General advice —how not to fund a thru-hike

TL/DR:

Usually you won’t get far asking for people to fund your hike. Longer: too many people have tried it with poor results. People won’t generally be patient or gentle with you about it.

Introduction

Every year people ask for advice on how to successfully use gofundme or similar platforms to pay for a long trail (e.g. for a hike of the Appalachian Trail or the PCT or similar trail).

Often they become very forceful on how they don’t want negative feedback. They want money and cheerleaders and nothing else while engaged in social media. I thought I would go over the issues and explain the common responses.

I’m addition, there are ways people succeed at public fund raising.

First, this doesn’t happen in a vacuum

Every year there are many people who come up with the idea of launching a GoFundMe to pay for a hike. Usually they show no sign of ever having looked at anyone else trying the same thing or of having read any prior posts in similar groups.

Second, many have tried this before

Every year, a number of people try the approach of asking others for money. Most people in the relevant communities are aware that people are lucky to raise $50.00 or so this way (mostly from people who give them Christmas or birthday gifts as cash).

Third, every good hook has been tried

There is always a good hook. Maybe someone has rescued a dog that is violent and just needs a long trail and a lot of good outdoor time to possibly be saved. Maybe someone is trying to be the first user of an exoskeleton to complete the trail.

Not only that, but there are people raising money for charities where 100% of the money goes to the charity, not the hook of “send me money to hike and if I have any left over I’ll donate it.”

There are amazing hooks out there

There is always someone with a more compelling hardship. For example, 2019 had Test, with metastatic cancer, post surgery for tumors, hiking the trail. She didn’t use that to fund raise.

Someone with even greater hardship did.

Fundraising for a hike & a cause usually doesn’t work

For everyone who is raising money and going to give the “excess” (after they’ve paid for all their expenses and beer) to a good cause, there is someone who is self funded and giving 100% of the money raised to a cause.

Finally, going to hiking communities is a really bad idea

The people in the backpacking and hiking groups generally are raising money (working two jobs, selling things, saving) themselves — and many have been doing this for several years.

They are not the audience to give anyone money — though they are an audience that can caution people based on experience and the most likely to suggest you do as they do.

The bottom line

So, what do the points I’ve made mean?

  1. Many people will see fundraising to support your hike as public begging for others to support your vacation.
  2. Many people will see fundraising efforts for a hike as not likely to be successful (so many people fail at it) and a waste of time.
  3. Many people will see demands for positive attitude in an unfavorable light – as if you are demanding that they cheerlead you in a questionable endeavor.
  4. Many people will suggest that you work and save just as they did.
  5. Finally, there isn’t much good advice people can give you other than (a) save money, (b) set things up so 100% of the money goes to a charity without you touching it (the two things that have worked).

Caveat

If you are the first in a space and produce prolific and entertaining content, like Darwin and Dixie do or did, you can be successful from social media posts and possibly Patreon.

Be aware that for most people you have to actually complete a long trail or be the first person on the trail that year before you will get an audience.

A number of people have floundered by trying to short circuit the process or upon discovering that it takes months of consistent effort before they have a hiking following.

Conclusion, in application

If you are aware of these factors going in, and that you have been preceded many, many times in your quest to have others come up with the money so you can take 4-5 months off and hike – and that many of those before you were hostile and obnoxious – then you are ready to discuss the effort and prepared for the probable result (that you will raise $50 or so if you are lucky).

Otherwise, the odds are not in your favor.

My original essay

Now on the PCT Reddit

Gear—Fleeces

A fleece is used as what is called a “mid-layer.” You add a fleece when you need something warmer than your t-shirt but something not expected to protect you against wind and rain (which would be your outer layer).

I wrote about fleeces before https://adrr.com/d20/2020/01/31/finding-the-right-fleece/. This is about the fleeces I’ve used and where I am now and takes a different approach.

When you think of a fleece think of a sweat shirt or hoody, only lighter and not cotton. Here are some typical fleeces you will see in a regular store.

Typical polyester “lightweight” fleece without hood
Typical lightweight hooded Costco polyester fleece.

