENSES

Gear is a big part of every thru-hiking experience. Choosing the right gear can be both challenging and fun. And costly! Here’s the lowdown what the 2018 AZT thru-hikers carried. (Note: costs and expenses are extremely subjective to memory unless methodically tracked, which appears to be a rarity. Most responses were approximate. A few answers included “Who knows?”)

  • Average base weight at the start: 16.8 lbs (min: 7 lbs/max: 28 lbs)
  • Average base weight at the end: 15.9 lbs (min: 7 lbs/max: 26 lbs)
  • Average cost of entire gear setup: $1295 (min: $500/max: $2500)
  • Average cost of new gear for AZT specifically: $300 (min: $0/max: $1200)
  • Average amount spent on trail – food, lodging, etc: $1005 (min: $450/max: $2800) – aka an average of $1.25 per mile

What about shoes? How many hikers got a new pair while hiking?

  • Yes, new shoes 70%/No 30%
  • NOBO: Swapped for new shoes:
    • Oracle: 17%
    • Payson: 17%
    • Pine/Strawberry: 33%
    • Flagstaff: 17%
    • Grand Canyon South Rim: 17%
  • SOBO: Swapped for new shoes:
    • Jacob Lake: 13%
    • Flagstaff: 25%
    • Payson: 13%
    • Superior: 25%
    • Oracle/Tucson: 25%

What kind of sleeping bag did folks carry?

  • 95% down/5% synthetic

Average sleeping bag temperature rating?

  • 20 degrees (50%), 15 degrees (15%), 30 degrees (15%) 10 degrees (10%), 0 degrees (5%), and 40 degrees (5%)

Average pack capacity?

  • 54L (min: 35L/max: 90L)

MOST POPULAR PACKS (and the percent of hikers who carried them):

  1. ULA – Circuit or OHM (30%)
  2. Osprey – Exos or Aether (15%)
  3. Deuter – Act Lite 60+10 or other (10%)
  4. Granite Gear – x60 or Nimbus Trace (10%)

(other packs carried include: Gossamer Gear Mariposa, MLD Burn, Mystery Ranch XXX Trance, Pa’lante Packs, Zpacks, Atom Packs)

MOST POPULAR SHELTERS (and the percent of hikers who used them):

  1. Big Agnes – Fly Creek 1 or 2, or Copper Spur, generally UL or Platinum (40%)
  2. Zpacks – Hexamid regular or solo plus or tarp, or Duplex (30%)

(other shelters used include: Ozark Trail, Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo, Nemo Hornet 1p, Tarptent Stratospire 1, REI Quarterdome, and Big Sky Singlewall)

MOST POPULAR SLEEPING BAGS (and the percent of hikers who used them):

  1. Enlightened Equipment quilt (10%)
  2. Marmot – Quantum or Helium (10%)
  3. Western Mountaineering (10%)

MOST POPULAR SLEEPING PADS (and the percent of hikers who used them):

  1. Thermarest mattress – NeoAir or other (60%)
  2. Closed cell foam pad (15%)

MOST POPULAR STOVE (and the percent of hikers who used them):

  1. MSR – Pocket Rocket or Whisper Lite (30%)
  2. Jetboil – Minimo or Flash (15%)

MOST POPULAR WATER TREATMENT (and the percent of hikers who used it):

  1. Sawyer – Squeeze or other (70%) – of these 10% carried backup Aquamira
  2. Katahdin – BeFree, Gravity Camp 6L, or other (15%)

MOST POPULAR TREKKING POLES (and the percent of hikers who used them):

  1. Leki – Corklite, Super Makalu, Journey, or Speed Lock Vario z-fold (25%)
  2. Black Diamond – Trail Trekking Poles, Alpine Carbon, or other (20%)
  3. Cascade Mountaineering (10%)

What was your favorite piece of gear? Responses include: my sleeping pad, Sawyer filter, backpack, Sawyer squeeze, homemade quilt, sit pad, NeoAir, pack, sleeping bag, iPhone, zero degree down bag, tent, 6L gravity water filter, umbrella, and hiking poles.

What’s the next piece of gear you plan to buy? Responses include: rain gear, an enlightened equipment quilt, a warmer sleeping bag, new tent, tent, tent, sleeping bag, pack, maybe switch to a quilt, pack, rain jacket, sleeping bag, a new pack in a few more hikes, down jacket, a pack in a few more years, and a camera.

What GEAR WISDOM would you like to offer future AZT thru-hikers?

