Finished New Jersey and made Trail Days

Trail Days is a hiker festival in Damascus, Virginia. We missed it in 2019 (we hiked through Damascus during Easter) and 2020 (it was canceled) but we made it in 2021 after finishing New Jersey.

Unionville to Mashipacong Shelter.

Then to the last shelter in New Jersey and a chance to meet a hiking hero of mine.

Then we left Brink shelter and headed south

We spent $30 for the hiker rate at the AMC cabins (included laundry and showers) and got out at 5:58 am to hike to our car. I’m amazed at how early we get out some mornings.

We did 108 miles in seven days of hiking (including two half days).

Then we were heading to Damascus.

On the way we picked up some hikers to take them (giving back to the trail community which has done so much for us). We drove The Dude. Gauge. And Another.

At trail days we Bob Peoples and got to see Tent City.

Trail Days pictures. and

The crowning of Lady Di. She is just a gem and a highlight of the trail.

Noodles talking about catching alligators. Good to hear about the lives of other hikers.

On Tents

I find that a true 1p tent needs about 23+ square feet and a true 2p really needs about 30 to work for most people for more than a week or two at a time.

I’ve made do with less (my wife and I put about 1200 miles on our Copper Spur), especially with vertical sides which make the interior feel bigger, but the extra space is huge in making a tent livable.

I’ve really noticed that since moving to a Triplex life has really been better when we tent.

I see a similar dynamic with the Durston cult members. That is a 32 square foot 2p tent. People using it are often just much happier.

I realize that some do ok with less space. There is that group of couples who hike while sharing a 1p tent. However, for us, for a 5’5” and 5’8” couple, I’ve found that 27-28 square feet is too little for long term use on a trail.

It was great for short trips, but for month after month it started to feel cramped.

From Tent City in Damascus.

37 square feet is grand, especially in the rain and keeping your gear inside the tent instead of the vestibule. And it is in line with what twice a 1p interior adds up to.

The difference the extra space makes is subtle, but 20-30 days into a backpacking trip you will find yourself more likely to look forward to alternatives to your tent every night if it is “too small.”

And I suspect how much rain you are getting makes a difference as well as to what is “too small.”

With more space I’m suddenly much more willing to use the tent instead of a shelter or looking for a hostel as we finish the AT.

Thought I’d bring that up. Curious what you think the right space numbers are and what factors into it.

Great price/performance tent for two people:

Compare with the tent I use: Triplex

And compare both with this slightly smaller tent. 30 square feet (which is enough for some couples). Great price.

For some great in depth reviews: 27 ounces. 30 square feet.


I’m writing about tents to be used for long trail hiking/backpacking trips and shared by two people. By people who are going to use the tents a lot (so cost per use isn’t as big of a factor).

But the recommendations change if you aren’t sure you want to do that (you will only know once you start) or are limited in time/money.

If you haven’t started backpacking and if you aren’t a hiker doing long trails but more into car camping (drive some place and camp) or base camp style camping (hike in, spend a weekend and hike out) your needs are different.

For true car camping in parks, I’d recommend Ozark Trail from Walmart or Costco for $60 or less.

Get the three person tent for $25 (definitely less than $60😄😄).

For base camp and crossover camping (some hiking/backpacking involved) if you are just starting out I’d recommend the Lanshan 2 purchased at Aliexpress.

Here is a review.

I don’t always trust that website but this review is excellent.

Finally, the REI half dome series is excellent for short camping and campground camping trips.

Of the tents we’ve owned, we currently have as keepers:

  • Big Agnes Copper Spur 2. Great tent, especially when free standing use, unlikely to rain, or just the bug net for camping out under the stars.
  • ZPacks Triplex. For backpacking trips. Especially if rain is likely. Our go to tent.
  • REI half dome. Bought used. Great for car camping and just the two of us or lending to a child who wants a tent for an overnight.
  • Our car camping tent. A larger Ozark Trail tent. Lots of room.

