The Continental Divide Trail

Hiking the Continental Divide TrailBackpacking the Continental Divide Trail

Continental Divide Trail

Continental Divide Trail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


CDT (Photo credit: asafantman)

English: Looking north on the Continental Divi...

English: Looking north on the Continental Divide Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness between the Palisade Meadows cutoff and the Knife Edge – of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) begins at the Mexican border in New Mexico and runs 3100 miles through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, part of Idaho, and Montana. It is not well-marked and is still a work in progress. Many thru-hikers start at the Canadian border and hike south; others will begin in the south and head north.

If you attempt to thru-hike this trail, carry a GPS, become good at navigation–map and compass–and go with a partner. I haven’t finished this trail but hiking it alone, most of my thinking time was spent trying to confirm where I was and trying not to get lost.  I did get lost several times and had to backtrack to figure things out.

Study the CDT website:  At the CDT website you can learn about the trail and buy maps.

Read thru-hiker journals:  An excellent way to prepare is to read the journals of successful CDT thru-hikers. Go to the site above and look at the journals; print one out and study it. Most journalists discuss gear, navigation, how they handled snow, the towns where they resupplied, techniques, etc.

Invest in a On the left side, scroll down to CDT. The most helpful book for me was Yogi’s CDT Handbook (Planning Guide and Town Guide) by Jackie McDonnell. Request the latest edition.

You won’t meet many thru-hikers on this trail. I didn’t meet any, although I didn’t finish. To finish in one season, you need to average about twenty miles a day; there were days I couldn’t do that, mostly because of snow. But it is a great experience to hike this “King of Trails.”

Backpacking Lite

Pacific Crest Trail logo

Pacific Crest Trail logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take a look at the backpacks in the pictures. Both packs are empty, but the red one, with external frame, is already twice as heavy as the green one. And, because it is much bigger, you will cram extra stuff into it.

The red pack is almost identical to the one I used on the Appalachian Trail in ’03, and it topped out around 47 pounds (including food, but not water). I don’t think I ever got it under 40 pounds, and this contributed to a knee problem I had out there.

I learned the hard way to buy a light pack and to pack light. I used the smaller, no-frame pack on the Pacific Crest Trail and topped it out at 31 pounds. I doubt my knees would survive the A.T. today carrying over 40 pounds plus water. Today you will find ultra-lite long-distance hikers who carry less than 20 pounds!

Ray Jardine was the early guru of light backpacking. I studied his 1999 book Beyond Backpacking and learned a lot. And I’ve since read his later one, Trail Life: Ray Jardine’s Lightweight Backpacking. Reducing pack weight is the number one issue for any long-distance hiker. If it isn’t a necessity, don’t haul it. Modify what you have. Rather than the old Boy Scout metal fork and spoon, buy a plastic spork. Think tarp rather than tent in milder weather. Get a tiny stove. Do you absolutely need a stove?

What a difference a light pack makes.  Happy Trails!

The Appalachian Trail

Hiking the Appalachian Trail--White MountainsBackpacking and camping on the Appalachian TrailTaking a Long Hike on the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is, perhaps, the most famous hiking trail in the world. Right now, late June/early July, most thru-hikers are about half-way to their A.T. quest.

A great way to learn about the A.T.  is to read the journals of hikers currently on the trail, or the journals of those who finished in a prior year. Go to and make a selection. I can go back to ’03, for example, and read journals of A.T. hikers I met that year. Or, I can follow someone this year, post by post.

Whether you plan to thru-hike, or hike the A.T. in sections, you will want to study the offerings on the official website:  Here, you can also purchase maps, books, and guides, to suit your needs.

One book that is particularly helpful is The A.T. Guide by David Miller–get the most recent edition. Another book I like is How to Hike the A.T. by Michelle Ray.

One regret I had, was not learning about flora and fauna before I thru-hiked; I would have known more about the pretty wildflowers in the picture above. The Appalachian Trail: A Visitor’s Companion by Leonard Adkins would have served me nicely. An extended hike is less tiring and more enjoyable if you are in tune with your surroundings.

Here’s to all A.T. hikers in 2015.

Self-inflating mattress or Foldout Pad

hikers' bed rollsBed-rolls for campers, hikers, and backpackers

Most hikers on an extended hike will carry either a self-inflating mattress, or some type of non-inflatable pad. The pictures show a purple mattress (not inflated) and a yellowish foldout pad. Either item goes under your sleeping bag.