On the Appalachian Trail a fleece is worn in colder weather. With the trees blocking the wind I rarely had trouble with a breeze. On the AT I always used full zip fleeces because I would often take my fleece halfway off when it was only kind of cold and I could take the fleece the rest of the way off without taking my pack off.

Ecolator Fleece

The above picture is of my first thru-hiking fleece, the Ecolator full-zip. I really liked my Ecolator. It finally wore out which is why I looked for a replacement. It used what is called micro grid which is warmer for the weight than a traditional fleece. In a polyester which holds less water, it is much lighter, and dries much faster than a cotton fleece.

(The next picture lets you see what a microgrid fleece pattern looks like as the Ecolator picture really does not capture that).

At 13 ounces the Ecolator was lighter than the polyester fleeces I had around the house and took on some section hikes. Polyester fleeces are about half the weight of cotton fleeces.

Marmot fleece

I replaced the Ecolator with a Marmot fleece that has also now been discontinued. The micro grid is clearly displayed in the above picture. It was lighter than the Ecolator and many other fleeces and a great fleece.

For the PCT I made some changes after a while on trail. When it was warmer I sent the fleece home and for colder weather and the Sierras I needed a fleece.

I moved to an Alpha Direct fleece just like Win (Happy) was using. Alpha Direct is a new technology from Polartec, first developed for the military. It is lighter. It is warm and very breathable. But it is only warm when you stop out of the wind or use your rain jacket as a windbreaker.

In motion or in a breeze or the wind it really breathes and sheds heat.

Timmermade Alpha Direct fleece

The Timmermade Alpha Direct is not suitable for bushwhacking. It is not a full zip (or any zip at all). It has no pockets. But it is under five ounces. It worked very well on the PCT for me. When I head back out to finish the Pacific Crest Trail I’ll take it with me.

That said, on the AT, everyone carries a fleece. On the Pacific Crest Trail a sizable percentage do without a fleece but often have a wind shirt or other additional layer instead. They also often carry wind pants. I find a fleece easy to use and at less than five ounces rather painless to carry.

Typically I put my fleece on in the morning to start hiking in the cold and take it off once it gets warmer. In cold wind I wear my rain jacket over it.

Anyway. The big current/old fashionable trend on fleeces for the PCT is the “Melly” now lighter and less expensive than it was in version 2.

The new up and coming trend is the raft of Alpha Direct fleeces from garage businesses. Timmermade is what I bought.

Link: Lots of information on Alpha Direct—including its limits and negatives.

Most fleeces have a hood for extra warmth. They don’t need pockets unless used as you would around the house or around town as a primary clothing item. This is especially true if you have a shoulder pouch on your pack for your glasses. Full zip is nice in the right situation but you can hike without it. Saves an ounce or two not to have a zipper.

I found the PCT warmed up more and faster so that I never hiked along half in and half out of my fleece.

The technology keeps improving and they keep getting lighter. Modern fleeces are a long way from 24-28 ounce cotton blend.

Bottom line: I like having a fleece for when the weather is cold. It is an iconic equipment item used by most backpackers in all but warm weather.

Pecan Pie Cobbler Recipe–Off Topic but a great food item for Thanksgiving Day

Recipe One– in a skillet

Ingredients

Cobbler Batter

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Pecan Filling

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan pieces

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place a 9-inch or 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to heat with the oven. Once preheated, add 1 stick butter to hot skillet and allow to rest in oven until melted.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the remaining Cobbler Batter ingredients in a bowl; set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, make the Pecan Filling by combining the brown sugar, egg, vanilla, salt, melted butter, bourbon, and pecans. Stir until sugar is partially dissolved.
  4. Carefully remove skillet from oven. Pour batter over melted butter (do not stir—the batter should be separated from the butter). Pour Pecan Filling in center of skillet. Transfer to oven and bake until browned and edges slightly pull away from pan, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve while still warm.

