What is a Thru-Hike?

What is a thru-hike?

This is a question that a lot of new hikers find themselves asking or googling after hearing the term in conversation. But there isn’t always a straight answer, especially depending on what company you’re with at the time. Oftentimes people will refer to themselves as bona-fide thru hikers after completing one of America’s “Big Three” long trails, in one setting. Of course I’m referring to the iconic Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles), the scenic Pacific Crest Trail (2,659 miles) and the mystifying Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles). If you ask someone who has hiked one of these trails what it takes to become a thru hiker, they will likely tell you that you have to hike the mileage of the trail that they hiked to earn the title, and rightly so.

But there are others in the sport that argue that completing any “long trail” in the United States will earn you the title. The truth is that it really depends on how you feel about it. Hike your own hike, if you complete a 100 mile trail in one setting and you want to call yourself a thru hiker, call yourself a thru hiker. As long as you feel comfortable with your accomplishments, that’s what the sport is all about. Getting to be one with nature, learning survival skills and bonding with new and old friends. You might not be a thru hiker to someone who has hikes one of the big three, but others who have hiked the trail you hiked might agree that you should call yourself a thru hiker. At the end of the day, it comes down to what you feel you are. If you feel like a section hiker, be a section hiker. If you feel like a thru hiker, be a thru hiker. Don’t base how you label yourself or your adventures on anyone’s views but your own. When it all comes to a close, you are the only person that lived your life and the only one who will remember how your adventures felt to you.

So whether you’re a day hiker, a section hiker, or a thru hiker. Enjoy the adventure and don’t stress over titles. Once you’ve gotten your trail name, you can revel in the fact that you’ve made it into a very prestigious group of people who care more for experiences than outward appearances and that is a very good place to be indeed.  Whatever you do, remember to hike your own hike (HYOH).

Happy Trails,

Aaron

*HYOH is a term also used to tell a fellow hiker that is offering unwanted advice to mind their own damn business*

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Need an excuse to get outside?

We don’t own this, but it is great enough to share. Spring is almost here, my hiker trash buddies longing for sunlight filtering through green canopies! Have a laugh, then go prep your gear.

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Hike Safety: How to Protect Yourself from Two-Legged Predators.

There is a lot to love about hiking, and the outdoor community. From the solitude of the forest to the unique and breathtaking mountaintop views that only the dedicated and slightly crazy (most of us) enthusiasts get to see. The hiking community is one of brother and sisterhood and we often greet each other as long lost friends even if we’ve never met before. But this sometimes lulls us into a false sense of security and an assumption that everyone we meet on the trail is a harmless thrill seeker like ourselves. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Sometimes people enter the forest trail with sinister intentions, and while we hate to admit that those people walk amongst us, it’s an unfortunate reality that we must face.

I didn’t want to write this post for a multitude of reasons, but the topic has been constantly on my mind since the news of the murder of two young girls on a trail in my home state this past month made it to my ears. Without going into detail out of respect for the young women and their families all I will say is that the murderer is still out there. Now I often find myself thinking of ways to spot these types of people before they reveal their intentions and think of what I would have done in the same situation. But truth be told, I’m a large intimidating figure on the trail, not a young teenage girl. This alone makes me less likely to become the victim of this type of crime. But not everyone on the trail is a 6 foot 270 pound man, so what can we do to make sure that we stay safe while we enjoy our favorite outdoor recreation?

Here are a few basic precautions that you should always take when you go hiking.

