The 2022 survey is out

Below is an excerpt from the survey covering alternative routes people take, and what percentage took each alternative.

Desert Alternates

  • Spitler Trail – 2.3%
  • South Ridge Trail – 1.4%
  • Devil’s Slide Trail – 45%
  • Deer Springs Trail – 7.3%
  • Marion Mountain Trail – 0.5%
  • Black Mountain Road – 0.9%
  • Cougar Crest Trail – 0.9%
  • Acorn Trail- 13.1%
  • Buckhorn Camp Detour – 6.1%
  • Upper Shake Campground – 1.5%

Sierra Alternates

  • Trail Pass Trail – 6.8%
  • Cottonwood Pass Trail – 18%
  • Army Pass Trail – 0.4%
  • New Army Pass Trail – 0.6%
  • Whitney Portal Trail – 23.5%
  • Kearsarge Pass Trail – 80.4%
  • Sawmill Pass Trail – 0.3%
  • Bishop Pass Trail – 6.6%
  • Piute Pass Trail – 0.1%

Northern California Alternates

  • Bucks Lake Alternate – 8.8%
  • Castella Trail – 5.2%

Oregon Alternates

  • Callahan’s Side Trail – 14.3%
  • Hyatt Lake Resort – 11.2%
  • Mazama Campground (Crater Lake) – 60%
  • Crater Lake Rim Alternate – 84.1%
  • Whitefish Horse Camp Trail – 6.2%
  • Shelter Cove Trail – 37.8%
  • Elk Lake Resort Trail – 26.7%
  • Big Lake Youth Camp Trail – 50%
  • Paradise Park Trail – 4.8%
  • Ramona Falls Alternate – 51.8%
  • Eagle Creek Trail – 68.9%

Washington Alternates

  • Stevenson Roadwalk – 1.8%
  • Old PCT Route past Old Snowy Mountain – 38.7%
  • Goldmyer Hot Springs Alternate – 0.5%
  • Holman Fire Detour – 0.3%
  • Miner’s Ridge Trail – 0.7%
  • Robinson Creek Trail – 0.7%
  • Billy Goat Trail – 0.8%

Of course there is a lot more to the survey than just discussing alternatives routes people use on the trail. The Crater Lake “alternative” is really the trail, except you can’t ride a horse on it so there is an “official” route for horses. We should have taken the other route at Old Snowy given the conditions.

Whitefish Horse Camp Trail – 6.2% was the best alternative we took. One, we missed being in the middle of a fire. Two, the trail magic was incredible (and do not, do not, do not, approach the camp host in any way that appears you are taking trail magic for granted). Three, it is a delightful trail section.

Finally, on alternatives, I missed seeing the Shelter Cove and Elk Lake Resort Trail alternatives, though we stopped at both. We just went in and out?!?

The survey is useful as a snap shot of information and data, all said and done. Read it, realizing the limits of self-selected respondents and informal surveys. It is still useful and appreciated.


In reading reviews and getting advice about shoes the problem is that the reviews don’t cover enough. A normal review tells you if the shoe is “zero drop” and maybe how wide it is. For backpacking, shoes have the following characteristics that you need to know vis a vis your individual feet:

What type and how much arch—are the shoes flat or arched, and if they have an arch, is it a slow arch or real arch.

What width—wide or narrow, and wide in the toe box or not; wide in the heel or not? Does the shoe come in wide, regular or narrow versions? Most runners have narrow feet. Most backpackers end up with wide feet.

How much drop does the shoe have from the heel to the toes. That runs from zero drop to virtual high heels. Get to off brands and some even have negative drop. The amount of drop is often a matter of fads or trends.

Are the shoes high top or low top? That usually doesn’t make much of a difference but can in a number of situations.

Are the shoes waterproof or not waterproof (and if waterproof are they really waterproof or just water resistant). This can make a difference if there is a lot of rain or shallow water crossings. Some people’s feet sweat too much in waterproof shoes. Others adjust easily.

