By Rachel Guerrero -
The art of backpacking has entranced many survivalists as it can push any hiker to their max. Intending to hike just over 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), I started in the Northern Sierras and planned to cross the Washington Border. Being young and inexperienced, I walked into the trail open-minded about what it had to teach me. Having to exit the trail early due to illness, I was disappointed, but even more grateful for the survival tips I had learned. Collecting every bit of knowledge I could from other thru-hikers, I grabbed a ton of ultra-light equipment and followed every tip I could find in their guidebooks. The beautiful thing about backpacking is that you can only truly learn what works and what doesn’t when you get onto the trail.
For one, every hiker preaches the importance of keeping feet dry. While this isn’t always possible on the PCT, the best thing you can do is reduce the friction between your wet foot and your shoe. Against popular belief that moleskin and bandages were the best protection for blisters, my feet moved around after crossing wetlands and bodies of water. Duct tape was the most efficient way to reduce slippage and provide a hard shell for the rawer parts of my feet. While blisters aren’t always avoidable, having the right socks and shoes are a necessity.
I sized up when buying my shoes so I could comfortably fit three layers of socks. I used wool for my first two layers, followed by a dense, resilient terry loop sock that kept the layers held tightly together. The goal is to keep your first layer of socks clean to avoid infections. I always switched my first and second layers of socks to keep a fresh pair. To keep the first socks clean and dry, I would wash the first pair I wore that day and switch them to the middle layer for the following day.
Laundry isn’t the easiest task on the trail… not because I didn’t have water sources, but because the air was too cold and damp. I didn’t do laundry often, but when I did, I would need to wait until a warmer night to avoid our clothes freezing. On the nights when it did reach freezing, I kept technology and base layers of hiking clothes/linens in the tent next to my sleeping bag (and sometimes in it). I used garbage bags to keep the sleeping gear and base layers dry when getting caught in bad storms. After a frozen night, I put on my dry and clean layer of socks first, followed by the warm and wet ones, and then the (sometimes frozen) ones last. No matter the weather conditions, or how far from camp you are, if you feel any raw patches of skin on your feet, stop and bandage them up. Prioritizing your feet is what will keep you moving and safe. After saying goodbye to the PCT, I turned to the AZT for shorter trail trips that I could take during my university breaks. Being from Northern Arizona, I have plenty of opportunities to practice my weather resilience and foot care to prepare for the PCT again.
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