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The Hike Starts Well Before the Hike and Never Ends…

Contemplating the view on Gulf Slide Peak
Contemplating the view on Gulf Slide Peak

My hiking and backpacking trips start well before I ever step foot on the trail. I like to plan out my route by reading maps and trail guides, figure out what gear I need to bring depending on the terrain or expected weather conditions, plan out my menu in great detail, get packed, maybe practice using some of the gear in advance, learn new skills I’ll need, etc. Yeah, my hikes start well before I get to the trail head and I get a lot of satisfaction from all of these pre-trip activities.

It’s the same after a hike. There’s the afterglow of physical exertion and the personal satisfaction of achieving an objective, or occasionally analyzing what went wrong.  If I’ve been hiking with other people, I like to socialize with them afterwards at a restaurant and have some beers together. When I get home, I unpack my gear, dry it out, patch it up, resupply items, and write-up a trip report. There’s a lot to savor and I try to ring out as much pleasure from the experience as possible.

Tramping Off-trail
Tramping Off-trail

Andrew Skurka once asked me why I write so many trip reports, and the truth is that they help me remember my trips and what I felt when I hiked them. The act of writing them helps me relive the experience in a way. It’s uncanny how much the words can jog my memory of the sensations I was feeling during the experience.

I take lots of photos too and every time I look at them, I remember the trip they were taken on, who I was with, and what was going on. I look at many of my photos every day in fact, since they’re all on my computer, so the memories are refreshed over and over.

Backpacking across Scotland
Backpacking across Scotland

Big trips, like hiking across Scotland or section hiking the Appalachian Trail make an even bigger mark. I’m leaving in a few weeks to hike a long section of the AT. I’ve been planning this hike months in advance: making travel arrangements to head down south, planning my food menu, packing up mail drops and sending them out, testing some new gear, breaking in new shoes, seam-sealing a new shelter, and so on. I enjoy all of it and it is just as much a part of my hike as when I start walking.

It’s very hard to explain to non-hikers how an activity such as hiking or backpacking can be so absorbing, even more so, if you have the luck to do it full-time. While I’m not a thru-hiker because I don’t hike for 6 months at a time, I probably spend at least that every year on hiking trips or preparing for them. Probably more, when you consider that I get to be a hiker all the time, even if it’s just in my mind.


  1. Hey Philip, if your down in the Georgia area, maybe you could take a little time and visit the Pine Mtn Trail, not like the white mtns but a very nice trail. Located at FDR State Park, it is maintained by the Pine Mtn Trail Association of which i am a member of… a very special group of folks that love the outdoors, camping and hiking.
    Happy Trails
    Ronnie Heard

  2. If you get up to NC on the AT and are looking for company give a shout. Would love to meet irl.

  3. I love planning. Its like a mental game figuring out what to bring, finding everything, packing it. and then getting to execute it on the trip. The only thing I need to spend more time doing is testing the stuff I bring before I go and figuring out if I really need it (I have a tendency to over pack). Still the game of planning it all is super fun (and the actually hiking is awesome, of course).

    • I think planning is the most important skill for a backpacker to develop, if only to squeeze the maximum pleasure out of a hike when it finally occurs. There’s so much to learn up-front, that it makes the experience so much richer when you hit dirt.

  4. I am truly enjoying the planning process of an upcoming 35 mile AT section hike in NC with 4 students from Teen Challenge and our executive director. A lot of practice has gone into teaching the students how to pitch their tents and pack their packs. My portion has been purchasing all the equipment, practicing knot tying and fire starting water purification, etc in order to show the students. Your website has been my go to for information and I could not have accomplished the planning process without it. I have gone back in the archives and found invaluable information.

  5. TwoYellowDogs.Terri

    I’ve been absent from backpacking for several years due to health issues. I’ve been dying to get back into the backcountry; I hear the local San Gabriel mountains screaming my name each time I look at them (several times a day). Today I pulled my old frame-pack out to dust off… start getting ready. I won’t be an ultra-light packer… for now have to use my old equipment (don’t have the $$) to purchase new equipment, but I have benefited greatly from reading your blog and have figured out how to remove several lbs from my base weight. I hope to head out for a 1-2 night short trip next week. Your blog (and several others) has me thinking I can do this thing I love again, despite my aging body. I’ve really enjoyed your blog and info. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. I would have never thought of it years ago but a post trip report is a really enjoyable way to solidify memories of the trip. I learned so much from my last trip; about myself, my gear and food choices, hiking style, etc. I like to make a list of new ideas to try out on subsequent trips. The experience of the natural place is a whole other dimension that is fun to relive through photos and writing. And my favorite reading material is studying topo maps before a trip.

  7. Wendy 'BlueShoes'

    So true! I hike in the summer and have been working my way south from Maine for the past several years. I spend many hours over the long winter days planning my next section, right down to writing out my anticipated itinerary that I will leave behind when I go. Last year I did a post trip report on trail journals for those few of us that are southbound, however slowly! I have never gone so long that I need to do mail drops, and hope someday that I can go for that length of time. As many have mentioned, your trip reports and gear reviews are invaluable. Thanks!!

  8. I’m one who likes to write up trip reports, too. Even if it is just a day hike, I like writing it up because inevitably I’ll go back to it 2 years later and realize what fun it was and remember it all over again. There’s a lot of value in doing it, even if it is really just for ones own self.

    Happy hiking!

  9. My family is always after me to write up reports of vacation and backpacking trips because of the off beat slant the reports usually end up taking. It’s fun to write them up and I do enjoy reading about them years later because it takes me right back to where I saw the bear, fell down the mountainside, stumbled into the mudhole, sat out a torrential downpour, upended the kayak, watched a sunrise with my grandson, shivered in the cold because I forgot my winter layers, pulled lechuguilla spines out of my body and cactus needles out of my granddaughter’s hand, and any number of other adventures pent up in the foggy recesses of my mind, just waiting to be relived.

  10. I really enjoy all the pre-hike preparations, planning and organising. In the end it feels like I’d done the hike twice – more hiking more joy :) I also enjoy confronting my plans and imaginations with reality – it creates a certain thrill. Despite all the planning you still head out into the unknown and this “adventure” feeling is priceless.

  11. Hi Phil
    How much thought do you give to the weather? We plan to start our AT hike next week but there seems to be thunderstorms. I have been watching accuweather under hiking for the Franklin, NC area. We have already adjusted our plan by a day.
    Thanks in advance for you comments.

    • It depends on whether I have a place to hang out and if its free. Otherwise, I put on my wet clothes and keep hiking. The only exception is above treeline. Then I like to wait out a storm.

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