Recipe Two — Simple 8×8 Pan Recipe

  • Melt half a stick of Butter in an 8×8 pan while preheating oven to 350 degrees
  • Mix a cup of Flour, 3/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 cup of milk, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon rum.
  • Add the mix to the pan in dollops (so that you do not stir the butter in).
  • Sprinkle a mix of 2/3 cups brown sugar and 1 cup of pecans over the batter.
  • Pour 1 1/2 cups of very hot water over the pan, evenly. It will look like a hot mess.
  • Bake 30-40 minutes, then let cool.

Recipe Three–The Classic

There is something wrong with the recipe.

I’ll have to troubleshoot it.

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup pecans 
  • 1 and ½ cup flour
  • 1 and ½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 and ½ cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon rum or bourbon extract
  • 1 and ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 and ½ cup water hot

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Add melted butter to a 9×13 pan.
  • Sprinkle the pecans over butter.
  • Mix flour, salt and baking powder. Then mix sugar, milk and vanilla/extracts. Stir to combine only.
  • Pour batter over the melted butter and pecans, do not mix.
  • Sprinkle brown sugar over batter, do not stir.
  • Carefully pour the hot water over the mixture.
  • Bake 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown.

Stacking bags or quilts

Enlightened Equipment Essay

Keep in mind that using either quilts or sleeping bags below -10°F requires some experience using them and requires well-thought-out insulation for your head and face and a very efficient sleeping pad insulator underneath you.

See more information about sleeping pads. When camping in the cold, bring warm baselayers, plenty of insulating clothing, and hot food. Make sure you have quick access to your vehicle if something should go wrong, and inform friends or family of your whereabouts.

Another discussion

The bottom line is that you can stack bags but it is warmer and lighter if you have an appropriately rated bag.

For careful use on an ad hoc basis stacking two bags, one as a bag and one as a quilt over it (to get the full loft and avoid compression) can work.

Gear — Headlamps

Background

My first headlamp was one I picked up at the Black Diamond outlet store when it was a tiny place near the airport.

I didn’t know much about headlamps and grabbed it on a whim. Black Diamond (BD) has long discontinued that model.

It died on me from too much water running into it when I hung it off my pack in a shelter on the Appalachian Trail (the AT).

My wife replaced hers with a BD Spot, a very popular headlamp on the AT. I replaced mine with the slightly heavier BD Storm which is full featured, down to multiple colors, to better read maps with.

Like many backpackers we both moved on to Nitecore NU25 headlamps.

The NU25 is a little dim in town where there is a lot of light pollution. But it has been great on the trail.

What I now look for in a headlamp

The first thing is that it has enough power—throws enough light. Too weak and it doesn’t do the job.

The second thing is being waterproof. Otherwise it is just going to fail on me. Probably at a bad moment.

But the third thing is light weight. The longer I hike the more I find a heavy headlamp on my head galling and annoying. The weight doesn’t bother me as much when the headlamp is in my pack waiting for the “just in case” I need it moments.

But while hiking I find weight on my head nags at me.

Having a red and a white light is important too—that way I can switch to red light around other hikers and avoid annoying them. Other colors really don’t have enough utility to justify extra weight.

I also have started to like rechargeable batteries rather than disposable. I can top off my headlamp in town or using my battery pack. That way I’m never guessing when my batteries need replacement and never catch myself carrying extra batteries “just in case.”

Right now the NU25 is just enough. Just bright enough. Light enough. Batteries last long enough.

Everything else out there that offers a little more weighs at least twice as much—and costs more too.

Which is probably why the NU25 has come from nowhere to being one of the most popular headlamps on long trails.

Would I use it for night skiing? No. For in town jogging? No. For bicycle use at night? No. For occasional trail use when I’m starting before dawn or hiking after sunset? Absolutely.

Recommendation

Obviously the NU25. Whether you buy it on Amazon, from REI or direct from Nitecore should depend on where you get the best price and/or where you can return it no questions asked.

Caveats

If you need something brighter there are other headlamps. My guess is that about 10% to 15% of backpackers need a brighter headlamp than the NU25 on its middle setting to be comfortable.

If you do a lot of night hiking (let’s say eight hours a night, six nights a week, for example) you might want to consider having long lasting battery life as a priority.

