Planning a 100 Mile Hike
September 8, 2009 9:07 AM   Subscribe

We want to do a 100 mile backpack trip over a week next spring. What do we need to know?

A group of 4-5 friends wants to hike the 105 miles of the Appalachian Trail that run through Shenandoah National Park. We're tentatively planning the trip for late May or early June. All of us live within 20 minutes of the park, so it's terrain we already know pretty well.

All of us have plenty of hiking experience, but only some of us have extensive backcountry camping experience. We'll be doing some shorter 2-3 trips over the fall/winter/spring to "practice" and test out the gear/distances.

But aside from that, what should we do to plan? Are there books you'd recommend? Tips? Trail Wisdom? I'd love to hear anything and everything you think we should know to make this trip amazing.
posted by MorningPerson to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Cache your food if possible or have someone bring it to you along the way.

Go as light as you can.

Skip the hiking boots, you won't really need them much anyway, and go for a pair of trail runners as every ounce on your foot is double that when you are hiking.

I would suggest using a black diamond betamid, as they are light and really easy to set up. The Betamid is a floorless 2-person shelter. The Betamid weighs only 2 1/4 pounds.

If you guys are in REALLY good shape then 15 to 20 miles a day isn't too brutal, but if you are planning on doing 100 miles in a week, that is about what you are looking at. I have done 20 miles a day for 4 days and it beat me down. I would suggest taking 10 days and really enjoying yourselves.

Take a deck of cards, a camp pillow, and a small book/journal.

Gu works great- I hate eating on the trail, but this stuff really works wonders and keeps my energy up- tastes awful, but works awesome.

Obviously Ibuprofen and moleskin (make sure your shoes are well broken in).

Sorry if you already know most of this, I'm just trying to think of the stuff that's saved me.
posted by TheBones at 9:16 AM on September 8, 2009

I'm not familiar with the trail, but it sounds like a great trip. My initial concern is the distance in that short a period. That's pretty intense. I hiked ~14 miles in one day at the end of a week of hiking, and I was useless the next day, even without a full pack.

Do you know where suitable camp sites are? I'd plan the days based on where you can stop for the night, not arbitrary distances to meet the goal within a set amount of time. Good luck, and have fun!
posted by filthy light thief at 9:22 AM on September 8, 2009

as above, you'll be racing to cover that distance. to do it, you need to go light. i don't know anything about the quality of trail there, but unless it's like a sidewalk, it's going to slow you down more than you expect. on a sidewalk, i might walk 5mph, while on a rugged coast or mountain trail, that might me more like 1-2mph. add in 50-80lbs of supplies and you're on what we used to lovingly call a "death march."

i suggest you extend your trip to ten days, like the TheBones sez.

oh course, if you're endurance athletes, or you intend to sleep rough and eat raw squirrel meat, just ignore me.
posted by klanawa at 9:57 AM on September 8, 2009

I'll second taking your time. Reasonably fit people could do 100 miles in a few as three or four days, but it wouldn't be any fun. Go slow and enjoy the scenery.

More important the moleskin on blitsters is using duct tape to prevent them; the second you feel yourself getting a hot spot on your foot, stop, take off your boots, and put duct tape directly on to the skin. This will keep the blisters from forming. However, if the skin is at all broken or if a blister has already formed, DO NOT put duct tape directly on it or you'll rip the new skin off whenever you remove the tape.

Annie's Mac and miscellaneous instant rice dinners are my favorite trail food. Bring some protein in the form of pepperoni or salami to cut into dinners. A little goes a long way.

Also, trekking poles are magical when you're tried. With 4-5 people, I would bring one set just in case someone gets tired or hurt. Even if you don't like them or have never used them, it's good to have them along just in case.

Also, you can get ~40 ft of utility cord for about 15 bucks and it has 1000 uses out on the trail.

Regarding boots vs. shoes, if it's going to be really wet there in the spring (I know it is up in New Hampshire) I'd lean toward boots.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:12 AM on September 8, 2009

That sounds overly-ambitious to me, too. you're going to be trudging at a fast clip all day with no time to stop & enjoy anything trying to make 20 miles a day. I've mostly backpacked in the Calif. Sierras so it's probably rougher-going, but anything mote than 5 miles a day out there seemed like a death-march.

Trail wisdom? We always carried fishing poles because trout were easy to catch/cook in the sierras, though again, I don't know if that applies to your destination, but a fish weighs zero ounces in your pack since you eat it the day you catch it, and it's a wonderful respite from freeze-dried.

