We have heard it before and know we will hear it again on the trail.
“Why in the world are you starting your hike in February?”
Usually, that question is accompanied by a look or a sound of incredulousness. That is usually followed up with comments that are backed up by “suspicious” statistics.
“You have a much better percentage chance of completing the trail if you start later. Only 3.5% of hikers finish if they start in February.”
Or some other fabricated number designed to scare us into a later start. And of course, we get feedback and comments about the cold temperatures and unpredictable weather.
“OHHHH MAN!!!! It is going to be cold in February! I know someone who got frostbite on their earlobes because they started so early. This is after they hiked through 10 feet of snow!”
Yes, someone said they hiked through 10 feet of snow and their earlobes were frostbitten. Who knows? Maybe they did.
To all would-be commenters:
Just because it didn’t work out for “frostylobes”, it doesn’t mean it won’t work out for us. And if it doesn’t? It doesn’t. We are hiking our own hike. We certainly appreciate feedback and suggestions, but please don’t rain on our cold, windy, and unpredictable winter weather parade.
The majority of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers travel northbound from Georgia. The majority of those northbound thru-hikers attempt to start in mid to late march, as you can see here. That large number of hikers that leave “together” in March is called the “thru-hiker bubble”. We want to try and avoid that bubble as much as possible when we start our adventure.
Now don’t get us wrong, we LOVE being around people. Our combined 30+ years in hospitality and customer service attests to that fact. In addition, it is one of the reasons we have decided to hike this trail. We love to meet new people and hear their stories. Personally, I am looking forward to immersing myself in the all-inclusive world of backpacking.
With that being said, we also want some time with just the three of us. A break from our 30+ years of hospitality is much needed. We want to focus on ourselves for a little while and get into the rhythm of our own thru-hike. From what we have read and heard, starting your thru-hike later means that you are dealing with overcrowded shelters and campsites, particularly in Georgia and North Carolina. Tack on the fact that we are hiking with Beo, our dog. As amazing as we think Beo is, everyone doesn’t feel the same way about dogs. Because of those reasons, we are starting our hike earlier than most.
Yes, we know that leaving in February can make our thru-hike more challenging.
Waking up to temperatures in the teens and freezing rain isn’t most hikers’ idea of a good time. Add in the possibility of snow, and now you are talking about hiking becoming extremely difficult. We will have to carry extra gear, which will mean heavier bags and more pain for our legs. We must be prepared for the cold weather as it could make sleeping at night uncomfortable, and potentially make hiking more dangerous.
Knowing all of this, we have done our best to prepare for our cold-weather adventure. Just a couple of weeks ago, we did a “winter shakedown hike” of 3 days and 2 nights through the George Washington National Forest.
We didn’t do much mileage over those few days, but we weren’t concerned about mileage. We wanted to make sure our gear could stand up to the cold weather. The problem? The days leading up to our winter hike were warm. Unseasonably warm. In just a nick of time, Mother Nature pulled through for us. Temperatures dropped on that first night, and we camped and slept at temperatures below 20 degrees. Because of that, we were able to use our cold-weather gear and get a good idea of what will work and what will not.
Here is some of the gear that I am bringing specifically for the first 2 months while we are on the trail. Hopefully, if the weather cooperates, we should be able to send back most of our cold weather gear by the beginning of April.
Sleeping Bag Liner
My REI Co-op Magma sleeping bag is rated to 15 degrees, so adding this piece of gear gives me a few more degrees of warmth and helps to keep the inside of my mummy bag clean. As I said in my last blog post, I had hoped that this liner plus my bag would keep me warm in colder temps, and I am happy to report that I was very warm during our shakedown hike. Brandee has the Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme. It cost a little bit more but adds even more warmth.
I didn’t use my puffy jacket at all during our shakedown hike. When we got to camp, temps were in the low 30s and we were able to get a campfire started. I stayed warm enough with my base layers, a hiking shirt, and a mid-layer jacket/fleece. The inside pocket on the Ecoball Hoodie doubles as a stuff sack, and I can use the bundled-up jacket as an extra pillow if needed.
These keep me so ridiculously warm. No, they are not cheap, but the warmth these base layers provide is priceless. I wear my flannel shirt on top of the Intraknit, and it works almost too well for me. I do have to make sure that I don’t start sweating too much, so I will be shedding layers as needed.
Yep, I am layering my gloves. I have always had issues with my hands getting painfully cold when I spend anytime outdoors in the winter. I also know that I don’t want to wear big bulky gloves all the time. It makes it incredibly difficult and annoying to try and grasp anything with them, as well. This whole “glove system” is still a work in progress, but so far it has worked for me.
These are some heavy-duty socks and they help to do the trick of keeping my feet warm and dry. Spending $30 for a pair of socks seems crazy, but I will be wearing these every day for weeks at a time. I guess I must be crazy. I am bringing a backup pair, so I switch them out daily until we find a washing machine to use.
Brandee and I may have let our YouTube “research” talk us into bringing some extra gear: crampons. Admittedly, this will be one of the first things to head back to NoVa if they aren’t needed. Surprisingly, they don’t weigh as much as I thought they would (1 lb total), and they should help if we do encounter any icy conditions. We went the less expensive route with these, as our research and wallets suggested.
I will be capturing our adventure on our GoPro Hero Black 9 and posting those videos to Instagram and YouTube. Up until recently, I wasn’t aware that the cold weather will slow down batteries until I read a thru-hiking post on Reddit. Goes to show how much time I used to spend outside in the cold! This battery is supposed to perform better in cold weather and will act as a backup battery for me.
As I said before, the plan is to send most of this gear home as the weather warms up. (And probably have to have it sent back to us when we approach New England) As much as I will be looking forward to warmer weather, I don’t want to fast forward to spring. Well, maybe only 1x fast forward, not 4x. The cold will suck, and I need to be ok with that.
The weather, the trail conditions, the overcrowding, etc. are all out of our control.
We will, as they say, learn to embrace the suck. Or as I prefer to say: “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” No matter how you phrase it, we are aware of the fact our hike will be more difficult when we start our hike in just a couple of weeks. And you know what? That’s ok. Frosty lobes and all.