If you hike in extreme weather regularly and get submerged a lot you want more waterproof than water resistant. The NU25 is fine for rain, mist or snow but not for swimming.

Bottom line is that there are so many headlamps out there that there is one for every use. The NU25 is a niche headlamp that fits thru-hiking.

Gear — Base Layers

Introduction

A base layer is like long underwear, pajamas or a sweat suit. It fills a number of rolls. This essay talks about materials, weights and uses because you need to consider all three in choosing a base layer.

Uses

The most common use for a base layer is to sleep in. It adds warmth to your sleep system and keeps your sleeping bag cleaner. It is a lot easier to wash than a sleeping bag and is warmer per ounce than a sleeping bag liner.

Base layers are also used as long underwear —to wick sweat and to add warmth. That means you will find them being used in a wide range of environments and sometimes as a sole item of clothing (like a long sleeve t-shirt would be) or in connection with another item (many people wear their base layer bottoms under their shorts rather than having pants).

Materials

The most common base layer material is merino wool.

Costco with $18.99 long sleeve merino t-shirts

The most traditional material is silk.

More and more synthetic base layers are being sold and used.

Originally nylon and nylon/spandex were popular. They make for very inexpensive base layers. Costco sells the 32 degree ones in bulk.

Polypropylene became very popular for a while. It is very hydrophobic which means it wicks sweat away from the skin and stays dry. The problem is that it retains odor and starts to stink if not cleaned with mild acids (like vinegar) or bleach.

It has been replaced in many applications with polyester resulting in Capilene and Polartec Silkweight (a military base layer).

Returning to merino wool. It is often 100% or with 10% nylon and a touch of spandex and has grown to dominate the market as it is warm, does not retain odors and takes a variety of colors well.

It does hold moisture.

Weights

Base layers come in different weights from barely there (a “50”) to substantial (300+).

To quote New Zealand

Weight:

Warmth Factor

120- 150g. — Featherweight for warm to hot conditions

150-170g. — Ultralight to wear all year round

170-200g. — Lightweight- still ok to wear all year round but with more warmth

200-300g. — Mid weight- good for the cooler months

300g and up. — Heavy weight for the coldest months

My personal experience

I started with nylon base layers on Appalachian Trail section hikes and used them to sleep in. I used an Underarmor top baselayer to hike in. it did a great job of wicking sweat and helping me stay cooler and dryer.

I like the nylon enough I tend to wear the long sleeve t-shirts from 32 degrees for daily wear in cooler months and to sleep in.

My wife bought me some Capilene bottoms which I paired with a wool top for cooler camping weather.

On the Appalachian Trail I picked up some wool bottoms. Here I am hiking through the Notch using them and hiking shorts. I have painters gloves for the grip and my then favorite fleece over a wool t-shirt.

On the PCT I took Polartec Silkweight top and bottoms. They are great but as it got warmer I sent them home and started wearing a sun hoodie as my top layer and my pants as a bottom layer to sleep in while hiking in my shorts.

For an April start on the PCT next year I’ll probably take the Silkweights at least through the Sierras.

In a lot of places a baselayer duplicates what you might use a fleece and long pants for for warmth. Once I started sleeping in wet gear on the AT to dry it out with body heat while I slept I started not using a sleep layer as much.

Other notes

A lot of people don’t bring both shorts and pants. They just have a pair of shorts they wear with their base layer bottoms or their rain/wind pants.

For warm weather the number and weight of layers is much different than for colder weather.

Many people wear a sun hoody regardless of the weather. In summer it wicks away sweat. In cooler temperatures it provides some protection against wind. 24-7 use means it also takes the place of a base layer top while sleeping.

There isn’t a single answer on baselayers. Your preferences and experiences will change how you use a base layer and what you prefer and there is a wide variety of good choices people make differently from each other.

We got our permits for the PCT in 2023

We got April 13. That is close to perfect for us. We can fly in on April 12 and take the public bus, spend the night and start early morning April 13.

The calendar pictures show the start dates taken by the time our lottery sign in group was finished. Maximum of 35 permits available each day.

