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Our First Overnight Backpacking Trip

Our names are Tate Samson and Duncan Keys we are seniors at Mount Saint Joseph High School. As novices to hiking and camping we collaborated with a group of friends and specifically one with extensive experience as a member of the Eagle Scouts. We chose the Appalachian Trail as our maiden voyage. We learned about the prep work that has to go into it, such as the food planning, gathering our gear, efficiently packing, and researching possible encounters on the trail. We began in Caledonia state park, Pennsylvania and ended in Boonsboro, Maryland. From the start of planning till our first steps we had no idea what to expect. A part of me was kind of hoping it would be just a sidewalk in the middle of the forest. Thinking there wasn’t much more to hiking that walking up and down hills for miles we were sorely mistaken. The weight of our bags swaying back and forth really messed with our momentum but we trudged on. Through the first few miles we swatted and sprayed the mosquitoes off of our blood filled vessels. Climbing over rocks, and pushing on up the mountains we came to a point where our bodies had gotten the best of us. Hunger matched by our levels of perspiration. We decided it was time for a break. At about 3 o’clock on the first day we broke bread on the trail, surrounded by our compatriots and nature. We ate granola bars and drank our minimum liter of water to prevent dehydration. We powered through the sweltering heat and overpowering humidity. Until we had hiked the twelve miles to our first camping site, Deer Knob.
Upon arriving to where we intended to camp each day we had a few hours of daylight left. We were all exhausted from the hike of the day and began with an extended rest where we ate and sarcastically talked about how we weren’t tired and could do the rest of the hike through the night. After a few hours we decided we should probably begin to set up home for the night. We began by putting our belongings in trash bags and hanging them on tree branches to keep animals from getting to them. We got them up by throwing a rope up over the branch after we tied a rock to it and using it to pull our bags out of reach. Next we set up our tent. It was a four person tent and we were a hiking party of five so it was a bit of a squeeze. None of us were comfortable when we were sleeping but we were able to rest up for another grueling day on the trail. We found that when setting up your tent, it is best to find a spot where it won’t get wet easily and where you could reach any equipment you might need without difficulties. One thing we would have changed was that we didn’t plan for our free time when we weren’t hiking. It would have been nice to have some kind of game or a ball to entertain ourselves in the evening.
We woke up on the second day of our hike early in order to get a jumpstart on the day. We fought through the grogginess of waking up early and the chill of the morning dew. From our plan we designated the second day the longest of our 32.5 miles. We began our 20 miles and grinded our way to a sign that said “United States Border”. At this point our Eagle Scout leader told us that we had crossed the Mason-Dixon line. We were so wrong. About 3 hours later we came across another sign saying “Mason-Dixon line”. At this point our second wind came after being crippled from our previous mistake. After our 20 miles we got to Pine Knob campsite. And the whole process started again. Bagging our food and hanging it, setting up our tent, sleeping, waking up early, eating and proceeding to our final destination in Boonsboro, Maryland. After retreating back to our friends house following the hike we slept for hours. This hike was somewhat of a retreat with the only real for of the outside world was the camera we took to record all of our encounters. We learned many things, how to depend on ourselves, how to push through adversity and work together as a team. We struggled finding an efficient way to pack our things and hang them in a bear bag as easily as possible. So we used Tate’s strength to hold it up and my length to get up and string it up. We used other members of our group to be charismatic enough to make this trip into a serious of enjoyable videos. This experience and entry shouldn’t be taken as a strict how to on how you wrap the rope around a tree to use its weight and pull the rope around and up an adjacent tree to get your bear bag onto a tall branch, or securing your tent far enough from anything that could put holes in your tent or expose your tent to wildlife. But instead this should motivate you to make smart decisions, trust the people around you and use common sense to your advantage. Pack light, pack smart, essentials only, and never assume you have gone a certain distance, because you probably haven’t. An ample amount of water is key to a better hike. It seemed easier when we had something to drink as opposed to when we ran out. We each brought four liters of water and were still constantly looking for a place to fill our bottles back up. This hike should be just like the trail itself. It’s very up and down but the key is to keep moving and keep your head up. It never seems to stop going up, so savor all of the downhill moments you get because they are few and in between. Always keep your group together it makes the trail bearable and frankly a lot easier. What you should take away from this is how to keep moving forward. The physical aspect is a generally easy if you keep your head high and if you keep the right mindset. The prep is easy. Working as a team makes everything better. As novices finding what materials to bring is all about listening, which is easy. But they never tell you how to prepare mentally. That’s why we are writing this. Our whole trip was a success because we had a goal to accomplish. That goal was clearest in the rockier parts of the trail. We divided the map into 4 parts. The beginning first day of the hike. The downhill second part, the uphill long shot and the 4th downhill section. Make clear goals for yourself and declare them with the rest of your group because especially when people get distance in between them you have some semblance of an idea what to do. We made this hike into 5 different sections to get it done. First, the planning, figure out what to bring and eliminate any risks to the best of your ability. Second, have someone who knows what they are doing to show you key things to do (like this forum), third, create goals for yourself, fourth, create manageable and efficient ways to get them done. And fifth, find a way to enjoy the process of going of this hike. “Returning to the house let us think and reflect on our experience. The hike was long and grueling, the food was repetitive and got tasteless over the trip, but the experience on this trail was one I won’t forget. Hours upon hours laughing and hiking our way through the Appalachian Trail was truly the best part of this experience. Overall 10/10 experience would recommend.” -Duncan Keys “During the trip I just wanted it to be over. I had gotten sick of the food and at times it felt like I couldn’t go any farther. Especially the second day when we realized we hadn’t passed the mason dixon line. That was demoralizing to say the least. Looking back I am happy I did it and have made memories that I will never forget and became closer with my friends. Personally I don’t plan on doing anything like this again or at least not for a LONG time, but I would recommend to do it at least once in your lifetime.” -Tate Samson

We Also made videos of our experience And Put them on YouTube! Check them out here.