If you are looking only for comfort, the self-inflating mattress (this one from Therm-a-rest) is the way to go—hands down. But there are advantages to the pad, and this Z-lite pad (also made by Therm-a-rest) is very popular.

I’ve settled on the non-inflatable pad, and here’s why.

Light weight–Pads weigh less than inflatable mattresses; this pad weighs less than a pound.

Indestructible–No worries about puncturing it, or wrecking the valve.

Convenience–Shake it loose and it’s ready to go. When I take a meal, especially in wet or rocky areas, it’s the first thing I grab to sit on.

Pack Support–As more hikers go ultralight with frameless rucksacks, this pad provides pack support.

I admit that I miss the cushy comfort of an inflatable mattress when I sleep. For convenience, however, especially on breaks, when you want to smother ants and insects with something other than your pants, when you want to rest and air out your socks and footwear, nothing beats the pad. So why not carry both? Well, one day I may.

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest TrailCamping in the Sierras on the Pacific Crest trailBackpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Sierras

Some hikers claim the Pacific Crest Trail ( to be the most scenic long-distance hiking trail in the world.

“Zigzagging its way from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington, the PCT boasts the greatest elevation changes of any of America’s National Scenic Trails, allowing it to pass through six out of seven of North America’s ecozones including high and low desert, old-growth forest and arctic-alpine country. Indeed, the PCT is a trail of diversity and extremes. From scorching desert valleys in Southern California to rain forests in the Pacific Northwest, the PCT offers hikers and equestrians a unique, varied experience.”

That description, from the PCT website above, is true; it’s a grand and beautiful hike. But it will take planning and a bit of luck to thru-hike it successfully. For planning and actually doing the hike, I recommend five paperback books. The first book, Pacific Crest Trail Data Bookby Wilderness Press, is indispensable. It lists landmarks, mileage, elevations, facilities from south to north for the entire 2,663 miles. The second is Yogi’s PCT Handbook, by Jackie McDonnell ( It provides detailed information from an experienced thru-hiker, and it will help you prepare your thru-hike—required permits, resupply points, packing, gear, weather, etc.

Three other books, all from Wilderness Press, are: PCT–Mexican Border to Tuolumne Meadows; PCT–Tuolumne Meadows to the Oregon Border; PCT–California Border to the Canadian Border. To reduce pack weight, I removed only the pages I needed to reach the next supply point. This may seem like a lot of books, but you can browse these books as you plan your hike and then focus on important sections later. Familiarize yourself with the PCT website, keep checking snow conditions, and you’ll do fine.

Hiking Tip–How to avoid blisters

Pacific Crest Trail logo

Pacific Crest Trail logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Blister on foot three days after trea...

English: Blister on foot three days after treatment with tincture of benzoin. It does not and never did hurt (with a bandage, this person walked miles (0 km) that day). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hiking without blisters

Most long-distance hikers, at some point, will get blisters on their feet. The usual precautions are: break in new footwear, start slowly and build up to bigger mileage, wear a liner sock, or don’t wear a liner sock, keep band-aids and bandages handy. All well and good; do whatever works. But if you really want to head off blister problems, practice the tip below.

Tip: Air out your feet. Yep, that’s the best advice I was ever given on avoiding blisters, and I learned it at a seminar in New Hampshire that prepared AT thru-hikers. The advice has served me well. In the photo above, I’m at Kearsarge Pass in the Sierras on the Pacific Crest Trail. My boots and socks are airing out; my feet are absorbing air and sunlight. After break, I will put what was my left sock on my right foot and reverse the process during my next break. I will also wear my socks inside out after the first break and reverse this several times a day.

This may seem like overkill, but I’ve never gotten a raw blister on my feet. Bacteria thrive in moist, stinky, air-deprived spots. And these are the spots that chafe and turn into blisters. The trick is to air out your feet, and keep your socks dry. I probably carry too many socks, but I change out of wet socks, hang the wet ones on my pack straps, and put on new socks. Like you, I hate blisters.