Are the shoes dust/sand resistant (non-waterproof shoes often ventilate very well and sometimes that means sand slides right in). If you are hiking through a lot of ash zones that makes a difference in how much “poofs” off your socks at night.

How is the “stack”—stack is the distance from the bottom of the sole to the top, and are the shoes stable or “active.” A high stack is often very cushioning and often thick enough you don’t need a rock plate. Some high stacks aren’t very stable, others are great.

Active shoes are more nimble for runners but also more likely to lead to a twisted ankle.

Does the shoe have rocker or flat bottoms—rocker bottoms showed up in basketball shoes and everysooften someone tries to introduce them to hiking shoes. Basically with a rocker the shoe bottom is curved and kind of rolls through every step.

Another feature is the other elements in the last (the pattern the sole of the shoe is built on) which make for different fits. There are also miscellaneous special features some shoes have such as alternative lacing systems, gaiter connectors or traps and other features.

Also, you need to know if there been a change in the shoe between models numbers and are different colors manufactured at different factories or out of different materials?

Cascadias are a shoe that went from wide to very narrow. New Balance is known for making different shoes at different factories. Hoka has some colorways that use different materials.

Many shoes feel very different when you have the weight of a backpack on than when you do not. Some shoes have protective plates in them (rock plates) and some do not.

Finally, some soles are tougher than others (lasting much longer and standing up to tough trail surfaces) and some grip wet rock much better than others. Vibram is a standard but some proprietary blends are competitive.

I wear shoes with a real arch, double e width when I can find it, prefer waterproof and low top. I ended up with shin splints for the first time in my life with shoes that fit my feet well while getting torn up by trails a couple hundred miles sooner than I expected.

Moab 2 worked ok for me. The low tops were too loose in the heel and gave me blisters. The mid top I laced so they work like a low top but kept dirt and rocks out better. They’ve been discontinued and I don’t know how their replacement will work.

Altra’s throw my knees out. (They are zero drop shoes). In my experience rocker soled shoes hurt my knees too with what they do to my gait. Others rehab their knees with Altras.

I don’t accumulate sweat in my shoes so waterproof shoes worked for me even in Dallas at over 100 decrees. Other hikers sweat up a storm and waterproof shoes are a disaster for them.

Some trails have a lot more sand and ash from fires than others. My socks stayed a lot cleaner on the Appalachian Trail than they did on the PCT.

I discovered that some shoes feel worlds different when I have a full backpack on.

REI is great since they carry a lot of shoes to compare and they keep a store of backpacks and sand bags so you can load them up and walk around the store in them.

But you really need to see how a pair of shoes works with your specific feet while carrying a backpack. As a result trying shoes on and walking around a store with a backpack on is an important step.

Berry Cobbler (for after hiking)


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour;
  • 1 cup white sugar and 1 1/2 cup white sugar (separate);
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder;
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt;
  • 9 tablespoons cold butter;
  • 1/3  cup boiling water;
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch;
  • 1/3 cup cold water;
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice;
  • 3 cups fresh raspberries and 3 cups fresh blackberries, drained,


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F with a ceramic 9’x13′ pan in place.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in 1/3 cup boiling water just until mixture is evenly moist.
  3. In a deep pot, dissolve the cornstarch in cold water. Mix in 1 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice, and blackberries. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
  4. When boiling nicely, pour into ceramic 9’x13′ pan already in the oven.  Place dough by the spoonful.
  5. Bake 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until dough is golden brown.

Yes, we are having this tonight as part of Christmas Eve and celebrating being back in town.

Gear—Backpacking knives

Usually, I don’t carry a knife. Sometimes I carry a Derma-safe which is little more than a razor blade in a folding case. Good for cutting lines and maybe cheese or sausage. $2.25 and .27 ounces. Mine was a gift from my wife.

My knife on the Appalachian Trail.

