About the Author, Katrina Zick: Katrina lives in Texas and travels frequently for her adventures. She loves hiking, climbing, and running whenever she gets the chance. After her first thru-hike of the John Muir Trail, she decided to start a company creating outdoor gear and clothing for women, Unsheltered, LLC. (Instagram: @shopunsheltered). You can find her on Instagram @katrinas_adventures_outdoors.
Often when people decide to start backpacking, they begin extensive research on gear to make sure they are prepared for their next adventure. I was no exception. One thing that is important to remember is that there is no one right answer that fits everyone. Trail runners vs. hiking boots should not be the heated debate among online groups that it is. Gear choices and hiking styles are unique to the individual as well as the specific trail and time of year. I am planning several backpacking trips this year and my gear and clothing needs are quite different for each trip.
The phrase “hike your own hike” will be familiar soon if you have not already heard it in the hiking community. The point is to tailor your hiking plans to fit what works best for you. I would like to empower anyone reading this to not allow yourself to feel bullied and not to bully others for their choices. Ultralight hiking is not required for those who would enjoy their trip so much more with a few luxury items or those that do not want to replace perfectly good gear. Some enjoy covering more miles in a day so they can experience more views and variation that nature has to offer in the time they are given. Others like to take their time, moving at a slower pace and take as many breaks as possible to fully appreciate the beauty of the natural world before moving on for the day. Neither is wrong and both should be supported if that is what the hiker wishes. This also extends to clothing choice.
The only time you should ever question another hiker’s choice of wool, cotton, synthetic, blends, or any other material is maybe, MAYBE, if you’re sharing their tent and can’t sleep due to the smell. Let’s be honest though, are you sure the smell isn’t coming from you? Still, take a dip in next lake and see if you and your nose feel differently before asking your hiking partner to give up something that makes them comfortable and happy. After all, they likely put a lot of thought and effort into selecting which outfit they wanted to wear for days at a time.
No one else will experience your hike in the same way. Even if you hike the same trail the next year or the next month, your challenges will likely change and you must stay true to yourself. For example, if you love wearing mascara and are more worried about how you’d feel without it than anything else-even knowing you won’t shower regularly, by all means, bring it! If you really don’t know how you’ll survive without your favorite book and are willing to carry the weight, bring it! Make your hike as meaningful and special as you can for yourself. You’re the one hiking your miles and carrying your pack, not the strangers on the internet.
This applies especially to those starting out. I witnessed one woman being told she can’t possibly go out on her first day hike until she has a name brand day pack, water bladder hydration system, waterproof hiking boots, and is dressed from head to toe in merino wool. Don’t worry, this isn’t true. Start with what you have if you can do so safely. Make substitutions if and when they’re required. Ask others about how they like their gear choices that you’re interested in and reflect on if it would work for you. Borrow or rent the big items if you’d like before buying. You will find what works best for you as time goes on, and your inevitable gear closet will change and evolve. Even most thru-hikers don’t finish with every piece of gear they start with.
I cannot write this post without also including that some mistake the meaning of the phrase “hike your own hike”. Please do not confuse it with an excuse to be unkind to others or the natural world we are so lucky to be experiencing. The phrase is not an appropriate response to someone pointing out that you forgot a piece of trash or trying to kindly educate you to rules you may have been unaware of since they were not being followed. Please only take pictures, leave only footsteps, and be considerate to the hikers, nature, and wildlife around you. Please educate yourself about leave no trace principles and the rules put in place for the area you’re hiking in. This will keep yourself and others safe as well as preserve the trail for those that come behind you. Be aware of the impact you have and seek information on how to minimize it as actively as you seek new gear.
The rangers and governing agencies are a wealth of information and are happy to discuss in detail the requirements for food storage, fires, waste management, and any other questions you may have. One year on a backpacking trip through Sequoia National Park, we found the rangers had left a note in each bear box stating something like “You are strong. You can do it. Pack it out.” This more or less became my friend’s mantra for the rest of the trail so thank you rangers! Also, don’t worry, we packed out all of our trash as well as anything people may have dropped on the way.
Do what works for you. Respect others. Respect nature, and remember you are strong. You can do it.