This was fun to read.  Thanks for posting it. Those of us who have done many, many backpacking trips would make a few suggestions:

Many of us would drink a liter per hour if water hiking a steep trail in humid conditions.  You'd be amazed at how much better you feel when you're hydrated. 

A twelve mile day is a long day for most of us, especially for a first day. And I've backpacked for 40 years and thousands of miles, and never done 20 miles with a full pack.  

4 man tents sleep 3 people.  

But you are young a full of energy....and you learned quite a lot on this trip.  If you make a few changes, the next one will be a lot more fun.

Don't be so ambitous about mileage.  It is not supposed to be gruleing, it is supposed to be fun. Amble around and look at everything.  You do not need to impress anyone.  swim the creek, take a nap, look at the clouds. 

Be willing to bring some heavier food that your really like.  When you work hard, eating becomes a big deal. 

"Too some soon oldt, too late schmart."


I'll bet you are back out there sooner than you think!  The misery will fade from memory, but the fun will remain indelible.  Use what lessons were gleaned to make the next trip so much better.  The real fun is about to begin, now that you have popped your backpacking cherry...

I agree with the others posting, that keeping your mileage below 12 miles/day and drinking LOTS more water will go far in reducing the toil.  You should drink before you feel thirst.  Drink enough so you pee clear and frequently.  And I agree with you that comfortable sleeping accommodations are tantamount to a good trip.  These observations require minimal effort to capitalize on, and will make a huge difference.

You mentioned your pack shifted around on your back and challenged your balance.  This should not be happening.  It sounds like your shoulder and other harness straps are not properly adjusted, and the weight in your pack not properly distributed.  The majority of the weight should be carried by the waist belt, with the shoulder straps mainly snugged up to keep the load from shifting, but not so snug that the shoulders carry a significant weight and tire.  You will find your hips and shoulders will grow sore on longer days, this due in large part to blood being squeezed from the tissues.  You can toughen up these areas by working out at home, hauling around a pack.  This will also strengthen your hiking muscles, and reduce the fatigue experienced on the trail.

While on the balance topic, some find utilizing a staff or trekking poles helps maintain balance while surmounting steep or rough spots in the trail.  Experiment with both and decide for yourself.

Let me recommend an excellent book for you:  Freedom of the Hills, by the Seattle Mountaineers.  This tome contains a wealth of information, most of it applicable to backpacking and camping.  It is the one book that has universal praise among outdoors men, worth far more than its purchase price.    

One project you can work on is finding better meal options.  I totally understand your lament on this topic, I remember back in my scouting days when all food by day three started tasting like cardboard.  I made it a point to find better tasting fare.  It can be done.  Soon our scout group was the envy of the troop, we ate like kings!  Even today my friends have commented the meals on my trips are as good as home cooking.  I recommend all young men learn kitchen skills, nothing more pathetic than a man who can't cook for himself.  Furthermore the guy that can cook has so much game, when it comes to dating.  Give them a reason to come over to your place;)  But I digress.  Learn to cook at home and you will be able to apply that talent to adapting meals for the backcountry.  Food is a BIG part of the trip, at least for some of us.


whomeworry said:

You mentioned your pack shifted around on your back and challenged your balance.  This should not be happening.  It sounds like your shoulder and other harness straps are not properly adjusted, and the weight in your pack not properly distributed. 

 I was going to comment on this as well, the pack shouldn't shift around like that. Another possible reason this is happening: the pack doesn't fit you. If that's the case you can adjust the straps all you want, it still won't be comfortable.

Kudos for getting out there.

I watched your videos and looked at the your plan...That was more was pretty ambiguous for the second day.Most long distance hikers only do twenty miles a day when their bodies are ready for it...Kudos for doing it..So basically your food plan was all snacks...Not enough protein and calories for what you did...You must have been starving.....

"Nice to have a game or a ball at night to entertain ourselves."  This jumped out at me.  When you are out there, learn to see what you are looking at.  Go out in failing light and look for critters, lie on your back and look a the constellations, tell stories, talk about the best part of the day.  Learn the art of conversation around a campfire.  Being in wild country is an opportunity, not a time to complain about not bringing your culture with you. 

We started backpacking at the age of 11 in the Boy Scouts.  By the age of 13 we were gonig without adults.  It was a chance to grow up and expand our horizons. 


Tate, don't let us old fossils tell you how to spend your down time!  If my memory serves me right I recall tossing the Frisbee to be a grand camp activity.  We also brought music instruments for the evening activities.  HYOH  


Drink plenty of water after you stop for the night, because that’s what you’ll be sweating out the next morning. Just be prepared to get up for pit stops. Those are some of the best times to stargaze or listen to the night sounds because everyone else will be asleep. 

August 14, 2020
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