Practical Advice For Long Hikes

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What Dean would do differently:

Thru hiker Dean Krakel looks back at his preparation for The Colorado Trail and discusses the changes he wishes he had made. Hindsight is always 20/20, so they say. Now you can use the lens of his experience to look at your own preparation.

Enjoy! See you on the trails!


A few weeks after leaving The Colorado Trail, I think about it every day. I long to be out there. Walking. Unpacking the pack and putting gear away has been a form of closure. It’s also given me an opportunity to think about what I’ll do different next time.


I won’t attempt to make all my own backpacking food again.

The reality is, on the trail I ate very little of the food I manufactured.

Since I ended up not eating most of the food I mailed to myself, next time around I won’t use resupply boxes. I’ll hitch into town and shop at grocery stores.


Last November, I began seriously training for The Colorado Trail. I did a lot of stair sprints. Instead of running on the local trails as usual, I walked them carrying a heavily weighted backpack.

I never suffered during my trip, never felt wiped out at day’s end, never had any aches, pains or soreness.

Solo hiking

For me the hardest thing about walking The Colorado Trail was going solo. Being alone has its advantages, and I enjoyed it. Sometimes, though, I had to make decisions or walk in places and through situations that I dearly wished I could talk to someone else about.

As one hiker said to me, “When you’re alone, things can get real, real fast.” Hiking solo I was more cautious, methodical and thoughtful about consequences.

Pines cast shadows along Lost Creek

Pines cast shadows along Lost Creek on The Colorado Trail in segment 4. DEAN KRAKEL


One of my goals was to travel The Colorado Trail as lightly as possible.

A Zpacks Arc Blast 52L backpack, 23 ounces, carried everything. I liked the Blast’s simplicity and  it handled loads under 30 pounds well. I had two pouches sewn on each side of the waist belt in which I carried my camera, spare batteries, SD cards, reporter’s notebook  and a pen.

When emptied at the end of my Colorado Trail Journey, this is what else was in it:

In the pack’s right side pocket I carried The Colorado Trail Data book and a swing umbrella. The umbrella kept the rain off and the wind out in a storm. The other side pocket held a water bottle.

On back of the Blast is a large netting compartment. This is where I carried items I used frequently or needed to get to quickly:

▪ Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp

▪ Sunscreen

▪ Plastic orange whistle

▪ Sawyer PointOne Squeeze water purification filter and three 34-ounce water bags

▪ Potable Aqua water purification tablets in a ziplock bag

▪ Two Bic lighters

▪ Two small eye-dropper bottles of Dr. Bronner’s soap and Purell

▪ Bandana

▪ Bodyglide anti-chafe lubricant. I used Body Glide  religiously on my feet every morning.

▪ Small Swiss Army knife

▪ Black Diamond polartec glove liners

▪ Halo skullcap

▪ A cuben-fiber stuff sack with my medical/blister/repair kit:  arnica, medical tape, Spenco 2nd Skin blister pads, Dr. Scholl’s corn pads and Moleskin, a small ziplock of merino sheep wool (excellent padding for hot spots and blisters), one gauze sponge, Benadryl, Ibuprofen, Cephalexin (for infection), Kaopectate, toothbrush and toothpaste, a safety pin, triple antibiotic ointment, various band aids, tent/tarp repair tape, a tent pole splint, three spare lighters, spare AAA batteries, a CORSAR — Colorado Search and Rescue — card, a credit card and some cash. The bag weighed 12 ounces.

▪ Pack rain cover

▪ Light My Fire spork

▪ Rab Flashpoint wind/rain/snow shell. This 6-ounce wonder held up under every condition and kept me dry and warm.

▪ Outdoor Research wind/rain pants, 9.63 ounces. I wore these for sun protection when needed.

▪ A pair of socks. I liked Darn Tough Light Hiker Quarter socks and I used three pair, wearing one, keeping one in the net for a quick change, and the other in the pack for reserve.

▪ Raven feather, which I found on the trail the first day and carried all the way home.

Inside the pack, bottom to top:

▪ NRS neoprene socks for wet, cold conditions

▪ Western Mountaineering 10 degree Versalite down bag, 2 pounds. Awesome bag! This bag kept me toasty warm even when I slept outside without a shelter. I used an Outdoor Research compression bag to pack it down to the size of a fat loaf of bread.

▪ Sport Silks by Terramar, 3.12 ounces. I wore the silks beneath the North Face running shorts I wore 100 percent of the time.

▪ Patagonia capilene zip-neck long underwear top

▪ Patagonia R1 fleece hoody.

▪ Montbell ultralight down jacket. I used this jacket relentlessly every day. At night it was my pillow.

▪ Long sleeve REI Sahara Tech shirt for sun, wind and bug protection. My everyday shirt was a short sleeve Kuhl Renegade.

▪ Mountain Laurel Designs 3.3-ounce titanium cook pot

▪ MSR Pocket Rocket stove. 3 ounces

▪ One 13-ounce MSR Isopro butane fuel canister

▪ Zpacks 6.4-ounce Splash Bivy

▪ A nylon ground cloth made from tent flooring, 5 ounces

Views from my last camp

Views from my last camp, just below the Buffalo Creek burn area, above the South Platte River, a country of rocky knobs and domes. DEAN KRAKEL

▪ Zpacks 7-foot-by-9-foot rectangle tarp, with additional tie-out points and cords, 11 ounces. After I got the hang of it, I could set the tarp up reasonably fast and make it storm-proof.  This is a big tarp for one person, but I could get my pack and all my gear inside, plus get dressed underneath it, and cook inside the front opening.

▪ 12 MSR groundhog tent stakes

▪ A Zpacks Rain Kilt, 4 ounces. I used this a lot during the summer rains. During the fall it added warmth when worn over the wind pants and helped me stay dry walking through wet grass and willows.

▪ Thermarest Zlite sleeping pad

▪ A garbage bag. I used this to separate wet stuff from dry, and for food storage at night. Speaking of which, I carried my food in scent-proof bags. At night I placed these bags inside the garbage bag and then placed the garbage bag inside my pack. I slept with my food.

▪ To charge my phone and Garmin 910XT watch, I used a RavPower portable charger. The charger held enough juice to charge my phone six times and weighed 11.4 ounces, total weight with various cords, 1 pound, 2 ounces.

And that’s what I carried. Total weight, with five days of food, but no water, was 22 pounds, 4 ounces.

Other gear

I used an Olympus TG-4 point and shoot camera. Water, dust, freeze and drop proof, and evidently Dean proof, I carried this camera in my shirt pocket for 11 weeks and was always amazed by the quality of images it was capable of producing. Battery life was excellent. I carried four extras. The TG-4 also had the ability to create a wifi hotspot anywhere, allowing me to transfer images from the camera to my iPhone for editing and sending back to the blog.

I wore Saucony Peregrine 5 trail running shoes, a size larger than what I normally wear. Peregrines have incredible traction on every type of terrain. I wore out three pair. Inside the shoes, green Superfeet insoles.

In addition to the Zpacks tarp, I used two other shelters during the trip: a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 tent, 2 pounds, and a Big Agnes Scout UL2 tarp tent, 2 pounds.

During the first half of my trip, I used an Enlightened Equipment Revelation down quilt, 20 ounces. The quilt took some getting used to; I slept in my down sweater and long underwear to aid in additional coverage and warmth.

Screenshot 2015-11-11 18.18.36

All images from Dean Krakel. Thanks to Mr. Krakel and The Denver Post for the blog excerpt:
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