Also, make sure everyone has their own topo sheet, a compass & can orient using them. Getting lost bites.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:28 AM on September 8, 2009

Do your homework. I don't know the trail in that area, but I'm sure there are online resources. If it is flat trail-runners are fine, rocky, hilly, likely wet I'd stay with the hiking boots for the ankle protections. Also a walking pole can be really good in those marginal situations.

I've heard lots of stories of bear on the AT so pack your food and all smelly items (toothpaste, deodorant etc) separately and run a bear bag up a tree at night.

Bring a small water filter! and a small vial of iodine tablets in case of emergency
1st aid kit
Bring a lightweight camp stove and fuel
GPS with loaded maps (the topo maps and compass mention above as well)

and as others said pack as light as you can get away with without leaving anything important behind. I really like Bryson's A Walk in the Woods , but would recommend not packing at all like he packed. Having a decent group size mean syou'll be able to spread out some of the equipment and make it easier.
posted by edgeways at 10:43 AM on September 8, 2009

I don't know about the area that your hiking but I would say plan out where your going to be staying each night so you have a goal to reach. Also this will allow you to make sure there's a good water source around that you can use, there's nothing worse then running out of water and not knowing when you can get some more.

One thing that we take when we go hiking is two-way radios. This allows you to split up if one of you is falling behind but to still keep in touch. If you get the higher end models it will have a weather channel on it.

Something like this can be used in case of an emergency but also makes a good ground cloth or tarp. Depending of the weather an temperature, I have used a hammock and sleeping bag instead of a tent while hiking to save space. Something like this, of course in the spring it might be to rainy/cool to use it.

Good luck! I wish I could do a trip like this.
posted by lilkeith07 at 10:52 AM on September 8, 2009

Response by poster: I guess I should have said that we've hiked quite a bit along the AT in Shenandoah already. We have always averaged 2.5 - 3 mph across this terrain. (even carrying 50+ of gear) It's really pretty easy walking - gentle grades, good footing, nothing too complicated to cross.

If we stick to the plan of a week-long trip, we'll need to cover 15 miles a day. We could easily extend the trip to 10 days to make the day segments shorter. Maybe I'll bring that up to the group.

Most of the AT Thru Hikers we've talked to cover anywhere from 18-22 miles a day when they're passing through SNP. That's what had us thinking that a week doing 15 miles per day was pretty reasonable. Maybe not...
posted by MorningPerson at 11:14 AM on September 8, 2009

Best answer: Spend a lot of time coordinating food and gear among the group. Four people on a weekend backpack can do fine planning individual meals, each with their own salt and Tabasco sauce. For a 100 mile trip you’ll want to bring one small salt shaker, one can of parm cheese, not four. Maybe two pots for the group and two stoves. One water filter with enough spare parts to fix what might break, with some iodine as a backup. Basically, nothing extra, no redundancies. Each person might have a few bandaids and some moleskin but you’d want one group first aid kit. Small tents or tarps, depending on the weather/bug situation.

Bring a small tarp to cook / hang out under in case it rains. Know how to tie a tautline hitch, which is the one knot every camper should know. Anything else can be accomplished with a bunch of square knots. A tarp is one of those luxuries that can really bring a sense of sanity to a wet backpack.

At least a couple of you, preferably all of you, should be trained in wilderness first-aid. Regular first aid doesn’t work in the woods. (“Step 1… call 911”) Don’t rely on cell phones to get you out of a jam.

Don’t bring a guidebook. Bring photocopies of the pages of the guidebook that are relevant to the trip and any side trips/bailout routes. I’ve been on plenty of group trips where everyone seems to have a guidebook with them, totaling about ten pounds of books for two relevant pages.

One small repair kit for the group with a bit of duct tape, some large safety pins, a few electrical tie-wraps, an extra waste buckle, some cord, and a tent pole repair sleeve. Know who’s carrying it.

Carrying ten days worth of food and fuel on your back is perfectly doable, provided you plan well. Know your stove(s) and how much fuel they burn so you don’t take too much extra fuel. Don’t skimp on food. You’ll be burning a lot of calories every day and you’ll need to eat. Bring things you’ll enjoy and that you’ll enjoy after ten days. Bring real food. Bring variety. You ever eat Powerbars five days in a row?