From the boy scouts on I’ve had Swiss army type knives. Spoon, fork and everything else. I’ve also owned pocket knives until 9-11 made them extinct and had a backpacking folder that was too heavy. I and knives have a long history going back to the 1960s.

For long trails I’ve since gone to no knife on the thesis that I can put “no knife” in carry on luggage and I really don’t use a knife for anything on the trail.

My wife’s knife.

The alternative to no knife or a minimalist knife is the Petzl backpacking/climbing knife at 1.5 ounces for a full sized functional knife. Look at the Spatha at the official Petzl website.

The blade comes like that new.

It comes I n multiple colors—not just blue. It is also well known as a climber’s knife.

I’m still ambivalent about carrying a knife. On the one hand it is part of the essential list for wilderness hiking. On the other hand it is something that I always plan around not having/needing/using and you can’t carry them on an airplane.

My recommendation to friends.

If you want alternatives you can find lots of lists of “best backpacking knives” on line. Usually they recommend knives that weigh more than these two and/or cost much, much more.

Of course, you guessed it, most of those lists are designed to talk you into buying something so the “reviewer” gets a kickback from affiliate marketing.

They never recommend the smallest knife I discussed. $2.25 really isn’t enough for those guys.

Now they will send you to the same thing that costs more. $25 for the same sort of knife you can buy for less than a tenth of the price? No surprise, the expensive and heavy version gets recommended.

As an alternative there are Swiss Army knives. An excellent one includes scissors and a tooth pick. Many people swear by them. I’m not going to disparage them if they are your jam. I’m just not a fan, but many people are.

There are some honest people. At this link there is someone talking reason on knives

Bottom line, if you want full function the Petzl is a great deal. People will try to sell you on knives that cost twice as much. Or $153 for a knife that isn’t any better than the $29 Petzl. Or $159 and heavier with a shorter blade —so more expensive and not as good.

I don’t see the purpose in paying more to get less?

My Christmas gift this year.

Yes. I was given a Petzl in a color different from my wife’s. So, maybe I need something to cut cheese with while backpacking.

Time will tell.

Again, for honest comments and thoughts about knives read

Gear—hiking shorts

My favorite shorts for a long time were my Gerry vertical board shorts. They are just about perfect—but almost 8.1 ounces. I’m wearing a pair now as I write this. $12 from Costco. Link to picture of shorts,

I skipped shorts at the start on my latest PCT hike and then bought a pair while hiking. They were great until I started to shrink out of them and they began binding. I replaced them with shorts found in a hiker box. 4.6 ounce free shorts.

They have only two pockets, no zippers and are really minimalist.

My convertible pants are 11.4 ounces. White Sierra pants. I keep thinking I can just zip off the legs and have shorts and pants in one item, but I find “real” shorts have advantages that are hard to explain.

It is funny. My REI Sahara pants I got from a hiker box were ten ounces. The newer version I bought from REI when I shrank out of the hiker box pants weighs twelve ounces. REI keeps changing the recipe for its convertible pants.

6.8 ounce full featured shorts. I’m seriously considering carrying shorts again when we leave for the PCT in April.

In theory a pair of zip offs is a pair of pants when you need them, turns into shorts and can take the place of a base layer at night. Yes, I’ve used convertible pants that way.

Having clean shorts for laundry day (or clean pants while hiking in shorts), more ventilation and better comfort sometimes seems worth a few ounces. Pants also help protect me from excess sun, wind & cold weather and rough trail scratching my legs into a bloody mess.

I prefer one pocket deep enough my phone won’t fall out, one pocket that zips for my wallet, and belt loops. Other pockets for snacks, my buff when I’m not wearing it and such are nice.

But I’m still not sure.

Generally, most of the year you will find most hikers in shorts. On the AT they usually wear shorts and a t-shirt. On the PCT they wear shorts and a sun hoody.

When it is cold some wear tights, others base layer bottoms and shorts and others wear pants. I’ve hiked with pants and with a baselayer and shorts.