  1. Be familiar with the area that you’re hiking in. Unless you’re an experienced outdoorsman or outdoorswoman, always head into unfamiliar areas with a group. Either take friends or join an established group of hikers from a site like meetup.com, but always check the group reputation before heading to any remote locations. Look for active groups with a lot of people that frequent the outings. Make sure to visit places in groups several times before planning any extended solo adventures. Knowing the lay of the land and where you can hide without being found by others is an essential survival skill. Running, hiding and being able to camouflage  is your first line of defense if things go amiss. Never underestimate the power of camo, I’ve been standing on a creek bed filtering water 5 feet off the trail in camo and had people walk right by me and not notice that I’m there until I move.This can be invaluable when someone is looking for you and you don’t want to be found. Finally, don’t plan solo trips until you know the area well and are comfortable in the terrain.
  2. Tell a friend or family member exactly where you’re going. Even more specifically, tell a friend or family member that is capable of meeting up with you or finding you in that area should you fail to check in. Leave a map of the area with a detailed plan for where you plan to be at what time and any intended stops along the way. Be sure to check in with this person at a set interval during your trip. This is especially important when you’re going on a multi-day solo trip. Even the most experienced hikers and outdoor enthusiasts do this, so add it to your plan before you go.
  3. Carry something for self-defense. Always be prepared for other people’s bad intentions, being in the middle of nowhere doesn’t always make you safe. Even on the most popular and heavily trafficked long trail in the Nation has seen 11 murders in the last 40 years. The truth remains that we’re far more likely to be harmed by 2 legged animals than any number of the 4 legged animals on the trail. Plan for this before you go out and make sure you take something with you. I always hike with at least a knife and mace spray, no matter what trip I’m planning or the duration of the trip. Mace is effective against most of your smaller predators, and will give you a leg up if you’re attacked by a person while hiking. You can also carry a firearm if you’re old enough and have been through a firearm safety course, or have at least been taught by a competent person and have any licenses required by your state to own and carry and conceal a firearm. A .380 is small and lightweight enough that you can conceal it in a pocket without noticing the additional weight too much even for smaller built individuals. If you’re underage or have an aversion to firearms, you can carry a small pellet gun for emergencies. Catching a pellet or metal BB to the face will stop most people or animals in their tracks. Also remember that if you are attacked, make as much noise as possible while the attack is going on. Most hiking packs have a built in emergency whistle on the chest strap that can alert other hikers in the area to the attack so that they can assist you.
  4. Hike with a dog. Nothing says “don’t mess with me” like man’s best friend. Hiking with your dog is therapeutic for master and pup, but also serves as a deterrent to people who may have bad intentions on the trail. Strangers are often weary of dogs that they don’t know and the threat of having a set of jaws clamped onto their body is enough to keep most people at bay. Besides being fiercely loyal and willing to give their lives to protect their owners. Dogs make a hell of a lot of racket when something upsets them. A barking dog along with the sound of a commotion and an emergency whistle will be enough draw help from miles around. The attacker having to deal with a dog will also give you extra time to ready your personal defenses.
  5. Improvise, fight and commit. If you can’t elude the person and you don’t have a firearm or more lethal weapon, trekking poles are a walking stick can be used as weapons. Aim for the groin, the middle of the chest, the neck and the face. If you have trekking poles, pop the rubber guards off and jab like it’s a spear. Continue to make as much noise as you can, and never allow the person to force you off the trail. If they are planning to harm you, make them stay in the open where someone can see the altercation and help. Oftentimes help is just out of sight, if you go off trail your chances of being seen go down dramatically. Once you’ve determined that you must fight, do not stop attacking until you can safely get away. As soon as that opportunity presents itself, make a run for it. If they follow, keep making as much noise as possible.

Above all else, remember that there is safety in numbers. Even if the attacker has a gun they can still be overpowered by a group. Most times a group of 3 or more will deter a would-be attacker, so when you’re planning a trip somewhere new, remember the more the merrier. Always be prepared for the worst and plan accordingly. Not everyone has the best intentions, but a little planning can keep you happy, safe and enjoying nature for your entire life. Above all, stay safe and enjoy all that the trails have to offer.

Please feel free to comment any additional advice below, this post is not all inclusive, merely some of the skills I’ve learned and personally use when I’m out. Don’t forget to share this advice with your friends in the outdoor community, it could save a life.

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8 Reasons That Not Hiking is Probably Killing You

Hiking is an all-around great workout. Walking is one of the most beneficial exercises that you can do for heart health according to the American Heart Association, when you add a weighted pack into the mix as well as negotiating (sometimes) strenuous paths in the forest the benefits only increase. But even knowing all that, we still find ways to put that next hiking trip on the back burner in favor of less strenuous activity. So here are 10 reasons that putting off that next hiking trip is probably killing you.