Also. I’ve seen an inexpensive one person tent in Pennsylvania on the Appalachian Trail carried by a guy who had already used it for 1400 miles hiking up from Springer.

For potential four season use and short hikes there are many tents in this range.

Also in the realm of the Lanshan 2

Finally. Two years ago I wrote a post that addressed a few specific questions someone had. My thoughts have changed some, but they provide a different view on the question of which tent is “best.”

Wish you the best.

Post script:

There are statistics on what people use for long trails. For the Appalachian Trail:

And for the PCT:

Review by Jim MacKay/Wings

10 and 11 May I [“I” in this is Jim MacKay/Wings speaking in the first person. d20’s notes are in []] attended the first sessions of an AT Institute (ATI) course.

Below is a summary of my experience. I consider these excellent reasons to attend the $300 (“suggested” donation), four-day course:

You are Ebenezer Scrooge-level cheap

You believe in, and appreciate being inundated with, logical fallacies

You have an overwhelming desire to become a Jennifer Pharr Davis FKT fanboy, or envision your thru-hike as an unsupported FKT-esque effort [Note, I and the author think highly of Jennifer Pharr Davis].

You are insecure enough to draw confidence from a fallacious correlation between attending ATI and a three-fold increase your chances of completing a thru-hike

You need to update your dumpster diving techniques

I signed up for, and traveled to attend, the Appalachian Trail Institute course under the construct that I would take every action possible to be mentally prepared for my planned 2022 NoBo thru-hike (deferred since 2020 due to Covid).

Despite reading negative reviews of the instructor and his cantankerous style, I had intended to glean valuable nuggets from the course.

Since my planned hike has few time or financial constraints, and the FKT cult is an anathema to my hiking philosophy, it took fewer than 24-hours to conclude that the ATI was not compatible with my thru-hike preparation and represented an unmitigated waste of time.

Things I did learn from my time at ATI:

  1. I do NOT want to hike 16 or more hours every day
  2. I do NOT want to jump in my sleeping bag within ten minutes of arrival at camp and get on the trail no more than ten minutes after awakening – solely so I can avoid carrying a tent or cold weather gear

Attendance summary: the course began at 1:00 pm, Monday, with five hours of digressive pontification.

We broke for dinner and reconvened at a local grocery store at 7:00 pm for a walk through intended to highlight appropriate trail food choices.

Since two overarching guiding principles of the ATI thru-hiking philosophy include Ebenezer Scrooge-level cheapness and FKT-like speed to completion, there was repeated emphasis on buying the most calories for the lowest cost.

That’s it – cheap Kcals are the holy grail. Warren offered advice to buy and eat an entire box or bag of cookies for dinner and wash it down with a half-gallon of milk; cheap and lots of calories.

Or, buy a bottle of Hershey’s chocolate sauce and drink it straight. Or, buy whipped cream and eat it from the spray can – all in the pursuit of “cheap” calories.

Students around me were appalled and began to murmur disapproval of the course content – and this was only the first day. After 35 minutes at the grocery, we returned to ATI and spent another hour and a half listening to Warren pontificate about his glory days, preach the Jennifer Phar Davis FKT fan club story, as well as digress on unrelated tangents.

We finally reached escape velocity at 9:10 pm with plans to meet back at ATI at 8:00 Tuesday morning for a 6.5 mile “diagnostic” hike. I was frankly baffled at how the instructor could “diagnose” anything since – assuming due to morbid obesity — he did not hike.

He dropped our class at a trail head and drove to meet us at the end of the section. So much for leading by example and being able to “diagnose” by direct observation. Following our hike, we had lunch and returned to the ATI in anticipation of an afternoon in class.

However, I had already reached the conclusion that a miserly, <140-day, non-water filtering, no tent, FKT-style hike had limited relationship to my planned NoBo. Remaining for the rest of the week appeared to be a waste of my time so I departed less than 24-hours since arriving.