  • Wear a full rim hat!
  • You don’t have to break the bank to have quality stuff. Sometimes cheap (inexpensive) means cheap quality – but not always.
  • Use a 20 degree bag. 30 wasn’t really enough.
  • Use a pee pot at night!
  • Beware that thorns on trail will be rough on gear and clothes!
  • Go light, but don’t skimp on water capacity or water filter (aquamira doesn’t get rid of cow poop, it just sterilizes it)
  • Do whatever feels good
  • The lighter the better
  • Dress warmly if you start early (March or February)
  • Windbreaker and sturdy rain gear are important. Have microspikes and winter boots in a bounce box waiting for ya if going sobo when you go over higher elevations. Chances of snow are likely (late season SOBO).
  • In dry desert heat wear a cotton shirt & pants and Darn Tough wool socks
  • Squeeze filters are nice, but a pump makes getting water out of sketchy sources much easier
  • A solar umbrella was nice to have in the afternoon sun.
  • HYOH – Hike Your Own Hike!

FOOD AND HEALTH

Let’s face it, hikers love to eat. And they often hike to eat! There’s no better topic of conversation than food. So let’s talk food…and health.

What cook system did folks use?

  • Canister Stove 51.6%
  • Stoveless 41.9%
  • Alcohol Stove 6.5%

How did you store your food at night/while sleeping? (Note: respondents may have stored food in more than one way, for example: both in an Opsack odorproof bag and inside their tent, or others sometimes stored their food inside their tent and sometimes would hang their food)

  • 74.2% inside tent* (responses included inside tent, as pillow, and under feet)
  • 25.8% inside Opsack odor-proof bag
  • 16.1% food bag hung as bear/critter hang
  • 6.5% inside Ursack
  • 3.2% other

How long was your longest food carry?

  • 4 days: 16.7%; 5 days: 23.3%; 6 days: 26.7%; 7 days: 20.0%; 8 days: 6.7%; 10 days: 6.7%

About how long was your average food carry?

  • 3 days: 33.3%; 4 days: 37%; 5 days 29.6%

What were some of your favorite foods? Responses include: PROBAR, White Chocolate Peanut m&ms, cheese and pepperoni, RX Bars, Larabars, chips, fresh fruit, homemade trail mix, PackItGourmet sandwich meals, cheese/salami, granola, jerky and sour patch kids, Poptarts, bars, cheese, premade dehydrated meals, muffins and GORP, summer sausage and cheese, chips and bars, tuna Mac, dehydrated black beans & rice with Fritos and hot sauce, Mountain House lasagna, m&m, nuts & dried cherries, chocolate, hot chocolate coffee, Almond Snickers, Snickers, creative lunch wraps, mac & cheese, deli stuff, Beaver Mustard, tuna and cheese wraps, dehydrated refried beans, tuna jerky and pemmican, cream cheese: cream cheese with honey on a tortilla or cream cheese with bologna on a tortilla, nuts and beef jerkey, and WildZora meat snacks.

What were some of your least favorite foods? Responses include: Nuts, none, oatmeal and Clif bars, mac & cheese, tuna, Ramen, overeating the same thing, stale trail mix, tuna, endless Clif bars, dried fruit, too much of the same thing, bland/unsalted seeds and nuts, cold Ramen gets old, got sick of Clif bars after a bit, cold soaked instant potatoes, Kind bars are as hard as a rock, bars in general, tuna, none, energy gels, trail mix unless it involves a lot of chocolate, cold soaked Idahoans, none, Teriyaki rice cakes, too much nuts and seeds, and cocao nibs after a week.

Did you treat your water?

  • Always 72.7%
  • Mostly 13.6%
  • Sometimes 4.5%
  • Never 9.1%

Did you get sick?

  • 0% of respondents got sick!

FEAR, REGRETS & ADVICE

I asked hikers if there was ever a time when then felt unsafe while on trail or in town. This is how they responded to “Did you ever feel unsafe on/off trail”?:

  • 66.7% no, always felt safe
  • 13.3% had moments where they felt slightly unsafe
  • 20% yes, did feel unsafe at times

What were the situations that created unsafe feelings? Here are a few other reasons: The most frequent reason was being on trail on during hunting season and/or hunters. The next most frequent reason was being a solo female. Other mentions include: being around traffic and cars, bikes on trail, Globe was sketchy/had a bottle thrown at them while hitching, animal noises, a sketchy hitch with a creep in Hurricane UT, highly trafficked/isolated area south of Cedar Ranch TH, animal noises, and homeless near Flagstaff.