I’ll make up my mind some day. 😄😄

Gear—rain pants

I originally started with a rain skirt/kilt and rain gaiters. They breath really well and kept me dry is some pretty hard rain on the Appalachian Trail.

It rains a lot on the AT. I paired them with waterproof hiking shoes/trail runners. I find my feet adjust to them, but your experience may be different.

I also tried Frogg Toggs rain pants I got from a hiker box. They tend to rip out. I’ve had DWR treated pants but never put them to the test.

Eventually I switched to full zip Eastern Mountain Sports rain pants. I wore them with my Packa. Thunderhead pants. I could unzip them from the top or the bottom and they are tough enough to handle rough trail.

Fully waterproof. Surprisingly they weighed less than the gaiter/rain skirt combination.

The bottom cuff worked just like a rain gaiter when I let it splay out and I was pleased with them.

On the PCT I switched to Versalite rain pants. They are lighter and work well as wind pants too (many people on the PCT use wind pants as rain gear too. I use my rain pants for wind gear).

They worked well for the conditions I dealt with on the 1600 miles we did though they trade off toughness for being half the weight or less.

For the AT the EMS pants were close to perfect, though I met a lot of people who used a rain coat and nothing or just a rain skirt or nothing and dealt with wet legs and feet.

That wasn’t my preference.

For the Pacific Crest Trail there is a lot less rain and a lot more wind. I’ve found that I’m pleased with the switch, though I’ve kept the EMS pants for when I revisit those conditions.

Bottom line:

  • Some people are happy with just a rain jacket and deal with wet legs and feet.
  • Some use DWR treated pants. I’m not sure about that—REI can’t make up their minds whether or not hiking pants should be DWR.
  • Some wear rain kilts or skirts. Those are light and ventilate well. Can be worn with or without rain gaiters.
  • Some wear the cheapest rain pants out there until they fall apart. Rinse and repeat.
  • Others use real waterproof rain pants. Full zip (can be unzipped top or bottom) work the best.
  • Finally, some use lighter rain/wind pants. Versalite, Visp and other brands.

All have trade-offs and your final choice is a matter of your own taste and metrics.

Next. Probably gloves.

Or shorts.

There are a lot of gloves and mittens out there.

Gear—backpacking towels

More than forty years ago I was out with my aunt and uncle at a campground that turned out to have free showers. So I had a great shower.

Since I hadn’t known about the showers in advance I dried off with a small hand towel and it worked really well.

30 towels for $9.97

When I started backpacking again, microfiber towels were the rage. But they were circa $30 which seemed a bit much, so I went with a Dollar General wash cloth

Still under $2.00 a towel

I found that for general use a wash cloth is about perfect. Small, light and microfiber dries out quickly.

It works well for a cat bath, to take excess moisture off or for when you find a free public shower or a mountain lake.

Microfiber fabric works better as a small towel than cotton does for a backpacker. It grabs water better and dries faster. The down side is that it doesn’t scrub as well.

The pricier options

But what is better, the small towels and washcloths sell for about a dollar each and are found at any hardware store or Costco. I am a huge fan of inexpensive and easy to find gear.

My free microfiber washcloth

Best, they are often given away for free at hardware stores. That is what I’m using right now. A free one from a hardware store. Who doesn’t love free?

My advice is to get a dollar’s worth of microfiber from a dollar store and try out a microfiber washcloth at home. Around the house I prefer cotton, though microfiber has a growing following for normal household use. Microfiber is lighter, dries faster and works better on the trail.

You can try one out after showering to get a feel for how it works and how well they last. My wife’s did the Appalachian Trail and 1600 miles on the PCT and is going strong.

From the dollar store you can get it for a lot less than thirty dollars or so one will cost from an outfitter.

(Yes. I do have one of the pricy ones somewhere in my gear I’m not using. It was a gift from another backpacker who had decided to move on to a smaller and lighter version. No surprise, so have I).