Tag Archives: Hiking the Colorado Trail

Lessons From The Colorado Trail

As of June 19th 2013 I officially finished the Colorado Trail. I finished the last stretch from Molas Pass to Durango in three and a half days starting out around 1pm on Sunday June 16th.

I just read over my previous posts and it amazes me that no matter how many hours I put into researching what I needed for the trail, it always takes getting out there and hiking to learn the things that work best for you.

Lessons From The Trail:

1. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that wool socks are great in winter but awful in summer. My feet were way too hot and the hotter your feet are the more likely you will sweat and get blisters. My biggest life savers ended up being a pair of Darn Tough socks. They were made of wool too but have much tighter stitching, are thinner, and more durable. They fit more like a tight glove on your foot then any other sock and that is exactly what you need on the trail.

2. I didn’t necessarily follow my original food recommendations. I ended up eating granola for breakfast as I was hiking (although I still enjoyed pop tarts). I switched to my special trail mix that had peanut M&M’s mixed with the Archer Farms Sunny Cranberry Trail Mix you can buy from target. I’m still pretty fond of that trail mix. A Clif Bar and some type of fruit bar while hiking depending on my appetite. And Ramen noodles with Sun Dried Tomatoes and olive oil that I would carry in those little applesauce pouches you can buy for kids. I still followed my plan on eating dinner around 5pm or so then hiking a few more miles before camp. I usually finished by having some dark chocolate just before bed to help give me some energy in the morning (and as a treat for a good day of hiking) Be sure to take dark chocolate because milk chocolate melts too easily in your pack. Lastly, I may try to go without a stove on a few upcoming trips to see how it works for me.

3. I also learned a very important rule about water. For me, I could go about five miles on just one liter of water. If my next water source was 10 miles away I had to have two liters with me to start. I did two separate sections where the water supply was 20 miles apart therefore I carried a gallon of water (8 pounds of water). This is a rule you discover for yourself. A CDT (Continental Divide Trail) hiker told me he could get by on one liter of water for every 8 miles. Some people may need a liter of water for every 3 or 4 miles. It just depends on how much you are carrying, the terrain, how hot it is, etc. Also I think I may start using Aqua Mira tablets instead of a filter.

4. Always carry a smile. We need to be friendly on the trail. As I mentioned in my Final Thoughts post I had a lot of help from people giving me needed items to hitches into town. Being friendly helps a lot.

5. I just met a guy hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) for his 4th time. He is really making me think about pushing the ultralight limits. I went the cheap way which isn’t really the light way of buying gear. I could use a smaller pack, a down sleeping bag, an even smaller pad, and possibly a smaller shelter system. I feel like I take too much unnecessary gear too. I dumped a lot of stuff after my first week of hiking. As of right now I’m thinking the two most mandatory second clothes items are a change of socks and a change of underwear. You can wash those almost every day and keep cycling them out. Yes, your pants and shirt may get dirty and smelly but you are hiking and don’t really need to worry about having a second set. That being said I feel like having a lightweight pair of running shorts is worth it in case you want to wash those pants. And you can always wear your jacket while you wash your shirt, etc. A guy I met on the trail did just that when he went to do his laundry in town. I also learned from him that soap is very polluting and is another thing that attracts animals so it isn’t really worth taking. Rinsing with water seems to do just fine.

6. I think I am having a hard time justifying carrying around my Nikon D40 with a 55-200mm lens. It does let me capture some great pictures, but the vast majority of pictures I take on the trail are landscape pictures. I mainly take the zoom to get wildlife pictures, but I am rarely fast enough to capture the wildlife I do see. On future trips I may just rely on my smartphone camera (My iphone 4 has done a pretty good job), or get a small pocket camera that is easy to carry and lightweight.

