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Basic questions on Thru Hiking
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Jim Chatterton
(jchatt30) - F - M
Basic questions on Thru Hiking on 11/02/2009 14:33:44 MST Print View

This may be a stupid question, so I apologize in advance if it is.

At the end of a thru-hike it is likely that we are going to be dirty, smelly, and in need of a clean up before taking public transportation back home again. Our clothes are likely to be in the same condition after a couple of weeks on the trail.

Assuming that we are using a lightweight backpack, for example a GG Mariposa or such like, it is unlikely that we would want to place this without any protection through the airport baggage system. Even normal suitcases carry the scars of airport baggage handling.

What do you guys do when you get to the end of a long thru-hike? Do you go to a hotel and clean up, laundry your hiking clothes and just hope and pray that your precious backpack and gear will be safe? Or do you get a cab ride to a Wal-Mart and buy a cheap suitcase to protect your gear and purchase some street clothes to get home in? Or maybe send such items to a Post Office somewhere?

Also, how do you go about booking your flights etc in advance when you don’t really know for sure the exact date that you will be heading home? If I book the flights on the day of departure it is a lot more expensive than booking it in advance.

As I said, these may be dumb questions, but I am trying to cover as many bases as possible before I leave next year, and these questions keep coming up all the time.

FWIW, the outward journey is no problem. I am leaving with a friend in a vehicle. He is hiking part way with me and then has to leave due to time constraints. I want to complete the entire trail, which is why I don’t have the suitcase problem on the outward journey.

The trail is the Ozark Highland Trail. I was due to do this a year or so ago but serious illness prevented me from doing it. I have the excellent trail guide by Tim Ernst, and I am comfortable with everything concerned with the actual thru-hike. It is the logistics at the end of it that I am wondering about.


Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Basic questions on 11/02/2009 15:50:58 MST Print View

So far, when backpacking a long distance from home, I've used my car. (I take my dog with me and don't want to trust him to airlines!) I always make a motel reservation for the night I come out. One time I came out a day early, but I camped at the trailhead (it was after sunset), slept late the next morning and still used the motel reservation (the motel was 4 hours from the trailhead). Of course when driving, I leave clean clothes in the car, so I don't need to do laundry until I get home.

If I were flying home, I'd make the reservation but plan one or two days' cushion at the end of the trip. You will definitely want to take a good shower (maybe more than one!) and launder your clothes before getting on the plane. I would also want to find a place near the far end of the trip to leave at least a sturdy duffel bag to protect my pack. Either that, or plan to buy one before heading for the airport. It might be that the hotel/motel you stay at when you come out will allow you to send ahead a piece of luggage for the pack plus a change of clothes and store it for you. It would be worth investigating.

By the time I've used up a week's food, my pack is small enough that it definitely would qualify as a carry-on. Of course I'd still have to check my knife and my trekking poles, and maybe the tent stakes. With most airlines now charging for checked baggage, it would probably be simpler to ship those items home.

After last summer, when I had to abort a trip in Wyoming's Wind Rivers due to my dog's getting sick, I plan a couple of "zero" days for each long trip and save one until the end. This allows for unexpected layovers, such as a barfing dog, a snowstorm (I'd have had that too if I hadn't aborted the hike) or blisters. By saving a "zero" day to the end I have the choice of taking it the next to last day or coming out early. If nothing goes wrong, the "zero" days give me extra time for side trips.

Edited by hikinggranny on 11/02/2009 15:58:52 MST.

Ron D
(dillonr) - MLife

Locale: Colorado
Re: Basic questions on Thru Hiking on 11/02/2009 17:59:24 MST Print View

Jim - What I've done when flying back from a trip is roll everything the airports don't like into my CCF pad and check that. A LW pack is easy to take as carry-on.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Basic questions on Thru Hiking on 11/02/2009 19:32:35 MST Print View

> At the end of a thru-hike .. we are going to be dirty, smelly, and in need of a clean up
Happens ... :-)

> Do you go to a hotel and clean up, laundry your hiking clothes
Yep. Europe for several months, every two years or so. Pre-booked return air flight, so we usually have a couple of days spare at the end (deliberately).

> buy a cheap suitcase to protect your gear
Not quite. I get a cardboard fruit box (or whatever) from the local supermarket, and some large garbage bags and some 2" wide packaging tape. I hack the box to fit the frame side of the pack, then put the pack into the box, then into one plas bag, tape it up at the top, then flip and insert into second plas bag. Then I make with the 2" packaging tape until it looks a bit like an Egyptian mummy. I try to leave the haul loop sticking out, but that's ALL.
This has worked excellently on several international (Australia to Europe) flights.


Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Basic questions on Thru Hiking on 11/03/2009 01:10:09 MST Print View

At the end of the PCT, I was hosted at a friend's house. I went to a thrift store, scored a brand new "I left my heart in San Francisco" tshirt and flew home to SF to surprise my family. It was awesome. I still wear it often. I flew in my hiking shorts also. I typically just continue to wear my cleaned hiking clothes until I'm reunited with other clothes that I own.

You can buy your plane ticket a week or two in advance, at the last few town stops before you finish the trail. Your schedule will be pretty obvious by then.

Most people fly with their backpack in a garbage bag.

Most people stay at someone's private residence or a hotel between leaving the trail and hitting the plane. I always want to wash my gross clothes out ASAP in towns. You'll be used to wearing your hiking clothes in towns by then end of a long hike.

I once hiked a long way with a true, blue Amish guy. He had mailed all of his traditional clothes to a post office at the end of the trail because going back to the farm without them on would have been too much of a scandal.

Edited by Found on 11/03/2009 01:11:51 MST.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Basic questions on Thru Hiking on 11/03/2009 16:14:02 MST Print View

You probably won't have to take heroic measures after the Ozark Highland Trail. Just a good shower and regular laundry will probably handle the funk if you are reasonably conscientious about personal hygiene.

Long trails (over 1,000 miles)are another matter. First off, it takes serious washing to get thruhiker stink off both hiker and gear. We tend to smell like the truly homeless - old cheese comes to mind.

The best cure I have found for serious hiker stink is McNett's Mirazyme - developed for deodorizing wetsuits. It really works. I send a bottle to my final destination - a hiker hostel such as the Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket, Maine. I stay two nights to wash everything, scrub myself raw, and eat and drink to my heart's content.

I have used cheap duffle bags to ship my pack and other gear. This works with a frameless or internal frame pack. I send a cheap "surplus" duffle to the nearest trail town care of General Delivery - along with the Mirazyme, favorite toiletries, fresh underwear and socks. Or you could just buy something cheap, provided the trail town has a discount store. Most rural towns have a Family Dollar or something like it. If nothing else, you can just put the pack in a heavy-duty garbage bag - UNLESS you are going by bus. Greyhound does not accept luggage in plastic bags.

I don't worry about traveling clothing. Hiking duds are good enough for dodging the incontenent infants, goats, chickens and projectile vomiting commonly encountered in modern air travel.

Richard DeLong
(Legkohod) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
Backpack as carry-on on 11/03/2009 17:45:12 MST Print View

Most of the time, UL backpacks are small enough to take on the plane as carry-on. What I did after the PCT was mail my poles and "dangerous" objects home in a tube (cheaper than paying for checked luggage on plane) and just carry the backpack on the plane.