Q&A: Everything our resident thru-hiker packs and eats on the trail

By Mekenna Malan | July 6th, 2021

How much water does Bryden, our resident thru-hiker, drink while backpacking? How much extra clothing does he bring on a thru-hike, and what exactly qualifies as a "thru-hike" anyway?

Bryden has thru-hiked over 5,500 miles on trails like the PCT, CDT, the Anna Purna Circuit and the Kungsleden. He answers some crowd-submitted questions and fills us in on his upcoming trail plans below.

Q: What exactly qualifies a hike as a “thru-hike?” I did a huge loop once in a polar mountain range and I was on skis with dogs. Is that considered “thru-hiking” or am I just a weekend hiker?

A: This is a great question and it gets asked frequently. There are many opinions floating around in the thru-hiking community about what a “true” thru-hike is. I’m sure there's going to be someone who reads this and disagrees with me. Some people say it’s any hike over 1,000 miles, some say it’s anything over 500, and I’ve heard some people say they “thru-hiked” a trail that is under 40 miles. In response to any and all of those distances, I give a thumbs up! I like to stray away from compartmentalizing others accomplishments and only reflect on my own. “Thru-hike” is such a loose term. I feel that other hikers are protective of what a “true” thru-hike is because they are protecting their own accomplishments. If you walked from point A to point B, no matter what the mileage was, you’re a badass! My personal version of a thru-hike is if I complete an entire trail in one go. You are not "just a weekend hiker," and besides, even if you were, there's nothing wrong with that.

Q: Who taught you how to thru-hike?

A: My family went on a lot of camping trips while I was growing up, so I learned basic camping skills at a young age. As for learning how to thru-hike, nobody taught me. My Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike in 2017 was my first backpacking trip. Before starting the PCT, I spent about six months planning and watching YouTube videos about the trail. I used Yogi’s PCT guidebook and it was super helpful.

Q: What has been your best mile ever and your worst mile ever, and why?

A: There have been a lot of “best” miles, but one that comes to mind was waking up for sunrise in the Goat Rock Wilderness with three of my close friends I had made on the PCT. The miles leading into White Pass were unreal with 360-degree views of Mount Rainer, Hood, Adams, St. Helens and, if you squinted, Glacier Peak. We cowboy camped the night before (camping without a tent) just below Old Snow Mountain and the sunset was breathtaking.

As for the “worst” mile, there have been many. Generally, thru-hiking is just...uncomfortable. I think that coming into Helena on the Continental Divide Trail was the worst. Somehow a portion of my foot had gotten rubbed raw, maybe due to my sock, and it was sooooo painful. It took a whole day in a hotel bed to feel comfortable walking again, and by then it was just a hobble. I spent three days in Helena recovering and letting skin grow back.

Q: What are the most dangerous things you’ve encountered on a trail and what advice do you have for other hikers to avoid them?

A: The most common danger while hiking in the wilderness would be bears. I’ve had a few bear encounters in grizzly country, but never one that I had to use my bear spray. If you’re hiking in bear country, carry bear spray! I think the most dangerous aspect of long-distance backpacking would be dehydration, though. Becoming dehydrated is way more likely than a bear attack. Stay hydrated, folks!

Q: How much food and water do you consume in a day on the trail?

A: As soon as I wake up and have packed up for the day, I start walking. I do not make breakfast in camp. During the first three miles of the day, I eat some cashews and a Belvita breakfast bar. I also add a Starbucks via instant packet and hot cocoa powder into a liter of water for my morning “trail mocha.” I snack on various things as I walk the first 15 miles of the day like fruit snacks, trail mix and Nature Valley bars. For lunch I make ramen noodles and add a cheesy potato soup mix. It's delicious! As I walk into the evening, I’m eating the same selection of snacks from the morning. For dinner I usually make a Knorr rice or pasta side. They are only $1 at the grocery store. Sometimes I pack out a block of cheese and add it to the rice. Throughout the day I usually drink four to five liters of water.

Q: How hard were the resupply points and water caches on the CDT?

A: The only challenging part of the resupply points on the CDT are that they're generally further apart than the PCT or AT. Each town was around 90-150 miles apart on average. Water caches were maintained regularly. Always check the reports and never rely on a water cache, though!

Q: How much extra clothing (socks, underwear, shirts, etc) do you bring on a thru-hike?

A: None. I bring no extra clothing. I bring one short sleeve shirt that I wear most of the day, one pair of running shorts, one fleece base layer, base layer leggings for sleeping if it's cold, one down jacket, two pairs of socks that I alternate hiking with day to day, and one pair of underwear.

Q: Did you over-prepare for the PCT? Was any gear unnecessary?

A: I definitely over-prepared. The gear that was unnecessary was extra clothing that I ditched within the first 300 miles. I also had an elaborate cooking system with different bowls and cups. I got rid of that quickly!

Q: How much of your thru-hiking gear can be purchased from GEAR:30?

A: A lot of things. My sleeping pad, tent, sleeping bag, cook system, water filtration, most clothing, and my emergency devices are all sold at GEAR:30. There are multiple small brands that sell directly to customers and I’ve used them in the past. I use a Pa’lante pack, and I’m not switching anytime soon. Unfortunately GEAR:30 does not sell them at this time. I’ve used a Z-packs tent before and I liked it, but lately I’ve been using the Nemo Hornet.

Q: What do you have planned for your next adventure?

A: *Fingers crossed* Sweden just opened up to vaccinated U.S. citizens on June 30th, so at the end of July I’ll be flying to Sweden to hike the Gröna Bandet, an 800+ mile hike into the Swedish Arctic. The trail ends on a boardwalk into a lake that signifies the northernmost border of Sweden, Norway, and Finland!

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