If you haven’t done much hiking before, you wouldn’t realize what a learning curve there is when you start hiking, especially if you are preparing for an extended hike. It’s more than just ‘a long walk’. You will be on the trail for months, and everything you own will have to be carried in a backpack. You will be exposed to the elements (rain, wind, snow, cold, heat, etc.) and will be living in the woods for most of that time. Your ‘house’ will be your tent or a three-sided shelter, your food will have to be lightweight and easy to prepare, and your feet and body will bear the burden of all of that weight.
I have been researching to learn everything I can about hiking and gear. Every different piece of equipment and maker of hiking gear have ardent fans, and they are very convincing on why their chosen piece of equipment is best; however, what works for one person, may not work for others. The mantra I keep hearing is ‘hike your own hike.’
A big part of this journey (for me) is researching and making my own decisions for my own trip. I’ve never been a great decision-maker, and have most often left decisions to others. Now, I’m in a place where I am the ‘one and only’ decision maker and I’ll have to live with the consequences of my decisions.
I have ordered and returned so many things already! I keep wavering back and forth and this is after a LOT of research. Sometimes I feel like I am watching an episode of, ’48 Hours’ where I am being convinced that one person is the culprit. After the commercial break, I am convinced it is someone else who did it. Then, I go back to thinking the first person presented is IT. Thus it has been with hiking gear for me. Every argument I read for a particular product has pros and cons. It’s all a matter of choice and what will work best for me. Therein lies the problem, since I’ve not had much experience hiking.
After I received the backpack (Flash Pack 65) I ordered online, I became convinced it was too big. The shoulder straps were hovering about 1-2 inches above my shoulders. I also thought that my shoes were not giving me enough support. Bud, my husband, (who has been my biggest advocate and cheerleader through all of this) suggested that we go to REI. He was willing to make the four hour drive to get to the nearest REI to us in Kansas City.
Long story short, I got a lot of advice and help at REI, not to mention personal fitting for what I believe will be a great backpack. After my experience, I don’t see how anyone can really order their first backpack online. It turns out that I am borderline in sizing, between a Small and Extra Small. There were three backpacks I was going to try: The Osprey Ariel 65, REI Crest Trail 65, and Flash Pack 65 (in a smaller size).
After being measured, I first tried on the Osprey Ariel in an XS, and it felt GREAT! I was almost sold on it, and then the guy helping me suggested that I try the Osprey Aura 65 AG. He did not have an XS in stock, so I tried on the Small. I also have to add here, that they had sand bags of certain weights which they stuffed in the packs so I could feel what it would be like with the weight I intended to carry in my pack. It was VERY helpful.
The Osprey Aura AG has ‘anti-gravity’ technology which makes you feel like you are carrying a lighter load, AND I COULD REALLY TELL THE DIFFERENCE. I was amazed at the difference between the Ariel and Aura. I was sold on the Aura AG 65 right then and there.
The guy who was helping me felt that I needed an Extra Small, but since they did not have it in stock, it had to be ordered and shipped to me. When it arrived, I immediately put it on, and something felt horribly wrong. Even without weight in the pack, it was hurting my shoulders.
Bud strongly felt that we should go back to REI (another four hour trip, one-way.) He was thinking that maybe it just needed to be adjusted. Although I was reluctant to make the drive again, I was thinking the same thing. I hated to make another long drive. Add to that, we had to be back in time to lock the chickens up before dark…so we made plans for another long, quick trip.
This time, a different guy helped me, and he tried and tried to make the Extra Small work with different adjustments, but it just felt awful. He finally let me try on the Small again, and I let out a big sigh of relief. “Ahhh….this feels like the hip belt is resting where it was made to go!” I said. It was so much different! The hip belt rested around the top of my hips, and the shoulder straps were no longer cutting into the tops of my shoulders and chest. The weight of the pack was where it should have been…on my hips, rather than on my waist and my shoulders.
The Extra Small felt like some kind of mutant baby was clinging to my back like a spider. The Small felt like a tightly swaddled papoose on my back.
