It’s that time of year again, when hopeful thru-hikers (PCT, AT, CDT) are getting ready to go. I know this because I love long distance hiking. Not enough to trudge obsessively 25 miles plus a day for five months, but three weeks to a month is what I crave. At any rate, I am reading their posts on Facebook groups and on trail journals with a bit of amusement. It happens every year–the Gear Frenzy.
People post their gear lists and strangers chime in to critique. People ask strangers about which tent to buy, or if they should have a quilt or a sleeping bag, and what comfort rating (does anyone else find it strange that many thru-hikers have never done a trip longer than a few days, and some have NEVER backpacked before?). People weigh their stuff on little scales, and, in my opinion, neglect hygiene and safety to get to the lowest ounce. I see people with combination shelter/ponchos and wonder how they will fare if caught in a snowstorm. I see people bringing pounds of electronic gear (Ipods, Ipads, phones, chargers) but only a tarp.
Not only Gear Frenzy is occurring, but people are asking how to poop in the woods. How much water to carry in the desert. What kind of soap to bring so they can wash. How to best charge their electronics, and where the best party trail towns are. It scares me.
Everyone has to start somewhere, I guess. I’m all for people experiencing wilderness. It’s a common truth that most wilderness visitors are fifty year old white people. There needs to be something to draw younger people there, and if hiking a long trail is it, bring it. I hope that this crop of hikers recognizes the hard work generations before them brought to saving the places they walk through. I hope they see a trail crew out there busting butts to build switchbacks and has a passing thought of joining one or donating money. I hope but I am not overly confident.
Section hikers like me are referred to as “gapers” by those who see themselves as better because they are thru-hikers. This isn’t everyone, of course. On my section hikes, I have met both good and bad. There was Diesel, a 40ish fellow who stopped to talk with us even though he was trying to put in a 30 mile day. Another man said gently that our fifteen mile day was “Great!” (We learned later he generally did 40 mile days). There are all kinds out there, and it’s easy to let a few spoil the experience.
The one thing I think is positive about Gear Frenzy is that several posters are frequenting small cottage industries. That can only help the rest of us as the technology improves and the prices moderate. Still, I think some hikers are pushing pretty close to the edge of safety. I’ll be watching as they all head north.