With an instructional style alternating between pontification and digression, the instructor carries a flip phone from the early 2000’s and distributed printed copies of the 2014 (seven-years old – because, of course, “the trail doesn’t change”) ATC Trail Data guide, while presenting a sort of proud Luddite vibe.

He advanced a number of concepts I found objectively false, illogical, self-aggrandizing, disrespectful, or at times next-level annoying (the instructor thinks it is clever and good technique to repeat three times in a row, in a monotone, concepts he deems important, as well as reading, word-for-word, his entire two-page hiking manifesto. (Suggestion: Do NOT read the pages. Do NOT read the pages. Do NOT read the pages).

  1. Modern, useful information like introducing the AWOL interactive .pdf (which weighs exactly zero ounces) is eschewed, while presenting the following dubious advice and ideas:
  2. instead of buying an adjustable, lightweight, flexible carbon fiber trekking pole that attenuates energy and vibrations potentially preventing injuries, hikers should purchase a used, non-adjustable aluminum ski pole at a surplus store, available for only $1.00. Who cares if equipment is cheap? What good does it do if it is unsuitable, heavy, or contributes to injury?
  3. despite frequent exhortations about minimizing gear weight and creature comfort, he bafflingly advocates for buying a $25.00 flannel sleeping bag at Wal*Mart because it is cheap.
  4. repetitively and unproductively mocking his perception of societal fears, for example; “when did we all get afraid of things we can’t see like viruses”?
  5. He went on a long rant about how we should not be afraid of things we cannot see, like Covid, HIV in blood, and Giardia (since “the body adjusts”).
  6. Oh, except Norovirus. Hikers shouldn’t stay in shelters or hostels because inexplicably, in those places they should be concerned with viruses they cannot see.
  7. he repeatedly mocks the idea of bottled water to no discernable end besides hearing himself talk.
  8. he does not use Permethrin – an important tool to avoid ticks and tick-borne diseases. Yeah, that makes sense.
  9. there is no need to filter water on the trail, claiming that “your body will adapt” while supporting the claim with the false equivalence “there is a whole industry selling probiotics.”
  10. Perhaps 50 years ago one could hike the AT and not filter water. However, with the level of runoff from cattle operations and pollution, thanks, I’ll carry a filter.
  11. a strawman argument for not using GPS on the trail by trying to conflate it’s use with people using GPS driving their car in a Washington state forest and getting lost. This represents a false equivalency of driving a car and blindly following automotive GPS with using GPS while hiking the AT.
  12. an unabashed cheerleader for activities including hiking in National Parks last year when closed by the Federal government, and despite Baxter State Park rules prohibiting hikers younger than six years old climbing above the tree line, it was “great” that a family broke those rules and disrespected the park by climbing with their four-year old.
  13. dismissive of those who respected trail communities, other hikers, and the ATC request to leave the trail. Claims that no hiker-induced COVID impact on any of the trail communities in 2020.
  14. Another false argument. Thousands of hikers DID respect the ATC request to leave the trail out of respect for trail community health. To claim that there were no hiker COVID impacts utterly ignores the fact that thousands fewer hikers were on trail in 2020, so town exposure may have been reduced by as much as 90%. To claim it proves hikers didn’t bring COVID to AT-adjacent towns is to willfully ignore the reduced exposure last year.
  15. just use “common sense” with regards to Covid. Notwithstanding how one may feel about Covid, there is no such thing “common sense” with respect to an infectious, lethal virus. To suggest there is Covid “common sense” is flatly ludicrous. The virus doesn’t have “common sense” and doesn’t care about yours.
  16. since there is no compensation incentive, insisting that hiking the trail is a “job” is objectively untrue, another false equivalency, and a useless comparison.
  17. claims to have hiked much of the trail not carrying a “canteen” (??), since he knows where all the water sources are. Although that claim strains credulity, even if he did know, what possible relevance does that have for thru-hikers attending ATI? It is one more piece of puffery employed for self-aggrandizement.
  18. the pseudoscience “formula” that: % chance of injury = pack weight / pace. This so-called formula is based on myths and intuition. If there are ANY peer-reviewed studies of hikers that validate this bogus “formula”, the underlying assumptions, or injury correlation, I’d love to find them.
  19. the faulty causality argument that, while approximately 25% of thru-hikers are successful, approximately 75% — or three times as many — ATI graduates successfully complete their hike. This is fallacious argument since the statistical sample groups are not randomized. The sample included his group of graduates is self-selecting and includes potential thru-hikers who are oriented to do everything they can to finish. This group is already likely to finish at a higher rate BEFORE attending ATI. So, to claim ATI is the reason 75% finish as compared to 25%, is a false comparison as there is no correlation.
  20. Accepting the argument that one is three times more likely to finish due to ATI attendance may breed false confidence for believing in a logical fallacy