7. It’s about hiking. For me, I don’t do really well sitting in camp for a long time, even if it is in a great place. If I am going to be on a long trail, I am going to hike the majority of the day. If I am going to go sit in a place and camp I am going to backpack in a very different way. If I am just going to hike into a location and stay a night or two, and hike out again a lot of these things go out the window. If you are going to hike the miles you have to go as lightweight as possible. For me, going more miles means I get to see more and possibly do more. If I want to relax somewhere then I do a completely different trip. I think its just good to think about your reasons for doing a long hike in the first place. A lot of people go to just get away from it all, and I don’t think that is a good reason. You have to go cause you want that type of experience. Pushing your limits and really joining with natures rhythms and cycles. When you hike those long miles it is hard to think about anything else then where your next water is or where you are going to sleep tonight. You learn that if you work with nature, she will treat you well. If you don’t work with nature, if you try to do things your way, it won’t work out so well. It is an overall very humbling experience, and yet empowering at the same time if you let it be.

Below is a picture of what I got to wake up to one day on the trail. These kind of experiences make all the miles and pain worth it.

Waking up to Mule Deer on the Colorado Trail

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Hiking the Colorado Trail – Final Preperations

Today is the big day. I am having a big breakfast at the Bagel Deli and then I will be on my way.

Most of my final preparations have revolved around food. I decided to replace my oatmeal with granola. I just wanted to be able to hit the trail early and not have to worry about cooking oatmeal in the morning. I know a lot of people would prefer a hot breakfast in the morning, but I think I would rather have less mess and no clean up.

I also bought about three times as much dark chocolate as I originally had. Ounce for ounce it has more calories and tastes better than just about any food out there.

My final pack weight with my first week’s worth of food is 29 pounds. I am pretty happy with that weight. I have about 12 pounds of food so that makes my base pack weight around 17 pounds. My projected pack weight for this trip has always hovered between 16 and 19 pounds, as I mentioned in earlier posts, so I am pretty ok with how it turned out.

On weekend trips I know I can easily get my pack weight down to around 12 pounds with only about 4-5 pounds of food.

Basically I took out an extra shirt, a camp towel, and camp trowel. I added a stainless steel wood stove and my new knife. Seems like when you take something out something else replaces the lost weight. Going lightweight is kind of hard after a certain point.

In any case, I am very excited to start this journey. I have never done anything like it and that is part of the appeal. The other part of the appeal is the self sufficiency in it all. I have always loved the idea that everything I need is on my back. It is a lovely simplicity.

I am looking forward to the alone time, but I am also looking forward to spending time with two of my good friends in the great outdoors. I have considered taking my Kindle to do some reading while I am out there, but I think I am leaving it behind. To focus on my own thoughts instead of other people’s thoughts. To have my entertainment come from the natural world rather than the digital.

Seems best to end this post with a few quotes…

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” -Steven Wright

“But the beauty is in the walking — we are betrayed by destinations.” -Gwyn Thomas

“If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.” -Charles Dickens

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” -Ellen DeGeneres

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Hiking the Colorado Trail – Clothing Considerations

In my last post I covered some of the bigger items that you need when backpacking. A backpack, sleeping bag, shelter, water filter, and stove. Today I figured I would cover clothes.

Clothing deserves its own article because there are a ton of things to consider when choosing the right clothing for the environment you are going to be in.

Clothing Rules for the Trail

1. Never wear cotton – The caveat to this rule is that you can wear it if you want to be cold. The problem with cotton is that once it is wet it loses all of its insulating ability and takes forever to dry. This can be inconvenient in warmer situations and deadly in colder situations.

2. Dress one layer warmer than you need – This is mostly a mental or subjective consideration, but you never know when the weather is going to drop 20 or 30 degrees within an hour or two. It can and does happen so always be prepared with an extra layer of clothing.

3. Long sleeves and pants for sunny weather – A lot of people rely on sunscreen to protect them from the sun, but clothes are 100 times better. If you have loose fitting clothes you shouldn’t be any hotter in them than shorts and a t-shirt.

4. Bring proper headgear – Whether it is hot or cold what you wear on your head is probably your main clothing consideration. You should have a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a bandana to wear around your neck to protect you from the sun. If it is cold you should have a wool or fleece cap, sunglasses to protect you from snow blindness, and a balaclava or scarf to keep your neck warm.

5. Layer, layer, layer – In almost every instance wearing proper layers is better than wearing say a jacket that does it all. Layering is a lighter and more flexible solution than an “all-in-one” jacket. Layering also helps you control your temperature better.

