This is a guest blog post from Hillsound Ambassador Heather Anderson also known as National Geographic Adventurer of the year. Heather holds the overall self-supported Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Pacific Crest Trail (2013)–hiking it in 60 days, 17 hours, 12 min, which broke the previous men's record by four days and established the first female record. She also holds the female self-supported FKT on the Appalachian Trail (2015) in a time of 54 days, 7 hours, 48 minutes, and the Arizona Trail (2016) which she completed in 19 days, 17 hours, 9 minutes.
Becoming Adventure Ready
I began my thru-hiking journey in 2003 when I completed the Appalachian Trail for the first time. Despite not being raised as a hiker, I immediately fell in love with hiking and especially living for months on end in the mountains. However, there wasn’t a lot of up to-date info available about thru-hiking at that time. Prior to starting, I studied books with photos of people with external frame packs and cut-off jeans. A large part of my first long-distance hiking experience was learning through trial and error.
In the subsequent 19 years, I’ve completed the AT, PCT, and CDT each 3 times total + many other trails and mountains. I’ve truly dedicated my life to experiencing the outdoors through long adventures and to learning to incorporate nature into my daily life. As I’ve continued to learn and grow, I’ve also seen the amount of information available, especially online, about gear and trip planning grow to a nearly overwhelming amount. Hikers today face the opposite challenge I did: too much information. Yet, the result is the same…learning through trial and error while on trail.
So, when my publisher reached out to me about writing a guidebook to long-distance hiking preparation with nutritionist and fellow thru-hiker Katie Gerber, I knew I had to say yes. Our vision for Adventure Ready was to not just provide information about what works for us and other hikers, but to share our process. We packed it with everything we wished we’d had available when we started out and focused on providing guidance based on our extensive experience to help readers make good choices. Adventure Ready goes beyond reviews and “buy this” recommendations. It empowers readers to select gear and plan their trips according to their own needs.
While my first thru-hike seemed like an insurmountable logistical challenge, pre-trip planning has become a fun part of the process for me over the years. However, it can be difficult to know exactly what you should be researching, especially if you haven’t hiked before. Now that I know exactly what needs to be done and what can be left to unfold as the trip progresses it’s not only easier, but also an enjoyable aspect of a many months long trip.
Solid trip planning starts with defining your parameters, researches likely conditions, builds an itinerary, chooses appropriate gear, develops a food strategy, and prepares you physically and mentally for the adventure. Spreadsheets can be your friend here! However, even the initial steps of choosing a route and deciding when to hike it can be pretty daunting. Adventure Ready is designed to walk the reader through all the steps from route selection to seasonality to how to choose the right gear and optimize your nutrition for maximum enjoyment and success.
While our guide is meant to teach you how to evaluate gear options for yourself, no two hikers are the same, and expecting a one size fits all answer is a recipe for disaster. Proper gear choices vary from person to person and route to route. The pack or layering system that works for one hike, is not the one that works for another. I’ve hiked a wide variety of trails in all conditions. Sometimes you’re knee deep in mud, and sometimes you’re searching for even a drop of water. The right gear depends on many factors including the climate you’re hiking in, expected route conditions, personal preference, resupply and water frequency, and more.
While Adventure Ready provides many tips for making good selections, there remains a bit of trial and error necessary. No book is a replacement for hands on learning. However, the more you know in advance, the better odds you have of only having to try a few options before finding the right one. We focus on providing tools for discernment and also include a variety of ways you can lessen the financial impact of experimenting with gear including borrowing, buying used, allocation of dollars to more crucial items, etc.
Check out my website wordsfromthewild.net for ordering information as well as my personal gear lists and other resources.
Byline: Heather Anderson is a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, three-time Triple Crown thru-hiker, and professional speaker whose mission is to inspire others to “Dream Big, Be Courageous.” She is the author of two hiking memoirs Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home and Mud, Rocks, Blazes: Letting Go on the Appalachian Trail as well as a preparatory guide to long-distance hiking Adventure Ready. Find her on Instagram @_WordsFromTheWild_ or her website wordsfromthewild.net