  1. Heart Disease. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in men and women over age 40, much of this owing to our increasingly bad diets and a tendency to get less and less physical exercise as we age. The more we sit and watch television, grab artery clogging fast food and generally avoid strenuous activity, the higher our risk of heart disease climbs. But, hiking is one of the best cardio workout around. Nothing gets your blood pumping like carrying extra weight on your back and negotiating fallen trees, mountain paths and burbling streams with views so beautiful, you’ll forget that you’re exercising. So not only will your eyes thank you for going on that trip you’ve been putting off, your heart will too.
  2. Blood Pressure/ Blood Sugar. High blood pressure and irregular blood sugar are becoming more and more common with younger and younger patients every year. We have an endless supply of starchy, sugary snacks at our fingertips and more and more series piling up on our “binge list” on Netflix. This combination of bad habits can lead to a few extra pounds piling on before you even realize it and aside from bad eating habits and lack of exercise (I hope you’re seeing a pattern here) excess body weight is the leading cause of high blood pressure and those bad habits going on for too long can wreak havoc on your pancreas, eventually leading to irregular blood sugar or even Type 2 Diabetes. But, one of the best ways to drive off high blood pressure and blood sugar problems is to start living a healthier lifestyle by eating better and getting more exercise. So instead of reaching for that soda and binge watching the next season of The Walking Dead, grab a bottle of water, some of your favorite trail snacks and head out for a short hike instead.
  3. Weak Bones. As we grow older our bodies naturally stop funneling calcium into our bones. A problem that is further compounded for women who have children, because a growing baby will leach the calcium out of their mothers bones if not enough is present in her diet. Inactivity also leads to decreased bone density, which in turn makes it easier to break bones in the event of a fall or other minor accident. But weight bearing exercise is a great way to increase bone density. When our muscles are forced to lift or bear more weight than what they are used to, our bones are forced to support greater weight loads, so our bodies increase our bone density to accommodate the increased load bearing needs. This is why Doctors tell people with bone density problems to begin lifting free weights. But instead of heading to the gym and lifting weights, backpackers carry that weight in their packs.
  4. Weak legs. Much like the stomach and arms, the legs tend to be one of the first areas that our body looks to store excess body fat. Extra leg and butt fat is less than flattering and are two of the areas that most people wish they could shape and change. Smaller leg muscles and excess body fat in this area also contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure. However, increasing the size of your leg muscles by walking with a weighted pack will help you trim away the excess fat from your legs and butt, and is also good for your heart. Many of the largest muscle groups in your body are in your legs. Your hamstrings, glutes and quads move a lot of blood when they are active. This blood has to be moved by the heart, causing an increased heart rate and improving heart health. It also leads to strong, good looking legs, and who doesn’t want that?
  5. Weaker core muscles. Your core muscles, i.e. you abs, obliques, hip flexors and back muscles, affect every movement we make in our daily lives. If you’ve ever done an intense core workout, you likely became painfully aware of just how much you use your core in the days following. Not only does a strong core help balance and stability, it also leads decreases your chance of heart disease, diabetes and a long list of other maladies. The opposite is also true, a weak core burns less fat as fuel, makes hernia-type injuries more likely to occur, leads to unflattering belly fat and makes you more susceptible to a laundry list of chronic preventable disease. But, shouldering a weighted pack and navigating your favorite trail passively builds up these muscles groups by holding the weight securely in place while you maneuver with your legs. Carrying weight long distances will quickly build up your core muscles.
  6. Poor Coordination. We gain absolutely nothing from watching television or sitting around the house. We lose time, gain weight and miss out on cool opportunities to make unforgettable memories. Walking on flat, level ground all the time lulls us into a false sense of security and leads to weaker auxiliary muscles in our legs and core that help up maintain our balance when we’re negotiating difficult terrain or maneuvering over boulders, fallen trees or unstable rocks. But hiking forces us to move over difficult terrain, often up and down gradual to step slopes and across all sorts of rocks, boulders, tree roots, branches, water hazards and undergrowth. This forces our minds and bodies to think and act quickly and builds cognitive awareness that increases our balance.
  7. Excess body fat. Being sedentary in our daily lives leads to a quick increase in body fat. Any time we don’t burn what we eat, we put on weight in the form of excess body fat and while it is not detrimental to have a little extra body fat, obesity is one of the most deadly chronic diseases in America and thousands more a year are falling into its clutches due to more and more people living sedentary lifestyles. But it’s no secret that hiking burns calories, thru hikers on the AT often lose between 20-50 pounds on the trail, and many are in great shape when they start. With a loaded pack and on moderate to difficult terrain a hiker can burn well north of 3000 calories in a day. Even a one to two hour hike can burn between 800-2000 calories depending on your body weight, the weight in your pack, and the difficulty of the route you’re on.
  8. Psychological health. We’re biologically designed to live in nature. We’ve evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to find our homeostasis in an outdoor environment. So naturally, when we’re deprived of the environment that our bodies developed to live in, we begin to see negative effects on our psyche and mental health. Because our ancestors lived for so long in the wilderness environment, many of the aspects of being outdoors effect our well being. They became basic needs over a very long time, basic needs that are no longer met by our man made environments. Another basic need that is not met as often as it was in decades and centuries passed is our connection to the community. Human beings are social creatures, but outside of our immediate families, people rarely get outside human interaction anymore. Society teaches us that we should be staying in and consuming artificial entertainment by ourselves or with a few members of our immediate family instead of going out with friends to seek entertainment outside of the home. Hiking is a great past time that only gets better when you include friends. Sitting by a campfire, having a few adult beverages and laughing and talking with friends is a great way to satisfy our need for human interaction and to be out in nature. This is a great way to get your blood pumping and stave off depression. Additionally, getting out and hiking and camping on your own or with close friends is a great way to build confidence in your ability to provide for and take care of yourself in harsh or uncomfortably situations. This builds confidence in what we can do, and helps alleviate anxiety.