You can see April ended up completely full.

We are excited. And glad we didn’t get a later log in time.

That is 3:30 Mountain Time

Some people will drop their permits, and fifteen permits a day will be available for the January permit lottery.

This means that many people who missed out today will still get permits and be able to hike. But we are still happy to not have to sweat it and to have permits together and to not be relying on local permits up and down the trail.

Training

Introduction

I’ve taken three completely different approaches to training.

This post covers those three approaches.

Train as you go

This is basically letting the trail train you. Most people on the Appalachian Trail use this approach.

You start with hiking 8-10 miles a day when you start the trail. Then 10-12. Eventually you reach 15-20 miles a day. The Appalachian Trail is really well suited to this approach.

It is no coincidence that most people take three days to cover the first thirty miles on the Appalachian Trail from Springer to Mountain Crossing.

Some Preparation

This consists of getting into or being in good shape before you start. It begins with walking four to five miles a day (about an hour).

Then you move to carrying a backpack for that five miles a day. A week or so of that will prepare your feet so they can deal with hiking ten miles a day without pain.

That saves you a week or two of conditioning your feet on the trail.

The next step is getting a stretch routine going.

Finally, training your eating. That means having a third of your calories at breakfast so that you can eat enough in the mornings on the trail. I found bigger lunches, snacks and dinners easier on the trail than eating a substantial breakfast.

Real Training

Real training. There are some trails and directions (Eg SOBO on the Pacific Crest Trail) where you really are under the gun to start with twenty mile days and just starting at ten miles a day and training on the trail takes too much time.

For this approach you need to be able to make time commitments. It starts with the “preparation” type training until about 2-3 months out. It ideally includes 3-4 months of weight training, stretching and getting five miles a day walking in to get ready.

At three months out you start adding a little more mileage here and there and you start carrying your pack.

Then, at two months out, you start carrying a pack 10-15 miles a day. That takes at least four hours or so a day, 5-6 days a week. Make sure to get a full rest day or two every week.

You don’t want training injuries.

To get the distance and elevation you need you can take a road walk or a trail up a pass. Five miles and two thousand or so feet of elevation up and then five miles back down and then pick up 4-5 miles on trails or neighborhoods is a good pace to aim for by week four or five as you start the second month.

Carrying your full equipment loaded backpack to start and a month out is where you begin. After a month you move to a full load (four days) of food and two liters of water too.

When you start your hike you will hit the trail with fifteen to twenty miles a day as your baseline. Most will train beyond that on the trail with twenty mile days starting off on this type of regimen.

In application

My wife and I have trained on the trail on the Appalachian Trail (“the AT”) and it worked well. Going NOBO there is a great bubble going about ten miles a day at the start. Eventually everyone gets moving faster, until they hit the Whites.

But training in the trail is what everyone is doing (even if they don’t realize it) and you will find yourself in your own bubble or hiking cluster.

We did the preparation approach for when we went back to the AT. That was great too. Looking back we did a lot more miles each day than I was mentally framing it. The preparation paid off in longer miles and faster acclimation to the trail.

While training

For our 2022 PCT hike we trained with up to 27 trail miles a day. We were in a great place with local trails and elevation. That let us get a solid start time wise with 20 to 24 mile days out of the gate.

I think that if I had not developed shin splints* that put us off the trail for about three weeks we would have gotten through the downsides—the fires and other problems—and probably finished in 2022.

Or maybe not. The Sierras went from killing hot (as in people dying on the trail) to waking up with ice on the inside of our tent and snow in the forecast when we got off for altitude sickness.

For our 2023 completion we expect to train so we can be comfortable with starting doing twenty miles a day through the desert and into the rest of the trail.

But we like hiking. So the training is fun for us.

Caveat. Training should include attention to taking zero and rest days. Too many people get injuries because they don’t have enough recovery time.

Zeros aren’t just for partying or wasting time and money. Your body needs recovery.

*with new shoes and compression calf sleeves that problem seems to be taken care of. I’d never had shin splints before. Live and learn.