You MUST have item X to complete the trail! Failure will come unless you listen to me!

I wasn’t planning on a post tonight, I am knee deep in grad school reports right tonight, but something has been festering in my mind lately and I have to get it off my chest. SO MANY BODY PARTS!

Why do people who write gear reviews for the AT use so many absolutes? “You must have this to complete a thru hike” or “You won’t make it 100 miles with this particular piece of gear” or “you shouldn’t even start the trail if you’re going to bring this”.

I know there are plenty of ex thru hikers who want to help out future hikers with their gear reviews, and by all means I thank them for it. I’ve been reading so many gear blogs to help gauge what I’m bringing and to help solve space/weight issues I stumble upon. Some of the authors absolutely love using absolutes. They love telling people they have to use this piece of equipment or you’ll never complete the trail. I know they have a lot of wisdom after their 2,000+ mile journey, but using absolutes in this situation is ridiculous.

Just because you’ve hiked the trail doesn’t make you the know all, be all god of the Appalachian Trail. People have completed the trail before not using the same gear as you did.

I come across this a lot when it comes to footwear. So many people will say in their gear blogs that you’ll never complete the trail in boots, you HAVE to use trail runner. Period. End of story. I myself am already set on using boots and and no one is going to change my mind. I have always loved wearing boots in the back country and I hate wearing trail runners in the back country. If it winds up being a mistake, I’m glad I made it. There is no learning unless you make mistakes first.

I know for a fact people have completed a thru hike wearing hiking boots. Trail runners aren’t waterproof (I’ve stood in a stream for 10 minutes with water up to my boot laces and my foot remained dry), they don’t provide ankle support or protection, and they’re not anywhere near as durable as boots. I hate hiking with wet feet, I can be unstable at times while hiking so ankle support has always been a big asset for me, and I don’t have the money to buy 5 pairs of trail runners.

The point of this is to state that everyone’s hike is their own, making everyone’s gear list their own. Bring what you feel will be most effective for you. Don’t bring something just because it worked well for a past thru hiker. Use those gear reviews/lists as a guide for yourself, but don’t copy them. I found a couple gear blogs and the authors listed all their thru hiking gear, talked about the pros and cons to each piece of equipment, then stated if they’d use it to thru hike again. Those are the best kinds. You can get a feel as to why something worked or didn’t work for someone. Then if there was a piece of gear they wouldn’t bring again, they still listed the advantages it did have. That is helpful. Someone telling me to never bring boots and that I will never finish with boots is just attention grabbing and not very helpful.

I keep using the boot example, but I’ve stumbled upon this use of absolutes when it comes to many types of gear. Tents vs. ultralight shelters, chemical vs pump water filtration, 1 sleeping bag vs. 1 summer and 1 winter sleeping bag, self inflating sleeping pad vs. foam, maps vs. no maps, more socks vs. less socks, etc. I have seen bloggers use absolutes when it comes to all of those gear categories. It amazes me they feel they have the authority to tell someone what they have to do instead of just suggesting something. All hikers need to find their own path (figuratively, we’re all hiking the same physical trail). If that means someone winds up making a packing mistake, but then learns from it, then more power to them. In the end, that’s more helpful than just doing what others tell you to.

My journey on the Appalachian Trail will be just that, mine. It’s my experience. It’s my pilgrimage. Even though I will be traveling with my girlfriend it will still be two trips. 1) My trip and experiences. 2) Her trip and experiences. We could come back from completing the trail and have completely different advice for future thru hikers. I haven’t hiked the trail yet, but I feel the best advice to any upcoming thru hiker is they need to make it their own trip. Don’t go to a particular trail festival just because someone said to. Don’t hike northbound or southbound just because someone said one is a better idea than the other. Don’t bring a piece of gear you’re not comfortable with just because someone said you have to. Don’t hike the trail because of the reasons someone else presented; hike the trail for your own reasons and ambitions.

The AT is a different journey for each traveler, there are no absolutes as to what makes for the best trip.

68 days til Katahdin! #SOBO #Maine2Georgia

“Do not follow where the path may lead.  Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


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