So with all of the benefits that hiking brings to the table, extending our life, making us stronger and staving off depression and anxiety. Why do we continue to put off those next hikes? Do we really have anything more important to do? Probably not, so the next time you think of putting off that next hiking trip, remember all of the benefits that you’re passing up.

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Winter Hiking: How to Stay Warm

Happy New Year! People always seem to choose the beginning of the year as a time to commit themselves to be more active. Over the last few years I’ve really gotten to enjoy nature during the winter months, specifically winter hiking. If you live in an area that gets snow, hiking in the winter can make your favorite trail seem like a brand new adventure. Hiking in the snow and cold also burns more calories than hiking in temperate weather so it can help you keep off those holiday pounds that tend to creep up on us.

One of the big reasons that people tend to take a hiatus from hiking during the winter months is that they don’t want to be cold, cold is uncomfortable, who wants to be cold? But what people fail to understand is that with just a little knowledge and planning, you can beat the cold and have great day hikes, or even overnight trips. So here are a few tips on how to stay warm that I learned during my years in Alaska and during winter hikes in the Midwest.

 

  1. Stay Hydrated: When you’re dehydrated your body doesn’t work as efficiently. In a cold environment this leads to headaches and cold extremities. Just because its cold doesn’t mean you’re not losing water. In fact, because the air is less humid during the winter you’re actually losing a little bit more water through respiration and evaporation. Take enough water to get through your trip or be familiar with fast running water sources along the route that will not freeze all the way through. DO NOT attempt to eat snow if you run out of water. This will lower your body temperature and does not provide you with enough water to benefit you. In a pinch you can fill a bottle full of snow and place it in an interior pocket of your jacket until it melts. When this happens, repeat the process until your bottle is full of water.
  2. Layer your clothing: One of the biggest mistakes people make in this specific area is attempting to put on every layer of clothing that they have. But over layering actually makes you feel colder. The air between the layers of clothing is what keeps you feeling warm, so if you condense that air pocket by adding too many layers of clothing you will actually be colder than if you had layered correctly. In most cases a poly blend base layer (long tops and bottoms) with hiking pants, a long sleeve midweight top layer and a microdown jacket will be more than enough to keep you warm in all but the northernmost states.
  3. Layer on, Layer off: Only use what you really need in that moment. If you start to sweat while hiking, take off your hat, gloves and outer (or middle) top layer. The big tip here is to avoid excess sweating. Wearing too much and sweating through your clothing will destroy the insulating properties. So when you stop to take a break you will get cold. Instead of doing this, take off the excess layers and put them in the top of your bag before you start sweating. Then put them on when you stop. Your body heat will be retained by the dry layers and you’ll stay toasty warm even when you stop. Improper layering and use is the biggest reason that people have unpleasant winter hiking trips.
  4. Know your feet: Cold feet tend to be a pretty consistent problem in cold weather hiking. But there are a few tricks of the trade that you can use to beat this nuisance. 1. Bring extra socks on long trips. Dirty clothing loses its insulating properties. Bringing a change of socks for each day of trail time, plus a spare, is always a good idea. Loosen your laces. We’re back to the insulating layer of warm air again. When your shoes are tied too tight it hurts you in two ways. The first is that it compromises blood flow to the area, making your feel work less efficiently and allowing them to get cold quicker. The second is that it compresses the fabric in your shoes. When you compress the fabric too much there is no room for the air warmed by your feet to get caught in the fabric of the shoe. It’s the same reason your butt gets cold when you sit in the snow, the compressed fabric doesn’t trap heat as well as it would if it were not compressed.
  5. Clear snow from sleeping areas and bring a sleeping pad: You can sleep comfortably in the snow if you remember to clear away the snow under your sleeping area. Additionally, you’ll want to use a sleeping pad since the sleeping bag that is compressed under your body weight will not insulate you as efficiently. When you go to bed, strip down to your base layer. This will be cold at first, but when you wear too much clothing to bed it doesn’t allow your body heat to reach the sleeping bag and insulate you the way it was designed to. You will always sleep warmer in fewer clothes. To avoid that morning shiver when you get up, pull your clothes into your sleeping bag with you in the morning and allow them to warm up passively before you get dressed. If you plan on warming your tent with a fire source, always remember to open one side of the tent for ventilation. Once the tent is warm, removed the fire source before sealing the tent. If you hammock camp, a sleeping pad, sleeping bag and an underquilt will get you through even the coldest nights in relative comfort.
  6. Always bring tools for a fire: Know the area that you will be hiking in and what you will need to make a fire. In the event of an emergency this is an absolute must. I recommend taking waterproof matches or a ferro fire starter, some quick tinder like dryer lint or dry moss and a tea light candle. Before you attempt to start a fire scavenge for your firewood and arrange it next to you from smallest to largest. The biggest being about the circumference of your wrist. Build a teepee with your smallest twigs and keep finger size twigs nearby to add once it’s going. Light your tinder in the open air. Fire needs a lot of oxygen to burn and placing the tinder in the teepee cuts off precious oxygen that the fire needs to start. Once you have an adequate flame place the tinder under the teepee. Slowly add twigs of increasing size until your fire is established. *If you are attempting to start a fire in the snow, you MUST dig down until you are on soil before attempting to start a fire. Placing a fire on top of the snow will put your fire out when the snow melts from the heat.* **In areas that receive a lot of precipitation it will be easier to scavenge firewood and tinder from standing deadwood in the area. Firewood on the ground will likely be wet and will be difficult to light. In a pinch you can use a knife to cut away the outer layers of wet wood in order to get a fire started. But always look for standing dead wood first.**