Summary: I am not motivated by epic levels of cheapness or a desire for an unsupported FKT.

The Jennifer Pharr Davis fan club and cult worship experience is ridiculous and I’m allergic to repetitive puffery and logical fallacies. I could not waste any more time than I already had listening to blather about the 497 times the instructor met (trail name) “Mercury” during her supported FKT.

All of which resulted in deciding continued attendance at the ATI was not valuable.

Jim MacKay

Note that in the original post this is cited from Warren Doyle was involved in discussing it and basically asserted that he did not teach dumpster diving. That is the only complaint that Mr. Doyle raised in the discussion.

He also brought up that he does discuss his student Geraldine Largay (Inchworm)

See below for the discussion about dumpster diving for food.

person walking between green forest trees
Photo by Luis del Río on

  • J—- J—– No dumpster diving lessons? He’s slacking.
  •  Darn. I completely blanked the dumpster diving lessons. Yes, he advocated for dumpster diving to save money. He also advocated for hanging around restaurants and eating food from other patron’s plates before the plates are bussed after the patrons have left. GROSS.
  • Warren Doyle Fact check: I have never advocated dumpster diving.
  •  Fact check: yes, you did during our class, and from J—J —-‘ss post above, apparently not for the first time.

[Posted with permission from the original author]

On Backpacking Stoves

You will see a lot of reviews of “stoves” for backpackers. Most reviews are tied into Affiliate Marketing Links, so they are focused around trying to sell you on a choice you have already made and are often focused around the “top sellers.”

(On the trail, stove means “cannister stove” or alcohol fueled stove. Cannister stoves net out weighing less, cooking much, much faster, and are legal places alcohol stoves are not. Esbit stoves have pretty much disappeared from the AT).

The reviews you will find on-line will list a lot of stoves and basically give you a reason to justify buying any stove on the list. Many reviews just aren’t giving information so much as trying to sell you something after you’ve read the review so that they get an affiliate marketing kickback from the review.

The same marketing > relevance issue is true with lists of features for stoves and the things that go with them.

For the Appalachian Trail, some features don’t matter. Two that don’t matter so much are wind resistance and multi-fuel capacity. Brands often don’t matter either.

  1. Wind resistance really isn’t an issue for 99.9% of the trail. It is huge for other places and other trails.
  2. Multi-fuel capacity. Multi-fuel stoves are huge in some parts of the world. On the trail you can pretty much get fuel cannisters almost every forty to fifty miles. Multi-fuel is just extra ounces on the trail.
  3. Brand of titanium pot. Or brand of aluminum pot. Those pots all weigh about the same, have about the same quality, many are manufactured by the same company with just different brands for different markets. Aluminum long handled spoons actually weigh less than titanium ones– much to my surprise.

Other things that may or may not matter.