Pack in such a way as to minimize trash. Get rid of all unnecessary packaging at home. Don’t dump any trash or extra gear in the woods, no matter how tempting it may be. Don’t be That Guy. That Guy is the reason there are so many rules in what should be a place free from rules.

The only extra clothes you should have are an extra pair of socks. One pair of everything else. Yeah, you’re gonna stink at the end, so what? Take pride in your stink, wear it like a badge of honor. One of the best parts about backpacking is scaring waitresses and convenience store employees on the ride home. Pack for the area/season so you don’t have too many or too little clothing. Don’t bring a heavy sleeping bag if the temperature won’t be too low, just bring a light blanket. Again, I’m not familiar with the area.

Keep your feet clean and dry as much as you possibly can. Clean and dry = long term health and comfort.

Plan some bail-out points along the way. Either spot a car or find out other options in case you get tired/injured and can’t do the whole trip. Know where each driver is keeping his keys and make sure someone else has a spare key for his/her car. Nothing could be worse than getting out of the woods after ten days and being stuck at the trailhead.

If there’s a place mid-way to cache some food and fuel it can really make life much easier and would make the early days less strenuous. This might take from the whole self-sufficiency aspect though, so I wouldn’t blame you if you nixed this idea.

100 miles is doable. 100 miles in a week is doable for an AT thru-hiker who has been on the trail for a few months and is conditioned. It’s really going to be pushing it if you’ve never gone that far that fast. What if it rains all week? What if it’s exceptionally cold or hot? A lot of this will be mental preparation as well as physical. Is the group compatible? Will you be compatible after a week of rain and when Joey hasn’t once volunteered to get water or do the dishes?

Make sure everyone has the same idea about where to meet up at the end of each day. For a 100 mile trip you’ll probably want to spread out a bit so each of you can hike at your own pace, but plan to meet a few times a day. “Ok, our next meetup is the Joe Blow shelter… everyone should be there by 2:00. If someone doesn’t show by then one person will go back to look…” etc. Don’t wait until someone is missing before deciding how you’ll deal with it. Make sure everyone knows which way to go at trail junctions and if anyone needs to go off trail for any reason they leave something behind to mark where they got off. In Bill Bryson’s book A Walk In the Woods (A fun book that pretty much tells you exactly how not to hike the AT) he loses his partner for a couple of scary days.

Although there is safety in numbers, make sure a few people at home know your itinerary.

In the car at the destination trailhead you should have clean clothes, some baby wipes, some beer, and a bag of potato chips. I always find I crave salt after spending any time in the woods.

Have fun!
posted by bondcliff at 11:20 AM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

A couple more thoughts:

If you are carrying a 50 to 80 lb pack, please please reconsider doing this, or at least pare down- you should really only be looking at 30 to 40 at the most.

Double socks, a liner and an over sock will help take care of blisters. I ABOSLUTELY LOVE Bridgedales!

They don't stink, as much, and don't crust up after a day or 2 hiking.

Anti-chafing stick because the last thing you want to do is hike 100 miles with bad chafing down there.

Anti-microbial and sunblock capeline (check patagonia).

If you get chord, go to REI and buy the 2 mm pmi utility cord, light, versatile, and cheap.

As for shoes, again go with cross country shoes that have goretex so they won't soak your feet if you get them wet. 5.10 makes a great approach shoe, so does la sportiva and, strangely enough, patagonia.

If you are doing any river crossings, you may want a pair of chacos, I wouldn't buy any flips other than chacos because I love them and got married in them.

The zip off nylon pants from REI. They are convertible, comfortable, somewhat water repellant and stylish- jk.

Trekking poles are awesome, great suggestion!

Instant water bottle water treatment. So much better than pumping or boiling- this is on my list for my next trip.

As for food, I have never found a good food source, except for MREs, strangely enough. They are light, fast and pretty good (relatively speaking). All you need is water, it does the rest for you! The freeze dried camping crap is just that- crap, ugh, I don't think I could ever take another kung pao chicken or eggs with bacon.

An extra stuff sack- you can use it for wet/stinky clothes, food hanging, a pillow if you don't want to take a camp pillow, and general peace of mind.

Purel- I learned in bolivia, "purel or pure hell!"

I'm sure there will be more to come, just... can't... think... now.
posted by TheBones at 11:33 AM on September 8, 2009

FANTASTIC Bondcliff- you said everything I wish I had said but couldn't.
posted by TheBones at 11:36 AM on September 8, 2009

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