Pets on Trails

Backpacking and camping in the Jim Bridger Wilderness with a dogHiking dogs on trails

Hikers with dogs are common, but some parklands don’t allow dogs on established trails. If you are thru-hiking the AT, for example, you are not supposed to bring your pet when you hike through Smoky Mountains National Park. It is wise to check beforehand and make proper arrangements.

Dogs on an extended hike with their master usually carry their own food and supplies. The dog in the picture on the left carries her own collapsible bowl, food, and a mat. The dog in the other picture, Danny, loves to run through brooks and streams, so he is equipped with a waterproof food bag.

On rocky terrain, claws and paws can get beat up pretty bad. To avoid this, on the rugged John Muir Trail, I saw dogs with “paw boots,” little leather booties velcroed around their paws. You can buy them at hiking stores.

Dogs give warnings of other animals and possible problems. Most of all, they are great company for a lone hiker. Who else would listen to your sermonizing?

Jim Bridger Wilderness

Hiking, backpacking the Jim Bridger Wilderness Area                           Camping in the Jim Bridger Wilderness Area                                                                        The Jim Bridger Wilderness is located along the Continental Divide on the west slope of the Wind River Range in Wyoming. Over 600 miles of trails meander through this pristine wilderness, which contains a rich diversity of wildlife. Moose, elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and bears are common. Several years ago, I hiked with the group shown into a scenic wonderland that, in spots, reminded me of Yosemite.

The background image wrapping this blog site was also taken in the Jim Bridger Wilderness. The term “wilderness” is appropriate; motorized vehicles and mechanized equipment, such as a chainsaw, are not allowed here. Peace and quiet prevail. If you truly want to disappear and chill out, this would be a good place to take a long hike.

Hiking Tip–Physical preparation

Preparing for a thru-hike of a long-distance trail

How does one physically prepare for an extended hike? Most people, if they are heavy, will attempt to drop weight and work out. Many in decent shape will do more running, or jump on a treadmill. All of this is good, but there is something else you need to do.

Take a look at the pictures. In the one with the blaze on the tree, that is the actual trail to the left of the blaze. This is a particularly rocky section of the AT in Pennsylvania. No matter how many times you jog around the high school track, your legs and feet are not prepared for this. Nor roots. Roots are everywhere and anywhere–even on rocks like shown above. Tip: Start backpacking in fields, forests, and parklands near you, and build up to shakedown hikes over diverse terrain.

This way your legs and body adapt to field conditions. Although I haven’t done it, I think climbing up and down stairs in a stadium, with your backpack, will help you if you live in the city. Best of all, build yourself up to a full backpack with all attachments (tent, sleeping pad, etc.) and get outside and go. Don’t do too much, too soon, too fast; build yourself up.

The Triple Crown Hiking Trails

Cover of "Hiking the Triple Crown : Appal...

Cover via Amazon

Hiking the Appalachian TrailBackpacking and hiking the Pacific Crest TrailHiking the Continental Divide Trail


Long-distance hikers commonly refer to America’s triple crown hiking trails. The pictures, top to bottom, follow the order below.

Appalachian Trail (AT)  This is the grand daddy. It runs through 14 states from Georgia to Maine and is 2178 miles long. Many aspiring thru-hikers start with this trail. Most begin in Georgia, in Spring,  hoping to follow seasonal weather as they plod north. You should allow six months to hike the AT. By general consent, the toughest parts are the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Mahoosucs in Maine. It is still the  most popular long-distance hiking trail in America–maybe the world.

Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)  Incredibly scenic and gaining in popularity, the PCT runs from the Mexican border into British Columbia, Canada. It is 2650 miles long, longer than the AT, but most thru-hikers finish it in less than six months. This may be due to the long, wide, scenic traverses along the “crests” of mountain chains, which make for easier hiking. Where much of the AT is dense, the PCT is more open. The PCT includes part of the Mojave Desert, Yosemite, and the Cascade Mountains.

Continental Divide Trail (CDT)  Still a work in progress, this rigorous but rewarding trail also extends from the Mexican border to Canada. It is about 3100 miles long and has a spectacular run through the Rocky Mountains. Navigation skills–map and compass–are needed to thru-hike this trail. Many sections are not well marked and one needs to constantly focus on bearing to avoid getting lost–lest you end up like the bones above, which I hiked by in southern New Mexico.

For a thorough description of these three trails, I suggest the book Hiking the Triple Crown, by Karen Berger.