  1. Integrated pot/stove combinations. Those are neat, but they weigh more and the efficiency of the heat exchangers is off-set by the fact that wider & shallower pots heat up faster than you would expect.
  2. Indeed, one of the big surprises for my wife and I was that for 1.7 liter pots (which my wife and I use since we share our cook systems and meals), the heat exchanger system we have isn’t any faster than our wide pot with a lid on it. Fuel efficiency is much different on a tall/narrow pot or cup than on a wider & shallower pot or cup which off-sets the heat exchanger advantages.
  3. Extras. While a few people will want a coffee press or some of the other fancy extras you can get, after a hundred or two hundred miles most people lose interest and ship the extras home or leave them in a hiker box. So a French press coffee maker, a bread maker insert, or an infuser as an option might work for car camping but for long distance hiking they are just extra weight after a while.
  4. Piezo electric starters may be a positive, may be a negative. For many people piezo electric starters fail often enough that they will find that everyone carries a Bic lighter (and a Bic will start your stove even if the Bic is out of fuel — it will still cast sparks). Once you are always carrying the mini-Bic you have to ask yourself if the lighter is really a benefit or not.

For 95% of the people, after the first hundred miles or so, a stove exists to boil water. Boil water, add food stuff, let sit until cooked. If you carry a pan too, it exists as a lid for your stove, to make quesadillas with and to pan fry steaks on your first night out of town. 95% of the time it will just be a pot lid (which you need anyway).

Our pan. Worth it right now.

Most people aren’t going to carry a pan. They will just carry a lid. However, a pan is light enough that it is worth considering.

The bottom line is that you are pretty safe with choosing a stove and pot system used by lots of other hikers no matter which stove and pot you get. You can make most of the tests irrelevant by just using a wider & shallower pot or cup instead of the narrow and tall models often sold and used.

So yes. I still love our MSR Windburner, I’m just not willing to carry it while we finish up from New Jersey to Vermont on the AT. Lots of people like the integrated systems on the trail and if you like yours, there is absolutely no reason to give up your Jetboil or your MSR.

Yes, that BRS stove is amazingly cheap — and endorsed by a number of prominent YouTube personalities. It actually works.

Yes. Other brands are great too, and have advantages (such as adjustability, ability to simmer, wind resistance and efficiency).Hike your own hike and feel confident your choice is the right one.

Ignore the advertisements masquerading as reviews.

Post script.

A couple will probably do best with a 1.7 liter pot. That is large enough to cook dinner for two. Individuals tend to do just fine with something between .5 liters and a liter. You will need to experiment to see what works best for you.

For reference, Jetboil Stash = .8 liter pot. MSR Windburner base pot is l liter. Jetboil Flash = 1 liter pot. Standard Toaks Pot = .75 liters. Snow Peak set includes a 1 liter pot and a .7 liter pot. Soto Amicus system has a 1 liter pot and a .5 liter pot.

You really need to find what works for you.

How much it costs me to hike on the trail

How much it costs me on the trail

About every 40-50 miles I’ll resupply. At a dollar general four days will run about $40-$45. Better grocery stores will cost more.

If I get town food every 40-50 miles it will cost between $15 (burgers at McDonalds) and “more”. Easy enough to spend $20 on a pizza or restaurant hamburger with a soft drink and if you toss in beer it can cost more.

More if I get breakfast too.

Hostels will run between $25 and $50 for a bed, sheets, shower and laundry. Again maybe once every four days/50 miles or so. Double if you take a zero (and more town food too).

That is $40+$15+$40 every 4-5 days x 7 times a month. More for beer or better food.

That is where the $1000 a month goes. Add more for shuttles, gear replacement (new shoes every couple months or so) and such.

Gets more expensive in the north. Some real deals in the south (donation hostels that only expect $20 a night, that sort of thing).

I’ve met people who were really spending very little until they discovered town food and beer. Made a huge difference in their expenses.

Sharing a $70 a night hotel room can drop the price rapidly. Getting a private room can kick the price up.

Add in fuel cans every so often, and extras here and there, insurance, paying for your cell phone and it all adds up.

But if you start breaking the cost out that way it helps to show where the money goes and why the trail costs what it does.

(For practice go to a dollar general and price six thousand calories a day of food for four days. Now price that at a Kroger’s or similar store).

That is where I originally posted this.