The moral of the story is: When looking for your first backpack, and you are inexperienced, go to a store where they can fit you for a pack and you can actually try them on! The sizes seem to vary with different models, even for the same maker.
I was very impressed with REI. All of the workers there were a veritable fount of knowledge and experience. I also tried on yet more shoes while I was there the first time. The girl who helped me was a hiker, and when she found out the weight of my pack, she suggested a more sturdy shoe. I tried on some Keen Targhee II’s (which I really liked), but then she suggested that I *just try* another shoe which supported the ankles more. I had been opposed to boots because I didn’t want a really heavy shoe. They had a fake boulder there in the shoe department which I was able to climb to see how the shoes would work on the terrain I’ll be hiking on.
I have been a little worried in the back of my mind about not having any ankle support, since I rolled my ankle last year. I’ve heard that once you roll or sprain your ankle, you are much more likely to do it again.
So…I got another pair of shoes:
ASOLO Fission GV Hiking Shoes
These are not as light as trail runners, but they are much lighter than traditional, leather hiking boots. They give my ankles much more support, they feel like there is much more support on the bottom of my shoe. I don’t feel rough terrain as much (like walking on the gravel road here at home), they have great traction, my toes have plenty of wiggle room, my toes don’t even come close to hitting the tip of my shoes. I have hiked 6-9 miles about 5 times in them, and I don’t have any hot spots, no blisters, no rubbing, no squished toes, etc., and they aren’t even broken in yet! They are also water-proof.
REI allows returns for up to one year, no matter what the reason or condition of the item. Though these shoes are more expensive than trail runners, I’ve read that trail runners have to be replaced at least four times on a thru-hike. According to reviews, there are people who have had these ASOLO’s for 12 or more years and they still look almost new, with no tears or signs of wearing.
I’m still learning how to pack my backpack, and I’m already trying to cut my pack weight. I’ve taken one walk with the backpack with all of my stuff (minus food) and it seems really heavy to me. I made an EXCEL spreadsheet with the weight of all of my items and it was about 17 pounds. (This includes the weight of the pack which is 4 pounds, 2 ounces.) I want to get a scale to actually weigh the pack, because I’m not sure this is correct. It’s all based on weights listed on websites, not actual measured weight.
On that first walk with my pack, I had about 4.5 pounds of water (2 Quart Bottles.) I’m figuring that food for 5-6 days will add another 10 pounds and I think I will be miserable with that amount of weight, based on my first walk with the pack at 21.5 pounds (and I’m assuming my weight on paper was correct.)
We have some ‘hills’ around here that are pretty respectable as hikes go. They aren’t easy. I went about 5 miles with the loaded pack. I came back with a beet red face, and Bud looked worried and told me to sit in front of a fan and ‘recover’. LOL. When I add my food to the backpack -right now- the estimate of my loaded pack will be 31.5 pounds. I’m 5’2″and I don’t know if this amount of weight is typical for someone my height to carry. I think I weigh about 120 pounds, but I might be a more.
I’m looking to try to cut some of the pack weight. As I think about hiking 15-20 miles a day, I can’t imagine carrying that much weight (the 21.5 pounds of my pack is without food.) It was do-able on even ground, but climbing the hills was tough. When my pack is up to 31.5 pounds…I’m just not sure how it will be.
Maybe you get use to carrying that much weight as you get stronger and hike more. I don’t know. If anyone has any advice or suggestions, I’m open to hear it!
I have been trying to connect with a hiking club in this area in hope that I can do some ‘shake-down’ hikes and get some practical, hands-on advice. My first ‘outing’ will be camping either in front of our house, or if I’m really brave, somewhere on our land. We have about 30 acres deep in the heart of the Ozarks. It’s wild enough that we have seen deer, Elk, wild turkeys and pigs. Some of our neighbors have seen a black bear. I have never camped alone, so camping in our front yard will be a big first step for me. I want to try out all of my gear (set up my tent, cook some food, pack everything up, etc.) before I take a real over-night hike.