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It only takes a little bit of knowledge and preparation to keep you warm and happy in nature, even in the cold.  I hope these tips help you get out and stay warm on your own winter adventure.

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Happy Trails,

Aaron

FRH Philosophy: The Cure for Millennial Depression

Get out and walk in nature today. It doesn’t have to be a long walk, a full-fledged hiking trip or anything extravagant. Just get outside, get some fresh air and enjoy the dirt under your shoes and the sun on your head. We now live in a society where it is normal to spend entire days of the week inside. Some people only see the sun and outdoors on their way to and from work. That is not how our bodies have evolved to function. Millions of years of evolution have coded us to find our homeostasis (tranquility) outside in nature. That’s why the sun on our skin creates Vitamin D that gives us energy, smelling flowers and walking in the woods or through the open plains, or feeling a calm breeze on your face releases dopamine in our brains that makes us happy. We NEED to be outside. Not cooped up in an office hour after hour, day after day.

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I’m a part of the millennial generation, the generation that is called “entitled” and “ungrateful”. We’ve grown up in a world dominated by television, microwaves, cell phones and the internet. But instant gratification has shown us time and time again that it is just the opposite of what the title suggests. We form shallow and meaningless internet based relationships with people who want to hang out and do things with you as long as there is nothing better to do anywhere else. If you’re depressed, take a pill. If you have anxiety, take a pill. If you have PTSD because you’ve been through some messed up stuff, just take all these pill and everything will be fine. I went through that following my return from Afghanistan in 2012. The pills don’t work. They make you numb to the world so that you walk through every day like a zombie in The Walking Dead.

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You can’t synthesize happiness. You can’t make and keep friends, real friends, by liking pictures, sending snaps or swiping right. Real happiness comes from experiences, walking to the top of that hill to see the countryside laid out before you. Walking down the dirt path next to work, or next to your house, or school. Not because you NEED to, but because you can. One of the most peaceful sounds on the entire planet is the sound of rain falling on the forest floor. When the plants open up and the aroma of the forest comes to life. The dopamine dump in your brain erases the stress of what we call the “real” world. This might sound too good to be true, it might sound too easy, or maybe like too much work. But it is EXACTLY what you need.

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Happy Trails,

 

Aaron