These aren’t all the rules but they are a good start to help you think about what clothes you should plan on wearing. With that being said here is my list from the bottom up…

Shoes – Saucony Peregrine Trail Runners. Most hikers seem to be moving toward lighter trail running shoes as opposed to boots. If you feel the need for extra support you can get boots but make sure they are breathable. You may also want to think about using hiking poles. Also a lot of thru hikers talk about Inov-8 shoes. I haven’t tried them yet but I plan on trying a pair in the future.

Socks – Most hikers swear by sock liners for blister prevention and I have to agree with them. You should be able to buy cheap sock liners from any major store. I bought a 4 pack of sock liners for $5 from Kmart and I love them. Sock liners should be ankle length or not be seen when the shoe is on, and should be as thin as you can get. They can be 100% polyester or a blend. I wear wool socks over my sock liners.

I am convinced that wool socks are the best for any situation, and the colder it is the closer to the knee they should reach. I had wool socks on the other day in 40 degree weather where it was alternatively hailing, snowing, and raining, and where I was walking through snow and puddles. My socks were soaked by the end but my feet were still warm which goes to show you how well wool can still insulate even when wet.

Convertible pants – I prefer pants when hiking, but I know some people like shorts in warmer weather. Convertible pants solve this problem. I can take the bottoms off if I am hiking through an open area when it is warm. If it is cold, or if I am walking through some brush I prefer to have pants on to keep me warm and free from scratches, etc.

My pants also serve as a wind pant, and a rain pant. So far they seem to do a good job at both, and I will let you know if I regret not bringing rain pants. My current solution is to use my ground cloth as a rain skirt if I feel the need, but my pants have gotten wet before in cold weather and they still keep me dry.

Underwear/Shorts – As of right now I have a pair of lightweight running shorts that have a liner, and a pair of polyester underwear. The verdict is still out on which is better to wear under my pants, but I like having something decent I can wear while I wash my pants. I think I will take another warmer pair of shorts to sleep in as well. All of these are made our of polyester. As mentioned before stay away from cotton if any cold, wet weather is possible.

T-Shirt – At this point I am still thinking of whether I want a t-shirt as a base layer or not. The reason is that I can take a long sleeve shirt and roll up the sleeves to stay a little cooler. And it is nice to have long sleeves for sun protection and to stay warm. You can find out what I decide in future trail reports.

Long Sleeve Shirt – Currently I am thinking of taking two long sleeve shirts. One will be a polyester synthetic wicking shirt. The other will be a wool shirt. Both have about the same thickness and weight. Seems like the wool stays warmer when wet, but the polyester one dries way faster. Should have a final verdict by the end of the trail.

Jacket – My current preferred jacket is a simple grey fleece insulating layer. It keeps me warm even when wet, and dries very quickly. Again, I want to emphasize that this is a layer than isn’t trying to do too much.

Outer Shell – This might be a good time to say that there are three basic layers. Your base layer, and insulating layer, and an outer shell. An outer shell basically is what protects you from wind and rain. That is it. In my humble opinion, it shouldn’t be part of your insulating layer. I currently use a very lightweight nylon rain jacket made by Burton. It is made for snowboarding, but holds up well to all types of precipitation. Many jackets are made of polyester, but I feel that nylon is much more lightweight and durable, and packs down smaller.

Gloves – I am just not sure if I really want or need gloves for this trip. But I would probably want some wool or fleece gloves for all the same reasons listed above of why fleece and wool are great materials. When it comes to gloves you only really need them to stay warm and do tasks. If I just want to stay warm I can put an extra pair of socks on my hands. Obviously a sock isn’t great for completing a task like lighting a fire, but I think I prefer to go without gloves till I complete the task, then put the socks back on to stay warm. Those are my current thoughts but they may change.

Headwear– I put this all together because it should be thought about together. Your head is your most important body part to be protected. As I mentioned above, I have a wide brimmed hat for sun protections, a wool hat to keep warm, sunglasses to protect my eyes, and a balaclava to cover my nose, mouth, and neck. A balaclava is also known as a “buff” and can be found at most sporting goods stores. I also have a bandana, but I use it for all kinds of things, not just to put on my head or around my neck.

That about covers it. I know it seems like a lot, but it can all be boiled down to a few simple things. Choose the right materials. Choose the right layers. Make sure you can adequately cover every area of your body. With that in mind you should do just fine.

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…

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