There’s a plethora of amount of information on the interwebs and in books about the AZT, but there’s always something a little surprising about every trail. I asked folks if there was there anything about the AZT that SURPRISED YOU? Here are the answers:

  • How beautiful and diverse it was!
  • The diversity.
  • Two bear sightings.
  • Water sources were surprisingly good given a drought year (spring).
  • How much of it is a forest.
  • Lots of beautiful spots.
  • How remote it is – and how many mountains there were surprised me too!
  • How gorgeous it was – didn’t see a single rattlesnake.
  • Just the beauty.
  • It seemed like there was actually plenty of water sources, even if some were a little gross.
  • It was amazing!
  • How cold and wet it can be! How rocky the trail is in places.
  • Way more mountains – yayy!
  • How different northern and southern Arizona feel.
  • Surprised that most towns were very close to trail and no long hitches were necessary.
  • Surprised by the weather! Rainiest October on record in AZ – plenty of water flowing everywhere. Surprised by the amount of volcanic rocks – very cool.
  • Gotta love those desert sunsets!
  • The variety in scenery. I was expecting way more of just a desert trail.
  • A lot of people with guns.
  • Many, many miles of forest 😦
  • The diversity of Arizona’s ecosystems is amazing.
  • It’s hard.
  • Not really.
  • There was MUCH more walking on two-track roads than I expected. I had read the trail was overgrown in places, but it was more overgrown than I expected.
  • I had heard a lot about the changing environment but it was surprising still.
  • The solitude in some places because of the time of year was a great surprise.

And what ADVICE FOR FUTURE AZT HIKERS do you have? Here are a few responses:

  • Go do it, it’s an awesome trail!!!
  • Have fun!
  • Go hike it! It is a very beautiful trail. You see things only in your dreams! Saguaro cacti colonies, Grand Canyon, mountains, wildlife. Be done with your hike no later than end of May due to heat.
  • Just do it!
  • Bring a water scooper or cut off bottle for scooping water out of troughs.
  • Always be aware of where your next potential water will be.
  • Be prepared for cold weather and rain!
  • Get the paper maps!!! They show side trails to different monuments and parks. A lot of spots are within a 2 mile detour and worth it.
  • Don’t stress about caching water. A lot of people put too much effort into caching and it’s not necessary.
  • Update water availability notes on Guthook to help hikers following you.
  • Be prepared for cold nights, muddy water sources, and being attacked by cholla. Also, be ready to spend a lot of your time in, on, or around cow poop.
  • You HAVE to eat pizza in Pine at the Old County Inn. Sure, get a beer at THAT Brewery, but get the pizza!
  • Guthook is essential for navigation and water report. Stay in close contact with the AZT group for any questions about water cache, safety, help with rides, etc.
  • If you take water from a cache carry out empties!
  • There are incredible trail angels along the trail. I only met some, but really wish I had reached out to more.
  • It’s hard but it rocks

And lastly, MANY THANKS to all of the contributing AZT thru-hikers who responded to the survey, including (but not limited to):

Bear Ryder, Bill, Brooklyn, Cleary, Crash, Cruise, Dakarti, Dan, Data, Double Orca, Farting Owl, Farvehar, Flex, Hiking Solo, Ice Man, Karts, Kremlin, No Butt, Mary Poppins, Mr.Cup, Oklahoma, One Eleven, One Ton, Pebbles, Phantom, QB, Saccrosse, Squirrel, Sweatlines, UOK, Washington

Please leave any comments and questions below!

Bare Burrito

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Please enjoy this amazingly delicious trail food recipe – an exciting version of rice and beans with lots of veggies. The veggies give you those important vitamins and minerals that are often lacking on the standard thru-hiker diet. Bonus it’s vegetarian, but easily made vegan by omitting the cheese. I based this on the Mary Janes Farm Bare Burrito, which is tasty but costs about $10 per meal. My goal was to create a delicious and easily prepared meal for a fraction of the price. I made a dozen or so for my AZT thru-hike and was very happy at how they turned out! A meal I never tired of, I ate these every few days for dinner. Hiking companions Mary and Dan tried one too and said they loved it. Try it for yourself and enjoy!

Ingredients
1/3 cup dehydrated rice (I dehydrated my own, but any kind of Minute Rice is great)
1/4 cup dehydrated refried beans (find it in the bulk bins at your grocery store)
3 tbsp dehydrated corn
1-2 tbsp dehydrated bell pepper
2-3 tbsp dried kale
1 tbsp dried zucchini or cabbage
1 tbsp dried carrots
1.5 tbsp cheese powder (I used cheddar, but any will do, even parm – or use real cheese)
2 tsp onion flakes
1/4 tsp garlic powder
dash of dried jalapenos or red pepper flakes
dash of salt and pepper
hot sauce of your choice, to taste (I’m partial to Tapatio packets)

Servings
1

Directions
At Home: Add all ingredients (except for hot sauce) into 1 quart sized or ziplock freezer bags. Shake to combine.
On Trail: Bring a few cups of water to a boil. Remove pot from heat. Pour boiling water into ziplock bag and stir and shake until ingredients are mixed thoroughly and hydrated to the proper level of hydration (tip: add a little more than you think you will need. you can always add more boiling water if it’s underhydrated). Let sit for 5-10 minutes before adding hot sauce to your liking. Eat!