Self-inflating mattress or Foldout Pad


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.

Stoves–think small; think simple


Pocket-size collapsible cooker (Solid Fuel)

Pocket-size collapsible cooker (Solid Fuel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just two fuel tabs

Just two fuel tabs                                                           

Esbit stove

Esbit stove

The Esbit Pocket Stove continues to be a well-kept secret. I have no idea why hikers who try to shave every fraction of an ounce from their pack, ignore the mighty little Esbit. This dependable tiny stove, which can fit in your pocket, has been used around the world since WW II.

TIP: To reduce pack weight and increase pack space, get a tiny stove.

I’ve used the larger, quick-firing stoves that require liquid fuel. I admit those stoves probably work better for serving several people, especially if you are in a hurry. Their “simmer” advantage is also convenient. However, the Esbit is always reliable, and it will never clog. Most of all, it’s small and light!

I remember on the A.T. having to clean and maintain my high-end stove; having to watch my fuel–hoping it lasted until the next supply stop, then over-supplying and hauling extra, bulky canisters. Yes, stoves have gotten smaller and better. But the Esbit is one of the simplest, easiest, most reliable stoves out there. What’s more, the fuel for the Esbit is portion controlled; it uses little fuel tabs that you unwrap and place on the floor of the stove. One tab will cook your meal. I sometimes light two and re-use them the next time, as shown in the picture.

The Esbit provides a foolproof system for cooking in the wilds. Check it out.

The Triple Crown Hiking Trails


Hiking the A.T.

Mt. Katahdin-Maine

Yosemite Maintenance on the Pacific Crest Trail

Yosemite Maintenance on the Pacific Crest Trail

CDT--New Mexico

CDT–New Mexico

Long-distance hikers commonly refer to America’s triple crown hiking trails. The pictures, top to bottom, follow the order below. If you want the newest (May 20, 2016) and best update of the Triple Crown I’ve seen, click here:

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 (almost complete) 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.

The Continental Divide Trail


Continental Divide Trail                         

CDT--New Mexico

CDT–New Mexico

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 2010 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.”




Mt Katahdin

Mt. Katahdin, Maine

Begininning of Appalachian Trail--Georgia

Appalachian Trail marker-Georgia

For those of you who are still preparing, about to step off, or who are already on the Appalachian Trail, here is the best summary of what you can expect that I’ve seen.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Because this summary speaks for itself, anything I add here will only tend to dilute the information in it. Scroll through and see for yourself. Whether you are thru-hiking, section hiking, or just out for the day on the A.T., this info will help you. Happy Trails!


9/11 2004

9/11 2004

“THE TRAIL” novel

TheTrail_designsB1 for Patriot Ledger

Permit me a post on my début novel, The Trail, a thriller which takes place along the Appalachian Trail. As some of you know, I conceived this novel while thru-hiking the A.T. using the trail name Hamlet. I used my journals and in this novel take the reader from GA to ME.

My book is not just another walk in the woods. And I didn’t encounter anything like the evil I wrote about therein. I had a wonderful experience and returned with a positive outlook on humanity in general and on our young people in particular. However, it is always wise to stay alert in the wilds, and I urge women to not hike alone.

The book is doing fine, but I’m hoping to reach out to the hiking/adventure community. So, that’s why I’m posting here. The Trail is available at any bookstore and on Amazon-as a traditional book or as an ebook. Check it out on my website below.  I’d love to hear your comments about my story. Thank you, and happy trails!


Do You Really Need a Stove?


Oatmeal (here: oat,water,salt). Danish: havregrød

Oatmeal (here: oat,water,salt). Danish: havregrød (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you plan to use your stove much on your hike, or do you take it because everyone else does? Will you use your stove three times a day, or just for breakfast and your late meal? Do you like messing around with a stove early in the morning, or have you decided to cook only in the evening? When I got to this last stage, I asked myself why bother with a stove and fuel at all. Especially if I’d planned to resupply in town every four or five days and get cooked meals there.

Okay, I do pack my tiny Esbit Pocket Stove with two fuel tabs. It’s good to have if I must boil water. But on hot summer days, when all I want is to stay cool, I don’t cook meals. This may not work for other hikers, but I don’t miss hot meals on the trail in summer.

Breakfast: Oatmeal with cold water. Sounds bland, until you try it. Oatmeal in the little packets doesn’t taste bad at all when you add cold water and stir. And you can eat right from the packet–no fuss, no muss. I’ve also stirred flavored Gatorade into oatmeal, but it covered up the oatmeal taste. I like flavored oatmeal (apples & cinnamon, raisins & spice, maple & brown sugar) stirred with plain water. Try it; you’ll be surprised.

For other meals, I pack (sealed baggies or aluminum foil) fruits, hard cheeses, pepperoni and jerky, tuna packets, wheat crackers, peanut butter, energy bars, etc., and gorp.

Who’s ready to cast the first stone?

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!